Faith and Life

The Face Of Christ

Altar of the Holy Face, St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City

Devotion to the Holy Face is an ancient one in the Church – in many places, there are venerated images of the Face of Christ, such as at this altar in St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

For us, living so long after the Lord walked the earth, we cannot now see the Face of Christ in person – we can, however, be the Face of Christ for others.

When we publicly pronounce ourselves to be Christian or Catholic this comes with a certain expectation on the part of others who are watching us or listening to us. The expectation – and it is a valid and reasonable one – is that we authentically present the Face and the Person of Christ; this is, after, all, precisely what we are purporting to do when we publicly associate our religious faith with our personhood.

More than anything, the greatest responsibility to be the Face of Christ lies with the Church – instituted by the Lord, animated by His Spirit, and working explicitly in His name. One could be forgiven for thinking, on many occasions, that the Lord has many faces, such is the disunity and disparity in what is presented by various faces within the institutional Church – ranging from deep compassion to cold contempt.

For each of us ordinary ones, who call ourselves Christian or Catholic, what does the world make of us? How does it respond to us? How well do we do in presenting the Face of Christ to those around us?

Earlier, I read about a good Christian family. Their daughter told them she was gay. Now, not only did they disown her, but they actually held a symbolic funeral for her even whilst she was still alive. This they did because their church told them to ‘choose between your daughter and God’. Two weeks later, this girl threw herself in front of a train. Whatever face this family presented to their daughter and to the wider community – it was most certainly not the Face of Christ.

Also earlier, I read the words of a friend who is undergoing great trials at the moment – and who is doing his best to use all these moments to draw Himself closer to God. In the process, he seems to be drawing many others closer to the Lord along with him. This, I think, is a better representation of the Face of Christ.

And every day, I read much from ordinary souls who are facing all the moments of life – whether good, bad or somewhere in between; for the most part, they do so with faith in Christ and hope in Him, trying their best to submit themselves to the will of God and asking His grace to enable them to do so. Usually, the responses of other Christians is empathic, coming with offers of practical and spiritual support. Sometimes, however, the responses are less than what might reasonably be hoped for.

To be the Face of Christ in the world, we first need to understand something of who Christ is and how He presented Himself to the world. To be the Face of Christ requires more than to know about the Lord – cerebral knowledge is simply insufficient. Instead, we need to really know the Lord – and this can come about only through relationship with Him, opening ourselves to His divine grace working within and through us.

What is very clear from the Gospels and from the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church, is that the Face of Christ is one of mercy. As the Psalmist tell us – “merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in mercy” (Ps.103).

This, then, is the authentic Face of Christ.

Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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