Monday, January 27, 2014

A Good Friday Faith


Each of the Synoptic Gospels recounts the story of the woman, afflicted for many years by a “flow of blood,” who was cured by touching Jesus’ cloak (cf. Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:25-34, and Luke 8:43-48). A fourth-century text, The Acts of Pilate, calls this woman Bernice (Bερενίκη) and tells how she went to Rome, curing the emperor Tiberius through an image of Christ that she had painted out of gratitude for her healing; when she died, the cloth was entrusted to the care of Pope Saint Clement I. Around the same time, Saint Eusebius of Caesarea recounted another tale of gratitude:

 
The woman with a hemorrhage, who as we learn from the holy gospels was cured of her trouble by our Savior, was stated to have come from [Caesarea Philippi]. Her house was pointed out in the city, and a wonderful memorial of the benefit the Savior conferred upon her was still there. On a tall stone base at the gates of her house stood a bronze statue of a woman, resting on one knee and resembling a suppliant with arms outstretched. Facing this was another of the same material, an upright figure of a man with a double cloak neatly draped over his shoulders and his hand stretching out to the woman… This statue, which was said to resemble the features of Jesus, was still there in my own time, so that I saw it with my own eyes when I resided in the city.

In our Western tradition, Bernice, the woman cured of the flow of blood and whose name has long been associated with an image of Christ, has come to be known as Veronica, the woman of the Sixth Station of the Cross who took pity on Jesus, wiping the blood and sweat from his face as he made his way to Calvary.



While various attempts have been made over the centuries to give Veronica a personal history, there is no evidence that she was an historical figure. In fact, Veronica has never been included in any official list of saints and, although she is commemorated on July 12 in the Orthodox Churches, there has never been a universally observed feast of Saint Veronica in the Western Church. It seems that the Veronica legend was a medieval creation intended to explain and support the provenance of images of Jesus kept in various churches throughout Europe. The most important of these is the relic, kept in Saint Peter’s Basilica, which has come to be known as “Veronica’s Veil.”

 
And yet, there she is. Despite the complete lack of historical support, the story of this compassionate woman is depicted on the walls of countless churches throughout the world and it is a fixture in the prayer and devotion of Christians, particularly on Good Friday.
 
 
Saint Luke tells us that many women accompanied Jesus during his ministry and as he carried his Cross (cf. 8:1-3; 23:27 & 49). It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that one of these courageous women, perhaps even the woman cured of the flow of blood, would have stepped forward to show Jesus some kindness as he walked to his execution. Perhaps on that Friday, the day God died, a follower of Jesus put his teachings into practice and reached out in compassion, to show a dying man that there were still those who cared for him.
 
"Saint Veronica" by El Greco
 
 
Many scholars have proposed that the name “Veronica” is a composite of two words: vera (Latin for “true”) and eikon (Greek for “image”). Although the name is thought to be a play on the title given to the “true image” of Christ depicted on various pieces of cloth, I think it is a beautifully fitting title for this woman who is, herself, a true image of a Christian. And, I find myself challenged and comforted by the idea of Veronica being the woman cured of the flow of blood. Grateful for the gift of a renewed life, she expressed her gratitude and love in an act of courage, compassion, and faith. Pushing her way through the crowd, prompted by love, she recognized beneath the blood and gore the presence of the Christ she loved and in whom she had believed. On this Good Friday, as we recall the great gift that God has given us, Veronica’s act is a powerful reminder that we are called to be people of compassion: 

A woman steps out of the crowd,
keeping alight the lamp of our humanity,
... and wipes his Face
and finds his Face!

How many people today have no face!
How many people are relegated
to the margins of life,
exiled, forsaken,
by an apathy that kills the apathetic.

Only those afire with love are truly alive,
those who bend low before Christ who suffers
and awaits us in those who are suffering: today!

Today! For tomorrow will be too late!
-Angelo Cardinal Comastri
 
 
For those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus, Veronica’s Good Friday faith is a challenge to look at the world around us, and those in it, with the eyes of faith. Veronica’s act of compassion becomes an example of Christian charity, as Blessed John Paul II observed: “This detail can have a different meaning if it is considered in the light of Christ's words about the last days. Many will then ask: ‘Lord, when did we ever do these things for you?’. And Jesus will reply: ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (cf. Matthew 25:37-40). In fact the Savior leaves his imprint on every single act of charity, as he did on Veronica's cloth” (Via Crucis, 2003).


 
A Good Friday Prayer +
Lord, grant us restless hearts, hearts which seek your face. Keep us from the blindness of heart which sees only the surface of things. Give us the simplicity and purity which allow us to recognize your presence in the world. When we are not able to accomplish great things, grant us the courage which is born of humility and goodness. Impress your face on our hearts. May we encounter you along the way and show your image to the world.
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI], Via Crucis, 2005

 

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