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).

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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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