Take up thy cross
The Sixth Station of the Cross: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. An act of kindness on the road to the crucifixion leaves a physical memorial: an image of the face of Jesus is vividly impressed on a towel or veil. The name Veronica is sometimes said to mean ‘true icon’, ‘true image’ although it could also be a form of Berenice.
True images of Jesus Christ can be imprinted by compassion. Acts of tenderness towards those who are suffering are icons of the loving kindness of Jesus. We might carry around a crucifix or other image of Jesus to remind us of him. The Lord allows himself to be brought to mind by enabling us to carry his ‘icon’ in our heart. Our interior life has had impressed on it traces of the love of the God. If we look within ourselves or examine our conscience, we find Jesus already present with in us, marked by signs of suffering and pain. There is a ‘Veronica’, a true icon of the face of Jesus imprinted on every life. This icon is a way of understanding the link between the most difficult things in our life and the Lord’s own life and death and resurrection.
The great questions of Saint Mark’s Gospel are Who is Jesus? and Who do you say I am? Insofar as our Christian life is about answering questions, then solving this puzzle is at the heart of our faith. Each one of us is invited to discover, for ourselves, our Saviour. Through the mercy of God, the Church delivers the Lord to us. Jesus Christ is shared with us by our religion. He is the Jesus who suffered on the Cross for our salvation. With sadness for his sufferings but with joy at what they achieved we remind ourselves of the Cross. We put the crucifix at the centre of our life. We make signs of the cross frequently. We carry our own cross, as directed to do by Jesus, by seeing the connection between the hardest things we have to do or endure and the death to which Jesus was subjected.
The lovely evidence of compassion
The ‘true icon’ the authentic image of Christ on the way of the Cross can be seen in the life of believers. Like Veronica, his disciples, behaving with courage and compassion, have an encounter with the suffering Lord. We seek an answer to the question Who is Jesus? in our own life. It may well be that what we arrive at is not so much words which solve the puzzle as an imprint on our life of the face of the Lord on his way to Calvary. There is some compassionate service which we offer, or could offer, which would be Jesus to the life. Our kindness would convey a vivid impression of how the Lord is and who He is.
The true image of the face of Jesus is beautiful. The suffering of Christ impressed on a life is not beauty scarred or defiled by cruelty and suffering but real beauty. The ‘true icon’ has the beauty of truth. Strangely, perhaps, the icon of suffering attracts, pleases and inspires. We are not gloating over pain but we are awestruck at a love which so generously suffers for others. An act of kindness interrupts the succession of cruelties and tortures on the road to Calvary. There is something beautiful about the encounter between Jesus and Veronica. The exercise of compassion leaves lovely evidence all the time.
Built up in goodness and happiness
When we meet compassionately Christ in his suffering brothers and sisters, we carry away from the meeting a fragment of divine beauty. The way of the Cross reveals itself to be a way of loveliness. The via dolorosa becomes a via pulrchritudinis. This is a transformation and also a discovery of how things truly are in their depth. We are drawn to faith by the impress of Christ. We are encouraged in our life by a glimpse of his glory. We are built up in goodness and happiness by the changes he makes in us. He leaves his mark on us. There are traces of the Lord through all the world. Jesus’ trace is that of one who suffered intensely. We follow his path and find him. We make out his spoor amid the pain of the world and we track him down joyfully. There are so many crosses, so much suffering, and so many deaths. In them and beyond them awaits Jesus.
Our faith moves us to travel a road of compassion. We willingly seek out the via dolorosa because we know that there we will meet Christ along with his suffering friends. This road is the way of the Cross. The image on the veil kindly pressed on the face of the One who suffers is the likeness of Jesus. We prize pictures of our life-giving Lord. We can hold up the image of the face of Jesus impressed on our life as our answer to the question Who is Jesus? The true icon, painted with the pigments of compassion and kindness, is an effective response to friendly inquiries, casual curiosity and even hostile interrogation. We hold up the Cross. We offer to the world the face of Christ, the vultus Christi, to drive away the Evil One, to share the faith, to attract other believers and to show the world the beauty of its Saviour and the salvation He offers.
A mighty harvest of blessings
The suffering of Jesus, held up for the world to see, is commemorated in the Feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In some parts of the world, these celebrations are autumnal just as Holy Week is the spring-like. We give thanks for an abundant crop. From the seed that died in the earth a mighty harvest is now to be reaped.
God has rescued us not grudgingly but with an overflowing love. Jesus has saved us. His Holy Mother and all the Saints are also working for the salvation of the world and they draw us through beauty and goodness and truth into sharing their task. The tree of the Cross is heavy with fruit. There is a rich crop of blessing. The royal road of the Cross, the via dolorosa, has led the Lord to Calvary and is leading us to heaven.