Supported by Father Jeffrey Keyes and with the expertise of Richard Chonak, I undertook to write Vultus Christi eleven years ago on September 1st, 2006. It was 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).
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).