March 2, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Let’s make the face of Jesus visible to those around us this Lent

Veronica came from nowhere and returned there, leaving to us a veil with the imprint of the face of Jesus.

This is the substance of the sixth station on the Way of the Cross. Actually, Veronica is not mentioned in the Bible.

Where did the longstanding tradition of the compassionate and courageous Veronica come from? Perhaps she was among the women who are mentioned as being present along the way to Calvary.

I think the legend of Veronica took root and abides because courageous compassion is an ideal that is dear to the human heart. The legend of Veronica may have taken root because most of us know of a woman or women like her whose anonymous compassion for people in pain is moving. Veronica is familiar in our experience.

It is also likely that the legend of Veronica has come to us through the ages because we inherit from the Psalms and other Scripture texts a fascination with the face of the Lord. This theme is epitomized in Psalm 27. In verses 8-9, we read: “Of you my heart has spoken: Seek his face. I seek your face O Lord.”

Lenten time spent with Veronica at the sixth Station of the Cross promises rich and varying avenues for meditation. We may not advert to it, but compassionate charity and seeking the face of the Lord are necessarily complementary themes.

Pope Benedict XVI emphasized in his encyclical “God is Love” that there is an essential connection between love of neighbor and love of God. Can we not say that in a certain sense seeking the face of Jesus is seeking love? It is a way of seeking and receiving authentic love.

I keep returning to a theme Pope John Paul II introduced in his apostolic letter at the beginning of this third Christian millennium. He referred to the Gospel text where some Greeks came to Philip and said, “We want to see Jesus.”

The pope said people in our day also want to see Jesus. They don’t only want to hear talk about Jesus, they want to see him. And so the Holy Father went on to remind us that it is our task to show Jesus to folks around us. And if we are to do that, we must contemplate the face of Jesus in the Gospel.

In his reflection on the sixth Station of the Cross, theologian Hans-Urs von Balthasar said, “In so far as the Church professes her faith and fidelity in loving humility to the Lord, as Veronica did in a gesture of love, Jesus leaves the imprint of his features on all those who are ready to accept it as a peace-token of his love. The Christian who bears the image of Christ in his heart will recognize the same features of Christ in his suffering brothers and sisters” (The Way of the Cross. St. Paul Publications, 1990, p. 28).

People I know who consistently extend generous and largely anonymous acts of charity to suffering people are also people who are faithful to Jesus in prayer. I don’t mean to imply that there are not people who are generous and altruistic in giving themselves to social service who are not intentional Christians.

We know many socially conscious admirable people around us. The connection with the quest for the face of the Lord enriches our social outreach and is significant for us Christians.

Christ exhorted us to serve the least of our sisters and brothers, and he made it clear that in doing so we would be serving him. In other words, charity “to Jesus, for Jesus and with Jesus,” as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would say, is an essential part of our call to holiness.

Yet, we should not be surprised if we feel a certain sense of helplessness in the face of so much human suffering. Von Balthasar writes: “Everyone can offer help to the suffering, be it only a glass of water or, in the impossibility of giving material help, an open heart ready to sustain them in moments of loneliness and despair.

“Faced with the inevitable sufferings in the world, which are daily portrayed by the media, we all feel our inability to cope, like the disciples who, before a great multitude to feed, wondered ‘what five loaves and two fish are for so many.’ We can always pray to the Lord who has the power to work the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and alleviate the sufferings of so many. Veronica’s linen cloth, bearing the features of Jesus, is a sign and a promise to all believers that he will help them who call upon him.

“Lord God, imprint in my spirit the sufferings of your Son Jesus” (Ibid. p.29-30).

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