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.
“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.
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.
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.