22 July 2009

The Holy Face

“It is first of all necessary to let the Blessed Virgin
take one by the hand to contemplate the Face of Christ:
a joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious Face.”

Pope Benedict XVI

Many years ago when I was a child --a cradle Anglican child -- my devotion to the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ began. During Morning Prayer at the school I attended, I would often hear sentences of Sacred Scripture that stayed with me long after the service had ended. "The Lord is in His holy Temple," the rector would declaim, "Let all the earth keep silence before Him." Many Anglicans and Episcopalians will remember that Scripture from Morning Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

Various verses seemed to stand out in bold relief as they occurred in the recitation of the Psalms and would stay with me throughout the day. But one theme repeated in various verses always brought about a physical reaction in me, a feeling my face getting flushed and my eyes filling with tears. Why this was so? I can only attribute it to being touched by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the words: "Thy face, O Lord, I shall seek."

I recall feeling compelled, even called by those words to seek God's face. I wondered how one could do that. I knew we were not able to behold God the Father's face except through the Holy Face of His Son. (I had been blest with three Sunday School teachers who were gifted catechists.) But what did it truly mean to seek that wondrous Face of Christ?

From these beginnings my quest to see the Face of Christ led me to St. Therese, the Little Flower. (I was always amazed at how many Anglicans and Episcopalians followed the Little Way or had a personal devotion to her. Unrelated, but equally as interesting, were all of the Scottish Episcopalians I knew who would go on pilgrimage to Knock.) And over the years I continued to be drawn by the Holy Ghost to seek the Holy Face and to plumb the depths of what that meant.

The quotation from the Holy Father above is profoundly moving to me as it brings Our Blessed Mother into this quest to behold the glorious face of her Son. Her maternal hand drawing us to her Son is precisely the way Our Lady is ... always directing attention away from herself and towards her Son who is also her Lord and God.

Like His Mother, Christ Himself, in the greatest humility, directs us to His Father. This reminds me of a little word at the beginning of St. John's Gospel usually translated as "with" as in 'The Word was with God.' The word in question "pros" in the Greek doesn't simply mean "with" but carries with it the idea of being completely turned toward something as in 'And the Word faced God' -- the Word completely directed Himself towards His Father. (I believe it was Origen who said that when we look into the pierced side of Christ we behold the broken heart of the Father.)

There is so much I would like to write but my fingers will not let me keep typing. Perhaps I will write more another day and share how the seeking of the Holy Face of Christ shaped my priesthood as an Anglican, directed my path into the Catholic Church, and now forms a central part of my devotion in my life as a de facto hermit and intentional anchorite.

May the light of His Face cast away every darkness so that we may keep our faces entirely directed to the fulfilling of God's will. Amen.
Laus Deo. +