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November 21, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI on the Vultus Christi: God With a Human Face

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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."

December 21, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI on the Face of the Infant Christ

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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."

February 2, 2007

Pilgrimage to Manoppello: The Holy Face

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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).

Continue reading "Pilgrimage to Manoppello: The Holy Face" »

February 4, 2007

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.

February 10, 2007

The Shrine of the Volto Santo at Capodimonte

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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.


February 17, 2007

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.

Continue reading "Who Are the Saints?" »

February 19, 2007

Shrove Tuesday: Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus

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In Rome and in other places, Shrove Tuesday is observed as the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. His Eminence, Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini will celebrate Holy Mass in honour of the Holy Face of Jesus at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia on Tuesday, 20 February at 17:00.

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.

Continue reading "Shrove Tuesday: Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus" »

February 20, 2007

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. We heard 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 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 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.

Continue reading "Look to Him and Be Radiant" »

February 21, 2007

The Holy Face in Franciscan Spirituality

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Yesterday, the Poor Ladies in Barhamsville, Virginia celebrated the Feast of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the first time. For my part, I was privileged to concelebrate Holy Mass with His Eminence, Cardinal Angelini at the Basilica of Santo Spirito in Sassia. His Eminence preached on the contemplation of the Holy Face and the vocation to reparation that springs from it. Present at the Mass of the Holy Face were priests and religious from a variety of traditions, including Franciscans. A number of "gentle leadings" compel to write something, however inadequate, about the Holy Face of Jesus in Franciscan spirituality.

When it comes to the spirituality of the Seraphic family, I, being a son of Saints Benedict and Bernard, and an unworthy disciple of Blessed Abbot Marmion, lay claim to nothing other than an absymal ignorance. Recently, however, a few texts have come my way that demonstrate the centrality of the Face of Christ to the Franciscan charism.

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?

Continue reading "The Holy Face in Franciscan Spirituality" »

March 2, 2007

If You Would Know His Heart, Seek His Face

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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).

March 3, 2007

Vultum Tuum, Domine, Requiram

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).

Continue reading "Vultum Tuum, Domine, Requiram" »

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 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).

Continue reading "Dominus Illuminatio Mea" »

March 10, 2007

Benedict XVI: God Has A Face

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.

March 25, 2007

The Countenance of Mercy

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I know that in some places the Gospel of the Year C (John 8: 1-11) will be read today, and so I am offering this meditation on the marvelous encounter of a great misery with a great Mercy.

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).

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).

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April 2, 2007

Benedict XVI: The Face of God and the Cross of Christ

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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.

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Open Thy Sacred Heart and Let Me In

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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.

May 3, 2007

Qui videt me, videt et Patrem meum

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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June 19, 2007

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.

June 22, 2007

Called to Reflect the Face of Christ and His Mercy

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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."

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July 27, 2007

The Wonder of the Face of Christ

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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.

August 6, 2007

The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Gazing on the Holy Face

It was exactly one-hundred-ten years ago: 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.

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 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 Spirit 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. One who seeks the Face of Christ in the Scriptures — the Face of the Beloved peering through the lattice of the text — will be changed by the experience. The second way is Eucharistic adoration. One who remains silent and adoring before the Divine Host will be transfigured and healed in its radiance.

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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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August 7, 2007

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."

September 7, 2007

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.

December 17, 2007

Venerable Mother Maria Pierina De Micheli

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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.

February 2, 2008

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 his letter for Lent 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the gaze of Jesus. “The gaze of Jesus,” he said, “embraces individuals and multitudes, and he brings them all before the Father, offering himself as a sacrifice of expiation.”

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; today the Father presents us to Christ our Priest. Of ourselves we have nothing to present; we can but receive him and allow ourselves to become offering in his hands. “We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple” (Ps 47:10). It is the Infant Christ, presented to us as our Priest, who in turn presents us 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’s observance of the World Day for Consecrated Life must not be allowed to degenerate into a celebration of ourselves. 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 is a taper offered to the consuming flame of love. One consecrated has eyes only for the gaze that reveals 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. Consecrated 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 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.

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May 4, 2008

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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May 26, 2008

Impossible to Man's Powers, But Not To God's

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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 prepare to observe the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests on this coming Friday, June 30th, 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 there always will be 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 in today’s Gospel, “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).

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June 2, 2008

Vultus Christi: The Face of God

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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).

June 19, 2008

Like the Dove in the Cleft of the Rock

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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.

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