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.

The Secret of Joy is Sorrow

Yesterday, March 22, was the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a devotion that I try to do everyday. has this devotion here. It is a meditation on the great sorrows that Our Blessed Mother experienced as the Mother of Jesus Christ. The Seven Sorrows of Mary are as follows:
  1. The Prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her soul
  2. The Flight Into Egypt to escape the destructive wrath of Herod who threatened to kill Jesus
  3. The Loss of Jesus at the Temple
  4. Mary Meets Jesus Carrying His Cross
  5. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  6. Jesus is Pierced With a Sword
  7. Jesus Is Laid In the Tomb
A very good friend of mine, Veronica, who died last year in the first week of Lent, was very devoted to our Sorrowful Mother. She prayed the Seven Sorrows devotion every day and also said a rosary every day for each of her children who had been born alive, and this was not easy. She was the mother of 11 children. Four of the babies died in miscarriages, but two died shortly after birth, and two more died as adults. Three of her children were still alive at the time Veronica died. So that made 7 rosaries that Veronica said every day. She had also lived through breast cancer, with which she was diagnosed right after the birth of her last child. This was in the early 70's, and the routine treatment then was a radical mastectomy. At one point she had gone completely blind, but through a literal miracle, had regained most of her sight. Her hearing was also impaired.

Despite all of this, she was probably the happiest, most well-adjusted person I have ever known. Her house was open to everyone. She was a loyal member of the Legion of Mary. She told me her secret was her devotion to the Sorrowful Mother. She said no one had ever experienced pain as Mary had and yet Mary never complained, never struck out at others. She just trusted in our Lord and never gave into despair. Mary's example gave Veronica the strength she needed to face the heavy trials in her life.

The purer a soul is, the freer from sin, the more a soul will suffer in this world. That is why our Lord said blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Those who have immersed themselves in the evil and sin of this world do not mourn. They reject the sorrow in their lives. They drown out any sadness or pain by running away from it and refusing to even acknowledge it, turning to whatever painkiller they can find, be it money, sex, drugs, alcohol, work - anything but the pain in their lives.

Those who mourn are those who have accepted and joined their cross and their suffering with Christ. They, like Christ, actually embrace their cross and their suffering. Our Blessed Mother is the model for all of us. She was told by Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart. She felt tremendous sorrow and pain in her life from that moment on, culminating in overwhelming sorrow at seeing her Precious and Beloved Son crucified on Mt. Calvary. Yet, she is referred to as the "Stabat Mater", the "Mother standing." Despite the great sorrow that she carried in her heart, she did not break down in despair and bitterness. Underneath all that sorrow was a great serenity and trust in God that never wavered.

Pope Francis
How is it that Mary so willingly carried the cross that was given to her? How is it that, despite her tremendous sorrow and pain, she never once felt despair, bitterness or loneliness? Mary never once ran from her cross, she never complained, she never tried to give back her cross. Those who run from their suffering, which is most of us at one time or another, are always defeated in the end by great despair and hopelessness. But those who willingly unite their cross with the Cross of Jesus as our Blessed Mother did, are never defeated and never abandoned. They carry within themselves true joy and peace.  Our Blessed Mother taught us by her example that the only way to endure the pain in our lives is to acknowledge it and even embrace it, realizing this is our road to salvation. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his first homily as Pope said this to the Cardinals assembled before him:
This Gospel continues with an important moment. The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward.
It is my wish for all of us that the Holy Spirit – through the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother – bestow upon us the grace of journeying, building, confessing Jesus Christ crucified.
Our Blessed Mother - our Lady of Sorrows - gave us the perfect definition of what it means to be a Christian. It is to live a life of great sorrow. Even our Lord is described in this way in Isaiah 53:
He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not.

But how do we reconcile this with Christ's statement in John 10:10 - "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  Christ also told us as recorded in John 14:27 -  "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  How can we have great sorrow in our lives and at the same time live life abundantly and with the Peace of Jesus Christ?  The key is in the middle part of Christ's statement in John 14:27 - "not as the world giveth, give I unto you."  

We all have a fallen sinful nature and we live in a fallen, sinful world. Apart from God, the world has never experienced true life or true joy since the time of our parents' first sin when they were driven out of the Garden of Eden and from God's Presence. We in this world are surrounded by sin and death. Any happiness or joy in this world is fleeting and will eventually come to an end.

In many ways life in this world can be compared to living in a German death camp in WWII. Those camps were run by people with the ultimate objective of killing all who entered into the camps. Our world is run by Satan whose ultimate purpose is to destroy each and every one of us. But our Creator actually entered into this world of sin and death in order to rescue us from it. He brought true joy, peace and happiness that will never end. And every Christian carries this peace in his or her heart.

The great irony of being a Christian is that receiving the joy of Christ makes us acutely aware of the overwhelming sorrow of the world. That is the cross that we all bear. That is why we, along with our Blessed Mother and her Beloved Son, mourn in this world. Could anyone enter into a death camp and not mourn? Those who live in this world without mourning are those who refuse to admit the reality that surrounds them. The Father of Lies tells us that we can find joy and happiness in the world of sin and death that he has created for us. And each time we sin - each time we turn away from God - we are accepting the lie of the Adversary.

Our first Holy Father - St. Peter - said in I Peter 2:11 that we are "strangers and pilgrims" on this earth, or as the New Living Translation puts it, "temporary residents and foreigners." The more we attach ourselves to Christ, the more homesick we will feel and the more we will mourn and suffer. Most of the people on Calvary on that first Good Friday did not mourn the death of Jesus. Only our Blessed Mother and those with her mourned the suffering and death of Jesus.

Do not run away from your suffering. Look to the example of our Blessed Mother. As Pope Francis told us, we cannot journey without the cross or confess Christ without the cross. The cross means to mourn, to accept our suffering and to unite it with our Lord. Only then will we find peace and joy.

O Virgin most sorrowful, pray for us.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis and the Passion of Christ

Cardinal Bergoglio kissing the feet of an AIDS patient
Pope Francis was elected less than a week ago, and it seems everyone already has opinions about him. The most critical seem to be coming from traditionalists in the Catholic Church, many of whom are having what Father Z calls a "spittle-flecked nutty" over our newly elected Pope Francis. The traditionalists point to Cardinal Bergoglio's record of not supporting the Latin Mass, and they are issuing statements of doom and gloom, saying this Pope will basically be a disaster.

Although many traditionalists say Cardinal Bergoglio has not supported the TLM, it has been pointed out in many places that within 48 hours after the issuance of Summorum Pontificum, Cardinal Bergoglio called for a Latin Mass in his diocese. The traditionalists do not take into account that Argentina is a Latino community. Latinos have their own way of celebrating Mass, which very much involves the entire community with much loud singing and clapping and Latino guitar music. Latino masses are basically the antithesis of the very personal Traditional Mass and its use of ancient Gregorian chant and the organ. Cardinal Bergoglio offered the TLM to the people, and they for all intents and purposes rejected it. He cannot be blamed for that.

I think Traditionalists are making a huge mistake in throwing hissy fits in regard to our new Holy Father. First and foremost, no Catholic ever has the right to make a judgment regarding any Supreme Pontiff. The Holy Father has only one judge to whom he must answer, and that is the actual Head of the Mystical Body: Jesus Christ. I have many times decried the disrespectful and outright scandalous statements that some so-called traditionalists have made against Pope Benedict XVI and other modern popes. The Pope is God's Anointed. He is the spiritual head of the Church on earth. To speak against him in his capacity as Pope is the same as attacking Jesus Christ Himself. The Pope, unlike any other person on earth, is referred to as "His Holiness." That is not a reference to him personally but to the office he holds. Our duty as the Mystical Body of Christ is to support the the Vicar of Christ without qualification. We expect liberals to speak out against the pope when he doesn't cater to their whims and desires, but Traditionalists are suppose to be the "grown ups." Unfortunately, that is not always true.

Our Lord gave us a promise that his Vicar can never mislead us. That doesn't mean that he will be a perfect human being and can never be wrong on secular issues. But the Holy Father can never mislead the church on spiritual issues. You either believe that or you don't, and if you don't believe that, you are on very shaky ground. As I quote on my sidebar from Sister Lucy, Fatima visionary, "He that is not with the Pope is not with God, and he that wants to be with God, has to be with the Pope." You can have all the outward trappings of Catholicism, but if you are not a papist, you are not Catholic.  Obedience and loyalty to the Pope are what separate us from Protestants.

I think we need to realize that we are living in extraordinary historical times. I stated in a recent post that I believe the papal conclave which just concluded was likely the most important papal conclave in the history of the Church. It was preceded by the startling resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Yes, other popes have resigned, but there were obvious outside extenuating circumstances that surrounded those resignations. Pope Benedict XVI's resignation seemingly came out of the blue. The Holy Father seemed to be going along just fine when all of a sudden he tells us that he is leaving, which struck the church and the world like a thunderbolt, much like the actual lightning strike on St. Peter's on the day of the announcement.

Lightning strikes St. Peter's Basilica on the day of
Pope Benedict's resignation announcement
Pope Benedict XVI then revealed in his last Angelus message on February 24 that God had called him to walk a different path, that he had been called to " 'scale the mountain,' to dedicate myself still more to prayer and to meditation." The Vicar of Christ was telling us that the decision to resign did not come from him but from God. As I previously posted, our Lord could have easily just taken the pope's life as He has done in the past, but I believe our Lord proceeded in this way to get our attention that this was no ordinary succession of popes, but that something extraordinary was happening.

When Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony, the world was again stunned. No one was expecting his election. He was not on any one's list to become pope. His election constituted many firsts: he is the first non-European pope in 1200 years.  He is the first Jesuit pope. He is the first pope from the Americas. He is the first Latino pope. although he is technically of Italian heritage, having been born to Italian immigrants in Argentina. He chose a name that has never been used by any pope in our 2000 year history. As Philip Lawler writes in
To grasp the full significance of this new Pope’s chosen name, consider this: For 1,100 years, every newly elected Pontiff had chosen a name that had been used by some other Pope before him. Since Pope Lando, who ruled from 913 to 914, every Pontiff on the historical records has a Roman numeral after his name, and the only Pontiff who chose a new name, John Paul I, explicitly said that he was taking the names of the two Popes before him, John XXIII and Paul VI. So when he chose an entirely new name, Pope Francis showed that he was prepared to strike out in a new direction.
Mr. Lawler further points out in his article:
Evoking the memory of St. Francis of Assisi, the name indicates a commitment to simplicity, humility, and wholehearted love for all of God’s creation. At the same [time] the name conjures up memories of the message that the great saint received from God at San Damiano: “Francis, go, rebuild my house, which as you see is in ruins.”
Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony as our newly elected Pontiff wearing only the simple white cassock of the pope without the red velvet mozzetta with ermine, another precedent setting moment. He wore the stoll only when he gave the blessing and took it off immediately after the blessing. And of course, there was the extraordinary moment before giving his blessing when he requested the people to pray over him and ask God to bless him. He then humbly bowed down while a complete silence came over the vast crowd in St. Peter's Square. Some of the media immediately began checking their audio because they thought something had gone wrong. It was a truly amazing moment.

Pope Francis also seems to have a deep, deep devotion to our Blessed Mother.  It has been reported that Pope Francis says 15 decades of the Rosary every day.  Quoting once again from, His Holiness has said that he was inspired to this practice by the example of Pope John Paul II.
I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego: “Don’t be afraid, am I not perhaps your mother?” I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope.

That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day.
Anyone who prays the Rosary on a regular basis knows the powerful effect it has on our lives.  Praying the rosary is all about experiencing the life of Christ through the eyes of His Blessed Mother.  The Rosary is a fully Christo-centric prayer, completely focusing us on our Lord and His Message because that is where our Blessed Mother was focused.  To pray the Rosary is to walk with Christ and His Mother on the road of salvation.  As St. Louis de Montfort said, "Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood."

In a previous post before the election of Pope Francis, I mentioned that while every pope is called to carry the cross with our Lord, I believe that this time the Church will be called to carry that cross with him.  We must all do this individually, but I believe that this time the Church will be doing this as a whole.  In his first homily as Pope, Our Holy Father emphasized the importance of the Cross and of participating in the suffering of our Lord upon the Cross:
The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward.
I am struck by the phrase: "to confess the only glory there is:  Christ crucified."  The world does not see a man beaten so badly he is barely recognizable, nailed upon the cross unable to move and his body drained of every ounce of blood as "glory." This image is despised by the world, but as our Holy Father told us, the only glory is "Christ crucified." To move forward and share in that glory, we must be willing to take up that cross with our Lord and enter with Him into His Passion. A few days before the election of the pope, I heard a talk by a good and holy priest who said that he felt we as a Church are entering into our passion, just as Christ did on Calvary. In His Passion, our Lord was surrounded by those who wished to destroy Him and abandoned by all who professed to follow Him with the exception of a very small group of people including Mary, His Blessed Mother, John the beloved disciple and Mary Magdalene. As Bishop Sheen said, this represents innocence, the priesthood and the penitent.  We must stay close to the Cross and to our Blessed Mother who stands beneath the Cross if we are to survive in these evil times.

Pope Francis has also made it very clear that he is putting his papacy into the hands of our Blessed Mother. One of his very first actions as pope was to visit St. Mary Major. In his address to the Cardinals, Pope Francis stated plainly that he entrusts his ministry to the Blessed Mother:
To the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church, I entrust my ministry and your ministry. Under her motherly gaze, may each of us walk joyfully, obedient to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening unity, persevering together in prayer and witnessing to genuine faith in the continuous presence of the Lord.
So many in the church now seem to be divided into their own camps and fighting with one another and even with the Holy Father. We face grave threats from outside the Church, but it seems that far too often, our worst enemies are ourselves and our own infighting. This could all be easily resolved by recognizing the universal authority of the Bishop of Rome instead of constantly questioning and criticizing that authority. I once again ask, do we believe that the Holy Father is the Divinely appointed head of the church on earth? If the answer to that question is yes, then there is no more room for criticism or questioning of that authority any more than we would question Jesus Christ if he actually sat in the Chair of Peter. The truth is that Christ does sit in the Chair of Peter through the person of the pope.

Let us follow His Holiness, Pope Francis, as he follows Christ.

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