Devotion to the Holy Face of Christ
I have yet to meet a Catholic that does not know who St. Therese of Lisieux is. However, from my experience, many people tend to cut her religious name short. She is not St. Therese of the Child Jesus, she is St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus has been an important element of the Carmelite charism, for over a century and a half now. The history of it is a story in itself. Yet, this devotion within the order leads on to reflect on the question ‘why?’ Why is this devotion important to the Carmelites? Because Carmelite spirituality is highly incarnational. The incarnation of Christ is the event that Carmelites regularly turn to in our lives of prayer. We see this importance of the incarnation expressed through St. Teresa of Jesus, by her concept of the ‘Sacred Humanity of Christ.’ What does this devotion say to us today, in the postmodern world? It shows us the humility of our God, and the lengthen He is willing to go to, to make known His love for us. To gaze upon the suffering face of Jesus, reveals the profound love God has for humanity, creatures He has made and proclaimed to be very good (Genesis 1:31). As St. Therese wrote, “We are greater than the whole universe and one day we ourselves shall have a divine existence.” The Face of Christ is the gateway of humility God has created for Himself to enter into our lives, so we may reside with Him for all eternity.
Christ’s Face: A Revelation of Humility
The face of Christ is the face God has chosen to reveal himself to us and is a means to reveal our own humanity to us. God’s embrace of the human condition, which God, himself has created, shows us the path to understanding what it means to “Love one another as I have loved you (John 13: 34).” As God, has shown us, His path of love through the face of Jesus, we are invited to walk down that path with him, through him, and in him. However, every step we take down that path must be done in humility, for it is the path Christ himself has made. As St. John of the Cross wrote: “To undertake the journey to God, the heart must be burned and purified of all creatures with the fire of divine love.” Humility is the blessed gate, God has fashioned, that allows the Holy Spirit to enter the heart and purify it with the flames of divine love. It is the face of Jesus, greeting us at the gate, that gives us the strength to open it (Rev. 3: 20)
Humility creates within a person a perspective that allows her or him to see and know that the world around herself or himself does not depend upon them, and unlike Atlas, the presence of humility removes that burden from the person’s shoulders. The world and our very lives are not ours to hold up. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) teaches us “It is necessary to put oneself entirely into God’s hands without any human assurances. All the deeper and more beautiful the sense of being safe in Him.” A childlike heart is a way we say ‘yes’ to God, and allow Him to carry us, so we may be able to focus on his compassionate eyes.
Transformation Through an Embrace
Allowing God to carry us, so we may be permeated with the warmth of his love, opens us up to Christ, who has entered our hearts through the gate of humility. Through this act, we are now ready to be transformed in Christ. Christ, the God-Man, who listened to all around him. Women, men, friend, and foe all found Jesus with open ears and a loving heart. Christ is now listening to the pains and moans of our hearts, making it possible for our hearts to become syncopated to His. A deep message for our daily meditation should be the fact that our Creator listens to us, His creatures. He listens to our pains caused by our brokenness and littleness. Through Christ God has entered our pain. Through His incarnation we are now able to go forth like Him into the world and be his ears, so all around us, may know that Christ does hear them. Christ act of listening is a foundation stone for our obedience Him. As Christians, we need to reclaim what the word obey means. Historically it meant ‘to give ear (obedire).’ To obey Christ is to listen to him. We obey Christ by listening to Him. To hear the voice of our Bridegroom calls us into action like the wise virgins (Mt: 25: 1-13). Hopefully, we will all choose to live like the wise ones.
Being transformed in Christ, which is made possible through His humility, produces within us a need and desire to be like him. Therefore, when we listen to him, to all those around us, the people who were once strangers, are now seen as beloved children of God, which they have been from their own beginning. That is the horizon put forward in the ‘Song of Songs.’ The bridegroom (God), is listening for and calling out to his Bride, while we, the Bride, yearn to embrace the bridegroom that we do not yet fully know or perceive. Through Christ’s humble embrace of our humanity, he has made this courtship possible. The courtship being fulfilled in the banquet feast we are all being called to (Mt 22: 1-14).
“I Call You Friends”
Christ, says “come to me all who are burdened and I will give you rest (MT 11:28-30).” This invitation of Christ, offered in humility, continues to take us into a deeper reality of His endless love. Again, the humility of Christ shown through the incarnation, shows us a way to have an answer to the question ‘Who is God?’ The answer to “who is God” is only discovered when a person spends time with Him. Christ asks for a relationship, that is why he calls us His friends (Jn 15:15). Through being Christ’s friends, Christ, through his human nature, shows us the perfection that is waiting for us, and who we, as humans, are meant to be. Thus, His journey to the Father through his own earthly life shows us the way we are to follow. A way that takes us through our own humanity to God. Again, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross teaches that “dedication to God means at the same time dedication to the whole creation.” Christians are not Gnostics, we do not shed the material, but we embrace it through the grace of God, that makes all things new!
A Journey with the Holy Spirit
Finally, Our God, who is love, who chose the way of humility for Himself, by the incarnation, calls us to the same path of humility. However, we do not walk the path alone the Father and Son offer to us a companion. The Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and Son, poured forth upon the earth, now dwells in us as the Spirit did in Christ (Lk 3: 21-22). Christ was not just the Son of God, but, also the Spirit-filled Man.
The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to become open to the gift and depth of humanity that Christ showed us during his life, death, and resurrection upon the earth. The power and love of God, now dwells in our hearts, transforming us, by the act of baptism that Christ himself went through. Our hearts are, are now the living temple of God on earth. We, as his children, can bring his presence to all around us, that is why we are all called to be missionaries, and the gift of Confirmation makes this missionary life and zeal possible.
As the Father has shown himself in Christ, and as Christ has shown us the Father, let us be open to their divine Love, who is the Spirit, the transforming Power of God, who yearns to give us eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that love. With the Spirit formed eyes, ears, and hearts, we may go out and care for the living presence of Christ in all around us in this world. A world that the Father has fastened and given to us. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote “My mission in heaven will be to draw souls, helping them to go out of themselves to cling to God, with a spontaneous, love-filled action, and to keep them in that great interior silence which enables God to make his mark on them, to transform them into himself.” Heaven is not something waiting for us in the future but is a reality breaking in on us now. St. Elizabeth also wrote “It seems to me that I have found my heaven on earth, because my heaven is you, my God, and you are in my soul. You in me, and I in you – may this be my motto.”
Be Not Afraid
Let us not then be afraid and hide from God, as our first parents did, for we now know that the face of God, Jesus Christ, invites us to always gaze upon Him. When our eyes meet with His, He gazes upon us with Love, no matter our current condition, for nothing can stop the Love of God. The love of God that opens us up to embrace his humility making it possible to always say ‘yes’ to Jesus in the depths of our hearts. By dwelling upon the face of Christ, our hearts grow in humility, so we can begin to sense His eyes seeing us, sense His ears hearing us and feel His heart is loving us. I pray that we may allow growing in humility, so we may say Yes to Jesus, and allow his face to always rest upon us.