OUR LORD MAKES A BID FOR OUR PERSONAL LOVE
SINGULAR among the great devotions in the Catholic Church, is that great devotion towards the Holy Face of our Divine Lord. It is most ancient, because it is contemporary with Our Lord Himself. It has flourished throughout the ages, under the care and zeal of the Supreme Pontiffs, and in our own times has seen a great development and a new outburst of fervour among the faithful, which have been witnessed to by many extraordinary miracles.
The devotion to the Holy Face is naturally linked with that of the Sacred Heart. The first worshipper of the Holy Face was our Blessed Lady at Bethlehem. She was also the first adorer of the Sacred Heart, and the one who, more than any other creature, has been able to gauge the immensity of its abyss of love. The first apostle of the Sacred Heart was St. John the Evangelist, the apostle of love, who leaned his head upon the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper, and who in his Gospel has recorded for us the fact that when the Heart of Our Lord was pierced by the lance, there came forth blood and water : a prodigy so great that it can be only explained by the fact that Our Lord died, not of His torments, not of loss of blood, but of a broken heart. “He that saw hath given testimony, and his testimony is true.” The first apostle of the devotion to the Holy Face was St. Veronica, the fearless woman who, out of boundless love for our Divine Lord-a love that feared no injury, that braved all-insult and ridicule-met Our Lord on the Way of the Cross, and in the presence of the vast multitude of His enemies handed to Him the veil with which He wiped His adorable Face. That veil, wonderfully bearing the imprint of His features, and treasured by St. Veronica during her life, bequeathed by her as a priceless legacy to the Bishops of Rome, and there treasured and venerated for centuries as one of the principal relics of Holy Church, is the centre of the great devotion of the Holy Face.
The human face reveals to us the soul and the personality of the individual. We speak of a man as having a degraded face, or a low and sinister expression, because habits of sin and cancerous vice have eaten away and corrupted that innocence and frankness which belonged to him in childhood and youth. In the same way, habits of virtue and holiness of life find expression in the faces of those who have really endeavoured to practise Christian perfection. While therefore the soul gives life to the body, as a whole, it is the face which expresses in a wonderful and peculiar way the dignity to which that soul has been raised by the grace of God, or the degradation to which it has descended.
The Incarnation is the concrete expression of the infinite love of God for us. By it the Son of God, dwelling eternally in the Bosom of the Father, took to Himself a human nature, and became a man among men, that we might understand more fully the immensity of the love that created us, and the love that was to redeem us. As St. John, the apostle of Divine Love, tells us: “That which was from the beginning, we have heard, we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled of the Word of Life.” As the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord is the visible expression of His almighty, redeeming Love, so the Sacred Heart is at once the symbol and the treasure-house of that infinite Love, and His most Holy Face the expression to us of His infinite charity, His unfathomable pity, His inexhaustible tenderness, and His unfailing sympathy in all our hopes, our needs, and our manifold weaknesses.
In the Old Testament men beheld the majesty of Creation, the vastness of the heavens, peopled with innumerable stars, the grandeur of the sun and moon, the beauty of earth and sea, the unbroken silence of great mountains, the power of tempests; they knew all this to be but the fringe of the splendours of God’s eternal majesty. They adored God in fear, on account of the sublime isolation of the Godhead, and were awed by the unbridgeable distance that separated the Creator from the things that He had made.
But the Incarnation revealed new and amazing aspects of God’s love for men. The Babe of Bethlehem makes God easy to be loved, and all things easy to understand. The whole earth sings a new canticle: “Come, let us adore the Lord, because He is little and exceedingly to be loved.” He is a little Babe, so helpless. so simple, so humble; one of the frail things of creation; and yet His Mother’s knee is the throne from which He is ruling the vast universe that He has made, and it is His tiny hands that support the heavens.
The Incarnation makes the Love of God for each one of us easy to understand. It is the appeal of Our Lord to each of us for a real and personal love. We do not love all men alike. For some we have a special love, which is based on our knowledge and experience of their character, and of their goodness to us. We cannot help ourselves. Such is our nature, that it compels us to make friends, to love them, and to express our love for them in our actions. We rejoice to see the faces of our friends, and are comforted by their presence and take delight in their company.
The whole life of Our Lord on earth, and His bitter Passion and Death, His glorious Resurrection and triumphant Ascension are all an infinite appeal for a return of personal love. It was all the result of an infinite Love directed to each one of us. It was an expression of Divine Love translated into human words and actions. It was an attempt by Our Lord to win our individual and personal love on the same terms, and in the same way in which our friends win our love for themselves.
Our Lord displays to us, in an infinite degree, all those things which are the foundations of human love. His Sacred Heart presents itself to us as the unceasing fountain of all that we can have or hope for, and as a vast abyss of tenderness and pity for us in all our difficulties and trials. And since so mighty a love must call forth a response from us, the Sacred Heart is the object of our personal love, and His most Holy Face, the face of our Friend of Friends, the object of our constant veneration and reparation.