The Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
+We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.
“Hear my voice, LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. ‘Come,’ says my heart, ‘Seek God’s face’; your face, LORD, do I seek! Do not hide your face from me; do not repel your servant in anger. You are my help; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior! Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in.
“LORD, show me your way; lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not abandon me to the will of my foes; malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me. But I believe I shall enjoy the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27:7-14
On the way to His crucifixion, Jesus, Whose face was now drenched in sweat and blood, encountered Veronica, whose name means “true icon.” Seeing Jesus, weakened by the weight of the cross and the loss of blood, she took compassion on Him. She approached with a cloth and wiped His face. The blood her cloth caught was spilled for the salvation of the world.
Compassion is a word that means “to suffer with.” To have compassion for another is to see their suffering, not from afar, but to see it so closely that one suffers with the other. Veronica put herself at great risk of the wrath of the Roman soldiers in daring to step out and show kindness to Jesus. But, her suffering was not physical. Rather, the suffering she shared with her Savior tore at her heart. She saw a man beaten, tortured, persecuted, and she could not turn her face away. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, was “One of those from whom men hide their faces …,” spurned and held in no esteem (Is 53:3b). Veronica did not hide her face from Jesus. Instead, she approached and looked in His eyes. There, she saw a suffering like none other, a suffering that bore on its shoulders the sins of the world. How could she turn away? How could she not suffer with One so willing to suffer for others? She lifted her cloth and wiped the crevices of His torn and battered face. Then she watched Him forced on in His deathly march. If only for a moment, she looked into the face of eternity and saw the hope that lay ahead.
How can we respond to the suffering of others? Instead of turning our faces, averting our eyes, we can look full on and see what is happening. We can turn, not only our faces and eyes, but our hearts and minds to the suffering of others, and investigate, consider, see what options there are for us to act, to suffer with, to take onto ourselves a measure, even if small, of their suffering in order to relieve them of that small measure.
Years ago, when I was a young man working at Msgr. Joseph Leppert Catholic Worker House in north Memphis, a young man named Terry had been a resident of the house. I had to ask him to leave because he was violent and disruptive to the peace of the house. He came back one night, angry. He got into the house and, as I sat in a chair, stood over me, threatening me. I was reduced to nothing but prayer, and so I prayed. I prayed to the Holy Spirit. Terry saw the crucifix around my neck, and demanded that I give it to him. At that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Give him the cross. He’ll leave. He’ll come back tomorrow and return it.” So, I gave him the cross. He left.
The next morning, Terry came back, apologized and gave me back my crucifix. Inspired again by the Holy Spirit, I asked if he would like to keep it. At first, he said no and turned to leave. But, the next moment, he turned around and said, “Yeah, I’ll take that.” He took it and left again.
Over the next weeks, Terry would return occasionally. He was more calm, and eventually I felt comfortable letting him in so he could have something to eat. Eventually, he stopped coming by. Months passed, and one day while walking the Mall of America in downtown Memphis, I happened upon Terry. At first, I didn’t recognize him. It was his face. His face had changed. Then, it struck me. He was smiling! Fortunes had turned for Terry, and he was at a good place. He smiled and thanked me for all I had done for him (which, in fact, was very little). He was grateful and happy. That was the last time I saw him. A life transformed meant a face transformed.
When we suffer with others, we suffer with Jesus. We join Him on the way of His cross. At the end of that journey is new life.
Father, Jesus suffered and bled for us. Veronica, true icon, rather than turning away from His suffering, chose to turn toward Jesus, to see His face and offer what little compassion she could. Her actions are now a witness to us through the centuries that even small acts can make a difference. Give us your grace to see the suffering of others and not turn away, but to take action, however small, to relieve whatever small measure of suffering we can. Amen.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.