WE KNOW from the writings of the saints that all through the centuries devotion to the Holy Face of Our Lord was practised in the Church. But it was in the middle of the last century that a fresh impetus was given to it.
A simple Breton girl, a seamstress in Rennes, where her father was a locksmith, entered the Carmelite convent in Tours, taking the name of Sister St. Pierre, and, though the years of her religious life were few, she died in the odour of sanctity. Her writings, subjected to severe tests, scrutinised by theologians in commission, were found to be altogether free from error and to contain revelations and practical teaching that constitute a treasury of devotional literature. Her mystical experiences belong to the most elevated order of such heavenly communications, and her doctrine reaches sublime heights, only to be paralleled by the writings of the great Fathers of the Church, in which similar mysteries are dwelt upon in a similar manner-writings, it should be observed, with which our Carmelite was utterly unacquainted.
It was during the years 1845–46, shortly before her death, that Our Lord revealed His promises to her with regard to those who would honour His Holy Face. At that time blasphemy, especially in speech, was rife in France, and, here it may be added, that the revelation of the “Golden Arrow” (see last page) was, so to speak, the official beginning of her mission proper. The object of that mission was to procure the establishment of the Archconfraternity of the Holy Face, an association of reparation for blasphemy and of adoration of the Face of God made Man.
Thus we find devotion to the Holy Face revealed quite suddenly to this humble lay sister at the close of her life.
Our Lord speaks to her of His Holy Face “as a celestial coin” entrusted to our spending. We are poor, and every day we plunge deeper into debt to God. We are weak, and cannot ,avail ourselves of mortification and much prayer; we have not a great deal to give in alms, that mighty source of blessings, and we need the lamp of Faith in the spiritual darkness of our modern world. Today no one will deny that dangers are more numerous than they were even thirty years ago. Our young people have harder things to face and more of them than their grandparents. Yet there is always the star of hope-none other than the kind, pitying Face of “the bright Morning Star” Himself. Is it not a sign of the times, a modern grace from the great Heart of Christ, that ours should be the days of frequent Communion? We need Him so much nowadays that He calls us to His Altar every morning of our lives. There is also devotion to the Sacred Heart, the glory and fire of our age. The Sacred Heart was the object of Sister St. Peter’s special love, and to it she owed the graces of the reparatory devotion to the Sacred Face of Christ.
The Holy Face defiled in the Passion is, as if it were, a personal bid made by Our Lord for our love. As St. John of the Cross says: “The smallest act of pure love has a greater value in God’s eyes than all good works put together. The slightest spark of that love is of the highest importance to the Church.” Our Lord ardently longs to see us practise this love in our daily lives of work and worry. He wishes us to keep the memory of His tender, sympathetic Face ever looking with love on us, that Face once bruised and mocked for us. He promises His everlasting companionship and his ravishing smile in Heaven, in return for our loving attention to that suffering Face during the days of our earthly pilgrimage. Is it to be wondered at that He could promise the vision of His Face in Heaven to His devout lovers, seeing that He could promise a reward for even a cup of cold water given in His Name?
Every act of perfect love, like every supernatural act, entitles us in this life to an increase of sanctifying grace, and in Heaven to a ray of eternal glory. By multiplying our acts of love, we, at the same time, multiply our measure of light and happiness in Heaven. Did He not say to the adorers of His Face : “May the light of My Countenance be your everlasting gladness”? Even in this life, by our acts of love, we may become more and more the millionaires of Heaven. (Father Faber).
Every good act in our life, every look of love we give to the Face of our Unfailing Friend will deepen that sweet smile of welcome which we hope to see on the Holy Face of Jesus at the hour of our death.
During the lifetime of Sister St. Peter, there was also living in Tours another soul destined by Our Lord to be very closely connected with devotion to His Holy Face, and that was Monsieur Dupont, commonly known as “the holy Man of Tours.” Mr. Healy Thompson has translated the life of Monsieur Dupont. and it is a singularly interesting book, well worth reading. but only the merest outline of it can be given here.
Born in the West Indies in the beginning of the last century, he came to Paris to study. In his early manhood he was remarkable as a dandy, outdoing all his friends in the elegance of his dress. He was the first to drive a Tilbury in Paris: and. to complete the picture, he had a small boy with arms crossed sitting in the back seat. This little boy was to be the indirect means of Monsieur Dupont’s conversion, not from a life of sinful dissipation, but from a life of frivolity.
One day he was to attend a fashionable wedding, but he waited in vain for his “tiger” to appear, while he impatiently drove his Tilbury up and down. Long after the time for the wedding, the boy turned up, excusing the delay by saying he had to attend a catechism class for first Communicants. Just to see if the excuse were valid, Monsieur Dupont drove at once to the church, and there, sure enough, he found the class going on. He listened for a while, and was so much struck by the contrast of his own life and that of the young priest, who seemed to be about the same age, and yet was giving his best days to teaching the waifs and strays of Paris, that at once he set about changing his way of living. His first act was to sell his Tilbury, giving .the sum it realised to a poor family in distress. After some time, he thought of becoming a priest, but on consulting his confessor, he was advised to marry, which he did. His wife died after a few years, leaving him a baby girl. He sent this child, when old enough, to be educated by the Ursulines in Tours, where his mother had been at school. But Henriette had never been strong, and, when about eighteen years old, she developed chest trouble, of which she died.
Monsieur Dupont was now free to devote his life to good works. Living in Tours, he got to know the Carmelites, of whom he became a devoted friend. He made the acquaintance of Sister St. Peter, and both these holy souls had but one ambition-to spread the love of Our Lord broadcast and to repair all the sins committed against His Holy Name. The little Carmelite told him of Our Lord’s revelations about His Holy Face, and Mons. Dupont put up a picture of it in his drawing-room, and lit a lamp before it. One day a friend of his came to see him. She was suffering from a very painful disease, and, on leaving, she asked if she might take a little of the oil that was burning before the Holy Face. He gave his consent at once, and, when the lady used it, she was cured on the spot. This was the beginning of hundreds of cures of every kind, so that Mons. Dupont’s drawing-room became a place of public pilgrimage, and there, to this day, the Holy Face of our Divine Lord is very specially honoured. The foregoing facts bring devotion to the Holy Face down to our own time, and, wherever this practice is established, a greater personal love for Jesus Christ grows up in the heart and a strong desire to make Him reparation for one’s own sins and those of the world. May Jesus Himself deign to bless these pages and to produce such wonderful results in the hearts of all those who read them!