My meditation on St. Veronica has been ongoing for years now. This Lent, as I sat in the church of St. Veronica praying the Stations of the Cross—alone, because of the coronavirus pandemic—I found myself lingering at her station. I looked up at the Station depiction of this woman wiping Jesus’ bloody, bruised and distorted but beautiful face. That one act of kindness took less than fifteen seconds, I’m sure, and Veronica probably did not notice the miraculous imprint of His visage until hours later when she went to wash the veil. When she discovered the miracle of the imprint, she must have told a few faithful, and the story spread and became part of oral tradition.
After much prayer and meditation and accepting that there was a woman who wiped Jesus’ face and received the gift of His image on her veil, I realized that it didn’t really matter much what her real name was. It’s like arguing over whether Jesus was really born on December 25th. What does it matter? That is the date we chose to celebrate, and Veronica is the name we gave to this anonymous woman. What matters is her act of kindness to the Lord and the example she gives to us to do the same for Jesus in our suffering brothers and sisters.
Did St. Veronica Really Exist?
I am registered with the Church of St. Veronica. There are saints who claim she never existed and there are no biblical references to her, so I was never a big devotee. On the other hand, there is a Station of the Cross where we commemorate her merciful gesture of wiping our Lord’s face and supposedly He left the imprint of His image on her veil. She is venerated by Catholics as well as some Protestant denominations. Did she in fact exist? That is what I was struggling with for quite some time.
I was leaning on the side of her being more of a legend than a real person. It bothered me that the founding priest of our parish had named it after her. I could think of so many other wonderful saints to name the church after. Why Veronica?
Being resigned to the fact that this parish would never be renamed, I decided to accept that I was stuck with a parish named St. Veronica. I reasoned that if there really was no St. Veronica, the Lord could surely raise up one or many St. Veronicas.
However, during prayer and meditation on Jesus’ life and interaction with the people of Judea, I came to the conclusion that it was illogical to think that there was no St. Veronica. There most certainly was a woman who mercifully wiped Jesus’ face on the way to Golgotha but who was she and why was it not recorded in Scripture? The answer is quite simple: the writers of the Gospels probably did not see it. They missed this miracle. How often do we ourselves miss miracles?
The Woman At The Well
My meditations on St. Veronica during the Stations of the Cross, which I pray often inside and outside of Lent for the Poor Souls, led me to ponder who this woman could have been. Some folks think it was the woman with the hemorrhage. We know it was not Mary Magdalene; she was with our Lady, and if she wiped the Lord’s face it would have been recorded in Scripture. So as I prayed before the Sixth Station, the image of the woman at the well came to me. Was Veronica the Samaritan woman at the well? She may well have been.
I thought about the reasons why maybe it was not the woman at the well. The Samaritans believed that Mount Gerizim was the place to worship God, not in Jerusalem. Jesus told her that one day the worship of God will neither be on Gerizim or in Jerusalem. This Samaritan woman believed in Jesus and led many in her town to believe in Him, but they remained Samaritans and therefore would most likely not have gone into Jerusalem for Passover.
However, this woman was an outcast. She probably remained an outcast in her town, so in my mind, it is plausible that she would have ventured into Jerusalem this Passover. Maybe she went in search of Jesus because once you fall in love with Jesus there is no wanting to be separated from Him. I truly believe it was the woman at the well who is our very own St. Veronica. Upon arriving in Jerusalem she would have heard about the public execution of Jesus whom she loved and confessed to be God. This very woman, the outcast, the person nobody noticed may have been Veronica. I like to think she was for many reasons:
• Veronica represents all the poor and downtrodden, those whom the world does not see, the invisible and the unimportant.
• Veronica represents all those whom the religious of the world deem irredeemable or sinners, and who never feel welcome or comfortable in churches or among the so-called religious people, but who are loved and accepted by God, which is really all that matters.
• Veronica represents the bravery and courage of women. Throughout Scripture and evidenced by Christian martyrology, women have been the bravest of the brave. Think of Eve, Sarah, Moses’ mother Jochebed and Pharaoh’s daughter Hatshepsut who saved and raised Moses, Our Lady Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, St. Lucy, St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Joan of Arc—the list is really quite endless. Think of the women in our lives, our moms, grandmothers, wives, aunts, godmothers, sisters, nieces and granddaughters.
• Veronica represents the person who gives anonymously, who prays in her room and fasts where only God can see her sacrifice. She represents true religiosity in its purest form, where those who love God do things in secret where only the Father sees.
• Veronica represents those who care for sick parents, spouses, grandparents, children, friends, relatives and strangers. She does it selflessly.
• Veronica represents, especially now during this pandemic, first responders and defenders of the populations like doctors, nurses, firemen and women, police officers, soldiers, legal advocates, relief workers, people who work for the public good in stores, warehouses, restaurants, post offices, truck drivers, staff members of medical offices and call center operators, manufacturers and factory workers, food producers and, though I hate to say it, big pharma and politicians.
• Veronica also represents and calls to our attention the unseen miracles right before our eyes.
Watch Out For Unseen Miracles
In thinking and meditating about St. Veronica, I was also reminded of all the unseen miracles that occur right before our eyes. How many accidents were avoided by the help of our Guardian Angels, how many disasters were averted or were diffused and rendered less harmful because of our prayer. St. Veronica did a very quick and simple thing. She risked her life and her safety to simply take her veil and wipe the Lord’s face, most likely when He fell to the ground. In all the commotion, Veronica stooped down quickly and wiped His face. My heart melts when I think of it.
I have witnessed many miracles in my life. One such miracle came to mind. Fr. Fernando Suarez, who just died on February 4th, came to our parish of St. Veronica for a healing Mass several years ago. Hundreds upon hundreds of people showed up. They came from all over the tri-state area in buses, by car, walking; the church was mobbed. I was assisting the faithful in getting in and out of the church. After 10 or 12 hours the crowds dwindled. I was standing at the altar watching a small number of people gathering to be prayed over by Fr. Suarez when suddenly I noticed a young man on crutches, with deformed legs, enter the church and hobble up the center aisle to the altar.
He waited his turn to be seated in a chair on the altar and then made his way up. He dropped his crutches onto the altar and sat there. Fr. Suarez made his way over to the young man and spoke briefly to him, then straightened out the man’s legs with his own hands, blessed him and told him to get up. This was all done quietly. Nobody was paying attention, except me. The young man got up and simply walked out of the church and left his crutches on the floor of the altar. Fr. Suarez kept praying over people and I stood there with mouth agape.
I witnessed a true healing miracle and nobody noticed. For Father Suarez, it was a common thing. I imagine the man went in sure of healing, his faith and trust in Jesus must be beyond what I can comprehend and something I desire, so for him, it was expected and received.
I was and still am in awe that I was privileged to witness such a powerful yet silent miracle. I remember the story of Elijah looking for God in the storms and lightning. God was not present in the storms, fire, lightning, and winds. He revealed Himself to Elijah in a quiet gentle breeze. We must always remember that God comes in a gentle breeze, unnoticed but so refreshing, loving and powerful. Many of His miracles come that way too.
I am praying for all my readers during this pandemic. This essay is written in honor of Fr. Suarez, St. Veronica, and all the St. Veronicas out there. During these dark times, look out for the unseen miracles and give thanks to the Lord and all those working to assist all of us during this pandemic. As Padre Pio said, pray, hope and don’t worry.