Beholding the Holy Face
Light and Life – July-Aug. 2019, Vol 72, No 4 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
Beholding the Holy Face
by Fr. Joseph Sergott, O.P.
Director of the Rosary Center, and Promoter of the Rosary Confraternity
It has been said that “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” but I believe that the face reveals the secrets of the heart. We can often tell the inner emotions of a person whether they are happy, sad, angry, afraid or even in love by the “look” upon their face. There are some who can hide their emotions by displaying a “poker-face,” while others cannot veil their faces from what’s in their heart.
We first get to know someone by beholding their face. Then it becomes recognizable when we see them again. Over time their face becomes symbolic of who they are. Even for someone who is blind, they can get to know a person by the shape and curve of their face because each face is unique.
For thousands of years people have longed to see God. No doubt, many people have said throughout human history, “If I could only see God then I would believe.” There is something in our human nature that needs to see and to be looked upon by another.
In this world we cannot see God face to face; we have to encounter him and come to recognize and know him through the eyes of faith. This happens as we encounter Jesus in the sacraments of the Church, in the Holy Scriptures, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the mysteries of the Rosary and in other prayer, in various life experiences and through the faith of others.
For those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we are familiar with the striking passage from the Book of Revelation that we read every Sunday at night prayer: “They shall see the Lord face to face and bear his name upon their foreheads. The night shall be no more. They will need no light from lamps or the sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever.” (Rev 22:4-5)
This vision from Revelation foreshadows the fulfillment of the longing of the human heart repeatedly captured by the psalms, e.g., “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?” (Ps 42:3), and “The LORD is just and loves just deeds; the upright will see his face” (Ps 11:7), and “O LORD of hosts, restore us; let your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (Ps 80:4). There is something prophetic in these divinely inspired psalms that speak of the Face of God and of the light and countenance it bears upon all who are blessed to feel his gaze.
It’s difficult for us to imagine what eternal life in heaven will be like, but it will mean seeing God face to face. As Our Lord says, “Angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Mt 18:10) One of the most ancient blessings known to man is from the Book of Numbers. When we wish this blessing upon another, we pray that God in all of his glory will shine upon them through his Face because when God’s face shines upon us it manifests his benevolence, approval, blessing, and his grace and peace: “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Num 6:25) Perhaps the real truth is that once we see God face to face there will be nothing between us that is unknown.
If you think about it, the Blessed Virgin Mary was the first human being to behold the physical Face of God as Jesus Christ came forth from her womb. Up until the Incarnation, the Blessed Trinity, that is, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were pure spirit. In the Incarnation, the Logos or the Word assumed our human nature, body and soul, and became man. Thus, at the monumental event that was the Birth of Christ, God, for the first time revealed his human face! Thus, we can say that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15).
As I imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph gazing upon their child in the manger, the lyrics of Silent Night (by Fr. Joseph Mohr) come to mind, “Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace” Indeed, at the birth of Christ, for the first time the world was introduced to the Face of God, but most of the world did not know it; only a few recognized him. Simeon, a righteous and devout man, had waited his entire life to behold the face of the Messiah, and Anna, the prophetess, who never left the temple but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer, saw the face of Christ, and they recognized the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel (Lk 2:25ff.)
In one of the key events in Jesus’ life on earth, he took the disciples to the top of a mountain where he was transfigured in glory before their eyes. This glorious manifestation revealed him as the only begotten Son of the Father and as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He knew they needed to see him in this way because of the suffering that he would soon endure. “And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Mt 17:2) This image of the glorified face of Christ reflects the glory of the Father. As Jesus says, “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him …. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:7ff.) Thus, in the Transfiguration, Jesus reflects the refulgence of the Father’s glory and the very imprint of his being (Heb 1:3). In this incident we recall the words of St. Paul, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6) On the top of that mountain the glorified Face of God was revealed to the three disciples and they were overcome with wonder. Indeed, they received a mere snapshot of what the faithful behold in heaven.
However, soon thereafter, they would see a very different face of the Lord. That same face that shown brightly from the mountaintop would soon be slapped, spit upon, and punctured with thorns.
As the Old Testament prophesies about the Face of God shining down upon the faithful in heaven, it also foresees and envisages the face of the Suffering Servant who does not run from his tormentors, but stands and faces them: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help; therefore, I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” (Is 50:6-7)
There is something magnificent in the face of Our Lord as he gazes upon his saints and angels in heaven, yet there was poignancy as he faced sinners on earth who despised him. You can even say that he turned his face openly toward evil and death and defied them. It speaks of his love for all people, of the sacrifice that he endured and the salvation that he procured: “For it is on your account I bear insult, that disgrace covers my face.” (Ps 69:8)
There is only one face of Jesus Christ. The infant face that emanated beams of joy matured into the God-Man who stood on the mountaintop with eternal light shining forth from his face. That same face turned and looked upon his detractors as they ridiculed and beat him. There is an irony in the scourging of Our Lord: the same face that millions have hoped would one day gaze upon them in heaven was blindfolded, struck, and spat upon (Mk 14:65). In masking his face, they tried to veil his own sight; but, what he envisioned was beyond their understanding. Perhaps what they were doing unbeknownst to themselves was trying to shroud the glory of his face because they could not look upon the face of the One who felt nothing but love for them.
How many times must the Blessed Virgin Mary have contemplated the face of Jesus? She beheld his face in his infancy, after she and Joseph found him in the temple after three days of searching, in his preaching and through his miracles, and as he entered into the depths of his Passion. As Jesus walked the road to Calvary, his Mother met him upon the way and she looked upon his face in its agony—not only from his physical suffering but as he took upon himself the sins of the world. Then from the Cross as he cast his eyes down upon her, she looked up to him until he died. Then, only a few hours later, as she held his dead body in her arms, she took one last look upon the Holy Face. She would have to persevere in faith through three agonizing days until she beheld him in all of his glory on the morning of his Resurrection. Finally, as she was assumed into heaven, she beheld his Face and would never have to say goodbye again.
Now, because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we carry the hope of St. Paul and all the faithful, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) It seems to me that the very first thing that we will “see” if we are blessed to gain eternal life, is the Face of Jesus welcoming us home. “May God be gracious to us and bless us; may his face shine upon us.” (Ps 67:2)
Novena: ASSUMPTION OF MARY
Theology for the laity: OUR TAINTED NATURE’S SOLITARY BOAST
WHAT DOES THE BLESSED VIRGIN SAY IN THE GOSPELS?
A Note from Fr. Joseph
Dear faithful supporters of the Rosary Center & Confraternity, we are grateful for your support. We could not fulfill our Mission if not for our benefactors. After decades of constant use, the Rosary Center, the home of the Rosary Confraternity, is greatly in need of renovation. Please consider making a special gift to help make badly needed repairs, and to refurbish the offices, chapel and kitchen. Thank you for your generosity! Fr. Joseph Sergott, O.P., Director.