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Dominus Illuminatio Mea

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A Mass of the Transfiguration

It is a curious fact of liturgical history that originally this Second Sunday of Lent had no Mass of its own. The Roman clergy and people were tired from the long night vigil that began on the evening of Ember Saturday and ended at dawn with the Holy Sacrifice. Only when the solemn night vigil was pushed back to Saturday morning did it become necessary to put together a separate Mass for Sunday morning. But what a Mass it is! From beginning to end today’s Mass bathes in the radiant light of the transfigured Christ.

Introit

The Introit is, in many places, the same one sung on August 6th, the summer festival of the Transfiguration: “Of you my heart has spoken: 'Seek His Face.’ It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your Face from me” (Ps 26:8-9). The Church sings of what she holds deep in her heart: the desire to gaze upon the Face of Christ. The melody itself rises and lingers over the words vultum tuum, your Face. The Introit ends in a plea, at once humble and confident: “Turn not away your Face from me” (Ps 26:9).

The Way

The Church, in every age and in all her children, is called to fulfill the command addressed to Abram: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee” (Gen 12:1). The Church knows that so long as the Face of her Lord shines before her she can follow Him even along the way of the cross. He who says, “I am the way” (Jn 14:6), was lifted up on the cross, becoming the signpost pointing to “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). Relentlessly God calls us out of what is familiar, out of our routines (even our pious ones) into the uncharted vastness of faith, “into the land that He will show us” (Gen 12:1).

Seeing Only Jesus

In the Church’s choice of today’s Introit there is a very practical teaching for our own Lenten journey. We are to focus not on our sins, nor on our weaknesses, nor on the roughness of the path beneath our feet, but on the Face of Christ. The Introit wonderfully anticipates the words of Saint Matthew in the gospel: “And they lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus” (Mt 17:8).

Psalm 26

The psalm that accompanies the Introit describes the fear of one threatened by attackers on all sides. Psalm 26 is the prayer of one thrust into the fray of spiritual combat. And yet, it teaches us to say, even in the midst of the battle: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid” (Ps 26:1). Again, note the link between the introit and the gospel. “And Jesus came and touched them: and said to them, 'Arise and fear not’” (Mt 17:7). Looking into the eyes of her Saviour, the Church says in the words of the psalmist, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 26:1).

Ad Gloriam

This Sunday of the Transfiguration follows the Sunday of the Temptation. This too is full of meaning and of practical teaching for us. Saint Paul addresses Timothy with a stern realism: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God” (2 Tim 1:8). The beginning of the way of the cross is beset with hardship, with temptations. Holy Father Benedict knew this well. He speaks of all the things that are hard and repugnant in the way to God” (RB 8:8). The return to God is through “the toil of obedience” (RB Pro: 2), the hard listening that changes life. There is no return to God apart from the way of the cross, and there is no other way to glory. The ultimate tragedy is our refusal to follow Christ ad gloriam, to glory (RB Pro: 7).

Eyes Fixed on the Face of Christ

Dame Aemiliana Löhr says that “the essence of temptation is the desire to make short-cuts in the way, to come of one’s own power to glory, and to despise the appointed hours; to go round the cross.” “Man’s part,” she says, “is only to go his way, to be patient, to suffer, and to wait. The final glory is God’s to give at the hour which He alone knows” (The Mass Through the Year, Volume I, p. 171). Today’s liturgy says, “Go your way, but with your eyes fixed on the Face of Christ. Be patient, suffer, and wait, seeking at every moment and in all things His Face.”

Collect

The Collect reminds us that without the sustenance of God’s word we will suffer spiritual malnutrition, grow weak, and falter. This is why the Church has us pray: O God, who commanded us to listen to your Son, the Beloved, deign to feed us inwardly by your word.” The soul who, engaged in spiritual combat, slacks off in the practice of lectio divina or allows herself to become indifferent to it, will become spiritually anemic. The soul “inwardly fed by the Word of God” will enjoy a growing clarity of vision. Seeing more clearly, she will be able to follow Christ more closely. Strengthened inwardly, she will be able to walk more securely, until, as the Collect says, “with the eyes of the heart made pure,” she rejoices at the sight of the glory of God.

Offertory Antiphon

Today, the Offertory Antiphon is the voice of the Church reflecting on everything spoken to her in the Liturgy of the Word. The command of the Father speaking out of the bright cloud calls for a response. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: listen to Him” (Mt 17:5). While the bread and wine are made ready she takes a moment to ponder what has been said to her, and she makes a resolution. What does she resolve to do? “I will meditate on your commands which I love exceedingly; with arms flung wide I will stretch toward your commandments for I love them” (Ps 118:47-48). The antiphon is taken from Psalm 118 wherein every reference to the commandments, the law, the statutes of God become, for the Church, a reference to Christ, the beloved Son. The Church resolves today to “set nothing before the love of Christ” (RB 4:21). She addresses the Father who spoke to her in the Gospel, and moved by the Spirit, makes this bold resolution. The melody itself is full of energy and tenderness. “I will meditate on your Christ whom I love exceedingly; with arms flung wide I will stretch toward Christ for I love Him.” It is this prayer that readies us for the Holy Sacrifice.

Shines Like the Sun

We cannot step into the sacrosanct core of the Mass without encountering the love of Christ, without coming face to face with “the love of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear” (RB Pro: 67). Every fear, every terror “melts like wax before Him” (cf. Ps 67:3) whose “Face shines like the sun” (Mt 17:2). Exposure to the brightness of the Eucharist, -- a brightness veiled beneath the appearances of bread and wine -- is exposure to the love of Christ and to the radiance of His Face.

And Night Shall Be No More

After Holy Communion, made aware of this we will pray to the Father, saying that, “while we are yet on earth He gives us to partake of things of heaven.” What are these things? The book of the Apocalypse tells us what they are: “And they shall see His Face: and His name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more and they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten them, and shall reign forever and ever” (Ap 22:4-5).

My Light and My Salvation

With the Face of Christ before us and His light surrounding us we can go forward, even into the dark uncharted territories of faith. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Ps 26:1).

The Human Face of Divine Mercy

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The painting (1488) is by Bartolomeo di Giovanni and was commissioned for the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence. The six-sided altar at the centre of the composition points to the Sixth Day Sacrifice of the Cross. There is fire burning on the altar, a sign of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Virgin Mary's gesture indicates that she is offering the Infant Christ and participating in His sacrifice. Simeon's gesture is one of acceptance; he is an image of the Eternal Father. Saint Joseph holds the turtle doves in his cloak; Joseph was chosen by God to veil the mystery. Anna, entering the painting at the extreme left, holds the lighted candle of her faith and hope as she witnesses the arrival in the temple of the long-awaited Priest and Victim, the Consolation of Israel.

The Face of a Little Child

In today's splendid Introit we sing that we have received Mercy "in the midst of the temple" (Ps 47:10). At the heart of today's mystery shines the face of a little Child, the human face of Divine Mercy. The four other figures in today's Gospel -- Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna -- are held in His gaze. In a homily for January 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke tenderly of the Face of the Infant Christ. "God's Face took on a human face, letting itself be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, who for this reason we venerate with the loftiest title of Mother of God. She, who had preserved in her heart the secret of the divine motherhood, was the first to see the face of God made man in the small fruit of her womb."

Today we meet the gaze of the Infant Christ, "made like His brethren in every respect" (Heb 2:17) and, looking into His eyes, we see that He is already our "merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).

The Presentation of Christ Our Priest

Today in the midst of the temple the Father presents His Christ, our Priest, to us; and today the Father presents us to Christ our Priest. Of ourselves we have nothing to present; we can but receive Christ and allow ourselves to become an offering in His hands. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Infant Christ, presented to us as our Priest, presents us, in turn, to the Father. It is fitting that the symbol of the Infant Christ should be the living flame that crowns our candles. This Child has a Heart of fire, and so the prophet says, "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire . . . and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord" (Mal 3:2-3).

The Infant Priest and Victim

Today is the World Day for Consecrated Life. Consider the images that the liturgy sets before us: a flame that burns, consuming the wax that holds it aloft; a Child with the all-embracing gaze of the "Ancient of Days" (Dn 7:13); an Infant who is already Priest and Victim.

Identification with Christ the Victim

One consecrated in the monastic life is a taper offered to the consuming flame of love. One so consecrated has eyes only for the gaze of Christ, revealing a Heart that is all fire. One consecrated is presented and handed over to Christ the Priest. One consecrated is inescapably destined for the altar of sacrifice, for identification with Christ the Victim. Monastic life cannot be anything less than this, nor can it be anything more. This is why the Apostle says, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1).

The Woman Wrapped in Silence

Each of the four figures surrounding the Infant Christ in the temple is an icon of consecrated life, beginning with his all-holy Virgin Mother. How does today's Gospel present her? She is a woman wrapped in silence. Even when addressed by Simeon, she remains silent. Her silence is an intensity of listening. She is silent so as to take in Simeon's song of praise, silent so as to capture his mysterious prophecy of soul-piercing sorrow and hold it in her Immaculate Heart. She is silent because today her eyes say everything, eyes fixed on the face of the Infant Christ, eyes illumined by the brightness of his gaze.

Wordlessly, Mary offers herself to the living flame of love. She is the bride of the Canticle of whom it is said, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil" (Ct 4:1). Consecrated life in all its forms, and monastic life in particular, begins in the silence of Mary that, already in the temple, consents to the sacrifice of her Lamb and to the place that will be hers beside the altar of the Cross.

Joseph and the Divine Desires

Turning to Saint Joseph, what do we see? Joseph shares Mary's silence. Silence is the expression of their communion in a tender and chaste love, a love that is ready for sacrifice. Joseph listens with Mary. Saint Joseph is the first to enter deeply into the silence of the Virgin. It is his way of loving her. It is his way of trusting her beyond words.

Saint Joseph: Tenderly Focused on the Face of Christ

The silence of Saint Joseph becomes for all consecrated persons a way of loving, a way of trusting, a way of pushing back the frontiers of hope. I recall what Pope Benedict XVI said concerning the silence of Saint Joseph. "The silence of Saint Joseph," said the Holy Father, "is an attitude of total availability to the divine desires. . . . He stands beside the Church today, silent, listening, tenderly focused on the face of Christ in all his members." Consecrated life is just that: availability to the desires of God, a listening silence, and a way of focusing tenderly on the face of Christ in all his members.

The Old Priest Sings

Saint Simeon represents the ancient priesthood disappearing into the light of Christ, our "merciful and faithful high priest before God" (Heb 2:17). Simeon is the old priest pointing to the new. He speaks; he sings his praise; he utters prophecy. Saint Simeon models the vocation of every priest charged in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the calling down of the Holy Ghost over altar, bread, wine, and people. Simeon has a particular relationship with the Holy Ghost. Three times in as many verses Saint Luke emphasizes the mystical synergy of Simeon and the Holy Ghost: "The Holy Ghost was upon him. . . " (Lk 2:25); "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Ghost. . . . ; (Lk 2:26); "He came in the Spirit into the temple"; (Lk 2:27). In the Holy Spirit, Simeon contemplates the face of the Infant Christ; in the Holy Spirit he raises his voice in prophecy and in thanksgiving. In all of this Simeon shows us the characteristic traits of the new priesthood called to serve in the Holy Spirit.

Anna of the Face of God

Finally, there is Anna the prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel whose name means "Face of God." The widow Anna has made the temple her home. Abiding day and night in adoration, she emerges from the recesses of the temple only to give thanks to God and speak of the Child. Drawn into the light of the face of Christ she cannot but praise and immediately publish the good news "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk 2:38).

Anna of the Face of God models the vocation of every consecrated woman called to be at once fully contemplative and fully apostolic. The old woman's encounter with the Infant Christ energizes and rejuvenates her. In some way, Anna is the first apostle sent out by the Holy Spirit. Before Mary Magdalene and before the twelve, Anna announces Christ. She is compelled to speak but does so out of an "adoring silence." She appears in the temple to publish the long-awaited arrival of Mercy, and in her eyes shines the light of his Face. Mercy in the flesh was passed like a living flame from the arms of Mary and Joseph into the arms of Simeon and, then, undoubtedly into the embrace of holy Anna. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Consuming Fire of the Most Holy Eucharist

We, who welcome Mercy in the midst of the temple, are compelled to present ourselves to Mercy at the altar, to give ourselves back to Mercy, to give ourselves up to Mercy, to surrender to Mercy's sweet, purifying flame. "Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:28-29).

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When it comes to Franciscan spirituality, I, being a son of Saint Benedict and an unworthy disciple of Blessed Abbot Marmion, lay claim to nothing other than ignorance. In spite of this, I thought that, in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi's feast, I might share with the readers of Vultus Christi a few texts that illustrate the centrality of the Face of Christ to the Franciscan charism.

Saint Bonaventure

Saint Bonventure, the Seraphic Doctor, in his Tree of Life, contemplates the adorable Face of Christ:

That Face, venerated by the Patriarchs,
desire of the Angels,
delight of Heaven,
was defiled by spittle from vile mouths,
struck by the blows of the inhuman,
and so as to augment the mockery, was covered with a veil by the sacrilegious.
The Face of the Lord of all creation was struck
as though He were an abject slave.
And He, serene of Countenance speaking softly,
gently had admonished one of the servants of the High Priest who had struck Him:
"If I have spoken evil, tell Me where I have erred;
if however I have spoken the truth, why do you strike me?

Eyes Only for Thy Face

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A Longing to See Him Again

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote somewhere that the Ascension of the Lord is "at once a source of sorrow, because it involves His absence; and of joy, because it involves His presence." For Our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, standing on the Mount of Olives with their eyes riveted to the heavens, the Ascension was the last glimpse of the Face of Christ on earth. The disappearance of the beloved Face of Christ leaves in the heart of the Church a longing to see Him again, a burning desire for His return.

I Seek Thy Face

This is the grace offered us in Exaudi, Domine, today's incomparable Introit: "Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia. True to my heart's promise I have eyes only for Thy Face; I seek Thy Face, O Lord! Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia" (Ps 26: 7-9). The desire to contemplate the Face of Christ becomes a persistent longing; this is the experience of all the saints. The vitality of one's interior life can be measured by the intensity of one's desire to see the Face of Christ.

Blessed John Paul II

Twelve years ago, in Novo Millennio Ineunte, Blessed John Paul II placed the new millennium under the radiant sign of the Face of Christ. Then again, at the beginning of the Year of the Eucharist, the year of his death, Blessed John Paul II again directed our eyes to the Face of Christ concealed and revealed in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

The Holy Spirit

There is a vital connection between the Holy Spirit and the Face of the Word made flesh. Recall the promise of Our Lord before His Passion: "He who is to befriend you, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send on my account, will in His turn make everything plain, and recall to your minds everything I have said you" (Jn 14:26). "It will be for Him, the truth-giving Spirit, when He comes, to guide you into all truth" (Jn 16:13). Contemplation of the Holy Face of Jesus is the means by which the Holy Spirit teaches us all that we need to know in order to become saints.

The Holy Spirit teaches us by referring them to the adorable Face of Jesus. The Holy Spirit so illumines the Sacred Scriptures for us that we perceive the Face of the Bridegroom shining through the text. "Now," says the Bride of the Canticle, "He is looking in through each window in turn, peering through every chink" (Ct 2:9).

The Memory of the Church

Since His Ascension from the Mount of Olives, the Holy Face of Jesus fills the vision of the Church. The Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance all that Our Lord said by compelling us ceaselessly to seek His Face. This is why the Church sings on this Sunday After the Ascension: "Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia. True to my heart's promise I have eyes only for Thy Face; I seek Thy Face, O Lord! Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia" (Ps 26: 7-9).

The Cenacle

Today's Holy Gospel, from the 15th chapter of Saint John, takes place in the Cenacle. The place of (1) the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and of the Priesthood is the very place wherein (2) Mary's Motherhood of the Church begins to unfold in a ceaseless prayer. At Pentecost, the same Cenacle becomes the place of (3) the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These three mysteries are telescoped into one in every celebration of Holy Mass. Today, after two thousand years, the Cenacle remains the Church's home. The Church lives out of the Cenacle -- Ecclesia de Eucharistia -- and returns to the Cenacle to be renewed in the Holy Spirit through the intercession of Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces.

The Eucharistic Face of Christ

In the Cenacle, together with Our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, one contemplates the Eucharistic Face of Christ. The commandment of the Lord on the night before He suffered, "Do this for a commemoration of me" (Lk 22:19), was certainly obeyed by the Apostles during the days that separated the Ascension of the Lord from Pentecost. The Mother of the Eucharist was there. The very Face that disappeared into the heavens over the Mount of Olives on the day of the Ascension re-appears in every Holy Mass, hidden, and yet shining, through the sacramental veils.

The Priestly Prayer

The Priestly Prayer of Christ to the Father, first uttered in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered, is wondrously actualized in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is Christ, the Eternal High Priest, who stands at the altar with His Face turned toward the Father and His pierced Heart open for all eternity, that out of it we may receive the life-giving torrent that is the Gift of the Holy Spirit. In some way, the final chapters of Saint John's Gospel are a sustained contemplation of the Face of Jesus turned toward us, and lifted to the Father.

Contemplate the Face of Jesus, portrayed in the Fourth Gospel: the Holy Spirit will surely draw you into His filial and priestly prayer to the Father. This is, I think, the reason for taking today's Communion Antiphon from Our Lord's Priestly Prayer given in the 17th Chapter of Saint John. One who receives the Body and Blood of Christ, receives the very prayer of Christ into his soul. The grace of every Holy Communion is that of Christ praying to His Father in us and for us.

As the Spirit of the Lord Enables Us

Through the adorable mystery of the Eucharist, the Face we so long to contemplate is set before our eyes and burned into our souls. "It is given to us, all alike, to catch the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, with faces unveiled; and so we become transfigured into the same likeness, borrowing glory from that glory, as the Spirit of the Lord enables us" (2 Cor 3:18).


Vultum tuum, Domine, requiro

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For the feast of Saint Anselm, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, here is a selection from Chapter One of the Proslogion of Saint Anselm (1033-1109). This magnificent text is intrinsically related to everything that Vultus Christi is about. My own comments, following each section, are in italics.

Lesson I

Up now, slight man! flee, for a little while, thy occupations; hide thyself, for a time, from thy disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, thy burdensome cares, and put away thy toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of thy mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid thee in seeking him; close thy door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek thy face; thy face, Lord, will I seek. And come thou now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek thee, where and how it may find thee.

If you have ever asked yourself how to go about praying, here Saint Anselm gives you the perfect account of his own approach to prayer. The phrase, "Yield room for some little time to God," is a brilliant translation of the Latin, "Vaca aliquantulum Deo." I would like to give this phrase, written in an elegant calligraphy on cards, to all who come to me for ghostly counsel!

Lesson II

Lord, if thou art not here, where shall I seek thee, being absent? But if thou art everywhere, why do I not see thee present? Truly thou dwellest in unapproachable light. But where is unapproachable light, or how shall I come to it? Or who shall lead me to that light and into it, that I may see thee in it? Again, by what marks, under what form, shall I seek thee? I have never seen thee, O Lord, my God; I do not know thy form. What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile far from thee? What shall thy servant do, anxious in his love of thee, and cast out afar from thy face? He pants to see thee, and thy face is too far from him. He longs to come to thee, and thy dwelling-place is inaccessible. He is eager to find thee, and knows not thy place. He desires to seek thee, and does not know thy face.

Here Saint Anselm describes the existential anguish of every soul. The longing to behold the Face of the Lord is a salutary and blessed torment. The desire for prayer -- communion with God -- is itself the beginning of prayer, and the fruit of prayer.

Lesson III

Lord, thou art my God, and thou art my Lord, and never have I seen thee. It is thou that hast made me, and hast made me anew, and hast bestowed upon me all the blessing I enjoy; and not yet do I know thee. Finally, I was created to see thee, and not yet have I done that for which I was made. And thou too, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, dost thou forget us; how long dost thou turn thy face from us? When wilt thou look upon us, and hear us? When wilt thou enlighten our eyes, and show us thy face? When wilt thou restore thyself to us? Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, reveal thyself to us. Restore thyself to us, that it may be well with us,--thyself, without whom it is so ill with us. Pity our toilings and strivings toward thee since we can do nothing without thee. Thou dost invite us; do thou help us.

"I was created to see thee," says Saint Anselm. Then he gives a word with which each of us might well begin his personal prayer: "Thou dost invite me, O Lord; do thou help me."

I beseech thee, O Lord, that I may not lose hope in sighs, but may breathe anew in hope. Lord, my heart is made bitter by its desolation; sweeten thou it, I beseech thee, with thy consolation. Lord, in hunger I began to seek thee; I beseech thee that I may not cease to hunger for thee. In hunger I have come to thee; let me not go unfed. I have come in poverty to the Rich, in misery to the Compassionate; let me not return empty and despised.

This portion of the text very much resembles the well known Prayer Before Holy Communion attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Be it mine to look up to thy light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek thee, and reveal thyself to me, when I seek thee, for I cannot seek thee, except thou teach me, nor find thee, except thou reveal thyself. Let me seek thee in longing, let me long for thee in seeking; let me find thee in love, and love thee in finding.

Therein lies the perfection of all prayer: it is to seek the Face of Christ in longing; to long for the vision of His Face in seeking; to find Him in love; and to love Him in finding Him. And where do we find His Face? In the Word of God, most certainly, and in the Sacrament of His Love whence His Eucharistic Face, though veiled by the sacred species, shines forth to warm the cold heart, to illumine the heart darkened by sin, to heal every brokenness.

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Deus, qui unigenitum Filium tuum
constituisti humani generis Salvatorem
et Jesum vocari jussisti:
concede propitius;
ut, cujus sanctum nomen veneramur in terris,
ejus quoque aspectu perfruamur in caelis.


O God, who didst constitute Thine only-begotten Son
the Saviour of mankind,
and didst command that He should be called JESUS:
grant in Thy kindness
that our heart's joy in heaven may be the Face of Him
Whose Holy Name we venerate on earth.

The Collect for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus rather ingeniously brings together the Name of Jesus with His Holy Face. While the latin aspectus (used in the Collect above) can mean the sight or appearance of someone, it can also refer to a person's countenance or to the expression of his face.

Friendship with Our Lord Jesus Christ

Nothing is more personal to an individual than his name and his face. We don't consider our knowledge of another person really significant until we can put a name to his face, and a face to his name. So too, our friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ is not significant until we have begun, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to associate the Holy Name of Jesus with His adorable Face, and His adorable Face with His Holy Name.

This is the very grace that was given in superabundant measure to the Carmelite of Tours, France, Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre (1816-1848) and to her saintly friend in the world, the lawyer, Monsieur Léon Papin Dupont (1797-1876). How did the Carmel of Tours, and the reception room of Monsieur Dupont become centres of devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus?

The Benedictine-Carmelite Connection

In the spring of 1851 the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Monastery of Arras (daughters of Mother Mectilde de Bar), being already devoted to the Holy Face through the influence of Saint Gertrude the Great, gave the Carmel of Tours several reproductions of the image of the Holy Face venerated in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. (From the Carmel of Tours the devotion would reach the Carmel of Lisieux where it became a profound influence on Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church.) This particular image of the Holy Face became famous after an astonishing miracle that took place in January 1849, during the exile of Blessed Pope Pius IX at Gaeta.

The Roman Miracle of the Holy Face: Epiphany 1849

It was customary on the feast of the Epiphany to expose for the veneration of the faithful the "Veronica's Veil" preserved with other sacred relics in the Vatican Basilica. The "Veil" was darkened by age, and the features of Our Lord's sacred countenance were no longer visible. On the third day of the exposition of the relic, before the eyes of numerous witnesses, the image of the Holy Face took on vivid colours and, in the midst of an unearthly light, became clearly visible, and this for three hours. The expression on the Holy Face was one of profound sorrow and of love. Alerted to the prodigy, the Canons of Saint Peter's ordered the bells rung, summoning the faithful to see the miraculous sign. A Notary Apostolic was called to take the depositions of the eyewitnesses; he drew up a document attesting to the miracle, which was then placed in the archives of the Vatican Basilica.

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Enter Monsieur Dupont, the Holy Man of Tours

Once news of the miracle spread, people everywhere began requesting reproductions of the Sacred Countenance of Our Lord as seen on the Holy Veil of Saint Peter's Basilica. A number of these were printed on silk and linen, marked with a red wax seal of authenticity, and distributed from Rome. Several of these reproductions were sent to the Benedictine nuns of Arras in France; they in turn sent some of them to the Carmel of Tours. On Palm Sunday 1851, the Mother Prioress of the Carmel of Tours gave two of the reproductions to Monsieur Léon Papin-Dupont. Without losing any time, the next day, Holy Monday, he entrusted the two images to a workman in order to have them suitably framed. He gave the more elegantly framed of the two to the Men's Confraternity of Nocturnal Adoration in Tours; the other he kept for himself. On Holy Wednesday, Monsieur Dupont hung the framed image in a recess to the left of the chimney in his room. In front of it, on a chest, there was a chest upon which a votive lamp might be placed. Listen to Monsieur Dupont explain what happened:

After having had framed this terrible proof of the ravages of sin, I placed this Holy Face in my room, to the left of my chimney in the recess, just above a little chest suitable to receive a lamp. Several pious images found place there as well. It was Holy Wednesday. No sooner I had installed it, than I was struck interiorly by a sudden sentiment rising from the bottom of my heart. "Can this image of the Divine Face of the Saviour of men be exposed," said I to myself, "in the house of a Christian during this great week of the Passion, without an outward sign of respect, adoration, and love being given to it? No, certainly not, it shall not be so." And this is how I had, all of a sudden, the thought to light this lamp before the Holy Face, with the intention of leaving it burning only for the rest of Holy Week. Immediately I carried out my thought; but soon there came to me another. This room was the one in which I was accustomed to receive all those who came to visit me, or who needed to speak to me. It was there that I had installed my desk. "Everyone," I thought, "will ask me why there should be a lamp burning in daylight. I will respond, it is to teach those who come to my house that when the affair for which they came has been addressed, they have only to withdraw or speak of God." And I was of a mind to write these words as a kind of commentary on a card of paper, that I would place on my desk to show when the need would arise: "One is free in one's own home. In my home, after treating of the affair for which one came, one must either leave or speak of the things of God."
That day, and the day after, passed without anyone posing me a question. Some paid no attention. Others thought that I had had there a very pious idea. On Good Friday a traveling salesman, having forced my door to propose some Bordeaux wines, had my response, and was so surprised by it that I had to repeat to him twice. There was my opprtunity to speak to him of religion. He stayed listening to me for over an hour. Having come into my house indifferent, at best, he left it, very nearly converted, taking away with faith some water from La Salette.
The next day, that is Holy Saturday, Our Lord began to make His intentions known, and this is how He did it. I received the visited of a very pious person whom I knew, a Miss X. She suffered from an affliction of the eyes; entering my room, she complained loudly of a lancing pain in her eyes due to the cold wind that was blowing and filling the air with dust. She was coming to see him about business. Being occupied in writing, I invited her to pray to the Holy Face while waiting to see me. She took advantage of the opportunity to ask for her healing. In a moment I had joined her. I knelt down and we prayed together. Upon getting up, it occurred to me to say to her, "Put a little of the oil of this lamp on your eyes." She dipped her finger into the oil, rubbed her eyes with it and, taking a chair to sit down, said in astonishment, "My eyes no longer hurt me." At end of her visit, I had to give her a little oil from the lamp to take home because she was leaving for Richelieu, her usual place of residence.

Cures and Graces

From that day forward the life of Monsieur Dupont became an uninterrupted flow of miracles, healings, and graces attributed to the Holy Face of Jesus, and to the pious use of the oil that burned in the lamp before it. He recounts that on the following Easter Tuesday a young man of the town came on an errand; one of his legs was injured, he walked painfully and limped. Monsieur Dupont thought that if he applied some of the oil burning in the lamp, and prayed to the Holy Face of Jesus, the young man might obtain some relief. This he did. Immediately the young man was healed and began to run around the garden with the greatest ease.

The Lamp Burns On

Monsieur Dupont considered that he intended to keep the oil lamp burning before the Holy Face only during Holy Week, but after these experiences, he couldn't bring himself to remove it. Soon thereafter it was Our Blessed Lady's month of May, another reason to keep the lamp burning. After that came June, the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and July, the month of the Most Precious Blood. Monsieur Dupont knew that it would not at all do to allow the lamp to go out during months dedicated to the mysteries of the Redemption. Graces and favours began to abound. More than twenty persons were healed after having prayed to the Holy Face of Jesus, and used oil from the lamp. A movement of devotion to the Holy Face was born. The faithful would gather in front of the image of the Holy Face, together with Monsieur Dupont, to recite the Litanies of the Holy Face composed by Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre, cloistered in the nearby Carmel.

In the Healing Radiance of the Holy Face

Prodigies began to multiply. Healings of all sorts took place: from cancers, from ulcers both external and internal, from deafness, from cataracts, and from sprains. By December 2, 1852 Monsieur Dupont had distributed more than eight-thousand little vials of oil from the lamp. Crowds began coming to his door. On certain Saturdays more than three-hundred people crowded into his reception room. The greatest wonder of all was that, for all of these people, their devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was crowned by a good Confession and fervent Holy Communion.

Miracles continued to abound. Until his death in 1876, Leon Papin-Dupont noted each miracle worked by the Holy Face of Jesus in a register kept for that purpose. To his great confusion, letters would sometimes arrive addressed "To the Wonderworker of Tours" or "To the Holy Man of Tours." Like the Curé of Ars hiding behind the intercession of Saint Philomena, and like Saint André Bessette hiding behind that of Saint Joseph, Monsieur Dupont sought only to disappear into the glory of the Holy Face of Jesus. Today, Monsieur Dupont's room, having been transformed into the Oratory of the Holy Face (8 rue Bernard Palissy, 37000 Tours, France) remains a place of pilgrimage and of prayer. Dominican Fathers of the Province of France, now living in the home of Monsieur Dupont, are charged with the pastoral care of pilgrims to the Oratory of the Holy Face.

A Devotion Confirmed by the Sacred Liturgy

For Monsieur Dupont and for Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre, devotion to the Holy Face was inseparable from love for, and faith in, the adorable Name of Jesus. The layman and the Carmelite demonstrated in their piety the very association made by the Church in the Collect for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

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Showing Forth His Face

In the Ordinary Form, the Collect for today's memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo contains an extraordinary phrase. We beseech (quaesumus) the Father that the Church, being ceaselessly renewed, and thus conformed to the image of Christ, may show forth His Face to the world: Christi se imagini conformans, ipsius vultum mundo valeat ostendere.

The Face Reveals the Heart

This is the mission of the Church: to show forth the Face of Christ to the world. In showing forth the Face of Christ, the Church invites all peoples to discover the merciful love of His Heart.

Saint Charles and the Holy Shroud

It is no coincidence, I think, that Saint Charles Borromeo, who venerated the Holy Shroud in Turin on October 10, 1578 was profoundly affected by the experience. Could not the allusion to the Face of Christ in today's Collect be a discreet allusion to the great reforming bishop's encounter with the mysterious Face of the Shroud?


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Editio Typica

Custodi, quaesumus, Domine, in populo tuo spiritum,
quo beatum Carolum episcopum implevisti,
ut Ecclesia indesinenter renovetur,
et, Christi se imagini conformans,
ipsius vultum mundo valeat ostendere.

My Translation

Preserve in Thy people, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the spirit with which Thou didst fill the bishop Saint Charles;
that the Church may be ceaselessly renewed, and, in conforming herself to the image of Christ, be able to show forth His face to the world.


ICEL 1973

The flawed 1973 ICEL text, used today for the last time in the United States, is as follows:

Father, keep in your people
the spirit which filled Charles Borromeo.
Let your Church be continually renewed
and show the image of Christ to the world
by being conformed to his likeness.

Discourteous

What is wrong with the old ICEL text? First off, you will note that quaesumus is simply omitted. In the 1973 translation one does not beseech God, one rather baldly tells God what to do.

The Infusion of a Charism

In the Latin text, it is the Lord (God the Father) who fills Saint Charles with the spirit, meaning a particular infusion of the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the old ICEL text implevisti is not translated; it states, rather vaguely, that the spirit filled Charles Borromeo. "Spirit" here does not refer to the Holy Spirit; it refers to the grace of the Holy Spirit by which Saint Charles worked for the reform of the Church, a Divine inbreathing in view of his mission, a charism.

Bishop

The Latin text refers to the saint as the bishop Charles; the old ICEL text eliminates the reference to his hierarchical order, and replaces it with his surname! This reflects the casual, democratizing approach to hierarchical order of the framers of the old ICEL texts in 1973, an approach still prevalent, alas, in certain sectors of the Church in the United States.

A Theological Deconstruction

Finally, the old ICEL text, by eliminating the subordinate ut clause, completely deconstructs the theology of the prayer. In the Latin text:

(A) we beseech the Lord (God the Father) to preserve the spirit (i.e. grace or charism) of Saint Charles Borromeo in the Church --

(B) ut, SO THAT, or in such wise that, the Church may be ceaselessly renewed --

(C) and, being conformed to the image of Christ,

(D) may be able to show His Face to the world.

The irrefutable logic of the prayer, correctly translated, is this: the Church is able to show the Face of Christ to the world because she has been conformed to His image as result of the spirit (reforming charism or grace) given by God to the bishop Saint Charles, and preserved in the Church in response to her humble supplication.

Come to me, who adore Thee

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Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Saint Jude at the Mystical Supper

The Gospel tells us that Simon was one of the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to Himself and named Apostles; Saint Jude too was among the Twelve. The Apostle Jude has a cameo appearance in Saint John's Gospel at the moment of the Last Supper. Picture Saint Jude listening to Jesus with rapt attention. The question Jude puts to Our Lord is far from superficial. It suggests that he was an intelligent man capable of listening with the ear of the heart and long accustomed to pondering the deep things of the Spirit.

Saint Jude's Question

We, for our part, can be grateful to Saint Jude for the question he asked his Master. Our Lord's answer is full of light. "Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, 'Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?'; Jesus answered him, 'Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them'" (Jn 14:21-23).

The Indwelling Trinity

Thus is the mystery of the indwelling God revealed to the Apostle Jude. What is the mystery of the indwelling God? It is the abiding presence of the Father loving the Son, and of the Son loving the Father in the hearts of those who love Jesus and hold fast to His words. These few verses from the Gospel of Saint John are sufficient to make the Apostle Saint Jude, more than anything else, a patron of the interior life: the life of undivided attention to the words of Jesus, the life of adoring attention to the indwelling Trinity. Imagine what might be the conversations between the Apostle Jude and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity in heaven.

Economic Crisis and the American Devotion to Saint Jude

Popular devotion to Saint Jude is an American phenomenon that began in Chicago in 1929. The steel mills had begun massive lay-offs. In Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish more than 90% of the faithful were without paychecks, unemployment compensation, and Social Security benefits. The pastor, Father James Tort, saw the ever-growing bread lines, the distress of families, and the desperation in the faces of so many. He had, some time before the crisis, come into possession of a Latin American statue of an Apostle rarely invoked. Saint Jude was depicted clasping an icon of the Face of Christ to his breast, with a flame of Pentecostal fire over his head. Father Tort moved the statue to a place of prominence in the church. He announced a novena to The Forgotten Saint. It drew enormous crowds. People were strangely attracted to this obscure saint, to this saint rarely invoked because often confused with the other Jude, the one by whom Jesus was betrayed.

On the final evening of a solemn novena that ended on October 28, 1929 -- one day before the crash of the Stock Market -- an overflow of more than one thousand people stood outside the church praying and singing. Those asking the intercession of Saint Jude were given relief in unexpected ways and, more than anything else, they found hope again. Saint Jude's reputation as the patron saint of desperate causes spread from Chicago to shrines, churches, and homes all over the country.

The Apostle of the Holy Face of Jesus

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Popular images of Saint Jude passed into the collective memory of American Catholic piety. The medallion of the Face of Christ that he holds represents the miraculous icon of Edessa, the Holy Face of Jesus Not Made by Human Hands. The legend is that Abgar, the King of Edessa, stricken with leprosy, wrote the following letter to Jesus:

Abgar Ouchama to Jesus, the Good Physician Who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting: I have heard of Thee, and of Thy healing; that Thou dost not use medicines or roots, but by Thy word openest (the eyes) of the blind, makest the lame to walk, cleansest the lepers, makest the deaf to hear; how by Thy word (also) Thou healest (sick) spirits and those who are tormented with lunatic demons, and how, again, Thou raisest the dead to life. . . . Wherefore I write to Thee, and pray that thou wilt come to me, who adore Thee, and heal all the ill that I suffer, according to the faith I have in Thee.

Jesus, receiving the letter in Jerusalem, replied:

Blessed art thou who hast believed in Me, not having seen me, for it is written of me that those who shall see me shall not believe in Me, and that those who shall not see Me shall believe in Me. As to that which thou hast written, that I should come to thee, (behold) all that for which I was sent here below is finished, and I ascend again to My Father who sent Me, and when I shall have ascended to Him I will send thee one of My disciples, who shall heal all thy sufferings, and shall give (thee) health again, and shall convert all who are with thee unto life eternal.

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The disciple referred to here is none other than Saint Jude. The legend goes on to recount that Abgar, having received Our Lord's answer, wanted nothing so much as an image of His Face. He sent an artist to Jesus with instructions to paint the Divine Countenance. The artist had no success because of what he called "the inexpressible glory" in his Face, which changed in grace. Jesus, moved to pity, asked for a cloth, applied it to his Face, and entrusting it to the Apostle Jude, sent it back to King Abgar. When Abgar opened the cloth, he found himself before a miraculous image of the Holy Face of Jesus. This image, carried by the Apostle Jude to King Abgar, is said to be the model of every other icon of the Face of Christ.

Saint Jude, the Bearer of the Image of the Holy Face

Saint Jude, then, is the Apostle who comes to us bearing the image of the Vultus Christi. Jude, the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes, and Jude, the Apostle of the interior life is also Jude, the Apostle of the missionary life: he carries the Face of Christ to those who, like King Abgar, ask for healing and hope.

A Promise Fulfilled in the Most Holy Eucharist

The promise made by Our Lord in response to Saint Jude's question is sufficient for us: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (Jn 14:21-23). The Church gives us this very verse from Saint John as today's Communion Antiphon. It is the sacred liturgy's way of saying that the promise announced in these words of Our Lord is fulfilled for us in the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood. Relying on that promise, we go forth from participation in the Holy Mysteries bearing the Eucharistic Face of Christ in our hearts.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Gazing on the Holy Face

One-hundred-fourteen years ago, on August 5th, 1897, the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration, a young Carmelite stricken with tuberculosis had a very special desire. She wanted an image of the Holy Face of Christ placed close to her bed. The image was brought from the choir and attached to her bed curtains. On the following September 30th, she died. Her name? Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Saint Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, fixed her gaze on the Face of Christ disfigured by suffering, and found the transfiguration of her own suffering in its radiance.

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Preparation for the Mystery of the Cross

The Holy Face of Christ was a mystery familiar to Thérèse. As a result of the good works of the Venerable Léon Dupont, the "Holy Man of Tours," devotion to the Holy Face had spread throughout France. The Carmel of Lisieux honoured the Holy Face every August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. Every August 6th, the Carmelites exposed the image of the Holy Face in their choir, anointed it with perfume, and prayed before it.

Hidden in the Secret of His Face

A year before her death on August 6, 1896, Thérèse and two of the novices entrusted to her consecrated themselves to the Holy Face of Jesus. They understood the mystery of the Transfiguration just as the liturgy presents it to us today: as a preparation for the Mystery of the Cross.

The three young Carmelites asked Our Lord to hide them "in the secret of His Face." They were drawn by the Holy Ghost into the abjection of Christ, the Suffering Servant described in chapters 52 and 53 of the prophet Isaiah. They desired to be Veronicas, consoling Jesus in His Passion, and offering Him souls. Their prayer concluded: "O beloved Face of Jesus! As we await the everlasting day when we will contemplate your infinite Glory, our one desire is to charm your Divine Eyes by hiding our faces too so that here on earth no one can recognize us. O Jesus! Your Veiled Gaze is our Heaven!"

Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration

At the very center of the Transfiguration we see the Human Face of God, shining more brightly than the sun. Tradition gives us two privileged ways of seeking, of finding, and of contemplating the transfigured and transfiguring Face of Christ: the first is lectio divina in its two forms: the corporate choral lectio divina of the Sacred Liturgy, and the solitary lectio divina that prolongs the Sacred Liturgy and prepares it. One who seeks the Face of Christ in the Scriptures as dispensed to us by the Church will discover the Face of the Beloved peering through the lattice of the text, and will be changed by the experience. The second way is Eucharistic adoration. One who remains silent and adoring before the Divine Host, the "Veiled Gaze: of Jesus, will, almost imperceptibly, but surely, be transfigured and healed in its radiance.

Mercies New Every Morning

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Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

John 8:1-11

Excessive Mercy

Today's Gospel almost did not make it into the canon of the Scriptures; it was a cause of consternation to certain Christians of the early Church. The gentle compassion of Jesus seemed excessive to them. His merciful attitude towards the woman caught in adultery seemed too liberal, too easy. In several early manuscripts, the passage was simply deleted from the text. But the mercy of the Lord Jesus is indeed excessive! "His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning" (Lam 3:22-23).

The painting is from Capodimonte, Naples. Saint Mary of Egypt is on the left, and Saint Margaret of Cortona is on the right.

A Night Spent in Prayer

Our Lord has spent the night in prayer on the Mount of Olives (Jn 8:53). At daybreak, He descends from the Mount of Olives to the Temple precincts. The people come to Him, ordinary people, sinners of all sorts. In contrast to those who come to Jesus in order to hear his word, we see the scribes and Pharisees -- the professionals of religion, the rigorists -- who seek to entrap him. Their ears are open to catch Him in some theological inaccuracy or in some political faux-pas, but their hearts are closed to His excessive mercy.

The Sinner and the Saviour

They bring to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. In spite of their deceptive and twisted motives, in bringing the woman to our Lord, the scribes and pharisees do a good thing. A sinner is brought to the Saviour, a lamb to the Shepherd, one bruised and ailing to the Physician. Out of the evil designs of the scribes and Pharisees, our Lord will bring a great good.

A Captive of Divine Mercy

There are diverse ways of being brought to Christ. The woman caught in adultery is the captive of the scribes and Pharisees; she will become the captive of Divine Mercy. Accustomed to being used by men, she will be used by them in their experiment with Jesus. She is the bait with which they will attempt to catch Jesus, and she is a well-chosen bait, because the mercy of Jesus is irresistibly attracted to the misery of sinners. She is humiliated. She is fearful. She is ashamed. She is forced to come into the presence of Jesus; she is pushed into His presence.

The Presence of Jesus

At times something very similar may happen in our own lives. We are dragged into the presence of Jesus as a result of circumstances that humiliate and terrify us: disappointment, betrayal, illness, failure, the loss of a loved one, or the jealousy, the rigorism, or the lust for power of another.

At other times, it is Jesus himself who seeks us out. He comes to us, like the shepherd in the wilderness. He comes in search of the lost sheep. "And when He has found it, He lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing" (Lk 15:4-5).

Saint Mary of Egypt

At still other moments in our lives, the decision to seek out the Lord Jesus Christ is our own. Wounded by the Word of God, pierced through by repentance, the Holy Spirit sets our feet on the path of return to Christ, that through Christ we may return to the loving embrace of the Father. This is the case of Saint Mary of Egypt, the notorious prostitute of Alexandria, celebrated in the Eastern Churches as the supreme model of Lenten repentance and of resurrection. So impressed was Abbot de Rancé by Saint Mary of Egypt, that he had her feastday inscribed in the calendar of La Grande Trappe.

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Intervention of the Mother of God

You know her story. She was a glamorous harlot, a spectacularly public sinner, practising her profession in the great city of Alexandria. Hearing of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, she boarded ship with the pilgrims, seducing them at sea, indulging in shameless debauchery, partying long and hard all the way to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, an invisible force keeps her from entering the church in which the Holy Cross was being shown to the people. From above the church door, the Mother of God gazes upon her from her holy icon, filling her with confidence in God's mercy. From on high, Mary hears a voice saying, "If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest." "Hearing this voice," she says, "and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God, 'O Lady, O Lady, do not forsake me.'" Mary crossed the Jordan, went into the desert where she lived in constant prayer and repentance, "clinging to God who saves all who turn to Him from faintheartedness and storms."

The Joy of Repentance

Years later, Mary was discovered by Father Zosimas, a monk of Palestine who had gone into the desert for the forty-day fast, according to the custom of his monastery. Her story has been told again and again, giving hope to all who are weak, to all who struggle, to all who seek to cross over -- out of sin -- into the pure joy of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross. The life of Saint Mary of Egypt is, in its own way, a homily on today's Gospel.

Sacramental Details

Let us return that Gospel: in it the details of Jesus' behaviour are of the greatest importance. They are sacramental details; they reveal the thoughts of Jesus' Heart. First, Jesus refuses to look at the woman caught in adultery. He deliberately remains bent down, crouched close to the ground, tracing letters in the dust. Jesus has no need of seeing the woman’s face in order to probe the depths of her soul.

With the Despised

By bending down, close to the ground, Jesus identifies Himself with her and with all who are downtrodden and despised. The words of the psalmist come to mind: "My soul lies in the dust; by your word revive me" (Ps 118:25). Jesus refuses to look at the woman, lest he add in any way to the crushing weight of her shame and guilt. Without fixing his gaze upon her, He is with her in her humiliation and anguish.

God Arose to Judge

When Jesus addresses himself to the scribes and Pharisees, however, the Gospel account makes a point of noting that He stood up. "And as they continued to ask him, he stood up" (Jn 8:7). Jesus stands to pronounce judgment. He stands to speak with authority. He stands to defend the sinner against the accusations of the self-righteous. The psalm says: "Thou, Thou alone strikest terror. Who shall stand when Thy anger is roused? Thou didst utter Thy sentence from the heavens; the earth in terror was still when God arose to judge, to save the humble of the earth" (Ps 75:8 10).

Indictment of the Accusers

Looking at the woman's accusers, Jesus says to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn 8:7). These words are the echo of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: "Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye when there is a log in your own eye?" (Mt 7:3-4).

Great Misery and Great Mercy

Having spoken to the accusers, Jesus again bends down and continues to trace letters in the sand. He has nothing further to say to them. One by one, they go away, leaving Jesus alone with the woman. Saint Augustine says that, "great misery is left in the presence of great mercy." The Gospel makes a point of noting that now Jesus is bent down while the woman is standing. A resurrection has taken place! By lowering himself, Jesus "raises up those who are bowed down" (Ps 145:8). According to the Gospel, the woman has said nothing to Jesus up to this point. Nonetheless, the cry of her heart reached the Heart of Jesus. His mercy was moved by her misery.

O Wonderful Condescension

Then he looks up to speak to her. Jesus here is kneeling; the woman is standing. The humility of the Divine Mercy kneeling before sinners, pleading to be accepted! He who gives mercy and forgives sin makes Himself lower than the one who stands in need of mercy and forgiveness. O wonderful condescension! "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned thee? No one, sir, she replied. Neither do I condemn thee, said Jesus, go, and do not sin again" (Jn 8:10-11). This is the Communion Antiphon of today's Mass. Is there any harshness in the words of Jesus, any condemnation? Is there anything cutting, humiliating or belittling? There is nothing but gentleness --gentleness, and an excessive mercy.

Purification of the Memory

There is no need for us to live with the ghosts of the past, with the memory of past sins and troubles weighing heavily upon our hearts and preventing us from moving forward. If we have been brought to Jesus Christ by the circumstances of life; if, by God's grace, we have come to Jesus Christ; if Jesus Christ Himself has sought us out, placed us upon His shoulders and carried us home, then "there is no need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before" (Is 43:18). The excessive mercy of the Lord has swallowed up all our sins, leaving no trace of what was, and filling the present with the sound of his praise. "The people I have formed for myself will sing my praises" (Is 43:21.

Praise and Adoration

Praise is the characteristic mark of one who has tasted the sweetness of the Lord and known his excessive mercy. Adoration is fruit of every encounter with the Holy Face of Christ. The Church is an assembly of sinners who have read the excessive mercy of the Heart of Christ on His Holy Face and, as a result, cannot stop singing, and cannot cease from adoring! "Forget the past, then, and strain ahead for what is still to come" (Phil 3:13), the great and glorious Pasch of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Reparation

The last century saw, here and there, like so many points of light in the Church, men and women drawn by the Holy Spirit to the contemplation of the Face of Christ. In many cases this attraction to the Holy Face of Jesus was characterized by the prayer of reparation. The spiritual impulse to make reparation emerged in the aftermath of the French Revolution and, in the twentieth century, became in some way a response to the horrors of two World Wars. Violence, terrorism, and war continue to inspire a prayer of reparation that looks to the Face of Christ. We are most affected by acts of violence that disfigure the human face. Hear Isaiah's prophecy of the Servant: "His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men. . . . He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Is 52: 14; 53:3).

Face and Person

Face and Person are synonomous, not only by reason of the Greek etymology, but even more because there is nothing more personal, nothing more precious, nothing dearer than the face of a loved one. The psalmist's cry, "I long to see Thy face" (Ps 26:8), is the cry of every lover to his beloved, the cry of child to parent, of parent to child, and of friend to friend. The most poignant moment in the rites of death and burial comes when the face of the deceased is covered for the last time. We cherish photographs of those we love, but what is a photograph without a face? The relationships that we call "heart to heart" never tire of the "face to face."

Sins Against the Holy Face

The Holocaust that took place during the Second World War was, at the deepest level, an attempt to erase the dignity and uniqueness of each person, a sin against the Human Face of God, the Face of Christ mirrored in millions of Jewish faces. Every sin against the dignity of the human person is a sin against the Face of Christ. Every act of violence, irreverence, or scorn directed against the human person is a sin against the Face of Christ. The abortion that prevents a child's face from seeing another human face in the light of day is a sin against the Face of Christ. Torture and cruel ridicule are sins against the Face of Christ. The hard, stony gaze that looks at a person without seeing him is a sin against the Face of Christ. The eyes that judge, the look that condemns, is a sin against the Face of Christ. The refusal to see Christ in the faces of the sick, the stranger, and the immigrant is a sin against His Holy Face.

Our Secret Sins in the Light of Thy Face

Reparation is the prayer that seeks to make whole what is fragmented by putting love where there is no love, by gazing with reverence upon what has been disdained, by allowing our eyes to rest on "One from whom men hide their faces" (Is 53:3). The extraordinary thing about the prayer of reparation is that it is healing not only for the one offended but for the offender as well. If by sin we offend the Face of Christ, by reparation to the Holy Face we are healed of our sins. "Thou has set our iniquities before thee," says the psalmist, "our secret sins in the light of Thy face" (Ps 89:8).

The Eucharistic Face of Christ

The prayer of reparation is most at home in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The light that shines from the "Eucharistic Face of Christ" heals us sinners, and heals those against whom we have sinned. The love we bring to the Eucharistic Face of Christ reaches every human face. The prayer of reparation is the veil of Veronica lifted to the face of Christ in His Passion; it is the hand that seeks to wipe away every disfiguring stain of filth, of blood, and of tears.

Held in His Gaze

Mother Marie-Thérèse Bonnin, a French Benedictine of Jesus Crucified, remarked that nothing "repaired" her soul like the contemplation of the Holy Face. In 1940 she wrote, "I have need of prayer in the same way one has need of recuperating physically. Time passes quickly close to Him. It is not that I feel anything, it is enough to know that I am held in His gaze, enough to believe in His love."

Reparation and Adoration

The beginning of Lent and today's Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus invite us to a prayer of reparation and of adoration. "Look to him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed" (Ps 33:6). The light that streams from the Face of Christ can make radiant every human face. Allow yourself to be held in His gaze. Believe in His love. Perseverance in the simple prayer of reparation means healing for ourselves and healing for the world.

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The Open Side of Jesus Crucified

Look at this remarkable painting of Jesus Crucified. The focus of the composition is the wound in His Sacred Side. An angel holding a chalice is hovering just beneath it to receive the outpouring of His Blood. There are also angels stationed beneath His wounded hands. A fourth angel stricken with astonishment and grief looks on.

Saint Francis of Assisi

At the foot of the Cross, close to the wounded feet of Jesus, kneels Saint Francis of Assisi, embracing the saving wood. Saint Francis is closest to the feet of Jesus because he was called to walk in lowliness, poverty, and humility, in imitation of the Son of Man who "had no where to lay His head" (Mt 8:20).

Saint Benedict

On the left is Saint Benedict with his hands crossed over his breast. This is the ritual gesture of the monk when, on the day of his profession, he sings the second part of the Suscipe me, Domine: "Let me not be confounded in my expectation" (Ps 118:116). Saint Benedict is gazing at the Face of the Crucified with an extraordinary intensity of compassion and love. One could draw a direct line from the Face of Jesus to the face of Saint Benedict. This is what he means when he says in his Rule that one desiring to become a monk must "truly seek God" (RB 58:7).

Saint Romuald

On the right one sees Saint Romuald, whose feast we celebrate today. He is seated -- rather like Mary of Bethany in Luke 10:39 -- with his hands hidden in the sleeves of his cowl. These are subtle allusions to the hidden life in which Saint Romuald sought the Heart of Jesus, not by much doing (the hidden hands) but, rather, in much listening (the "Marian" posture). You will notice that Saint Romuald is not looking at the Face of the Crucified; he is focused on the wound in Jesus' Sacred Side. Therein he seeks to hide himself like the dove in the cleft of the rock.

A Must Read: The Face of God

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Readers of Vultus Christi will want to read The Face of God by journalist, historian and author Paul Badde. The author traces the fascinating history of one of the greatest and most hidden sacred relics of the Church: the Holy Face of Manoppello.

I first learned of Manoppello from my cousin Nunzio Onoratelli while visiting him and his wife Stefania at their home in Anzio, Italy. In 2007 I was privileged to make a pilgrimage to Manoppello in the company of good friends, Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The book is available from Ignatius Press. Here is what Ignatius Press says about it:

The Holy Face Rediscovered

Best-selling journalist, historian and author Paul Badde embarks on an exciting quest to discover the truth behind the Holy Face of Manoppello, a relic recently rediscovered and rumored to be the "veil of Veronica".

An Image on Sea Silk

Vatican correspondent for German newspaper Die Welt, journalist Paul Badde was intrigued when he heard of a mysterious image in a remote Italian village--an image of a man's face on byssus cloth. Byssus, or sea silk, is a rare and delicate fabric woven from a silky filament produced by mollusks. It is claimed that the fabric is so thin and delicate that it is impossible to paint on--yet the image in Manoppello is clearly visible and, moreover, when laid over the image of the face on the Shroud of Turin forms a perfect match.

Not Veronica's Veil

Experts determined that the cloth of Manoppello is not Veronica's veil, but rather the face cloth layed over the face of Jesus in the tomb. Unlike the Shroud of Turin, which is a "negative" of the image, the image on the face cloth is a "positive" of the face of Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI Pilgrim to Manoppello

Paul Badde takes the reader along on a thrilling journey of discovery as he travels to research this remarkable relic, tracing the turbulent history of the Holy Face from ancient times up to the historic 2006 visit to Manoppello by Pope Benedict XVI. Illustrated with 16 pages of color photos.

Paul Badde

Paul Badde, born in 1948, is a best-selling author and renowned journalist and historian. Since 2000 he has been an editor of the German newspaper Die Welt, first as the Jerusalem correspondent and now as the Vatican correspondent in Rome. He is also the author of Maria of Guadalupe: Shaper of History, Shaper of Hearts; Jerusalem, Jerusalem and The Heavenly City.

Michael O'Brien, Author of Father Elijah, says:

Paul Badde has applied his keen journalistic eye and energetic writing style to one of the most fascinating phenomena of our times, the rediscovery of a marvel and a grace for an unbelieving age. The story of the Face of Christ in the mysterious image of Manoppello is an enthralling work, the fruit of painstaking research and scholarship. It reads like a detective story, an archaeologist's journal, and an adventure tale that is - most thrilling of all - no mere fiction. The Face of Manoppello may well prove to be of equal importance with the Shroud of Turin.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft, Ph.D. says:

The Face of God is an exciting, incredible detective story spanning twenty centuries. The suspect is nothing less than the greatest art treasure in the universe, but not made by human hands: the literal face of Jesus Christ. The Manoppello cloth is a standing miracle, equal to the Shroud of Turin and the tilma of Guadalupe, and equally open to scientific investigation and unrefuted by it. If I were an atheist, I would not be able to sleep until I had exposed everything in this book as a scam.

For more information, visit The Face of God website by clicking here


Vultum tuum, Domine, requiram

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"La Trasfigurazione" by Marco Pino, 1578

Among the many days in the liturgical calendar that direct our gaze to the holy and glorious Face of Jesus, the feast of the Transfiguration is the one I love most. Holy Mass will open today with the sublime Third Mode Introit, Tibi dixit:

Tibi dixit cor meum, quaesivi vultum tuum,
My heart has said to Thee, I have sought Thy Face,
vultum tuum, Domine, requiram:
Thy Face, O Lord, will I seek,
ne avertas faciem tuam a me.
Turn not Thy Face from me.

V. Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea:
The Lord is my light and my salvation:
quem timebo?
whom shall I fear?

No other chant better expresses the Benedictine vocation, for what Saint Benedict requires, before all else, of one who would become a monk, is that one truly seek God. And where is the God-seeking soul to direct his gaze, if not toward the Face of Jesus? "The light of the knowledge of the glory of God," says the Apostle, is "in the Face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Rightly, then, did we sing this morning at Matins:

R. God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,
hath shined in our hearts,
* To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,
in the Face of Jesus Christ.
V. Unto the godly there ariseth up light in the darkness;
he is merciful, loving, and righteous.
* To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the Face of Jesus Christ.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
* To give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the Face of Jesus Christ.

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My friend, Msgr A.B.C., was kind enough to send me from Rome today, the text of a prayer for priests composed by the recently beatified Blessed Maria Pierina de Micheli (1890-1945). It was to Blessed Maria Pierina that Our Lord gave the scapular of His Holy Face, which later became the medal of the Holy Face distributed throughout the world. Blessed Maria Pierina died on 26 July 1945. Her liturgical memorial is celebrated on 11 September.

Prayer of Blessed Maria Pierina De Micheli for Priests


Eterno Padre,
offriamo il Santo Volto del Tuo Figlio Gesù
per le mani di Maria,
con l'intero generoso olocausto di tutte noi stesse
in riparazione di tanti peccati che si commettono,
specialmente della offese al SS. Sacramento dell'Altare.
Te lo offriamo in modo particolare
perché i Sacerdoti mostrino al mondo
con la santità della vita,
l'adorabile fisionomia del Divin Volto,
irradiando la luce della verità e dell'amore
per il trionfo della Chiesa
e la propagazione del Regno.

Eternal Father,
we offer Thee, with the hands of Mary,
the Holy Face of Jesus, Thy Son,
and the entire generous holocaust
of all that we are,
in reparation for so many sins that are committed,
and, especially, for offenses against the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
We make this offering, in a particular way,
so that Priests, by the holiness of their lives,
may show 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 for the spread of the Kingdom.
Amen.

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All Priest

In recalling the holiness of Saint Philip, it occurs to me that it was essentially this: he was all priest. He was always and everywhere a priest. His priesthood suffused his very being, making him incandescent with the fire of the Cross and of the altar. As we move toward the conclusion of the Year of the Priest, Saint Philip Neri makes his appearance to stimulate our generosity, and to show us what happens when a priest surrenders to the fire of Divine Love.

Spiritual Combat: The Seven Capital Sins

Have no illusions about priestly holiness. Like all men, priests are locked in a combat to the death with the seven capital sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Priests are, if anything, subject to more subtle and more violent temptations than anyone else because they are Satan’s preferred quarry. Is the propensity to any one particular sin worse than the propensity to another? I dare not speculate about secrets of conscience. God alone probes the mind and heart.

To God All Things Are Possible

Souls called in a particular way to offer themselves for the sanctification of the clergy should entertain no illusions about the seriousness of their apostolic mission. There were, there are, and in all likelihood, there will continue to be some prideful priests, covetous priests, lustful priests, angry priests, gluttonous priests, priests who are drunkards, priests who consumed by envy, and priests who are lazy. One might be tempted then to say with the disciples, “Why then, who can be saved?’ (Mk 10:26). Listen to Our Lord’s reply. Jesus spoke it, according to Saint Mark, with His eyes fastened on the disciples. “Such things are impossible to man’s powers, but not to God’s; to God, all things are possible” (Mk 10:27).

Spiritual Maternity

Read the appeal from Rome, asking women in all states of life to become spiritual mothers to priests, and calling for a worldwide movement of adoration in a spirit of reparation and supplication for the priesthood. It is not enough to read it once and file it away. Our Lord will hold those women who consent to spiritual motherhood accountable for the sins and for the sanctity of a multitude of priests. Does this shock you? It shouldn’t. Saint Paul says, “A man’s body is all one, though it has a number of different organs; and all this multitude of organs goes to make up one body; so it is with Christ. . . . If one part is suffering, all the rest suffer with it; if one part is treated with honour, all the rest find pleasure in it. And you are Christ’s body, organs of it depending upon each other” (1 Cor 12:12, 26-27). Again, the Apostle says in another place, “Bear the burden of one another’s failings; then you will be fulfilling the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

A Contagious Joy

Speaking to priests in Warsaw four years ago, Pope Benedict XVI said, “You have been chosen from among the people, appointed to act in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Believe in the power of your priesthood!” Saint Philip Neri believed in the power of his priesthood, and from that belief flowed his outstanding characteristic: a contagious joy.

The Face of Christ

The loving gaze of Jesus is the origin, the present, and the future of every priestly vocation. Priestly devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, to His Eucharistic Face, is indispensable and it is, I would say, up to you to obtain that grace for them. This is not my personal idea. You will find it clearly expressed in the 2008 Message for the Day of Prayer for Priests, which opens with these words: “Reverend and dear Brothers in the Priesthood,
on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus let us fix the eyes of our minds and hearts with a constant loving gaze on Christ, the one Savior of our lives and of the world. Focusing on Christ means focusing on that Face which every human being, consciously or not, seeks as a satisfying response to his own insuppressible thirst for happiness. We have encountered this Face and on that day, at that moment, his Love so deeply wounded our hearts that we could no longer refrain from asking ceaselessly to be in his Presence.”

Adoration

Again, in his address to priests in Warsaw, the Holy Father enjoined them to practice Eucharistic Adoration as an antidote for the noise of the world, and to teach others to adore too. “In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the Host. Be assiduous in the prayer of adoration and teach it to the faithful. It is a source of comfort and light particularly to those who are suffering.”

Experts in Joy

Pope Benedict XVI teaches that, “the faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life.” Saint Philip Neri was just that: an expert in the spiritual life and, precisely for that reason, he was an expert in joy.

Ineffable Joy

“You never saw Him but you learned to love Him,” says Saint Peter, “you may not see Him even now, but you believe in Him, and if you continue to believe in Him, how you will triumph! How ineffable your joy will be, and how sublime, when you reap the fruit of that faith of yours, the salvation of your souls” (1 P 1:8-9). May Saint Philip obtain for us today hearts open to the joy that no one can take from us and, with you, may he intercede for all priests that they, like him, may be experts in joy.


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For an explanation of the Port Arthur Icon of the Triumph of the Theotokos, go here.

The Virgin Mary is she who more than any other contemplated God
in the human Face of Jesus.
She saw Him as a newborn when, wrapped in swaddling clothes,
He was placed in a manger;
she saw Him when, just after his death,
they took Him down from the cross,
wrapped Him in linen and placed Him in the sepulcher.
Inside her was impressed the image of her martyred Son;
but this image was then transfigured in the light of the Resurrection.
Thus in Mary's heart was carried the mystery of the Face of Christ,
a mystery of death and of glory.
From her we can always learn how to look upon Jesus
with a gaze of love and of faith,
to recognize in that human countenance, the Face of God.

Pope Benedict XVI,
At the Regina Caeli, 2 May 2010

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My dear brother in Christ, Vincent Uher, offered us a beautiful message and prayer today. Lest you miss it in the recent comments, here it is:

Courage, dear brothers and sisters! Even if our Holy Father Pope Benedict were the only light in the darkness, that darkness cannot overcome that light nor can it diminish it. And in addition to our Holy Father there remain among the clergy and religious many brilliant lights burning with the glory of Heaven. Think for a moment of those lights and how the darkness can never overcome the Light of Christ all over this beautiful and troubled world. . . . and even though some of us may feel like a dimly burning wick, Christ promises never to put it out and, again, the darkness cannot diminish even a dimly burning wick.

Let us shine before the Lord with His Light, and let us do so in confidence. And everywhere we go let us leave the encouragement of the Holy Ghost with friend and stranger, priest and pauper, bishop and Pope!

O Christ our Light, the one true Eternal Flame,
behold thy Bride the Church,
surrounded and assaulted, infiltrated and distressed,
and visit Her with the radiance of thy Holy Face
that all darkness and every evil
be cast out from Her good company
of faithful people, devout religious and her anointed priests
so that She be ready at thy soon-appearing
with lamps alight and hearts raised up;
for thy tender mercies' sake. Amen.

It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek

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John Paul II and the Holy Face

When the history of the pontificate of the Servant of God, the Venerable John Paul II is written by a generation to come, there is no doubt that his insistent and consistent focus on the Face of Christ will emerge as a grand spiritual theme, a recurrent motif, and, a spiritual gift to the Church. Over the years of his long pontificate, John Paul II's personal fascination with the Holy Face of Jesus became a pastoral imperative. Already in 2001, he drew the eyes of the Church to the Face of Christ. At the closing of the Holy Door on January 6th of that year he said: "Christianity is born, and continually draws new life from this contemplation of the glory of God shining on the face of Christ."

Growth in Holiness

Linked to the mystery of the Face of Christ and, for John Paul II, inseparable from it, is growth in holiness: "May the Lord grant that in the new millennium, the Church will grow ever more in holiness, that she may become in history a true epiphany of the merciful and glorious face of Christ the Lord."

Universal Call to Holiness

In Novo Millennio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II developed his teaching on the Face of Christ. Clearly, for John Paul II, this is more than another devotion proposed to the piety of the faithful. It is, rather, a way of presenting and living the whole of the Christian life, a way of responding to what the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium presented forty years ago as "the universal call to holiness." Karol Wojtyla was a bishop of the Second Vatican Council; as bishop of Rome, he sought to deepen and develop the central intuitions and core teachings of that Council. His call to contemplation of the Face of Christ is fully intelligible only within that context and in relation to the Council's universal call to holiness. Holiness is a simple adhesion to the designs and desires of the Heart of Christ on us, a "yes" to what the Heart of Christ has reserved for us, a "yes" to what the Heart of Christ would give us at every moment.

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The Holy Face and the Sacred Heart

The designs and desires of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are revealed on his Face. One who loves Christ learns to read on his Face the secrets of his Heart. Only in the seventeenth century did the iconography of the Sacred Heart begin to depict the physical organ of Jesus' heart exposed, surrounded by thorns, and radiant with the flames of love. The more ancient depictions of the Heart of Christ honoured its hiddenness, its mystery, by showing only the wound opened by the soldier's lance while leaving the Heart itself enclosed in the crucified or glorious flesh of Christ. The open wound was in itself an invitation to press beyond it, to cross its threshold as one would pass through a door, to make one's dwelling in the inner sanctuary of the Sacred Heart, but the Heart itself remained hidden.

The secrets of the Heart of Christ were, in the older iconographic traditions, revealed on the Face of Christ. One discovered the "mystery" of the Heart by contemplating the Face. Mother Marie des Douleurs, foundress of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, said this clearly: "We must discover on this Face the revelation of the secrets of his Heart," and in another place, "All the zeal of the Heart of Jesus, all his works, and all his agony can be read on his Face." Pope John Paul II's invitation to become contemplatives of the Face of Christ, remains a graced opportunity to reclaim and retrieve another iconographic tradition of the Sacred Heart: that of the Face of Christ as the revelation of the secrets of his hidden Heart.

Seek His Face

In the light of the Holy Father's consistent and insistent focus on the "Face of Christ" we begin to understand that he is, in fact, proposing not a devotion, but a way of responding to the call to holiness that is wonderfully adapted to every state of life, but essential to monastic life. At the heart of every vocation lies the mystery of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship best described in terms of an encounter "face to face," and of perseverance in seeking the Face that first sought us. "Of Thee my heart has spoken: 'Seek his face.' It is Thy face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy face" (Ps 26:8-9). The Holy Face is the countenance of the Word Incarnate. Jesus calls souls in every state of life to live with their eyes fixed on Him, so as to discover on his Face the revelation of the secrets of his Heart.

Distinctively Benedictine

There is in this focus on the Holy Face of Christ something that is distinctively Benedictine. Saint Benedict would have the newcomer to the monastery tested to see if he "sincerely seeks God" (RB LVIII:7). The search for God begins and ends in the mystery of the Holy Face of Christ.

Lent

Could this not be our Lenten program in this year 2010: to seek and contemplate the Face of Christ? The Face of Christ hidden and revealed in the Scriptures, the Face of Christ hidden and revealed in the Most Holy Eucharist, the Face of Christ hidden and revealed in one another; the Face of Christ in anyone who suffers. If in every event and circumstance we say instinctively, and from the heart, "It is Thy face, O Lord, that I seek" (Ps 26:8), we will find our own faces -- and our hearts -- transformed.

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In Rome and in other places, Shrove Tuesday is observed as the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. In 2007 I had the privilege of concelebrating a Solemn Mass in honour of the Holy Face of Jesus at the Roman Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia with His Eminence, Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini.

Masses in honour of the Holy Face appeared as early as the fourteenth century. In 1958 Pope Pius XII approved the observance of a feast of the Holy Face of Jesus on Shrove Tuesday. At Manoppello, the feast of the Holy Face is celebrated on August 6th, the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Benedictines of Jesus Crucified honoured the Holy Face with the Litanies sung in procession on the Sunday After Ascension.

The present Mass of the Holy Face of Jesus for Shrove Tuesday was approved by the Holy See in 1986. A flash of paschal glory before beginning Lent! Here are the Proper Mass texts of the Mass in English. The translation is my own.

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My Jesus, only as Thou willest,
when Thou willest,
and in the way Thou willest!
To Thee be all glory and thanksgiving,
Who rulest all things mightily and sweetly,
and Who fillest the earth with Thy manifold mercies. Amen.


One who prays in this way, allows Our Lord to deploy His grace and manifest His munificence in all places and in all the circumstances of one's life. Our Divine Lord desires to heap blessings upon us. He asks only that we give Him the freedom to act upon us, and around us, and through us, as He wills.

When more souls give Our Lord this freedom to act as He wills, His Church will begin to know the springtime of holiness that is His burning desire for her, and these souls, by their entire submission to all the dispositions of His providence will be the ones to usher in His kingdom of peace and holiness on earth.

Look at Mary, the most pure Mother of the Lord. This was her way, and this was her life: nothing but His will and the will of His Father, in complete submission to the Holy Spirit. Let us imitate Mary, then, and so too will we bring the presence of Christ into a world that waits for Him.

The image is of the Holy Face of Manoppello. Tomorrow will be the third anniversary of my memorable pilgrimage to Manoppello with three dear friends.

My Face Will Journey With Thee

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Readers of Vultus Christi can imagine my delight when I discovered that the Holy Father's homily on this Solemnity of the Mother of God focused on the mystery of the Face of Christ, the human face of God. Given that I could find no English translation at any of the usual sources, I quickly translated the Italian text for my own edification and for all of you, dear friends. Subtitles are my own. Here it is:

Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God
XLIII World Day of Peace
Homily of Our Holy Father Benedict XVI
Vatican Basilica
Friday, 1 January 2010

Venerati Fratelli,
illustri Signori e Signore,
cari fratelli e sorelle!

Nel primo giorno del nuovo anno abbiamo la gioia e la grazia di celebrare la Santissima Madre di Dio e, al tempo stesso, la Giornata Mondiale della Pace. In entrambe le ricorrenze celebriamo Cristo, Figlio di Dio, nato da Maria Vergine e nostra vera pace! A tutti voi, che siete qui convenuti: Rappresentanti dei popoli del mondo, della Chiesa romana e universale, sacerdoti e fedeli; e a quanti sono collegati mediante la radio e la televisione, ripeto le parole dell'antica benedizione: il Signore rivolga a voi il suo volto e vi conceda la pace (cfr Nm 6,26). Proprio il tema del Volto e dei volti vorrei sviluppare oggi, alla luce della Parola di Dio - Volto di Dio e volti degli uomini - un tema che ci offre anche una chiave di lettura del problema della pace nel mondo.

Venerable Brothers,
illustrious Ladies and Gentleman,
dear brothers and sisters!

Face of God and Faces of Men

On this first day of the new year we have the joy and the grace of celebrating the Most Holy Mother of God and, at the same time, the World Day of Peace. In both yearly observances we celebrate Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and our true peace! To all of you who have come together here: representatives of the peoples of the world, of the Church Roman and universal, priests and faithful; and to you who are joined to us by means of radio and television, I repeat the word of the ancient blessing: May the Lord turn His face to you and give you peace (Num 6:26). It is precisely the theme of the face and of faces that I wish to develop today, in the light of the Word of God -- the face of God and the faces of men -- a theme that offers us, as well, a key to reading the problem of peace in the world.

Abbiamo ascoltato, sia nella prima lettura - tratta dal Libro dei Numeri - sia nel Salmo responsoriale, alcune espressioni che contengono la metafora del volto riferita a Dio: "Il Signore faccia risplendere per te il suo volto / e ti faccia grazia" (Nm 6,25); "Dio abbia pietà di noi e ci benedica, / su di noi faccia splendere il suo volto; / perché si conosca sulla terra la tua via, / la tua salvezza fra tutte le genti" (Sal 66/67,2-3). Il volto è l'espressione per eccellenza della persona, ciò che la rende riconoscibile e da cui traspaiono sentimenti, pensieri, intenzioni del cuore. Dio, per sua natura, è invisibile, tuttavia la Bibbia applica anche a Lui questa immagine. Mostrare il volto è espressione della sua benevolenza, mentre il nasconderlo ne indica l'ira e lo sdegno. Il Libro dell'Esodo dice che "il Signore parlava con Mosè faccia a faccia, come uno parla con il proprio amico" (Es 33,11), e sempre a Mosè il Signore promette la sua vicinanza con una formula molto singolare: "Il mio volto camminerà con voi e ti darò riposo" (Es 33,14). I Salmi ci mostrano i credenti come coloro che cercano il volto di Dio (cfr Sal 26/27,8; 104/105,4) e che nel culto aspirano a vederlo (cfr Sal 42,3), e ci dicono che "gli uomini retti" lo "contempleranno" (Sal 10/11,7).

And My Face Will Give Thee Rest

We heard, in the first reading taken from the Book of Numbers as well as in the responsorial psalm, several expressions that contain the metaphor of the face in reference to God: "May the Lord make the splendour of His face shine upon thee, and be gracious to thee" (Num 6:25); "May God have mercy on us and bless us, may He make the light of His face shine upon us; that Thy ways may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all the nations" (Ps 66:2-3). The face is the expression par excellence of the person, that which renders him recognizable, and that upon which sentiments, thoughts, and intentions of the heart become apparent. God, by His nature, is invisible, the Bible nonetheless applies this image even to Him. To show one's face is the expression of one's benevolence, whereas to hide it signifies anger and scorn. The Book of Exodus says that "the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks with his own friend" (Ex 33:11) and, again, to Moses the Lord promises to remain close with this most singular formula: "My face will journey with thee and will give thee rest" (Ex 33:14). The psalms show us believers as those who seek the face of God (cf Ps 26:8; 104:4) and who, in worship, long to see it (cf Ps 42:3), and they tell us that "upright men" will "contemplate" His face (Ps 10:7).

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Tutto il racconto biblico si può leggere come progressivo svelamento del volto di Dio, fino a giungere alla sua piena manifestazione in Gesù Cristo. "Quando venne la pienezza del tempo - ci ha ricordato anche oggi l'apostolo Paolo - Dio mandò il suo Figlio" (Gal 4,4). E subito aggiunge: "nato da donna, nato sotto la legge". Il volto di Dio ha preso un volto umano, lasciandosi vedere e riconoscere nel figlio della Vergine Maria, che per questo veneriamo con il titolo altissimo di "Madre di Dio". Ella, che ha custodito nel suo cuore il segreto della divina maternità, è stata la prima a vedere il volto di Dio fatto uomo nel piccolo frutto del suo grembo. La madre ha un rapporto tutto speciale, unico e in qualche modo esclusivo con il figlio appena nato. Il primo volto che il bambino vede è quello della madre, e questo sguardo è decisivo per il suo rapporto con la vita, con se stesso, con gli altri, con Dio; è decisivo anche perché egli possa diventare un "figlio della pace" (Lc 10,6). Tra le molte tipologie di icone della Vergine Maria nella tradizione bizantina, vi è quella detta "della tenerezza", che raffigura Gesù bambino con il viso appoggiato - guancia a guancia - a quello della Madre. Il Bambino guarda la Madre, e questa guarda noi, quasi a riflettere verso chi osserva, e prega, la tenerezza di Dio, discesa in Lei dal Cielo e incarnata in quel Figlio di uomo che porta in braccio. In questa icona mariana noi possiamo contemplare qualcosa di Dio stesso: un segno dell'amore ineffabile che lo ha spinto a "dare il suo figlio unigenito" (Gv 3,16). Ma quella stessa icona ci mostra anche, in Maria, il volto della Chiesa, che riflette su di noi e sul mondo intero la luce di Cristo, la Chiesa mediante la quale giunge ad ogni uomo la buona notizia: "Non sei più schiavo, ma figlio" (Gal 4,7) - come leggiamo ancora in san Paolo.

A Progressive Unveiling of the Face of God

The whole biblical narrative may be read as a progressive unveiling of the face of God, until it reaches its full manifestation in Jesus Christ. "When came the fullness of time -- as the apostle Paul also reminded us today -- God sent His Son" (Gal 4:4). And straightaway he adds: "born of woman, born under the Law." The face of God has taken a human face, allowing itself to be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, whom we venerate, for this reason, with the sublime title of "Mother of God." She, who kept in her heart the secret of the divine maternity, was the first to see the face of God made man in the little fruit of her womb. The mother has an altogether special exchange, unique and, in some way, exclusive with her newborn child. The first face that the baby sees is that of the mother, and this look is decisive for his exchange with life, with himself, with others, with God; it is decisive also in order that he may become a "child of peace" (Lk 10:6).

Mother of God of Tenderness

Among the many typologies of the icon of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine tradition, there is the one called "of tenderness", that depicts the Child Jesus with His face resting upon that of the Mother, cheek to cheek. The Child gazes at the Mother, and she looks at us, almost as if to reflect towards the one who observes and prays the tenderness of God, come down into her from heaven and incarnate in the Son of God whom she holds in her arms. In this Marian icon we can contemplate something of God Himself: a sign of the ineffable love that moved Him to "give His only-begotten Son" (Jn 3:16). But this same icon also shows us in Mary the face of the Church, that reflects the light of Christ upon us and upon the whole world, the light that, through the Church, reaches every man with the good news: "No longer art thou a slave, but a son" (Gal 4:7) -- as we read again in Saint Paul.

Fratelli nell'Episcopato e nel Sacerdozio, Signori Ambasciatori, cari amici! Meditare sul mistero del volto di Dio e dell'uomo è una via privilegiata che conduce alla pace. Questa, infatti, incomincia da uno sguardo rispettoso, che riconosce nel volto dell'altro una persona, qualunque sia il colore della sua pelle, la sua nazionalità, la sua lingua, la sua religione. Ma chi, se non Dio, può garantire, per così dire, la "profondità" del volto dell'uomo? In realtà, solo se abbiamo Dio nel cuore, siamo in grado di cogliere nel volto dell'altro un fratello in umanità, non un mezzo ma un fine, non un rivale o un nemico, ma un altro me stesso, una sfaccettatura dell'infinito mistero dell'essere umano. La nostra percezione del mondo e, in particolare, dei nostri simili, dipende essenzialmente dalla presenza in noi dello Spirito di Dio. E' una sorta di "risonanza": chi ha il cuore vuoto, non percepisce che immagini piatte, prive di spessore. Più, invece, noi siamo abitati da Dio, e più siamo anche sensibili alla sua presenza in ciò che ci circonda: in tutte le creature, e specialmente negli altri uomini, benché a volte proprio il volto umano, segnato dalla durezza della vita e dal male, possa risultare difficile da apprezzare e da accogliere come epifania di Dio. A maggior ragione, dunque, per riconoscerci e rispettarci quali realmente siamo, cioè fratelli, abbiamo bisogno di riferirci al volto di un Padre comune, che tutti ci ama, malgrado i nostri limiti e i nostri errori.

The Human Face

Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Gentlemen Ambassadors, dear friends! To meditate upon this mystery of the face of God and of man is a privileged path that leads to peace. This, in fact, emerges from a gaze of respect, that recognizes in the face of the other a person, whatever may be the colour of his skin, his nationality, his language, his religion. But who, if not God, can guarantee, so to speak, the depth of the face of man? In reality, only if we have God in the heart are we capable of receiving in the face of the other a brother in humanity, not a means, but an end, not a rival or an enemy, but another self, a facet of the infinite mystery of the human being. Our perception of the world and, in particular, of those like us, depends essentially on the presence of the Spirit of God within us. There exists a kind of "resonance": one who has an empty heart, perceives only images that are flat and without thickness. On the other hand, the more we are indwelt by God, the more will we be sensitive to His presence in what surrounds us: in all creatures, and especially in other men, even if, at times, the human face, marked by the harshness of life and of evil, may be difficult to appreciate and to welcome as an epiphany of God. All the more then, if we are to recognize and respect ourselves as we really are, that is, as brethren, must we refer to the face of a common Father, who loves us all, in spite of our limits and our errors.

Fin da piccoli, è importante essere educati al rispetto dell'altro, anche quando è differente da noi. Ormai è sempre più comune l'esperienza di classi scolastiche composte da bambini di varie nazionalità, ma anche quando ciò non avviene, i loro volti sono una profezia dell'umanità che siamo chiamati a formare: una famiglia di famiglie e di popoli. Più sono piccoli questi bambini, e più suscitano in noi la tenerezza e la gioia per un'innocenza e una fratellanza che ci appaiono evidenti: malgrado le loro differenze, piangono e ridono nello stesso modo, hanno gli stessi bisogni, comunicano spontaneamente, giocano insieme... I volti dei bambini sono come un riflesso della visione di Dio sul mondo. Perché allora spegnere i loro sorrisi? Perché avvelenare i loro cuori? Purtroppo, l'icona della Madre di Dio della tenerezza trova il suo tragico contrario nelle dolorose immagini di tanti bambini e delle loro madri in balia di guerre e violenze: profughi, rifugiati, migranti forzati. Volti scavati dalla fame e dalle malattie, volti sfigurati dal dolore e dalla disperazione. I volti dei piccoli innocenti sono un appello silenzioso alla nostra responsabilità: di fronte alla loro condizione inerme, crollano tutte le false giustificazioni della guerra e della violenza. Dobbiamo semplicemente convertirci a progetti di pace, deporre le armi di ogni tipo e impegnarci tutti insieme a costruire un mondo più degno dell'uomo.

The Faces of Children

Beginning with little children, it is important to be educated in respect of the other, even when he is different from us. At present the experience of classes in school that are composed of children of various nationalities is more and more common, but even when this is not the case, their faces are a prophecy of the humanity that we are called to form: a family of families and of peoples. The smaller these children are, the more do they stir up in us tenderness and joy in the face of an innocence and brotherhood that appears evident. In spite of their differences, they cry and laugh in the same way, have the same needs, communicate spontaneously, play together . . . The faces of children are like a reflection of God's view of the world. Why then extinguish their smiles? Why poison their hearts? Alas, the icon of the Mother of God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the painful images of so many children and their mothers prey to war and to violence: exiles, refugees, forced migrants. Faces hollowed by hunger and by sickness, faces disfigured by sorrow and by despair. The faces of these little innocents are a silent appeal to our responsibility. Confronted with their defenseless condition, all the false justifications of war and violence crumble. We have simply to convert ourselves to projects of peace, to lay aside arms of every type and to commit ourselves together to construct a world more worthy of man.

Il mio Messaggio per l'odierna XLIII Giornata Mondiale della Pace: "Se vuoi coltivare la pace, custodisci il creato", si pone all'interno della prospettiva del volto di Dio e dei volti umani. Possiamo, infatti, affermare che l'uomo è capace di rispettare le creature nella misura in cui porta nel proprio spirito un senso pieno della vita, altrimenti sarà portato a disprezzare se stesso e ciò che lo circonda, a non avere rispetto dell'ambiente in cui vive, del creato. Chi sa riconoscere nel cosmo i riflessi del volto invisibile del Creatore, è portato ad avere maggiore amore per le creature, maggiore sensibilità per il loro valore simbolico. Specialmente il Libro dei Salmi è ricco di testimonianze di questo modo propriamente umano di relazionarsi con la natura: con il cielo, il mare, i monti, le colline, i fiumi, gli animali... "Quante sono le tue opere, Signore! - esclama il Salmista - / Le hai fatte tutte con saggezza; / la terra è piena delle tue creature" (Sal 104/103,24).

Man and the Environment

My message for today's XLIII World Day of Peace: "If you would cultivate peace, take care of what is created," is situated within the perspective of the face of God and human faces. We can, in fact, affirm that man is capable of respecting creatures to the measure in which he bears within his own spirit a full sense of life. Otherwise, he will be inclined to devaluate himself and that which surrounds him, to lack respect for the environment in which he lives, for creation. One who knows how to recognize the reflections of the invisible face of the Creator in the cosmos, is inclined to have a greater love for creatures, a greater sensitivity for their symbolic value. The Book of Psalms is especially rich in examples of this peculiarly human way of relating to nature: with the heavens, the sea, the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the animals . . . ""How great are Thy works, O Lord! -- exclaims the Psalmist -- In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy creatures" (Ps 104:24).

In particolare, la prospettiva del "volto" invita a soffermarsi su quella che, anche in questo Messaggio, ho chiamato "ecologia umana". Vi è infatti un nesso strettissimo tra il rispetto dell'uomo e la salvaguardia del creato. "I doveri verso l'ambiente derivano da quelli verso la persona considerata in se stessa e in relazione agli altri" (ivi, 12). Se l'uomo si degrada, si degrada l'ambiente in cui vive; se la cultura tende verso un nichilismo, se non teorico, pratico, la natura non potrà non pagarne le conseguenze. Si può, in effetti, constatare un reciproco influsso tra volto dell'uomo e "volto" dell'ambiente: "quando l'ecologia umana è rispettata dentro la società, anche l'ecologia ambientale ne trae beneficio" (ibid.; cfr Enc. Caritas in veritate, 51). Rinnovo, pertanto, il mio appello ad investire sull'educazione, proponendosi come obiettivo, oltre alla necessaria trasmissione di nozioni tecnico-scientifiche, una più ampia e approfondita "responsabilità ecologica", basata sul rispetto dell'uomo e dei suoi diritti e doveri fondamentali. Solo così l'impegno per l'ambiente può diventare veramente educazione alla pace e costruzione della pace.

Human Ecology

In particular, the perspective of the "face" invites us to dwell upon that which, even in this Message, I called "human ecology." There is, in fact, a very close link between respect for man and the safeguard of creation. "Duties toward the environment derive from those towards the person considered in himself and in relation to others." If man is degraded, the environment in which he lives is also degraded; if culture tends toward nihilism, if not in theory, in practice, nature cannot but pay the consequences of it. One can, in effect, remark a reciprocal influence between the face of man and the "face" of the environment. "When human ecology is respected within society, then too will environmental ecology draw benefits from it." (Caritas in Veritate, 51). I renew, therefore, my appeal to invest in education, proposing as an objective, beyond the necessary transmission of technico-scientific notions, a more ample and deepened "ecological responsibility," based on the respect of man and of his fundamental rights and duties. Only in this way, will work for the environment truly become an education for peace and for the construction of peace.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, nel Tempo di Natale ricorre un Salmo che contiene, tra l'altro, anche un esempio stupendo di come la venuta di Dio trasfiguri il creato e provochi una specie di festa cosmica. Questo inno inizia con un invito universale alla lode: "Cantate al Signore un canto nuovo, / cantate al Signore, uomini di tutta la terra. / Cantate al Signore, benedite il suo nome" (Sal 95/96,1). Ma a un certo punto questo appello all'esultanza si estende a tutto il creato: "Gioiscano i cieli, esulti la terra, / risuoni il mare e quanto racchiude; / sia in festa la campagna e quanto contiene, / acclamino tutti gli alberi della foresta" (vv. 11-12). La festa della fede diventa festa dell'uomo e del creato: quella festa che a Natale si esprime anche mediante gli addobbi sugli alberi, per le strade, nelle case. Tutto rifiorisce perché Dio è apparso in mezzo a noi. La Vergine Madre mostra il Bambino Gesù ai pastori di Betlemme, che gioiscono e lodano il Signore (cfr Lc 2,20); la Chiesa rinnova il mistero per gli uomini di ogni generazione, mostra loro il volto di Dio, perché, con la sua benedizione, possano camminare sulla via della pace.

The Feast of Faith

Dear brothers and sisters, there recurs in Christmastide a psalm which contains, among other things, a stupendous example of how the advent of God transfigures creation and provokes a kind of cosmic feast. This hymn begins with a universal invitation to praise: "Sing unto Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, ye men of all the earth. Sing ye unto the Lord, bless ye His Name" (Ps 95:1). But, at a certain point, this summons to exultation is extended to all things created: "Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad, let the sea and all within it resound; let the countryside and all it holds keep festival, let all the trees of the forest clap their hands" (v. 11-12). The feast of faith becomes the feast of man and of creation: the feast that, at Christmas, finds expression by means of decorations on trees, in the streets, and in homes. All things bloom again because God has appeared in our midst. The Virgin Mother shows the Infant Jesus to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who rejoice and praise the Lord (cf. Lk 2:20). The Church renews the mystery for men of every generation, shows them the face of God, so that, with His blessing, they might walk in the way of peace.

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster

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We are reading in refectory this week from Blessed Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster's magnificent work, The Sacramentary. Here is an excerpt from his presentation of the Advent Ember Days.

Prayer and Fasting for Priests and Deacons

An ancient tradition reserved the ordinations of priests and deacons to the month of December, and the faithful -- following a custom introduced by the Apostles themselves -- felt constrained to unite with the bishop in prayer and fasting, in order to call down from God an abundance of priestly gifts upon the heads of those newly chosen to serve at the altar.

The Holiness of the Clergy

In truth the highest interests of Christian people are bound up, to a great extent, with the holiness of the clergy; and since Holy Scripture teaches us that the most terrible chastisement which almighty God inflicts upon perverse nations is to give them pastors and leaders of their own kind, it is evident that the ordination of the sacred ministers is not a matter which concerns merely the bishop and his seminary, but one which is of supreme importance to the whole Catholic body.

For this reason the Acts of the Apostles record the solemn fasts and public prayers which preceded the ordination of the first seven deacons and the mission of Paul and Barnabas as Apostles to the Gentiles.

Mary, Aflame With Jesus

During this season of immediate preparation for Christmas the Church invites us to attach ourselves with special love for Mary, for it is from her that our Advent has its beginning during those nine months in which she bore Our Lord within her. What must have been the feelings of faith, of love, and of zeal which then animated the Virgin so closely united with that God who in the Scriptures is called a consuming fire? Prefigured by the burning bush of Moses, Mary, aflame with Jesus, is the model of all who love him truly.

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The Holy Face of Jesus

[On the Friday in Ember Week] the verse ad offerendum is [also] from Psalm lxxxiv: "Thou, O Lord, who hadst turned away Thy Face from us on account of our sins, mayst Thou be appeased and turn again and look upon us, and the light of Thine eyes shall restore us once more to life." Show us Thy mercy, O Lord, and reveal to us now the Saviour whom Thou hast promised and in whom the patriarchs of old fell asleep full of trust and hope.

The Face of Jesus in heaven is the cause of joy to the angels, but on earth it is the token of God's pity for sinners. We say to the Father, Respice in faciem Christi tui, but let us, too, fix our own gaze on that Face, 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 also 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.

A Patron of Parish Priests

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Saint Gaetano Catanoso

Antiphon: Lord, when was it that we saw Thee hungry and fed Thee,
or thirsty and gave Thee drink?
When was it that we saw Thee a stranger,
and brought Thee home,
sick or in prison and came to Thee?
And the King will answer them:
Believe me, when you did it to one of the least of my brethren here,
you did it to me.

V. Pray for us, Saint Gaetano.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

Stir up, O Lord, in our hearts
the spirit of adoration and reparation
that filled Saint Gaetano, Your priest,
that we, having our eyes fixed, like his,
on the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
may live in ceaseless prayer
and in the humble service of those
most in need of compassion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

The Priest of the Holy Face of Jesus

Gaetano Catanoso was born on 14 February 1879 in Chorio di San Lorenzo, Reggio Calabria, Italy. His parents, prosperous landowners, were exemplary Christians. Gaetano was ordained a priest in 1902, and from 1904 to 1921 he served in the rural parish of Pentidattilo.

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Adorer of the Eucharistic Face

The Holy Face of Jesus illumined Father Catanoso's life. He venerated the Holy Face as depicted in the image of Veronica's Veil diffused by the Carmel of Tours in France. He began "The Holy Face" Bulletin and established a local chapter of the "Archconfraternity of the Holy Face" in 1920. "The Holy Face," he wrote, "is my life." Saint Gaetano directed anyone seeking the Face of Christ to the Most Holy Eucharist, saying, "If we wish to adore the real Face of Jesus, we can find it in the divine Eucharist where, with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Face of our Lord is hidden under the white veil of the Host."

A Eucharistic Parish Priest

On 2 February 1921, Father Catanoso was transferred to the large parish of Santa Maria de la Candelaria. He served there until 1940. The daily celebration of Holy Mass and Eucharistic adoration were the soul of his priesthood and the sustenance of his apostolate.

As the parish priest of Candelaria, Saint Gaetano drew people to Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar and renewed devotion to the Madonna. The plight of orphans moved him to undertake a number of charitable initiatives. He played an active role in the catechetical instruction of children and young people. Deeply moved by the message of the Blessed Virgin Mary at La Salette, Father Gaetano preached against blasphemy and taught the faithful to sanctify Sundays and the feasts of the Church.

Father Catanoso was compelled to reach out to orphans and to children suffering from neglect and abuse. He sought to provide youth with Christian role models. His charity extended to the forsaken elderly and to priests who found themselves isolated and without support. In all who suffered Father Gaetano saw the Face of Christ. His ardent love for the Most Holy Eucharist found expression in the restoration of churches and abandoned tabernacles.

Servant of Priests

"The Missionary of the Holy Face" spent hours or entire days in prayer before the Tabernacle. In his parish and beyond it he promoted Eucharistic Adoration in the spirit of reparation. He set up "flying-squads" of priests willing to assist other priests by preaching and hearing confessions on special occasions. In 1915 Saint Gaetano published for the first time a "Eucharistic Holy Hour" for priests. Saint Gaetano never let a single day pass without speaking of the Holy Face of Jesus.

Victim Priest

Father Gaetano patiently accepted sickness and, in the last stage of his life, blindness, desiring to unite himself to the saving Passion of Christ. In 1929 he offered himself as a victim priest to the Heart of Jesus.

La Madonna

Saint Gaetano's devotion to the Madonna was tender and childlike. He began praying the rosary daily as a little boy and remained faithful to the practice until his death. The rosary never left his hands, becoming for him a ceaseless prayer of the heart. To all who approached him for spiritual counsel he communicated his love of the Mother of God and his confidence in her intercession.

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Spiritual Father and Founder

From 1921 to 1950 Saint Gaetano served as confessor to various religious communities and in the Reggio Calabria prison. He served as spiritual director of the Archdiocesan Seminary. Everyone called him "Father," a title not normally given parish priests in Italy. He was, in fact, a beloved spiritual father generating holiness of life in countless priests and consecrated women. Father Gaetano's simple and ardent preaching attracted sinners to the contemplation of the Holy Face of Jesus and inspired souls to imitate his life of adoration and reparation.

In 1934, Father Catanoso founded in Riparo, Reggio Calabria, the Congregation of the Sisters Veronicas of the Holy Face of Jesus. The Sisters devote themselves to Eucharistic adoration and reparation to the Holy Face, catechesis, assistance to children, youth, priests and the elderly.

Canonized Three Years Ago

Father Gaetano Catanoso died on the Thursday of Passion Week, April 4, 1963. Pope John Paul II beatified him on May 4, 1997. Pope Benedict XVI canonized him on October 23, 2005. The liturgical memorial of Saint Gaetano Catanoso was fixed on September 20, the date of his ordination to the holy priesthood.

An American Cousin

Saint Gaetano's American cousin, Justin Catanoso, wrote a book recounting his experience of having a saint in the family. Visit Justin's website here.

Amor Meus Crucifixus Est

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year B

Isaiah 50:5-9a,
Ps 115:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

I Hid Not My Face From Shame

By a happy coincidence, the Word of God today announces tomorrow's solemn festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and transports us, ahead of time, into its mystery. We listened, in the First Reading, to Isaiah's mysterious prophecy of the Passion of Christ. Like a photograph developed in a darkroom, an image emerged from the sacred page: the portrait of One who goes forward into suffering, fully conscious of what awaits Him, totally abandoned to God who alone can save Him. "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Is 50:6). The adorable Face of the suffering Christ came into focus, the Holy Face that, from the earliest preaching of the Gospel, captivated believers, drawing them irresistibly into the mystery of the Cross.

The Adorable Face of the Saviour

In the apse of ancient Christian basilicas, it was not uncommon to see an immense cross, worked in shimmering mosaic. The body of Christ was not depicted on the cross; instead, at the center of the cross, in a shining circle at the juncture of the vertical and horizontal beams, was an image of the Holy Face of Christ. The arms of the Cross converged in the Face of Christ, His most distinctive characteristic.

The Cross of Christ

The uniqueness of each human face expresses the uniqueness of each person's identity. Our personal identity is linked to the image of our face, as on a photo ID card. By placing the Face of Christ at the center of the Cross, the artisans of old were suggesting that the Cross is the key to Christ's identity and the Face of Christ the key to understanding the mystery of the Cross. Apart from the Cross, there is no knowledge of Christ, no understanding of His mission, no experience of His love, no way of answering the question put to Peter in today's Gospel, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mk 8:29).

His Voice

The First Reading focused our attention on the Face of the suffering Christ; the Responsorial Psalm filled our hearts with the sound of His voice. To the uniqueness of Christ's human face is added that other identifying characteristic of the human person, the uniqueness of the voice. By juxtaposing this particular psalm to the prophecy of Isaiah, the liturgy suggests that in it we are to hear the voice of the suffering Christ, and the unmistakable accents of His prayer to the Father. "I love the Lord -- my Father -- because He has heard my voice and my supplications. He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live" (Ps 116:1-2).

Prayer With Loud Cries and Tears

The Letter to the Hebrews describes this prayer of the suffering Christ to the Father: "In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear" (Heb 5:7). The sacred liturgy is precisely the experience in faith, here and now, of the Face and of the voice of the living Christ; of the penetrating gaze from the Cross and of the prayer from the Cross; of the gaze that searches hearts and of the prayer that pierces the heavens and fills the whole cosmos.

The Supreme Work of the Church

In the Second Reading, Saint James says, "I by my works will show you my faith" (Jas 2:18). The Church, the assembled body of believers, shows forth her faith by doing the work of the liturgy. The liturgy is the supreme work of the Church, the source and summit of all her works, the highest expression of her faith, the work done always, in every place, by all believers, "from the rising of the sun to its setting" (Mal 1:11, E.P. III). Just as a faith without works is dead, so too, a church without the Most Holy Eucharist is no church at all.

Love's Work

The doing of the Eucharist in obedience to Christ's command, "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:24), shows forth the mystery of the Cross, and makes it present. The Cross is Christ's own work, the immense work of redeeming love accomplished with hands outstretched upon the wood. The liturgy of September 14th sings, "This was Love's great work that death should die, when Life itself was slain upon the tree" (Antiphon, 2nd Vespers). The Cross is the work of love "obedient unto death" (Phil 2:8), the work of a "love "strong as death" (Ct 8:6).

The Cruciform Work of the Eucharist

The death of the crucified Jesus signifies the completion of His work in the Spirit. Jesus prays, "Father, I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (Jn 17:4), and then, from the Cross, He utters, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). In the Eucharist, the work of Christ intersects the work of the Church. The cruciform work of the Eucharist reveals the faith of the Church and shows forth the Cross, the key to Christ's identity.

Jesus Crucified

Before the work of the Cross was accomplished, not even Peter held the key to the identity of his Master. "Who do you say that I am" (Mk 8:29)? At one level, Peter answered correctly. "You are the Christ" (Mk 8:29). Nonetheless, the separation of the Christ from the Cross so compromised Jesus' mission, and so distorted His identity, that Peter was sharply rebuked. "Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Mk 8:33). There is no half-truth so dangerous to the faith of Christians as the separation of Jesus the Christ from the mystery of the Cross.

The Cross and Our Life

What is true of Christ is true of Christians. The lifework of the Christian, quite apart from any gifts, accomplishments, words, or deeds, is the work of the Cross, the surrender of self to the Father in the crucible of suffering. Paul says it: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). The identity of the Christian is inextricably bound, I want to say, nailed, to the wood of the Cross. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34).

To the Altar and the Cross

Because the essential work of the Christian is the Cross, it is also the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for in the crucible of the Mass, suffering is converted into love, and love into victory over death. And so, it is time now to do what we have announced, time to fulfill again the words of the apostle, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

Thy Face, O Lord, Do I Seek

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Second Sunday of Lent B

Mark 9:2-10
Romans 8:31-34
Psalm 115: 10.15-19. R. Ps 114:9
Genesis 22:1-2.9-13.15-18.

Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Eyes for the Face of Christ

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. The Church has left the wastelands of the Judean desert for the heights of Mount Thabor. The liturgy invites us to fix our eyes on the Face of the Transfigured Christ, shining more brightly than the sun. This is the whole reason for today's magnificent Entrance Antiphon: "True to my heart's promise, I have eyes only for Thy Face,Thy Face, O Lord, do I seek. Do not hide Thy Face from me." (Ps 26:8-9)

Conversion and Joy

Think about it. When you want to know what your friend holds in his heart, you study his face. Today the Church would have us look upon the Face of Jesus to our heart's content to discover there all the secrets of His Heart. What do I read on the Face of the Transfigured Christ? When I gaze upon His Face I read there Love's pressing invitation to conversion and to joy.

A Lamp Shining in A Dark Place

When a parent is expecting a child to come home in the late hours of the night . . . or in the early hours of the morning, he leaves a light on in the window or on the front porch. That light is not merely functional; it says "This is your home. We are waiting for you. You are loved." The Eternal Father, too, has left a light burning for us: it is the radiance that shines from the Face of the Transfigured Christ. Thus, Saint Peter says: "You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 P 1:19).

Lead, Kindly Light

Orient your steps in the direction of that inextinguishable Light, and you will, even though it be night, find your way home to the Father's house. This was John Henry Cardinal Newman's experience:

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

That "kindly Light" is what Saint Paul calls: "the glory of God shining on the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Do you remember when Thomas said to Jesus, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" (Jn 14:5) Jesus said to Him, "I am the way . . . no one comes to the Father, but by me." (Jn 14:7).

Turning and Returning

Love invites us to conversion. Conversion is at once a turning and a returning. Conversion is a turning toward the radiant Face of the Son, and then a returning through Him, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father's house or, rather, to the Father's bosom, to the Father's heart of hearts. Only there will be truly at home, for there Love created us to be, to dwell, to live eternally. "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God," said one wanderer in the night -- Saint Augustine -- "and our hearts are restless until they come to rest in Thee."

Ascension

All of this being said, Lent cannot be described, nor it can it be experienced, in terms of conversion alone. Lent is also about ascension. "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem" (Mt 20:18), says the Lord; and again, "I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (Jn 16:28). Only a shortsighted vision of Lent fails to see it in terms of ascension to the Father, and therefore, in terms of joy. "I am leaving the world," says Jesus, "and going to the Father" (Jn 16:28).

Swept Up Into the Love of Things Invisible

It is impossible to focus on the Face of Jesus without being caught up in His ascension to the Father. One of the Prefaces of Christmas sings: "As we come to know God made visible in the Word made flesh, we are swept up as well into the love of things invisible"(Christmas Preface I). Conversion to Christ and ascension into the joy of the Father -- both experienced by the grace of the Holy Spirit -- are what Lent is all about.

Abraham

The First Reading traces for us the movement of ascension. God called to Abraham, and Abraham, lending the ear of his heart to the Word, replied: "Here am I" (Gen 22:1). This is the movement of conversion, but it is not enough. Conversion without ascension is incomplete. God's most passionate desire is that we should be with Him even as the Son is with the Father. Jesus prayed for this on the night before He suffered: "Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory" (Jn 17:24).

The Wood of the Cross

And so Abraham, having heeded the voice of God, takes his only son with him, sets out and goes to the land of Moriah, to offer his son in sacrifice. "On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off" (Gen 22:4). Leaving behind his attendants, having laid the wood of sacrifice upon his son Isaac -- a figure of Jesus bearing the wood of the cross -- and carrying with him the fire of the holocaust, Abraham ascends the mountain. Look closely at the text. What do you see there? The father, the son, the fire . . . and the wood. In the father, the son and the fire, we contemplate an obscure and mysterious foreshadowing of the saving Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Fire of the Holy Spirit. In the wood, we already see the mystery of the Cross.

The Father's Love

The lonely high place, destined to be the scene of a bloody immolation, becomes instead, at the last moment, the scene of an epiphany of God's saving love, "a love stronger than death" (Ct 8:6). God says to Abraham, "You have not withheld your son, your only son from Me" (Gen 22: 12). If Abraham, a man, is capable of such selfless love, what then are we to say of Abraham's God? Abraham on Mount Moriah is an icon -- a human portrayal -- of the Father's selfless love, the very love revealed in the brightness of Mount Thabor and then in the darkness of that other lonely height called Golgotha.

To the Summit of Sacrificial Love

In Abraham the Father bares His heart to us. God withholds nothing, and in giving us His only Son, He gives us everything. "Since God did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for us all, how will He not give us everything else along with Him?" (Rom 8:31). The grace of conversion is given us, as it was given Abraham, in view of an ascension to the very summit of sacrificial love, and to a joy that no one will take from us.

Follow Me

We find the same movement in the Gospel. In the verses immediately preceding today's passage, Jesus called His disciples to conversion: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mk 8:34): conversion. "And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves" (Mk 9:2): ascension.

Ascension into Joy

The gaze of Peter, James and John is riveted on the Face of the praying Jesus shining like the sun (Mt 17:2). Contemplating the Face of Jesus transfigured, the apostles are drawn upward after Him toward the Father. Seeing Jesus pray, Peter, James and John enter into that prayer. The bright cloud envelops them too. The summit of all prayer is to be lost in the prayer of Christ to the Father, to be overshadowed by the cloud of the Spirit. Every little step of conversion we make -- not only in prayer, but also in every action of sacrificial love (fasting, almsgiving, patience, pardon) -- is the beginning of an ascension into joy.

To the Altar

The very pattern of the Mass is one of conversion and ascension. In the first part of the Mass we listen to the voice of Christ and gaze upon His Face shining in the Scriptures. The purpose of the homily is to make us ready to ascend to the altar. There, in the second part of the Mass, at the altar, we will look upon Our Lord's Eucharistic Face.

There is a reason why our Catholic altars are traditionally elevated by several steps. This is not an architectural convention; it is a theological statement. Every sacred mountain in history points to the altar where Our Lord's sacrifice is made present. In every Mass the altar is Abraham's Mount Moriah; the altar is Moses' Mount Sinai; the altar is Elijah's Mount Carmel. The altar is Mount Thabor; the altar is Golgotha; and the altar is the mountain of Jesus' Ascension.

The Joy for Which Love Created You

The altar is all of this because it is the place where for us, here and now, the Father, and the Son, and the Fire, and the Wood of the Cross will be made present. Turn toward God and be converted; ascend toward God, and ascending, taste the joy for which Love created you.

Look to Him and Be Radiant

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I am fascinated by this 18th century tabernacle depicting the Holy Face of Christ. Looking closely, one sees that the tabernacle door frames Veronica's Veil. Veronica herself holds the veil but turns away her own face. We are not meant to look at her face, but rather at the Face of Jesus concealed and revealed in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist.

Shrove Tuesday
Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus


Isaiah 52:13 -- 53:12
Psalm 26:1, 4, 5, 8-9abc, 11
Matthew 17:1-19

Reparation

The last century saw, here and there, like so many points of light in the Church, men and women drawn by the Holy Spirit to the contemplation of the Face of Christ. In many cases this attraction to the Face of Christ was characterized by the prayer of reparation. The spiritual impulse to make reparation emerged in the aftermath of the French Revolution and, in the twentieth century, became in some way a response to the horrors of two World Wars. Violence, terrorism, and war continue to inspire a prayer of reparation that looks to the Face of Christ.

We are most affected by acts of violence that disfigure the human face. Hear Isaiah's prophecy of the Servant:

His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men. . . . He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Is 52: 14; 53:3)

Face and Person

Face and Person are synonomous, not only by reason of the Greek etymology, but even more because there is nothing more personal, nothing more precious, nothing dearer than the face of a loved one. The psalmist's cry, "I long to see Thy Face" (Ps 26:8), is the cry of every lover to his beloved, the cry of child to parent, of parent to child, and of friend to friend. The most poignant moment in the rites of death and burial comes when the face of the deceased is covered for the last time. We cherish photographs of those we love, but what is a photograph without a face? The relationships that we call "heart to heart" never tire of the "face to face."

Sins Against the Holy Face

The Holocaust that took place during the Second World War was, at the deepest level, an attempt to erase the dignity and uniqueness of each person, a sin against the Face of Christ, the Holy Face mirrored in millions of Jewish faces. Every sin against the dignity of the human person is a sin against the Face of Christ. Every act of violence, irreverence, or scorn directed against the human person is a sin against the Face of Christ. The abortion that prevents a child's face from seeing another human face in the light of day is a sin against the Face of Christ. Torture and cruel ridicule are sins against the Face of Christ. The hard, stony gaze that looks at a person without seeing him is a sin against the Face of Christ. The eyes that judge, the look that condemns, is a sin against the Face of Christ. The refusal to see Christ in the faces of the sick, the stranger, and the immigrant is a sin against his Holy Face.

Novena of the Holy Face of Jesus

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A Day Rich in Graces

-- Today, February 15th, is Sexagesima Sunday. In Rome the stational church is the Basilica of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls. This is reflected in the traditional Collect for today's Mass and Office: "O God, Who seest that that we put not our trust in anything we do of ourselves; mercifully grant that by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles we may be defended against all adversity."

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-- It is the feast of Saint Claude La Colombière, the spiritual father of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and the Apostle of the Sacred Heart. Our Lord said this about him to Saint Margaret Mary: "Turn to my servant and tell him from Me to do all he can to establish this devotion and to give this pleasure to my Divine Heart. Tell him not to be discouraged by the difficulties he will meet with, for they will not be lacking. But he must learn that he is all-powerful who completely distrusts himself to place his trust in Me alone."

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-- It is also the feast of Blessed Michael Sopocko, the spiritual father of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska and the Apostle of Divine Mercy. Concerning Blessed Michael Sopocko, Our Lord said to Saint Faustina: "He is a priest after My own Heart. . . . As a result of his efforts, a new light will shine in the Church of God for the consolation of souls."

-- And today marks the beginning of the Annual Novena in honour of the Most Holy Face of Jesus. The feast of the Holy Face is celebrated on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. I invite the readers of Vultus Christi to join me in praying daily this Litany of the Holy Face.

Praying the Litany

Litanies are among the oldest forms of Christian prayer. They invite us, not to a mechanical and vain repetition of words, but to a prolonged contemplation of one or another of the mysteries of our faith, shot through with an insistent appeal for mercy. Pray the Litany of the Holy Face quietly and slowly. Allow each invocation to open the eyes of your soul to the adorable countenance of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Human Face of God.

The Litany of the Holy Face of Jesus


Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.

Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of heaven,
R. Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world.
R. Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost,
R. Have mercy on us.

Most Holy Face of Jesus, radiant splendour of the Father,
R. Look upon us, and have mercy.

Most Holy Face of Jesus, spotless mirror of the majesty of God and image of His goodness,
R. Look upon us, and have mercy.

Most Holy Face of Jesus, where radiates the consuming fire of the Holy Spirit,
R. Look upon us, and have mercy.

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The mystery of the Face of Christ is a constant motif in the writings and teachings of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Again, at the Angelus on the Second Sunday of Advent, he spoke of the Face of Jesus and of Mary Immaculate, Pure Reflection of the beauty that shines from the Face of her Son.

Beloved, in Mary Immaculate we contemplate the reflection of the Beauty that saves the world: the beauty of God that shines on the Face of Christ. In Mary, this beauty is totally pure, humble, free of all pride and presumption. The Virgin showed herself in this way to St. Bernadette 150 years ago in Lourdes, and in this way she is venerated in so many shrines.

O Hostie rayonnante!

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On the feast of Corpus Christi, la Fête-Dieu, 1931, Mother Marie des Douleurs (1902-1983) wrote a meditation in the form of a dialogue with Jesus, the Divine Host, for her daughters. It is evident from the vocabulary she used that a strong call to Eucharistic reparation marked her life at that time: Host, High Priest, Victim, sacrileges, profanations. One detects the influence of Mother Mechtilde de Bar with whose writings she was certainly familiar.

You will remark that Mother Marie des Douleurs relates the agony of Jesus in Gethsemani to the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist that preceded it in the Cenacle. She sees the "Holy Hour" practiced on Thursday evenings as an act of Eucharistic reparation for sins of indifference, for the lack of response to the Gift of His Body and Blood, and for sacrileges and profanations.

Echoing the messages of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary at Paray-le-Monial, she hears Our Lord lament the superficiality of so many Christians, even of consecrated souls, It grieves Our Lord that so few priests offer Holy Mass without realizing that, in so doing, they hand themselves over to be immolated for souls with Himself, the Victim. Mother Marie des Douleurs alludes to the role of Saint Veronica, and hears Our Lord ask that a veil of heartfelt compassion be placed upon His Holy Face.

The last line of this brief meditation is extraordinary. The young foundress is compelled to want to place her own heart between the Heart of Jesus and sin. In effect, she prays to absorb, insofar as possible, the coldness, ugliness, indifference, and violence directed toward that Eucharistic Heart that so loves men. The translation is my own.


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High Priest and Victim

O Hostie rayonnante, notre Pontife et notre Victime, nous aurions voulu savoir vous louer, nous aurions voulu vous faire un chemin bien plus triumphal que ce chemin de fleurs. Que faut-il donc et que pouvez vous demander à nous, si petites parmi les creatures?

O radiant Host, our High Priest and our Victim, we would have wanted to know how to praise You, we would have wanted to make You a much more triumphal path than this path of flowers. What do You need, and what can You ask of us, so little among Your creatures?

I Thirst for the Love of Souls

Je demande, à chacune d'entre vous, de se livrer à moi, sans retour, sans restriction, jusqu'à vouloir continellement vous anéantir, parce que j'ai soif de l'amour des âmes et que je veux, lorsque vous serez vraiment miennes, faire de vous, de chacune de vous, des étincelles qui iront dans le monde des âmes propager l'incendie. Ne vous refusez plus à mon désir, j'ai besoin de vous, j'ai besoin de votre amour pour compenser l'indifférence. J'ai besoin de vous souffrances pour ceux qui me haïssent.

I ask that each one amongst you surrender herself to me, without having second thoughts, without restriction, until you arrive at wanting to nullify yourselves continually, because I thirst for the love of souls, and because, when you will be truly mine, I want to make you -- each one of you -- sparks that will go forth into the world of souls to set them all ablaze. Refuse my desire no longer. I need you. I need your love to make up for indifference. I need your sufferings for those who hate me.

Sins Against the Most Holy Eucharist

J'ai besoin de vous, il faut que vous soyez là près de moi pendant l'agonie où je vois distinctement quel est le petit nombre des âmes qui viendront à l'Eucharistie, où je vois chacun des sacrileges, chacune des profanations, et où mon Coeur se brise.

I need you. You must be there, close to me during the agony in which I see distinctly how few souls will come to the Eucharist, in which I see the sacrileges, and each profanation, and in which my Heart breaks.

Priests at the Altar

De quelle tristesse suis-je étreint lorsque je vois qu'au don total que je fais de moi-meme la plupart des hommes , la plupart aussi des âmes consacrées ne répondent que par des actes superficiels. Où sont les âmes eucharistiques? celles qui ne vivent que par l'Hostie, celles qui s'identifient avec mon état de Victime? Il y a si peu de prêtres qui, chaque matin, lorsqu'ils montent à l'autel, pensent qu'ils vont à l'immolation de tout leur être pour les âmes.

What sorrow holds me in its grip when I see that even the greater number of men, the greater number also of consecrated souls respond with nothing more than superficial acts to the total gift I make of myself. Where are the Eucharistic souls? Where are those who will live only by the Host, those who will identify themselves with my victimal state? There are so few priests who, each morning, when they ascend the altar, consider that they are going to be entirely immolated for souls. I ask you to suffer all of that with me; the tender compassion of your hearts will be for mine like the veil of Veronica upon my Face covered with sweat, with dust, and with blood.

Hearts Set Between the Heart of Jesus and Sin

O mon Dieu, vous êtes adorablement bon, vous nous traîtez comme vos épouses. Vous nous donnez ainsi un peu de votre souffrance. Mon Dieu, nous la recevons humblement et avec action de grIaces: c'est la part que nous avons choisie et nous ne savons plus comment nous pourrions supporter l'exil si nous ne pouvions pas, tant que nous vivrons, mettre nos coeurs entre le vôtre et le péché.

O my God, You are adorably good, You treat us as Your spouses. Thus do You give us a little of Your own suffering. My God, we receive it humbly and with thanksgiving; it is the part that we have chosen. We know not how we shall ever bear this exile, so long as we shall live, if we cannot set our hearts between Yours and sin.

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Almighty and ever-living God,
who gave to Saint Gaetano, your priest,
the knowledge of your glory
shining in the Face of Christ,
mercifully grant that we
who rejoice today in his memory,
may imitate his love for that same Holy Face
concealed in the Sacrament of the Altar
and in the poorest and most forsaken of your children.
Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Or:

Stir up, O Lord, in our hearts
the spirit of adoration and reparation
that filled Saint Gaetano, your priest,
that we, having our eyes fixed, like his,
on the Holy Face of Jesus,
may live in ceaseless prayer
and in the humble service of those
most in need of compassion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

A Pastoral Letter on Immigration

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Apostle of the Sacred Heart Sister Mary Ellen's thoughtful response to Bishop Slattery's recent letter moved me to invite readers of Vultus Christi to read his Pastoral Letter on Immigration of last November 25th: "The Suffering Faces of the Poor are the Suffering Face of Christ." The text is available in both Spanish and English on the Tulsa Diocesan Website.

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Thanks to the encouragement of Father Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S., and the expertise of Webmaster Richard Chonak, this blog's first entry was on September 1, 2006, the very day of Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Holy Face at Manoppello. This is what I wrote:

Hearts in Pilgrimage

Today our hearts are in spiritual pilgrimage as we follow Pope Benedict XVI to the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello in the Abruzzo region of Italy. I got up at 3:30 a.m. to witness the event transmitted live via internet from Manoppello. Upon arrival the Holy Father knelt in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and then made his way behind the altar and up the steps leading to the back of the reliquary. A Capuchin Father opened the glass door for him and, in that moment, I saw Peter face-to-face with the precious image of his Master crucified and risen. The Holy Father looked intently at the Face of the Lord. The Pope's gaze was one of childlike wonder.

The Generation of Those Who Seek the Face of God

In his discourse the Holy Father invited us to be "the generation of those who seek the Face of the God of Jacob" (Ps 23:6). One who desires to contemplate the Face of God, he said, must approach His holy place "with clean hands and a pure heart" (Ps 23:4). "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). The Holy Father described the Christian life as a continual seeking after the Face of Christ. "It is thy face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not thy face from me" (Ps 26:8-9). Addressing the many priests present, he invited them to open themselves to the imprint of the holiness of the Face of Christ. We will have occasion to return to the Holy Father's discourse and to learn from it.

The Verbum Crucis

For the moment, let us turn our hearts to the Word of God given us by the liturgy today; it too opens onto the mystery of the Holy Face. When Saint Paul speaks to us in today's First Reading of "the word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18), he is referring not only to an event, and not only to a message. The Verbum crucis is the mystery of Christ Himself who is the Word Crucified. One who contemplates the Holy Face of Jesus gazes upon the Word Crucified. The image of the Holy Face of Manoppello draws us into the heart of the Paschal Mystery; it is an icon of the Word crucified, buried, and waking to the glory of the Father in the resurrection.

The Face of the Power and Wisdom of God

If you would know "the power of God" (1 Cor 1:24), expose yourself to the Face of Christ. If you would know "the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24), study the Face of Christ. The image of the Holy Face reveals that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:25). Those who look upon the Face of Jesus with a pure heart discover there "the secret and hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor 2:7). "None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8).

The Face of the Bridegroom in the Night

In the Gospel we see that the one desire of the virgins waiting in the night was to catch the first glimpse of the Bridegroom's face. Our Lord invites us to be vigilant, to keep watch with lighted lamps and to feed their flame with the oil of a pure, adoring love, a love that consumes itself while waiting for the unfading light of His Holy Face. "Even the darkness is not dark to thee," says the psalmist, "the night is bright as the day; for darkness is light with thee" Ps 138:12).

The Eucharistic Face of Christ

The Bridegroom comes in the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. The human face is the expression of a presence that is personal and real. The human face is the epiphany of the heart, and Christ Jesus is the Human Face of God. The Eucharist is the Human Face of God - His real presence - turned toward us to reveal the burning desire of His Heart: "With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).

Bring your lighted lamps - hearts aflame with faith, hope, and love - before the Blessed Sacrament today. The Bridegroom will make the light of His Eucharistic Face shine upon you. Last October 23rd in his homily for the canonization of Saint Gaetano Catanoso, Pope Benedict XVI quoted the humble priest of Calabria, saying: "If we wish to adore the real Face of Jesus, we can find it in the divine Eucharist, where with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Face of Our Lord is hidden under the white veil of the Host." In every Mass we should want to cry out, "Behold, the Bridegroom comes! Go forth to meet him!" (Mt 25:6).

Reparation

Prayer before the Eucharistic Face of Christ will always have a character of reparation. Reparation belongs to the vocabulary of love. It is an imperative of the heart. Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI addressed priests of the diocese of Albano at Castel Gandolfo. The most insistent advice he gave them had to do with prayer and notably with the prayer of reparation. "Prayer," he said to them, "is not time taken away from our pastoral responsibility; it is precisely pastoral work to pray, to pray also for others ... substituting ourselves for others who perhaps do not know how to pray, who do not want to pray, or who do not find time to pray."

Do this today. Go before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, substituting yourselves there for those who do not know where to seek His Face, for those who do not know how to seek His Face. Expose yourselves to the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus for those who do not want to pray and for those who are afraid of prayer. For the sake of those who find no time to adore, be generous today in adoring Him whose Face is hidden beneath the sacramental veils.

A Pilgrimage Not Made in Vain

"Now we see in a mirror darkly, but then face to face" (1 Cor 13:12). Let not the Holy Father's pilgrimage to the Holy Face of Manoppello be in vain: in the dark night of this world let us become "the generation of those who seek the Face of the God of Jacob" (Ps 23:6). "Behold, the Bridegroom comes! Go forth to meet him!" (Mt 25:6).

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That Mysterious Face

This morning the Holy Father announced an exposition of the Sacred Shroud of Turn in the Spring of 2010. The Shroud will be displayed for the general public. "If the Lord gives me life and health," said the Holy Father, "I too hope to come to contemplate the mysterious Face, which silently speaks to the hearts of humanity, inviting us to recognize the face of God who loved us so much that he gave us his only Son, so that those who believe may have eternal life." The Holy Father also announced that the year 2010 will be dedicated to the Passion of Christ.

Obedience

Again, the Holy Face: the May 11, 2008 letter on obedience of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is entitled, Faciem Tuam, Domine, Requiram, "It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I Seek." Here are the first lines of the introduction to the letter.

“Let your Face shine upon us and we shall be saved” (Psalm 79:4)

Consecrated Life as a Witness of the Search for God

1. “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram”: Your Face, O Lord, I seek (Ps 27:8). A pilgrim seeking the meaning of life, enwrapped in the great mystery that surrounds him, the human person, even if unconsciously, does, in fact, seek the Face of the Lord. “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me, teach me your paths” (Ps 25:4): no one can ever take away from the heart of the human person the search for him of whom the Bible says “He is all” (Sir 43:27) and for the ways of reaching him.

Consecrated life, called to make the characteristic traits of the virginal, poor and obedient Jesus visible, flourishes in the ambience of this search for the Face of the Lord and the ways that lead to him (cf. Jn 14:4-6).

Quaesivi Vultum Tuum

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Seventh Sunday of Paschaltide
Sunday of the Holy Face of Christ

The Most Holy Face of Christ is celebrated on various days of the liturgical year. In the tradition of Carmel, especially in France, the feast of the Transfiguration, August 6th, is marked by loving attention to the Face of Christ. Mother Maria-Pierina De Micheli and the Servant of God Abbot Ildebrando Gregori, O.S.B. promoted the feast of the Holy Face on Shrove Tuesday.

The Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, founded by Mother Marie des Douleurs in 1930, has the custom of turning to the Holy Face in a special way on the Sunday after the Ascension of the Lord. The choice was motivated by the Introit of the Mass:

“Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia.
True to my heart’s promise I have eyes only for Thy Face;
I seek Thy Face, O Lord!
Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia” (Ps 26: 7-9).

One of the unfortunate consequences of the lamentable transfer (in some places) of Ascension Thursday to the following Sunday is the loss of the magnificent Proper texts of the Sunday after the Ascension, both for the Mass and the Divine Office . . . and the loss of a Sunday that leaves us with the gaze of our souls riveted to the Face of the Beloved.

A Longing to See Him Again

The soon to be beatified Cardinal Newman wrote somewhere that the Ascension of the Lord is “at once a source of sorrow, because it involves His absence; and of joy, because it involves His presence.” For Our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, standing on the Mount of Olives with their eyes riveted to the heavens, the Ascension was the last glimpse of the Face of Christ on earth. The disappearance of the beloved Face of Christ leaves in the heart of the Church a longing to see Him again, a burning desire for His return.

I Seek Thy Face

This is the reason for Exaudi, Domine, today’s incomparable Introit: “Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia. True to my heart’s promise I have eyes only for Thy Face; I seek Thy Face, O Lord! Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia” (Ps 26: 7-9). The desire to contemplate the Face of Christ becomes a persistent longing; this is the experience of all the saints. The vitality of one’s interior life can be measured by the intensity of one’s desire to see the Face of Christ.

John Paul II

Eight years ago in Novo Millennio Ineunte, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II placed the new millennium under the radiant sign of the Face of Christ. Then again, at the beginning of the Year of the Eucharist, the year of his death, Pope John Paul II again directed our eyes to the Face of Christ concealed and revealed in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The teaching of Pope John Paul II confirms, in a striking way, the spiritual patrimony left by Mother Marie des Douleurs to the Congregation she founded. “Devotion to the Holy Face,” she wrote, “is the particular aspect by which the Holy Spirit makes us learn again all that we need 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.”

The Holy Spirit

I am touched by the connection Mother Marie des Douleurs makes between the Holy Spirit and the Face of Christ. “Devotion to the Holy Face is the particular aspect by which the Holy Spirit makes us learn again all that we need know to become the saints that Jesus desires.” Recall the promise of Our Lord before His Passion: “He who is to befriend you, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send on my account, will in His turn make everything plain, and recall to your minds everything I have said you” (Jn 14:26). “It will be for Him, the truth-giving Spirit, when He comes, to guide you into all truth” (Jn 16:13).

The Holy Spirit teaches souls by referring them to the adorable Face of Jesus. The Sacred Scriptures themselves are illumined by the Holy Spirit who so opens our eyes that we perceive the Face of the Bridegroom shining through the text. “Now,” says the Bride of the Canticle, “He is looking in through each window in turn, peering through every chink” (Ct 2:9).

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"I desire that my Face, which reflects the intimate afflictions of my Soul,
the sorrow and the love of my Heart, should be honoured more.
One who contemplates me, consoles me.

There are those perhaps who fear that the devotion and worship of my Holy Face
may diminish the devotion and worship of my Heart. Tell them that, on the contrary, it will be completed and augmented. Contemplating my Face, souls will share in my sorrows and will feel the need to love and and to make reparation. Is this not perhaps the true devotion to my Heart? "


Nennolina
was not alone in having her heroic virtues recognized by the Church this morning. There were seven others; among them was Mother Maria Pierina Di Micheli. Born on 11 September, 1890, Giuseppina De Micheli entered the Congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception in Milan on 15 October 1913. She received the habit and the name Maria Pierina on 16 May 1914, made religious profession 23 May 1915, and left for the motherhouse of the Congregation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1921. She returned to Italy in 1921, and died on 26 July 1945.

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Mother Maria Pierina was privileged, from the age of twelve, with graces of intimacy with Our Lord, who invited her to contemplate His Holy Face. On the evening of 31 May 1938, as Mother Maria Pierina was praying, a beautiful Lady presented herself to her on the altar steps, in a blaze of light. She was holding in her hand a scapular made of two pieces of white flannel held together by a cord. One piece bore the image of the Holy Face of Jesus with the inscription, "Illumina Domine Vultum Tuum super nos"; the other piece bore the image of a radiant Host with the inscription, "Mane nobiscum Domine."

The Lady approached Mother Pierina and said, "Listen well and refer this to your Father Confessor. This scapular is an arm of defense, a shield of might, a token of mercy that Jesus wants to give the world in these times of sensuality and of hatred toward God and the Church. True apostles are few. A divine remedy is necessary, and this remedy is the Holy Face of Jesus. All those who will wear a scapular like this one, and who will visit, if possible, the Blessed Sacrament on Tuesdays to make reparation for the outrages that the Holy Face of my Son Jesus received during His Passion, and receives every day in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, will be strengthened in the faith, made ready to defend it, and to overcome all difficulties inward and outward. They will, moreover, have a serene death, beneath the loving gaze of my Divine Son."

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The scapular of the Holy Face became, with the approval of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the medal of the Holy Face, widely distributed by Mother Maria Pierina, by her spiritual father, Abbot Ildebrando Gregori, O.S.B., and today, by His Eminence Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini and the Congregation of the Benedictine Reparatrices of the Holy Face.

I was privileged, last month, to preach a retreat — Seeking God: the Holy Face of Jesus in the Rule of Saint Benedict — to a dynamic group of novices and professed Sisters of the Benedictine Reparatrices of the Holy Face from Italy, India, the Republic of the Congo, and Romania at the Casa San Francesco in Carsoli, Aquila, Italy.

Imago Dei Invisibilis

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Twenty-Second Friday of the Year I

Colossians 1:15-20

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of every creature:
For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones, or dominations,
or principalities, or powers:
all things were created by Him and in Him.
And He is before all, and by Him all things consist.
And He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead;
that in all things He may hold the primacy:
Because in Him, it hath well pleased the Father,
that all fullness should dwell;
And through Him to reconcile all things unto himself,
making peace through the blood of his cross,
both as to the things that are on earth,
and the things that are in heaven.

Doxological Christology

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Colossians is well known to us. Some of you may even know it by heart. In our monastic cursus of the Divine Office it is the New Testament canticle at Vespers on Thursday of the Second Week; in the Roman Office, it occurs as the New Testament Canticle at Vespers every Wednesday. It is, in fact, a hymn inspired by the Holy Spirit, addressed to the Father, in celebration of the mystery of Christ, a wonderful example of “doxological Christology.”

Thanksgiving

In praising the glory of the Father — the mystery of the Son comes into focus to “enlighten the eyes of the heart” (Eph 1:18). The hymn englobes the whole “economy” of God: redemption, creation, the resurrection and lordship of Christ and, at the end of the text, a confession of the mystery of the Cross, radiating peace over heaven and earth (Col 1:20).

Through Him

Perhaps you noticed that, although the whole hymn celebrates Jesus Christ, He is never explicitly named. Instead, all throughout, the pronoun “He” is repeated again and again. The effect is not at all unlike that of the, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him . . .” that concludes the Eucharistic Prayer.

Indeed Right and Fitting

This is not the only point of resemblance with the Eucharistic Prayer. If you take the text on your own, in lectio divina, and repeat it slowly, you will see that it is crafted like the Roman Preface of the Mass. In fact, if you put the traditional opening of the Roman Preface at the beginning — It is indeed right and fitting, it is our duty and leads to our salvation, that we should praise you always and everywhere, Lord, holy Father, almighty and ever-living God, through Christ our Lord — and if you add, at the end, the traditional conclusion of the preface — And therefore, together with all the Angels, we never cease to praise and glorify you, as we joyfully proclaim, Holy, Holy, Holy — you have, with very few adjustments, a magnificent Eucharistic text, a rich Christological Preface.

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God's Human Face

There is, in these eight or nine verses, an inexhaustible richness of content. If I were to linger over a single phrase, it would be verse 15. “He is the image, the icon, of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Jesus is, to use the title of Cardinal von Schönborn’s book, “God's Human Face.” “No one has ever seen God,” says Saint John the Theologian; “the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” (Jn 1:18). Jesus Himself says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), and Saint Paul adds that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

The Eucharistic Revelation of His Face

Today’s message from Colossians moves us to seek the Face of Christ. One who desires to contemplate the Face of Christ needs to immerse himself in the psalms, the prophets, the Gospels, Saint Paul, and the saints and mystics of every age. One who desires to contemplate the Face of Christ needs to spend time, silent and adoring, before the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. And so, we go from the ambo to the altar, where “the Blood of the Cross” (Col 1:20) is given us to drink, and where the Face of Christ, at once hidden and revealed, satisfies the heart’s desire.

Ta Face est ma seule patrie

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If you haven't read Donald Jacob Uitvlugt's article, The Holy Face in the Spirituality of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, today is the perfect day to do so. On August 6, 1896, Saint Thérèse consecrated herself, and the novices under her care, to the Face of Christ.

In her testimony for the cause of beatification, the older sister of Thérèse, Pauline (in Carmel, Mother Agnes), said:

Devotion to the Holy Face was the special attraction of the Servant of God. However tender was her devotion to the Infant Jesus, it could not be compared to the devotion she had for the Holy Face. It was in the Carmel, at the hour of our great ordeal regarding the mental illness of our father, that she attached herself further to the mystery of the Passion, and it was then that she obtained permission to add “of the Holy Face” to her name.

She herself speaks of where she derived the idea of this devotion. She writes, “In these words of Isaiah — "He was without splendor, without beauty, his face was hidden, as it were, and his person was not acknowledged (cf. Is 53, 2-3) — one finds the whole foundation of my devotion to the Holy Face, or to say it better, the foundation of all my piety. I also desire myself to be without splendor, without beauty, to tread alone the wine in the press, unknown by every creature."

With Him On The Holy Mountain

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To the Mountain of the Lord

The prophet Isaiah says that, “It shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob’” (Is 2:1-3).

The house of the Lord is no longer the tent of meeting pitched by Moses in the desert (Ex 33:7), the tent upon which descended the pillar of cloud (Ex 33:9), the tent wherein the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex 33:11). We heard, in the second reading of the Vigil, that “everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting” (Ex 33:7). Moses used to come out of his ineffable conversations with the Lord so transfigured and radiant that he was obliged to cover his face with a veil, for the skin of his face shone with the glory of the Lord (Ex 35:33-35). The tent of meeting in the desert, set up according the prescriptions of the Lord, was but a figure and foreshadowing of the mystery we celebrate today.

The Tent

In the tent of meeting we discern, “as in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12), an obscure and mysterious revelation of the adorable Trinity. The tent prefigures the Body of Christ, the true, abiding, and indestructible place of meeting between God and man. Everyone who seeks the Father must go out to the new tent of meeting, that is, the Body of Christ, for he himself says, “No one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6).

In the tent, Moses heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him mouth to mouth (Num 12:8), the same voice that, in the beginning, had uttered, “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). At the sound of the voice of the Lord, something of old Adam stirred deep inside Moses, and he remembered the voice that, in the garden, had called so gently, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9).

Moses beheld the pillar of cloud hovering over the tent (Ex 33:9). Something of old Adam stirred deep inside him, and he remembered the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8), in the breath of a gentle evening breeze.

Behold the tent, behold the voice, behold the cloud! Are we to look upon such mysteries and fail to see a dark and veiled epiphany of the Three calling us into the communion of their divine life? The tent points to Christ, the voice to the Father, the cloud to the Holy Spirit.

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From Zenit, July 26, 2007

Archbishop Angelo Amato invited readers to delve into Benedict XVI's "Jesus of Nazareth," and there discover the wonder of the Face of Christ revealed by the Gospels.

The secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said this Tuesday when speaking about the book at a summer course on the thought of the Pope, organized by the King Juan Carlos University Foundation.

The Salesian archbishop said the Holy Father presents "a living picture of Jesus" in a world where Christ's image is "often so distorted by thousands of different hypotheses that it becomes unrecognizable."

"Delve into the book and read it attentively and discover the wonder of the Face of Christ revealed in the Gospel," the archbishop urged.

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The June 20th daily edition of L'Osservatore Romano contained an article on the ordination of two Olivetan Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Santa Maria del Pilastrello in Lendinara. The title caught my attention immediately: Chiamati a riflettere il Volto di Cristo e la sua misericordia come figli di San Benedetto Called to reflect the Face of Christ and His Mercy as Sons of Saint Benedict.

Addressing Dom Nicola Bellinazzo and Dom Gabriele Ferrarese, the two monks to be ordained, one to the priesthood and the other to the diaconate, His Excellency, Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of Adrio-Rovigo, said:

Remaining Monks

You must never forget that, first of all, you are and you remain monks. The Council, in the decree on religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, affirms that "the principal duty of monks is the humble and noble service of the Divine Majesty within the walls of the monastery, either by dedicating themselves entirely to divine worship in a hidden life, or by taking on some legitimate work of the apostolate or of Christian charity."

Diversities of Graces

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The Open Side of Jesus Crucified

Look at this remarkable painting of Jesus Crucified. The focus of the composition is the wound in His Sacred Side. An angel holding a chalice is hovering just beneath it to receive the outpouring of His Blood. There are also angels stationed beneath His wounded hands. A fourth angel stricken with astonishment and grief looks on.

Saint Francis of Assisi

At the foot of the Cross, close to the wounded feet of Jesus, kneels Saint Francis of Assisi, embracing the saving wood. Saint Francis is closest to the feet of Jesus because he was called to walk in lowliness, poverty, and humility, in imitation of the Son of Man who "had no where to lay His head" (Mt 8:20).

Saint Benedict

On the left is Saint Benedict with his hands crossed over his breast. This is the ritual gesture of the monk when, on the day of his profession, he sings the second part of the Suscipe me, Domine: "Let me not be confounded in my expectation" (Ps 118:116). Saint Benedict is gazing at the Face of the Crucified with an extraordinary intensity of compassion and love. One could draw a direct line from the Face of Jesus to the face of Saint Benedict. This is what he means when he says in his Rule that one desiring to become a monk must "truly seek God" (RB 58:7).

Saint Romuald

On the right one sees Saint Romuald, whose feast we celebrate today. He is seated — rather like Mary of Bethany in Luke 10:39 — with his hands hidden in the sleeves of his cowl. These are subtle allusions to the hidden life in which Saint Romuald sought the Heart of Jesus, not by much doing (the hidden hands) but, rather, in much listening (the "Marian" posture). You will notice that Saint Romuald is not looking at the Face of the Crucified; he is focused on the wound in Jesus' Sacred Side. Therein he seeks to hide himself like the dove in the cleft of the rock.

Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles

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John 14:6-14
Psalm 18:2-5
1 Corinthians 15:1-8


Today’s Antiphons in the Divine Office

There is no doubt that the antiphons given in the Divine Office for this feast of Saints Philip and James are among the most beautiful of the Paschaltide liturgy. The Church takes the dialogue of the Gospel and, with an artistry inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents it anew in a series of antiphons interwoven with alleluias:

The first antiphon is Philip’s bold request: “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us, alleluia” (Jn 14:8). Philip’s prayer echoes that of Moses in the book of Exodus: “I pray thee, show me thy glory” (Ex 33:18).

The second antiphon is Our Lord’s astonishing reply. He presents Himself to Philip as the icon of the Father: “Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

The third antiphon is a poignant complaint of the Heart of Christ. It is addressed not to Philip alone, but also to each of us: “Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known Me? Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

The fourth antiphon is a gentle reproach; it ends nonetheless in a triple alleluia. The reproach becomes a promise full of hope: “If you had known me, you would also have known My Father. And henceforth you do know Him, and you have seen Him, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:7).

The fifth antiphon is an appeal to love. Like the fourth it ends in a triple alleluia: “If you love Me, keep my commandments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:15).

Benedictus Antiphon

There are two more antiphons to be considered. At the Benedictus it is Our Lord himself who sings in the midst of His Church: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me, alleluia.” The Church cannot but reply: “Yes, Lord, you are the way, and the truth, and the life. Behold, I come to the Father through You.” There is no better preparation for today’s Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Church coming to the Father through the Son, united to Him as His Body and His Bride.

Magnificat Antiphon

At Vespers the Magnificat will be framed by the words of the Lord: “Let not your heart be troubled or afraid. You believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:1–2). These are words of comfort, words of hope for every situation of fading light and for those moments when darkness descends over the human heart.

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Ah, awful Face of Love, bruised by my hand,
Turn to me, pierce me with Thine eyes of flame,
And give, me deeper knowledge of my sin.
So let me grieve and, when I understand
How great my guilt, my ruin, and my shame,
Open Thy Sacred Heart and let me in!

R.H. Benson

The Embrace of Saint Francis and the Crucified, Murillo, 1668
This is a very significant image for me. When I first saw this painting as a little boy of eleven or twelve years, maybe younger, I was smitten by it. My Dad went out and bought me a beautiful framed reproduction that I treasured. The soul of a child is formed (or deformed) by the images to which he is exposed.

Later in my life I discovered that the theme of the amplexus (embrace) of the Crucified originated in depictions of Saint Bernard. Saint Francis' remarkable affinity to Saint Bernard is demonstrated in that the motif of the amplexus was widely transferred from the Abbot of Clairvaux to the Little Poor Man of Assisi. The recurring motif of the Face of Christ and of His Pierced Heart is linked to the spread of the Cistercian and Franciscan Orders, each with its own iconography of the amplexus.

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Yesterday, in his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Benedict XVI returned to what has become a leitmotif in his preaching: the Face of God. The Holy Father's words were, in fact, reminiscent of the message he gave last September on the occasion of his pilgrimage to to the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello.

Alluding to the traditional rites of Palm Sunday during which the subdeacon (or priest) would strike the door of the church with the foot of the processional cross, Pope Benedict explained that by means of the Cross, Christ knocks at the door of God in the name of all mankind, and knocks at door of mankind, and of every human heart, in the name of God.

Seek the Face of God

"Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?" the psalm asks, and it indicates two essential conditions. Those who ascend and really want to get to the top, to arrive at the true height, must be persons who ask themselves about God. They must be persons who look about themselves in search of God, in search of His Face. My dear young friends, how important this is today: not allowing yourselves to be carried here and there by life; not being satisfied with what everyone thinks, says and does. Be attentive to God, seek God. We must not let the question about God dissolve in our souls. The desire for what is greater. The desire to know Him — his Face.

Benedict XVI: God Has A Face

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In his questions–and answers–session with the clergy of Rome on February 22nd, Pope Benedict XVI returned to what has become a leitmotif of his teaching: the mystery of the Face of Christ. Again and again, the Holy Father directs our gaze to the Holy Face and to the Pierced Side, never separating the Face of Jesus from His Sacred Heart.

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Brought Near to God in Christ

Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians: "Remember that you were at that time... having no hope and without God.... But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near" (Eph 2: 12-13). Thus, life has a meaning that guides me even through difficulties.

Christ, the Living Face of God

It is therefore necessary to return to God the Creator, to the God who is creative reason, and then to find Christ, Who is the living Face of God. Let us say that here there is a reciprocity. On the one hand, we have the encounter with Jesus, with this human, historical and real figure; little by little, He helps me to become acquainted with God; and on the other, knowing God helps me understand the grandeur of Christ's Mystery which is the Face of God.

The Face of Mercy

Only if we manage to grasp that Jesus is not a great prophet or a world religious figure but that He is the Face of God, that he is God, have we discovered Christ's greatness and found out who God is. God is not only a distant shadow, the "primary Cause", but He has a Face. His is the Face of mercy, the Face of pardon and love, the Face of the encounter with us.

Vultum Tuum, Domine, Requiram

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The Second Sunday of Lent
The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 26: 1, 7-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfigured Face of Jesus

Twice yearly, on August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Glorious Cross, and again on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Church is illuminated by the glory of God shining on the Face of the transfigured Jesus. The Introit of today’s Mass is the same one used on August 6th. It directs the gaze of our hearts to the Face of Christ. “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘Seek His Face.’ It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your Face” (Ps 26:8-9). Some of you know the text, “Tibi dixit” in its chant melody, so full of longing, of desire, of peace.

To Seek God Truly

When our father Saint Benedict speaks of the dispositions to look for in one who seeks to enter the monastery, he emphasizes, above all, that one come to seek God truly. How are we to orient this search for God? God is elusive, hiding himself from those who seek Him, seeking those who hide from Him. “Where shall wisdom be found, asks Job, and where is the place of understanding? Man does not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not in me’” (Jb 28:12-14). The bride of the Canticle speaks no differently. “Upon my bed by night I sought Him whom my soul loves; I sought Him but found Him not; I called Him but he gave no answer” (Ct 3:1). Are we to look up or down? Are we to search within or without? Where are we to seek God first? “If I climb the heavens you are there, if I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea’s furthest end, even there your hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast” (Ps 138:8-10). God is everywhere and yet our gaze has to be somewhere if it is to rest upon Him.

When God Brings One Outside

Today’s first reading may give us a clue. It begins with a curious little phrase. “God brought Abram outside” (Gen 15:5). Two things strike me. First, God takes the initiative, coming first in search of Abram, meeting Abram on his own ground, in his own space. God accommodates His immensity to the limits of Abram’s little domestic world. He comes to the nomad Abram in his tent, in surroundings that are intimate, familiar to Abram, and secure. Second, he brings Abram outside, outside the tent, outside the familiar, obliging Abram to “look toward heaven” (Gen 15:5), to stretch toward the vastness of stars too many to be counted. Then, no sooner has God shown Abram the stars than he hides them. “A deep sleep fell on Abram, and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12).

Lest We Stop Seeking

The search for God —and the monastic vocation, a particular response to God’s search for us— may begin in a familiar place but, inevitably, it leads us outside — outside of our tents, outside of ourselves. For some, paralyzed by fear, incapable of leaving the comfort of the narrow spaces that we call our own, the search is thwarted from the outset. Mercifully, God is patient, and a late response is rewarded, in every way, as generously as one made early. “God brought Abram outside” (Gen 15:5). He does the same in the life of anyone who seeks Him. Just when we think we have found the place of the encounter with God, He calls us outside, lest we stop seeking, even for a moment. He calls us into a dread and great darkness lest we mistake any lesser light for the light of His Face. “‘What can bring us happiness?’” many say. “Lift up the light of your Face on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:7).

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Just as one learns what is in the heart of one’s dearest friend by looking at his face, just as a wife can know what her husband carries for her in his heart by reading his face, so too does the Church look to the Eucharistic face of Christ to discover there all the secrets of His Sacred Heart for her. The connection between face and heart is something deeply inscribed in the human person. Face and person are, in fact synonymous, not only because in Greek the same word denotes both but even more because there is nothing more personal, nothing more precious, nothing dearer than the face of a loved one.

The psalmist’s cry, “I long to see your face” (Ps 26:8), is the cry of every lover to his beloved, the cry of child to parent, of parent to child, and of friend to friend. The most poignant moment in the rites of Pope John Paul II’s death and burial came when a veil was laid over his face. We cherish photographs of those we love, but what is a photograph without a face? The relationships that we call “heart to heart” never tire of the “face to face to face.”

The more one is drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the more one experiences the need to seek His Face — and to seek it in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. The heart is a secret organ, a thing not visible to the eye. The “thoughts of the heart” are transmitted to the face. It is true that some persons try to dissimulate what they hold in the heart by putting on a plastic face, a professional face, or a face of stony indifference, but all of that dissimulation is related to sin. In Jesus Christ, the Lamb without stain, there is no disconnection between face and heart.

All that Jesus holds in his Sacred Heart for us and for his Father is revealed on His Face. If you would know His Heart, seek His Face, and seek it in the Eucharist. It is in the contemplation of the Most Holy Eucharist that, fulfilling Zechariah's ancient prophecy, we “look upon Him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37).

Who Are the Saints?

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Saturday of the Sixth Week of the Year I
Mark 9:2–13

Jesus Alone With His Friends

Who are the saints? The saints are those who allow themselves to be taken by Jesus “up a high mountain apart by themselves” (Mk 9:2). The saints are those who accept the invitation of the Master to go with him to a place of solitude and to remain with him there. The saints are those who, leaving behind what is familiar and reassuring, choose the company of Jesus alone — a wondrous and fearful thing — amazed that Jesus has chosen to be alone with them. “It is not you who seek my company,” he says, “it is who seek yours.”

Those to Whom God Speaks Face to Face

The saints are the blessed companions of Moses to whom “the Lord used to speak face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:11). They are the friends of Elijah fed by an angel in the wilderness (1 K 19:5-7): Elijah to whom God spoke not in a great wind, nor in an earthquake, nor in fire, but in “a still small voice” (1 K 19:13).

Seekers of the Face of God

The saints are those in whom the prayer of David is a ceaseless murmur by day and by night: “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9). The saints are those before whom Jesus shows himself transfigured, “his garments glistening, intensely white” (Mk 9:3), his face “shining like the sun” (Mt 17:2) — and this as “in a mirror darkly” (1 Cor 13:12). The saints are those who, having caught a glimpse of “the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps 44:2) cannot detach their gaze from his face, those who live with their eyes fixed in his.

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Local sanctuaries and regional pilgrimages abound in Italy. At the origin of most of them is a miraculous event or special grace. The foundational event is kept alive in the collective memory of the people by means of yearly festivals, processions, and other celebrations. Given that this blog is dedicated to the Vultus Christi, the Holy Face of Christ, I want to recall today the anniversary of just such an event and the shrine that grew out it.

Flora Romano De Santis (1899–1969) and her husband Ernesto De Santis, a devout couple living at Capodimonte in Naples, subscribed to a number of Catholic periodicals. On the cover of an issue of Crociata Missionnaria (Missionary Crusade), Flora noticed a beautiful image of the Face of Christ, a reproduction of a painting by the artist Rina Maluta. It was nothing more than a magazine cover, but Flora and her husband were strangely moved by the divine beauty of the Face. Flora cut out the image, framed it, and gave it a place of honour in her bedroom. This is not the first time that a common, printed reproduction of a popular image has become a means of grace. It pleases God to make use of things that are humble and quotidian.

On February 10, 1932, Flora was praying the rosary in front of the image of the Face of Christ. The day was cold and grey. Flora had just finished cooking and serving dinner for the poor and abandoned old people of her neighbourhood.

All of a sudden the room was filled with an immense light shining from the framed picture of the Holy Face. As Flora gazed at the image, it came to life before her eyes. Our Lord, looking at Flora, said, "Flora, behold this Face so offended and insulted; love it and make it loved."

From that moment forward, Flora dedicated herself to obeying these words of Christ. For thirty–five years she devoted herself to loving the Holy Face of Christ and making it loved, all the while seeing that same adorable Face in the faces of the poor, especially of orphans and of the elderly.

Signora De Santis became Madre Flora to countless people who knocked at her door wanting to pray before the miraculous image. Madre Flora was graced with all sorts of charisms: locutions, prophesies, visions, and especially, the gifts of wisdom and of counsel. She was given the secret of opening hearts to prayer, and of leading people to the contemplation of the Face of Christ and to the sacraments.

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The De Santis home became a shrine of the Volto Santo, the Holy Face of Christ. Padre Giacinto Ruggieri, a Friar Minor of the Province of Naples, was Madre Flora's spiritual director and her representative to the authorities of the Church. In 1965, His Eminence Cardinal Alfonso Cataldo, Archbishop of Naples, authorized the daily celebration of Holy Mass in "the house of the Holy Face."

Madre Flora died on May 31, 1969. For ten days, crowds of people mourned her passing and venerated her remains. By popular decision, later legitimized by the competent civil and ecclesiastical authorities, Madre Flora was interred in the little chapel of her own home.

On February 25, 1990, His Eminence Cardinal Michele Giordano blessed the first stone of a spacious new sanctuary of the Holy Face, and on March 10, 1996 the same prelate celebrated the opening of the church to the faithful. Pilgrims from Campania and from every part of Italy continue to bear witness to the flood of graces obtain through confident prayer before the Holy Face of Jesus and the intercession of Madre Flora.


Saint Veronica

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In some martyrologies, today is the feast of Saint Veronica, the woman of courage and compassion commemorated in Catholic piety at the Sixth Station of the Cross. It is the feastday of my niece Veronica Kirby and of Mère Véronique, prioress general of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified. This painting of "The Veronica" by the Master of Flémalle (ca. 1375–1444) depicts the Holy Face on a finely woven and transparent cloth, exactly like the Holy Face of Manoppello.

On March 24, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger offered the following meditation and prayer during the Via Crucis in the Colosseum:

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. 53:2-3

He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

From the Book of Psalms. 27:8-9

You have said, "Seek my face". My heart says to you, "Your face, Lord, do I seek". Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Cast me not off, forsake me not, O God of my salvation.

Meditation

"Your Face, Lord, do I seek. Hide not your Face from me" (Ps 27:8-9). Veronica Bernice, in the Greek tradition embodies the universal yearning of the devout men and women of the Old Testament, the yearning of all believers to see the Face of God. On Jesus' Way of the Cross, though, she at first did nothing more than perform an act of womanly kindness: she held out a facecloth to Jesus. She did not let herself be deterred by the brutality of the soldiers or the fear which gripped the disciples. She is the image of that good woman, who, amid turmoil and dismay, shows the courage born of goodness and does not allow her heart to be bewildered. "Blessed are the pure in heart", the Lord had said in his Sermon on the Mount, "for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). At first, Veronica saw only a buffeted and pain-filled Face. Yet her act of love impressed the true image of Jesus on her heart: on his human Face, bloodied and bruised, she saw the Face of God and his goodness, which accompanies us even in our deepest sorrows. Only with the heart can we see Jesus. Only love purifies us and gives us the ability to see. Only love enables us to recognize the God who is love itself.

Prayer

Lord, grant us restless hearts, hearts which seek your Face. Keep us from the blindness of heart which sees only the surface of things. Give us the simplicity and purity which allow us to recognize your presence in the world. When we are not able to accomplish great things, grant us the courage which is born of humility and goodness. Impress your Face on our hearts. May we encounter you along the way and show your image to the world.

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Just yesterday I found this prayer to the Holy Face printed on the back of a reproduction of the Volto Santo in the Chapter Room of the Cistercian monastery of Santa Susanna:

Holy Face of my sweet Jesus,
living and eternal expression of the love
and of the divine martyrdom suffered for the redemption of mankind,
I adore Thee and I love Thee.
Today and for always
I consecrate to Thee my whole being.
By the most pure hands of the Immaculate Queen
I offer Thee the prayers, actions, and works of this day,
in expiation and reparation for the sins of poor creatures.
Make me Thy true apostle.
May your gentle gaze be ever present to me
and, at the hour of my death,
grow bright with mercy.
Amen.

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I am profoundly grateful to Mother M. Clare Millea, A.S.C.J. for making possible a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Holy Face of Jesus at Manoppello in the Province of Pescaro, Abruzzo. Manoppello is the very place visited by Pope Benedict XVI last September 1, the same day on which I inaugurated this blog dedicated to the Vultus Christi, the Holy Face of Christ.

Mother Clare and Sisters Barbara Matazzaro and Mary Grace Giaimo are all Connecticut natives. We left Rome early on the morning of Tuesday, 9 January with Sister Mary Grace at the wheel, praying the rosary (Mysteries of the Holy Face) as we rolled eastward towards the Adriatic The weather was clear and crisp. We had coffee when we arrived at Manoppello. I couldn't wait to enter the church to see the Holy Face. "Thy Face, O Lord, will I still seek; hide not Thy Face from me" (Ps 26:8-9).

There was no one else in the church when we entered it. There, high above the altar, was the Holy Face of Manoppello. "Lift up, O Lord, the light of Thy Face upon us" (Ps 66:1). Approaching the Holy Face was an indescribable experience, one clearly willed and arranged by Divine Providence. We were greeted by Father Carmine Cucinelli, the Guardian of the Capuchin community at Manoppello, and by Sister Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, a German Trappistine nun and iconographer now living at Manoppello.

Father Carmine arranged for us to have Holy Mass in the church: a Votive Mass of the Holy Face of Christ. What a joy for me to offer the Holy Sacrifice in this place that I have I wanted to visit for so long. I said with particular intensity the invocation that I pray silently every day when I elevate the Sacred Host: "Illumina, Domine, Vultum tuum super nos -- Lift up, O Lord, the light of Thy Face upon us." The proper texts of the Mass were exquisite. The Preface of the Mass praised God for giving us the image of the Face of His Son in this temple. I only regret that I did ask for a copy of the Collect and the Preface of the Mass.

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The Holy Face is a very finely woven veil stretched between two panes of glass. It appears to be made of an ancient sea-byssus fibre, a precious "marine silk" also found inside some sarcophagi of the Egyptian pyramids. This would be the "fine linen" mentioned forty-six times, neither more nor less, in Sacred Scripture.

The cloth measures cm 17 x 24 (6,70 x 9,45 inches). The fabric is so thin that the image is visible before and behind and so transparent that a newspaper, put behind it, could be read even at a distance. It is the effigy of a long-haired man with a broken nose, a wispy beard and a short forelock on his bloodstained forehead (Mk 15:17; Mt 27:29); his half-open mouth seems to be about to utter something.

In the dim light of a candle, the contrasting shades of brown seem to recede, allowing the darker bruises covering his the Face to become visible. His cheeks are dissimilar: one, rounder than the other, appears considerably swollen (Jn 18:22; 19:1-3). Dr. Donato Vittore and Dr. Giulio Fanti have, after examining the image under ultra-violet rays, confirmed that no paint is found on the veil.

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His eyes look upward, allowing the white of the eye under the iris to be seen. His gaze is one of wonder or amazement, but it is also benevolent and consoling. It expresses the love of Jesus for us even after His bitter Passion, reminding us that He said to the disciples, "Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20).

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Sister Blandina Paschalis spent about two hours with us, explaining her original scientific research on the Holy Face. Sister Blandina is intensely devoted to the Face of Christ. When she kneels in prayer before the Holy Face of Manoppello, one senses the grace of contemplation given to those who seek and adore the Face of Christ.

By placing exact photo slides of the Holy Shroud of Turin and the Holy Face of Manoppello one upon the other, Sister Blandina discovered that their transparent data-points fit together perfectly. The Face of Christ in death is given us on the Shroud of Turin, and the Face of the rising Christ -- Christ at the moment of His holy resurrection -- is given us on the Veil of Manoppello.

Dr. Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, S.J., professor of iconography and history of Christian art at the Pontifical Gregorian University here in Rome, affirms that the Veil of Manoppello was, in times past, considered to be an image not made by human hands. This sacred Image was the model for the later representations of the Holy Face.

The Jesuit scholar also asserts that Our Lord gave us not only his Word by means of the Holy Scriptures, but also his Image formed in the tomb when a supernatural radiant energy illumined the "fine linen" soaked in aloe and myrrh, photosensitive "spices" (Jn 19:40), leaving divine evidence of the Passion, Resurrection and everlasting Glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Mt 28:7; Lk 24:51; Ac 1:9).

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The mystery of the Vultus Christi, the adorable Face of Christ, recurs frequently in the discourses of Pope Benedict XVI. In his December 21st address to the children of the Italian Catholic Action Movement the Holy Father said:

Nel volto del piccolo Gesù
contempliamo il volto di Dio
che non si rivela nella forza o nella potenza,
ma nella debolezza e nella fragile costituzione di un bambino.

"In the face of the little Jesus
we contemplate the face of God,
which is not revealed through force or power,
but in weakness and the fragile constitution of a child."

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In his address at the Pontifical Gregorian University on 3 November, the Holy Father identified the immediate object of the different branches of theological knowledge as God himself, revealed in Jesus Christ, God with a human face. I am grateful to Richard Chonak for calling my attention to the pontifical affirmation of the motif of this blog.

"I can tell you, dear Professors and students, that if the effort of study and teaching is to have any meaning in relation to God's Kingdom, it must be sustained by the theological virtues. In fact, the immediate object of the different branches of theological knowledge is God himself, revealed in Jesus Christ, God with a human face.

Even when, as in Canon Law and in Church History, the immediate object is the People of God in its visible, historical dimension, the deeper analysis of the topic urges us once again to contemplation, in the faith, of the mystery of the Risen Christ. It is he, present in his Church, who leads her among the events of the time towards eschatological fullness, a goal to which we have set out sustained by hope.

However, knowing God is not enough. For a true encounter with him one must also love him. Knowledge must become love."

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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