St. Therese and the Holy Face

“Until my coming to Carmel, I had never fathomed the depths of the treasures hidden in the Holy Face.” (St. Therese, Story of a Soul)

St. Therese’s name in Carmel is Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. I have always focused on the Child of Jesus part of her spirituality and have never quite connected with her devotion to the Holy Face. Recently though I have wondered more about it. I can’t really explain why except that having to wear a mask on my face and to see other people wearing a covering over their mouth and nose has bothered me very much. There is something so beautiful and God-like about the “face” and covering it seems so dehumanizing. We are not meant to have on a mask.

Devotion to the Holy Face focuses on the Incarnation. God became a man like us with a human face. As Carmelites, we love to contemplate, and St. Therese, through her devotion to the Holy Face, reminds us of the beauty that lies hidden in the face of Jesus.  The Holy Face is a human face, even though a hidden face. The Holy Face is hidden in the face of others, hidden even under the disfigured face of sin.

The human face identifies that person. Just think of someone that you love. It is their face that identifies that person and expresses who that person is. We all love to gaze on the face of a baby. How long and lovingly Mary and St. Joseph must have gazed on the face of the infant Jesus. They were the first to adore His wonderful face. Then came the shepherds, the Magi, and later the Apostles and other disciples became admirers of His teachings, wisdom, and loving care – all impressed upon them by His Holy Face. Looking upon His face they saw expressions of tenderness towards little children, glory on Mount Tabor, and anguish during His Passion. 

We need to see peoples’ faces, and for them to see ours. So much communication happens when looking at someone’s face. When you look at someone’s face you get cues as to whether that person is happy, sad, or confused. A mask hides this and even muffles the voice! So much is lost when trying to hear someone talk to you through a mask. The distorted sounds and the inability to see the lips move is especially challenging for the elderly and hard of hearing. Interestingly, the word “person” is rooted in the Latin word that means “mask” and the Greek word for “face”.

Some background on the Holy Face devotion is necessary before I move on. The devotion began in Tours, France with a Carmelite nun, Sister Marie de Saint Pierre, during the mid-1800s. Sister Marie received visions from the Lord telling her that those who would contemplate His face on earth would contemplate His radiant face in heaven. The purpose of the devotion was to make reparation for sins against God, His Holy name, and the profanation of Sundays. In another sense, devotion to the Holy Face is to become like St. Veronica, who took pity on Jesus when He carried His cross and wiped the sweat from His Face with her veil. This veil bears the impression of His Holy Face to this day. St. Veronica did this act of kindness to comfort Jesus. The devotion calls us to do as she did and comfort Jesus for the wounds and sins that are still inflicted on Him today through the lack of reverence, sacrilege, and blasphemy that men commit. This devotion, based on the life and writings of Sister Marie, was approved by Pope Leo XIII. Mister Martin, St. Therese’s father, along with his daughters, enrolled in the Confraternity of the Holy Face, most likely after Pauline, her sister, had suggested they do so. It was Pauline who introduced St. Therese to this devotion; however, St. Therese puts a different twist on this devotion regarding the Face of Jesus. 

In the Story of a Soul, St. Therese describes the beginnings of her devotion to the Holy Face that began after her entry into the convent. She writes, “Until my coming to Carmel, I had never fathomed the depths of the treasures hidden in the Holy Face.” Locked away in the cloister she desired that like the Face of Jesus, her “face be truly hidden that no one on earth” would know her. St. Therese “thirsted after suffering” and “longed to be forgotten.” She knew that the face of the child in the manger was also the face of the man on the cross. Her desire to “be unknown and counted as nothing” was her way of drawing close to the suffering Christ. For St. Therese, contemplating the Face of Jesus was more about imitation and remaining hidden than about reparation. 

St. Therese had to obtained permission to add the title “of the Holy Face” to her name.  Her devotion to the Holy Face is rooted in the words from the prophet Isaiah, and it was from these words that St. Therese came to desire that she also would “be without splendor, without beauty, to tread alone the wine in the press, unknown by every creature.”  She wrote of Jesus regarding the words of the Old Testament prophet, “ ‘He was without splendor, without beauty, His Face was hidden, as it were, and His person was not acknowledged’; one finds in them the whole foundation of my devotion to the Holy Face, or to say it better, the foundation of all my piety. I also desire myself to be without splendor, without beauty, to tread alone the wine in the press, unknown by every creature.” (Story of a Soul) She longed to be forgotten and to suffer. How unlike many of us today who want to be seen and known and famous! Only to now have to cover our faces with a cloth.

St. Therese also longed to see the Face of Jesus as evident in her poetry. In her poem, “What I’ll Soon See for the First Time” (PN 33) these lines reveal her desire to see His face:

I am still on the other shore,
But sensing eternal happiness,
Oh! I would already like to leave this earth
And gaze on the wonders of Heaven….
When I dream of the joys of the other life,
I no longer feel the weight of my exile,
Since soon toward my only Homeland
I’ll fly for the first time!…

Ah! Jesus, give me white wings
That I may take flight to you.
I want to fly to the eternal Shores.
I want to see you, O my Divine Treasure!
I want to fly into the arms of Mary
To rest on that choice throne
And receive from my dear Mother
A sweet Kiss for the first time!….

My Beloved, let me soon catch a glimpse
Of the sweetness of your first smile,
And let me, in my divine delirium,
Ah! let me hide in your Heart!…
Oh! what a moment! what ineffable happiness
When I’ll hear the sweet sound of your voice,
When I’ll see the divine brilliance
Of your Adorable Face for the first time!…

You know well, Sacred Heart of Jesus,
My only martyrdom is your love.
If my soul sighs for your beautiful Heaven,
It’s to love you, to love you more and more!…
In Heaven, always intoxicated with tenderness,
I’ll love you without limit and without law,
And my happiness will unceasingly seem
As new as the first time!!!…

The poem, “Heaven for Me” (PN 32), written on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1896, reveals that she wants Jesus to see her face.

To bear the exile of this valley of tears
I need the glance of my Divine Savior.
This glance full of love has revealed its charms to me.
It has made me sense the happiness of Heaven.
My Jesus smiles at me when I sigh to Him.
Then I no longer feel my trial of faith.
My God’s Glance, his ravishing Smile,
That is Heaven for me!..

Heaven for me is to be able to draw down on souls,
On the Church my mother and on all my sisters
Jesus’ graces and his Divine flames
That can enkindle and rejoice hearts.
I can obtain everything when mysteriously
I speak heart to heart with my Divine King.
That sweet prayer so near the Sanctuary,
That is Heaven for me!…

Heaven for me is hidden in a little Host
Where Jesus, my Spouse, is veiled for love.
I go to that Divine Furnace to draw out life,
And there my Sweet Savior listens to me night and day.
“Oh! what a happy moment when in your tenderness
You come, my Beloved, to transform me into yourself.
That union of love, that ineffable intoxication,
That is Heaven for me!”…

Heaven for me is feeling within myself the resemblance
Of the God who created me with his Powerful Breath.
Heaven for me is remaining always in his presence,                                                                     Calling him my Father and being his child.
In his Divine arms, I don’t fear the storm.
Total abandonment is my only law.
Sleeping on his Heart, right next to his Face,
That is Heaven for me!…

I’ve found my Heaven in the Blessed Trinity
That dwells in my heart, my prisoner of love.
There, contemplating my God, I fearlessly tell him
That I want to serve him and love him forever.
Heaven for me is smiling at this God whom I adore
When He wants to hide to try my faith.
To suffer while waiting for him to look at me again
That is Heaven for me!…

In these and other parts of her writings, we can comprehend more of her devotion to the Holy Face. The Holy Face is one that she longs to see and gaze upon. It is a face that also glances at her in an intimate and beautiful exchange of love. It is a face that is also one she wants to imitate in being hidden. Because of the Incarnation Christ’s face is now on Earth though hidden in the Blessed Sacrament and veiled under the appearance of bread. We can sit before the Blessed Sacrament and look upon Him while He looks upon us!

St. Teresa of Jesus, spiritual mother, and reformer of the Carmelite Order, advises in the Way of Perfection that we should represent Jesus as close to us when we pray; to speak to Him face to face as Moses did. Just as you would speak with a friend, speak with Jesus who is at your side and sees you. St. Teresa writes, “I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me, and that was my way of prayer… I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him… He is always looking at you; can you not turn the eyes of your soul to look at Him?” No doubt the Holy Mother of Carmel influenced our young St. Therese in her devotion to the Holy Face. Let us let Him look at our faces. Imagine our faces with no mask of pretending on. Set our faces towards Him and let Him delight in us and pray as Moses did face to face. 

St. Thérèse also wrote many prayers expressing her devotion to the Holy Face. She wrote on a small card the words, ”Make me resemble you, Jesus!” (Pr 11). In another prayer, she desires to make reparation to the Holy Face disfigured in His Passion by the sins of men. Behind His disfigured appearance she sees love and wants to spread that love to everyone, to save souls, and to bear His image so that she can see Him in heaven. 

O Jesus, who in Thy bitter Passion didst become “the most abject of men, a man of sorrows”, I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon there once did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead; but now it has become for me as if it were the face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men.

The tears that thou hast shed so abundantly appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value.

O Jesus, whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy Divine Image, to set me on fire with Thy Love, and to make me worthy to contemplate in Heaven Thy glorious Face.
Amen.

It is important for us to love and to let Jesus love us. Then being consumed by Love we can soon attain the vision of Jesus setting our eyes on His face and His glory in heaven. 

So let us turn our eyes away from our false self, that person we are pretending to be. Casting off the falseness of sin and pride and without pretense humbly sit before Him. And since the love Jesus has for us is a love that suffers, let us imitate Him. He loves those who do not love. He also loves those who do not deserve to be loved.

Renewal

What the Church needs now more than ever is renewal, which begins in our hearts. What our hearts need is cleansing. We can begin this cleansing by removing the clutter found there.

The Church is supposed to be a sign of heavenly glory, but it has lost its original beauty. The Church’s appearance has been muddled through the bad examples of some of its members, scandals and false teachings. All of these and more have tainted the clarity of charity, which is the Church’s mission. All this has happened because we have abandoned the pursuit of perfect charity! 

Therefore we need a renewal. Renewal begins with the interior and then moves out to the exterior.  We cannot begin to have an impact on the world with the Gospel message if we have not first let God “set charity in order within” (Song 2:4).

The first place to begin any renewal is with the heart. Ultimately the reason for so many deficiencies decried in the Church today are due to the fact that we have failed to love one another. We are no longer Christ-like. Christ is not dwelling within our hearts; therefore, there is no space for the thought of others.

Christ has called us to love; each soul should examen this call within before it can in any way be repaired. Love is a study we must each undertake and this will take place over our whole lifetime. In the examination of the heart, begin with looking at what it is we are pursuing.

If love is being pursued it will be revealed in our speech, in the way we talk to others, in our openness to new ideas and in the gentleness in which we listen to the thoughts and opinions of other people.  On the other hand if we are not pursuing charity, then this too will be made manifest. If we are narrow-minded, look down on others, are quick to argue or engage in back-biting, then we are not pursuing charity.

We must renew charity within and then bring it out to others. As we pursue perfect charity, love itself will let each of us know what changes will need to be made and how to fashion these changes.

St. Teresa longed for renewal of the Church in her time and set out to reform the Order with a clear resolution in mind – “ to do the little that was in my power: that is, to follow the evangelical couples as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live her do the same.” She embarked on this endeavor trusting in God’s goodness knowing that he “never fails to help anyone who is determined to give up everything for Him.” [Way 1: 2]

Constantly returning to the sources assists with renewal and will aid us to proclaim anew the message of our foundress. Or to return to the documents of Vatican II or even the Gospels and encounter them again, is another way to promote renewal. From the sources we can gain new inspiration and strength as we rediscover the original purpose intended by our founders or the council. Recovering the original heritage handed on to us, we can then determine how to present this fount of riches to the present generation. Needed also is a love of learning for the original formation. By returning to the Gospels – we return to Christ himself. We need to be steeped in the Gospels. For St. Teresa the book of the Gospels was her favorite for meditation. Similarly St. Therese and St. John of the Cross were also fond of the Bible. Their writings contain lavish quotes from the scriptures. 

Let us return to the sources in simplicity, but without discarding or sacrificing the development that happened over the years from our heritage. Diving into the writings of our Carmelite saints and rediscovering the vision St. Teresa had in her heart, and then to discover new ways to reproduce it using different styles and materials. In this rediscovery period it will serve us well to become like children and ask why? Approach the sources with this question to discover the reason we have been or are doing things as Carmelites. And to do them intelligently.

Any renewal will depend on the real and lasting work of faith that is exercised in prayer, silent prayer where one encounters love and discovers what is asked of him only to surrender to that love.

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Eph 3:20-21)

Feast of the Nativity of Mary

St. Therese had to wait to make her profession. As she waited for this day, she told God she would wait as long as he desired. Until that day she resolved to carefully “make a beautiful dress enriched with priceless stones”. Therese began applying herself to practicing little virtues, by doing little penances that especially mortified her self-love. She was not practicing these virtues alone. St. Therese stated that the Blessed Virgin, “was helping me prepare the dress of my soul; as soon as this dress was completed all the obstacles went away.”

The Bishop finally gave his permission and the community voted in favor of receiving St. Therese. The date set was September 8, 1890, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. St. Therese writes of this occasion,  “What a beautiful feast on which to become the spouse of Jesus! It was the little Blessed Virgin, one day old, who was presenting her little flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little that day except for the graces and peace I received.” (Story of a Soul, Ch 7)

St. Therese was set on mortifying her self-love and practicing little virtues and said that the Blessed Virgin Mary was helping her do this. The Blessed Mother teaches us to live these virtues hidden and under God’s shadow. Her birth was unnoticed, yet without her the greatest mystery of our faith could not have taken place. It is because of Mary that the Incarnation of the Son of God and Redemption of man was made possible. Her birth is like the dawn projecting new light over the new day. Yet her birth is unknown, unnoticed and not even mentioned in the scriptures.  She remains hidden to the world except for the eyes of God, who see her in the silence and obscurity of her life.

Today’s feast invites us to imitate this hidden life of Mary and even that of St. Therese, who was enclosed in the cloister and unknown to all expect for God. A hidden life that focuses on the interior by quietly practicing virtue and doing little penances keeping in check the selfish ego. Putting to death the need to be noticed or seeking praise or making excuses for failures, these can be done under the shadow of God, just like Mary. St. Therese knew this and put this ideal into practice in the convent. We too can do this in the ordinary circumstance of our days under the watchful patronage of the Blessed Mother, whose birth we celebrate today.

Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, heralded joy to all the world.

Living on Love

Lent is such a good time of God’s grace. St. Therese of Lisieux expresses this well in this stanza:

Living on Love is keeping within oneself

A great treasure in an earthen vase.

My Beloved, my weakness is extreme.

Ah, I’m far from being an angel from heaven!…

But if I fall with each passing hour,

You come to my aid, lifting me up.

At each moment you give me your grace:

I live on Love.

(Poem 17, p. 91 The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, trans. Fr. Donald Kinney, OCD, ICS Publications)

Isn’t this just what we are all doing?!?! Keep on living on love faithful readers!

Empty Hands

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I come before you
with empty hands…
all the secret store of grace
I fling into needy hearts,
crying in the bitter night
of fear and loneliness…..
Spendthrift of your Love
I keep before me
your empty Hands – 
empty and riven 
with the great nails 
hollowing out 
rivers of mercy…..
until all your substance 
was poured out…..
So, I, my Jesus,
with hands emptied 
for your love 
stand confident 
before your Cross,
love’s crimson emblem. 
It is the empty 
who are filled:
those who have made 
themselves spendthrifts 
for You alone,
fill the least 
of your brethren 
while they themselves 
are nourished by your Love…
more and more emptied 
that they may be filled 
with You.

– St. Therese

Charity Must Not Consist in Feelings

St. Therese of Lisieux was born on January 2, 1873 in Alencon, Normandy. She was the youngest of eight children born to Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin. Of the eight children, three died, and the surviving five girls all became religious. After Zelie’s death, when St. Therese was four years old, the family moved to Lisieux. St. Therese entered the Carmelite monastery of Lisieux at the age of fifteen. She died on September 30, 1897, at the young age of twenty-four.

St. Therese, of course, is most famous for her autobiography, Story of a Soul. In this story she describes her famous “little way” of spiritual childhood –a way of trust and surrender. It is well know how she would do “little” things with great love and how this is proposed to us to imitate.

What is little known or spoken of are the ways she would practice mortification. She never had any attraction to perform great acts of penance. She felt she was too cowardly. Her serious and mortified life consisted “in breaking my will always so ready to impose itself on others, in holding back a reply, in rendering little services without any recognition, in not leaning my back against a support when seated, etc.”

St. Therese made it a habit of always acting in a way opposite of the way she was feeling. There was s Sister in the community that she found quite displeasing to her in everything. She writes, “Each time I met her I prayed to God for her, offering Him all her virtues and merits, I felt this was pleasing to Jesus …and when I was tempted to answer her back in a disagreeable manner, I was content with giving her my most friendly smile, and changing the subject of the conversation.”

This saintly woman would resist the urge to give self-defense, to judge others, and to make claims to ‘her rights’. She would give what others asked of her and allowed others to take what belonged to her without asking for it back. These mortifications are heroic and are at the disposal for all of us to practice in our daily lives as well.

“I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works.”

“And it isn’t enough to love; we must prove it.”

(Story of a Soul, ICS Publications)

My Song For Today

My Song of Today
Text based on the original poem
‘Mon Chant d’Aujourd’hui by St Therese of Lisieux adapted from the translation by C L Emery

 

Happy Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux.

My Song for Today

My life is but an instant, a passing hour.
My life is but a day that escapes and flies away.
O my God ! You know that to love you on earth
I only have today !…

Oh, I love you, Jesus ! My soul yearns for you.
For just one day remain my sweet support.
Come reign in my heart, give me your smile
Just for today !

Lord, what does it matter if the future is gloomy ?
To pray for tomorrow, oh no, I cannot !…
Keep my heart pure, cover me with your shadow
Just for today.

If I think about tomorrow, I fear my fickleness.
I feel sadness and worry rising up in my heart.
But I’m willing, my God, to accept trial and suffering
Just for today.

O Divine Pilot ! whose hand guides me,
I’m soon to see you on the eternal shore.
Guide my little boat over the stormy waves in peace
Just for today.

Ah ! Lord, let me hide in your Face.
There I’ll no longer hear the word’s vain noise.
Give me your love, keep me in your grace
Just for today.

Near your divine Heart, I forget all passing things.
I no longer dread the fears of the night.
Ah ! Jesus, give me a place in your Heart
Just for today.

Living Bread, Bread of Heaven, divine Eucharist,
O sacred Mystery ! that Love has brought forth…
Come live in my heart, Jesus, my white Host,
Just for today.

Deign to unite me to you, Holy and sacred Vine,
And my weak branch will give you its fruit,
And I’ll be able to offer you a cluster of golden grapes
Lord, from today on.

I’ve just this fleeting day to form
This cluster of love, whose seeds are souls.
Ah ! give me, Jesus, the fire of an Apostle
Just for today.

O Immaculate Virgin ! You are my Sweet Star
Giving Jesus to me and uniting me to Him.
O Mother ! Let me rest under your veil
Just for today.

My Holy Guardian Angel, cover me with your wing.
With your fire light the road that I’m taking.
Come direct my steps… help me, I call upon you
Just for today.

Lord, I want to see you without veils, without clouds,
But still exiled, far from you, I languish ?
May your lovable face not be hidden from me
Just for today.

Soon I’ll fly away to speak your praises
When the day without sunset will dawn on my soul.
Then I’ll sing on the Angels’lyre
The Eternal Today !…

A Merciful Heart

 

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21:15)

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Breakfast on the beach – I have always been fond of this Gospel passage. There is something familiar and ordinary about it. It is morning, a new day has begun and the apostles are eating breakfast with Jesus. It is a new day and a new beginning for St. Peter.

This scene tells us of something so foundational about our faith in Jesus. It tells us that Jesus has a merciful heart. His mercy is antithetical to the scornful attitude of the Pharisees. The mercy of Jesus is like that of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He goes out in search of the sinful in order to find them, rescue them and bring them back into the sheepfold.

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This Divine Mercy extents to great sinners who have repented of serious sin and have turned to Him. His mercy also reaches to those who humbly turn from venial sin only to rise again after each failure committed due to weakness or lack of reflection. Here is where I have sympathy for St. Peter. He was weak, like me. He did not reflect, but acted wrongly even though he loved the Lord. How much I am like St. Peter. I make many resolutions and want to overcome some fault, like impatience! And still, I fail – again and again. But Jesus is merciful each time I repent and turn back to Him.

St. Therese says that He, “thrills with joy when, humbly acknowledging our faults, we come to fling ourselves into His arms, imploring forgiveness; then He loves us even more tenderly than before we fell.”

Since we are poor sinners let us remember St. Peter and trust in God’s infinite mercy.

 

A Confident Heart

St. Therese of Lisieux’s “little way” was one of confidence and love. In her autobiography she wrote often of her feebleness and how she came to discover her vocation which was to be “love in the heart of the Church”. She came to this confidence because of the capacity of God’s heart and the love He had for her. She was certain that the Lord loved her and that this was not due to her own efforts in loving Him.

Our saint wrote a beautiful poem to the Sacred Heart in 1895. In it she expressed the following:

A heart I need, to soothe me and to bless, —

A strong support that can not pass away, —

To love me wholly, e’en my feebleness,

And never leave me through the night or day.

There is not one created thing below,

Can love me truly, and can never die.

God become man — none else my needs can know;

He, He alone, can understand my cry.

May we too have a confident heart one that loves because we are loved by God for He alone truly knows us and knows what we need.