Saturday, March 23, 2013

Meditation on the Sixth Station of the Cross: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus


Up to this point in the Way of the Cross, we have seen the unjust sentence of death pronounced upon Christ by Pontius Pilate who knew he was sentencing an innocent man to death. We have seen our Lord in an extremely weakened state attempt to carry his cross and then fall under the heavy weight. We have seen the meeting between our Lord and the Blessed Mother on the road to Calvary and the almost unbearable sorrow between them. And we have seen the Roman soldiers' drafting of Simon the Cyrenian to carry Jesus' cross.

St. Veronica
In the Sixth Station, we see the brave woman Veronica, forcing her way through the crowd and the Roman soldiers to wipe the bloody face of our Lord. According to the meditations of the 17th and 18th Century Mystic, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Veronica was originally known by the name Seraphia. According to Anne Catherine Emmerich:
Seraphia was the name of the brave woman who thus dared to confront the enraged multitude; she was the wife of Sirach, one of the councillors belonging to the Temple, and was afterwards known by the name of Veronica, which name was given from the words vera icon (true portrait), to commemorate her brave conduct on this day.
I am struck by the contrast between Veronica and Simon the Cyrenian. Simon had to be conscripted into helping our Lord. He did not want to be associated with a common criminal who had been sentenced to death. He was not affected in any way by the suffering of our Lord, thinking only of himself and how this would affect him.  His fear caused him to be so concentrated on himself that he was hardly aware of the suffering of our Lord.

Then there is Veronica, as described in St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
Veronica, impelled by devotion and compassion, presents her veil to Jesus to wipe His disfigured face.
What did Jesus do in return for this great show of love by Veronica?
And Jesus imprints on [Veronica's veil] His holy countenance: a great recompense for so small a service.  What return do you make to your Savior for His great and manifold benefits?
It should be noted that there is no mention in the New Testament of the incident of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. Is this story true? The actual veil of Veronica is purported to be in Manoppello, Italy.  On September 1, 2006, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, made a pilgrimage to see the veil, the first time any pontiff had done this.  From a USA Today article on the Pope's visit to see the Veil of Veronica:
The pontiff entered the sanctuary and prayed before the altar for about five minutes, then went behind it and prayed before the relic, which is known as the "Holy Face" and the "Veil of Veronica."
The veil is not as famous as the Holy Shroud of Turin, held to be Christ's burial cloth, but some experts say the images on the two cloths can be perfectly superimposed and that they were formed at the same time. Skeptics say it appears to have been painted.
According to Christian tradition, Veronica was one of the holy women who accompanied Jesus to Calvary. She offered him a veil or cloth to wipe his face, and the image of Christ's face was imprinted on it.
Although the story is not in the Bible, it became one of the most popular in Christian lore.
The name "Veronica" also is a colloquial version of the Latin word "vera," meaning true, and Greek word Icon meaning "image." The "Veil of Veronica" was therefore largely regarded in medieval times as "the true image" of Jesus, preceding the Shroud of Turin.
Benedict did not address the veil's origins, as is usual with the Vatican, which is generally very cautious. But his visit has drawn interest to the image some believe to show the real face of Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI viewing Veronica's Veil
"This is the meaning of my visit. So that together we can try to better know the face of our Lord, so that from it we can find strength in love and peace that can show us the path," Benedict said.
The image, measures 6.7 by 9.4 inches, is that of a man with long hair, a sparse beard and a half-open mouth. The face is oval and asymmetric, the color is a light brown.
The veil, kept under glass, is believed to have been in Manoppello since 1506, and the pope's visit was the highlight of yearlong celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the relic's arrival in this mountainous town about 125 miles east of Rome.
The veil was donated to the sanctuary in 1638, said the rector, the Rev. Carmine Cucinelli. The sanctuary is visited every year by some 250,000 pilgrims, he said. But officials hope that the pope's visit will increase that number.
To many in Manoppello, the visit by Benedict reinforced their beliefs about the veil.
The Image on Veronica's Veil
"We've been worshipping the Holy Face for five centuries," said resident Gina Virgilio, a retiree. "The pope's visit has confirmed the veil is authentic."
"This has been a special day. It's been a wonderful, touching, emotional encounter," she said.
Whether we accept the veil as authentic or not, the story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus is a beautiful lesson in perfect charity. Veronica's brave act shows the power of compassion, of truly caring about others. Veronica is the personification of I John 4:18:
No fear exists where his love is. Rather, perfect love gets rid of fear, because fear involves punishment. The person who lives in fear doesn't have perfect love.
Perfect love means to be totally concentrated on the other, to have no thought of yourself. There is no fear in perfect love because fear in many ways is the antithesis of love. Love means complete giving of yourself. Fear involves concern about yourself, about what will happen to you and protecting yourself from harm. We know of stories where parents will throw themselves into harm's way to protect their children, of soldiers sacrificing their own lives to save other soldiers. As Our Lord said, "No greater love is this, than a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13).

Veronica's actions in running through the crowd and circumventing the Roman soldiers guarding Jesus showed that her thoughts and concern were totally on our Lord.  She showed no concern for herself at all. This is what our attitude towards our Lord should also be. When we have reached this point, we will know that we too have attained perfect love.

Fear is our greatest inhibitor and one of the greatest destroyers of love. Fear is not confined to being concerned only about our physical safety. That may be the least dangerous fear of all. The most dangerous, deadly fear is that having to do with our ego, i.e., our pride. It is fear of being despised or looked down upon by others, fear of allowing others to see us as we really are, fear of not "fitting in", fear of being ostracized. Fear that others may think negatively and/or reject us will concentrate our thoughts on ourselves and keep us from truly loving others and even keep us from loving God. This fear fueled by our pride could separate us from God for all eternity.

No one can be faulted for feeling fear. We cannot control our feelings any more than we can control our breathing. But we are the ones who make the decision of whether we or our feelings are in charge. To feel fear tells us that we have not attained to perfect love. We must pray to overcome our feelings of fear and lack of love, especially that which can be traced to our human pride. We must look to our Lord and ask Him to change our heart and fill us with His Perfect Charity. This is not something we can work up by ourselves. Perfect charity is a gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Chaplet of St. Michael, we ask for different gifts, and the first gift we ask for is Perfect Charity:
Through St. Michael the Archangel and the celestial power of Seraphim, may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity.
When I pray this prayer, I am very mindful that we are asking to be made worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity. This gift will not be given to everyone. We must die to ourselves first, and then God will be able to fill us with His Perfect Love.

The Prayer for the Sixth Station of the Cross from St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
Most merciful Jesus! What return shall I make for all the benefits Thou hast bestowed upon me? Behold I consecrate myself entirely to Thy service. I offer and consecrate to Thee my heart: imprint on it Thy sacred image, never again to be effaced by sin.
If we offer our heart to Jesus as Veronica offered her veil, then as He did with Veronica's veil, Jesus will imprint His Image on our hearts and we will be filled with the fire of Perfect Charity.

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