"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

The Three Sides Of The Holy Face Of Jesus

he first is "face like flint" (Cf Is 50:7) which is mentioned twice during the Holy Week—at the beginning on Palm Sunday and midway on Holy Wednesday. Flint is a very useful kind of dark and hard rock. Did you know that flint was the equivalent of steel during the stone age period? More than 2 million years ago the early humans used it to ignite fire. The early forms of firearms, aka flintlock rifles, held a piece of flint at the hammer/cock part of the firing mechanism. The expression "Set your face like flint" is understood as a figure of speech. Famous artists painted a flint-faced Jesus to express both the toughness of the task at hand and Jesus's unwavering determination to face it no matter what it takes. I recommend that in your contemplation during this Holy Days, beg for the grace that you will be able to glimpse such holy face like flint. A word of caution though, it will be difficult to recognize the holy face because we first encounter a sea faces. In your contemplation, you will definitely recall so many faces of loved ones. Yet you will find one face amidst the crowd, a determined face of a man who is so in control and so selflessly decided to face the impossible. Have you ever been to the January 9 Traslación of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo church? The face of Jesus that millions of devotees around the world hanker to see is the black-skinned face like flint. In your contemplation today enter the mind and heart of our Lord in the last 24 hours of his life. He will give his all without batting an eye as the soldiers nail his hands and feet to the cross, all for the sake of his children.

Photo: Philippines' devotion to 'Black Nazarene' through the years - LiCAS.news | Light for the Voiceless

I have a sister whom I consider in our family as the most flint-faced among us. She started as a nurse in a home for the aged managed by religious nuns in New York City. At that time New York city was known as a COVID hot spot in the whole of US. One day she told me that she would like to transfer to the hospital. I was shocked and I asked why she still needed to leave her job which I thought was a safer place to be away from the virus. She said, "Why not? There are more patients in the hospital; there is greater need for us nurses there and I can learn so much more and be more useful to people in need." After hearing that I was ashamed of myself because I realized I was not as flint-faced as she. She even trained further to be an Infectious Disease Nurse precisely not just to get near but to face the deadly virus head on.

Last year she got a recognition for her mission at the JFK University Medical Center. I was struck by the citation that says, I quote, "She is often mentioned in the patient satisfaction surveys by the patients and their families, as well as in gratitude expressed by the team members for always being there for anyone in need." If my sister listened to my cowardly advise then I would have become the very stumbling block to God who was clearly calling my sister to be flint-faced among the lonely COVID patients. Indeed, our God has a face like flint in the person of all the medical workers who stood by their patients when everybody else wanted to run away from COVID.

Second point: the holy face is a smiling face. Have you seen the image of the crucified Lord in the Castle of Xavier in the town of Navarre in Spain? You will not just find there a face like flint, but interestingly, a smiling and laughing face of Jesus. But mind you, behind this smile is a salvific joy and not just an ordinary joy. St Augustine once prayed, “Let me not, Lord, in this my heartfelt testimony to you, accept as happiness every joy that I encounter.” In other words, as we seek happiness in this life, many of these are not the total fulfillment that we seek. “This is true happiness in life,” St Augustine says, “to take joy in Thee, for Thee, because of Thee—this, nothing else, is happiness. Those who do not know this pursue their joy elsewhere, and though it is no true one, yet they cannot wrench their desire entirely free from some representation of that joy.” When we understand true joy in the way St Augustine describes it, the image of the smiling Jesus is not difficult to contemplate. Why? Because the true joy of Jesus is “to take joy in Thee, for Thee, because of Thee—this, nothing else, is happiness. Even St Francis of Assisi's true joy is not in terms of successes or triumphs in the ministry. Not in terms of the number of people that they have served. No. St Francis's true joy is to be beaten up, to suffer, to be rejected because when that happens he becomes like Christ beaten up, rejected and despised as a fool. That is his true joy. Later in your personal prayer, you might be led to recall a painful experience. Yes. It can be a great opportunity for the Spirit to heal you gently from the wound or pain that you are nursing or harboring. The pains can be a source of true joy the moment we start to identify with Jesus's wounds.

Third point: the face of Mercy. Misericordiae Vultus—the title of the Bull Of Indiction Of The Extraordinary Jubilee Of Mercy by Pope Francis back in 2015. The original word used in the New Testament for compassion or mercy, σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai) means to be moved in the inward parts as to one’s bowels. The bowel, gut, inward parts especially the nobler entrails—the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys gradually came to denote the “seat of the affections,” the seat of empathy and compassion (Strong’s NT 4697). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used to describe compassion is rakhum, i.e., “compassionate” (Cf Exodus 34:6). It is related to the Hebrew word for womb rāham, also transliterated as rakhem or rekhem. No one has seen the face of God except the son and Jesus Christ himself is the face of the Father’s mercy. But if we can be given a chance to ascribe an imagine for the Father what would it be? Personally I would like to imagine the Father as all-womb. It is who God is, all-compassion, all-mercy. I envy the mothers because they have a womb. It is the seat of powerful emotions especially empathy. It is present also in other lower forms of animals. Once I had a retreatant who shared about her mother who was having memory loss or Alzheimers. She has forgotten everything except her being a mother. At that time she had a terminally ill son. She was feeling all the pain, it was a mother's pain. It is true what Isaiah 49 has written: “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Is 49:15-17). Even if a mother will have memory loss but the womb—who is God—will never forget. Amen Fr JM Manzano SJ