“Truly Seeking God” – Benedictines and the Face of Christ

“It is Your Face, O Lord, that I seek.” (Ps 26:8)

St. Benedict
St. Benedict, Feast Day July 11

In the Rule of his Order St. Benedict gives the key to discerning a true vocation in those seeking admittance to the Benedictine Order: “Let us examine whether the novice is truly seeking God.” (Ch. 58, Rule)  Since the Order’s inception, up to this day, the sons and daughters of St. Benedict have taken for their motto “Ora et Labora.” This “Prayer and Work” for many Benedictines is truly seeking the Face of God in the “prayer” of contemplation and the “work” of reparation to the Face of God covered with the blood, wounds, dust and spittle of  blasphemy–to stand, together with the Blessed Mother, before the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified.  If there is a common thread among the holy men and women of the Order, it is woven through the veil of the Face of Christ.

But, they will tell you in their own words…

St. Gertrude by Migul Cabrera 1763
St. Gertrude by Miguel Cabrera 1763

St. Gertrude (1256-1302), while making reparation to the Adorable Face of Jesus, wounded and disfigured, said to Him, “Tell me, O Lord, the remedy that can soothe the suffering of Thy Divine Face!” Jesus replied: “If anyone meditates upon my sufferings with tenderness and compassion, his heart will be to Me as a soothing balm for these wounds.” Jesus gave St. Gertrude this promise: “All those who meditate frequently on my Divine Face, attracted by the desires of love, shall receive within them, through My Humanity, a bright ray of My Divinity, which shall enlighten their inmost souls so that they shall reflect the light of My Countenance in a special manner throughout eternity.”

St. Mechtilde (1240-1299) once exclaimed to her sisters, “Let us all, full of holy desire, hasten to venerate the sweetest Countenance of Our Lord, which will in Heaven be our all–all that a glorified soul can desire!” 

Bl. Columba Marmion
Bl. Columba Marmion

Blessed Columba Marmion O.S.B.(1858-1923) writes that our relationship with God hinge upon two things; our walking in the truth of our nature as creatures, who remain always in humble adoration before our Creator and our dignity as children of God.  “Our adoption as children supposes that we act always as loving children towards Our Heavenly Father, constantly seeking His good pleasure: Seek His Face evermore!  This Facies Dei, Face of God, is the smile of His loving approbation.  If you always keep the truth of this twofold relation, you will be more and more fixed in truth and in peace.”  “Look your Heavenly Father in the Face, and show him your soul in truth,” Bl. Marmion counsels, “…do not forget that He is God the Infinite!  The love of the creature, in order to be true, must be the love of adoration; the spirit of fear of the Lord.  If you keep the eye of your soul fixed on God alone, you will receive many graces.”  “It is good sometimes, when alone with God, to stretch out our hands and look at Him in faith showing Him the depths of our soul that His eye may penetrate into those abysses that are hidden in the recesses of the heart.  Then our prayer is pure and very powerful, for the child gazes into the Father’s Face, seeking His Face, that is to say His good pleasure:  “Seek ye the Lord, seek His Face EVERMORE!”

Mother Marie des Douluers, Foundress of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified
Mother Marie des Douluers, Foundress of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified

Mother Marie des Douleurs (1902-1983) Foundress of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified emphasizes the relationship between the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His Holy Face:  “We must discover on this Face the revelation of the secrets of His Heart.” She also points to the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to restore the image of God in our souls: “Devotion to the Holy Face is the particular aspect by which the Holy Spirit makes us learn all we need to know to become the saints that Jesus desires.  This devotion is of such central importance and so vital for us that we cannot live without it!”

Bl. Ildephonsus Cardinal Shuster, O.S.B.
Bl. Ildephonsus Cardinal Shuster, O.S.B.

Blessed Ildephonsus Cardinal Shuster, O.S.B.  (1880-1954) wrote, “The Face of Jesus in Heaven is the cause of joy to the angels, but on earth it is a token of pity for sinners.  We say to the Father Respice in faciem Christi tui, (Ps 83:10) (Look upon the Face of Thy Christ) but let us fix our own gaze on that Face of Jesus, lest we lose sight of it.  As the Eternal Father, when He beholds the Face of Jesus, is touched with compassion for the wretched children of Adam, so let us show a holy reverence for that Sacred Face and for those pure eyes that look on us so tenderly; let us take care that all our actions are worthy of the ineffable sanctity of that Divine regard.”

Last but not least, is the Servant of God, Ildebrando Gregori O.S.B. (1894-1985) founder of the women’s religious congregation the Benedictine Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face. The devotion to the Holy Face was rooted and imprinted on his Congregation: “The title that sets you apart is Reparation of the Sacred Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the story of Jesus’ Passion that manifests itself, in a particular way, in the love which St. Benedict had for that Face. The Face of Jesus which was seen dripping blood, crowned with thorns, spat upon; His eyes were bruised, the broken eyebrows, broken lips. His Face, more beautiful than Paradise, appeared like the face of a leper. So Adorers of the Holy Face, Reparation of his wounds in the contemplation of prayer (Ora), in the service of the needy (Labora)… (adoration of the Face of Christ) is essential to make reparation, to create harmony with Christ Jesus who makes us love what the beloved loves, to want what He wants and rejecting what brings Him pain, injury, suffering.”

This apostle of devotion to the Face of Christ applied the Rule of St. Benedict to a work of   human and spiritual formation for the poorest and most abandoned children, victims of World War II, in whom he saw the suffering face of Jesus.  He later extended that work to include the elderly.  At the time he was Abbot General he met Blessed Mother Maria Pierina de Micheli, of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception, to whom Our Lord gave the mission of the propagation of the Holy Face Medal.  He became her Spiritual father and director until the time of her death in 1945. Padre Gregori shared with Bl. Mother de Micheli the love, devotion and deep desire to make reparation to the Face of Jesus and to propagate the Holy Face Medal throughout the world.

Servant of God Idlebrando Gregori, OSB
Servant of God Idlebrando Gregori, OSB

 

“I wish that the Lord bless you as He blessed the holy pious women, that He will fill you with His holy Love.  His Blessed Face is your ideal, and will piously torment you with the desire to give Him love and praise, this is the perfect reparation. “–Servant of God Ildebrando Gregori OSB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Held in His Gaze – Benedictines and The Holy Face of Christ

"Holy Face of Tours"
“Holy Face of Tours”

The Feast of St. Benedict on July 11th always reminds me of his Benedictine sons and daughters and their special devotion to the Face of Jesus. Certainly, all Benedictines make the Face of Christ in the Church shine through their beautiful liturgy. But, a few in particular come to mind when recalling the Holy Face.  It was the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, who through the influence of St. Gertrude the Great, gave the Carmelite Monastery in Tours, France reproductions of the Holy Face, in 1851 from the Basillica in Rome.  This is the image most closely associated with Carmelite Sr. Marie St. Pierre, who received the revelation of Devotion to the Holy Face, the Holy Man of Tours, Leo Du Pont, who devoted his life to promoting the devotion and of course, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and The Holy Face.

St. Gertrude, one of the great mystics of the 13th century and the only female Saint to be called “the Great,” was known for her special devotion to the Face of Christ.  It was written that she wept each time she recalled the sorrowful vision of Our Lord in which she saw Him so severely disfigured by the executioners that her heart was filled with bitter grief.  “Tell me, O Lord,” exclaimed St. Gertrude, “the remedy that can soothe the sufferings of Thy Divine Face.” Jesus replied: “If anyone meditates upon My sufferings with tenderness and compassion, his heart will be to Me as a soothing balm for these wounds.”

St. Gertrude often saw the Face of Jesus, in meditation, resplendent as the sun, illuminating priests, inflaming the devout and converting sinners. When she asked why the Face of Our Lord shone like the sun, and Jesus explained: “Like the sun, My Countenance illuminates, warms and fructifies.”

St. Gertrude the Great
St. Gertrude the Great

On another occasion when St. Gertrude was making reparation to the Adorable Face, wounded and disfigured, she asked Jesus for a special grace for those who would practice devotion to His Holy Face. Jesus gave St. Gertrude this promise: “All those who meditate frequently on the vision of My Divine Face, attracted by the desires of love, shall receive within them, through My Humanity, a bright ray of My Divinity, which shall enlighten their inmost souls so that they shall reflect the light of My Countenance in a special manner throughout eternity.”

St. Mechtilde, a contemporary of St. Gertrude, was also devoted to the Holy Face. She once exclaimed to her sisters, “Let us all, full of holy desire, hasten to venerate the sweetest Countenance of Our Lord, which will in Heaven be our all – all that a glorified soul can desire.” St. Mechtilde had once asked Our Lord to grant that those who celebrate the memory of His sweet Face should never be deprived of His amiable company. Jesus replied, “Not one of them shall be separated from Me.” Jesus then pronounced this blessing: “The splendor of My Countenance will be their eternal rejoicing.” 

Bl. Columba Marmion
Bl. Columba Marmion

The other day I “accidentally” picked up a book, by an Irish Benedictine, while looking for a something else on my bookcase: “Union With God”, Letters of Spiritual Direction by Blessed Columba Marmion.” Remembering this book as a treasure of wise counsel and never one to resist opening and re-reading “just a few pages,”which ended up being most of the book, my eyes fell these words of Bl. Marmion, reminding me of God’s gaze upon us, working wonders in our souls as we gaze at Him:  “God’s mercy is infinite like God Himself.  If we lay open our soul to Him with all its infirmities and sins.  His Divine gaze goes into the most hidden recess and brings us strength and light.” 

Bl. Marmion writes that our relationship with God hinge upon two things; our walking in the truth of our nature as creatures, who remain always in humble adoration before our Creator, and our dignity as children of God: “Our adoption as children supposes that we act always as loving children towards our Heavenly Father, constantly seeking his good pleasure: “Seek His Face evermore.”  This Facies Dei, Face of God, is the smile of His loving approbation. If you always keep the truth of this twofold relation, you will be more and more fixed in truth and in peace.”  “Look your Heavenly Father in the face, and show him your soul in bare truth,” Bl. Marmion advises, “…do not  forget that He is God the Infinite!  The love of the creature, in order to be true, must be the love of adoration; the Sacred Humanity of Jesus stands before the face of the Father in the reverence of infinite love: “He shall be FILLED with the spirit of fear of the Lord.”  and he goes on, “If you keep the eye of your soul fixed upon God alone, you will receive many graces.”  Bl. Marmion writes too, of gazing at God in faith;  “It is good sometimes, when alone with God, to stretch out our hands to Him and look at Him in faith showing Him the depths of our soul that His eye may penetrate into those abysses that are hidden in the recesses of the heart.  Then our prayer is pure and very powerful,  for the child gazes into the Father’s face, seeking this face, that is to say His good pleasure:  “Seek ye the Lord, seek His face EVERMORE.”  

I cannot conclude this post without mentioning other blessed sons of St. Benedict, the monks of Silverstream Priory in County Meath, Ireland, who find their strength and inspiration for their mission in the Eucharistic Face of Christ.  Dom Mark Kirby, OSB, the Prior writes an excellent blog dedicated to the Face of Jesus, which can also be found in the “links” – http://vultuschristi.org/

One of the important Apostolates of Silverstream is The Confraternity of Priest Adorers of The Eucharistic Face of Jesus, “responding to the need and desire of many priests, young and old, to unite among themselves specifically for the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and to support one another in persevering in prayer.”  Dom Kirby offers this beautiful prayer for priests, “May our priests, by the holiness of their lives, show to the world the adorable features of the Divine Countenance shining with the light of truth and of love, for the triumph of the Church and the spread of the Kingdom.”

I will end with these  beautiful and inspired words of hope for the Feast of St. Benedict by Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory:

“The Sacred Name and Sacred Face of Jesus are fire and light in this world that is becoming colder and darker by the day.  In the end, the darkness will be forever vanquished by the fire of His Name and by the light of His Face, and then there shall be peace in His Kingdom fully revealed, and in the company of His Saints who will sing praise to His Name and adore His Face, shining more brightly than a thousand suns, and this unto the ages of ages.”  –Dom Mark Kirby, OSB

Happy Feast of St. Benedict!  May His Face shine upon all Benedictines!

"Il Volto Santo" Holy Face of Manoppello, Italy
“Il Volto Santo” Holy Face of Manoppello, Italy

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