Fr. Joseph Levine; Sunday, November 1, 2020
Readings: Rev 7:2-4,9-14 Ps 24:1-6; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12
Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Really? Do Catholics really long to see the face of God?
Faces these days are very often hidden by masks. Sometimes we might be wanting just to see the face of the person with whom we are speaking. We might be longing to be done with masks altogether. But do we really long to see the face of God, unveiled, without any mask?
Consider what it is like to be separated for a time from someone very dear to you, without Facetime or Zoom, or any such thing, like in the old days. Then you really begin to long to see that person’s face. What joy there is in the meeting after a long separation. Someone might say, “What a joy it is just to see you again!”
Do we at all long to see God’s face that way? If we do not have such longing, do we have any right to expect to get to heaven and join the company of the saints?
What does it mean to see the face of God?
We can speak of the Holy Face of Jesus, the Son of God made man, who makes God present and known to us, and we can speak of the face of the invisible God.
We cannot long for or desire something we have never known or of which we have never heard. St. John wrote: No one has ever seen God, the only Son, who is in the Father’s bosom, has made him known. (Jn 1:18) Jesus himself told us, He who sees me, sees the Father, because seeing him, even in his sacred humanity, we see the one who is the Son of God, the perfect image, coequal and coeternal to the Father. (Jn 14:9) He is the way, the truth, and the life, through whom we go to the Father. (Jn 14:6)
We learn about Jesus from his word, but we come to see him and know him through his ‘face’. Now that he has ascended into heaven, we have his visible face in his images, and his veiled face in the Holy Eucharist.
The image of Jesus should not be any old image but should be patterned after the images that he has given us in the Holy Shroud of Turin, the face of the Crucified One, and his image of the Veil of Manoppello, the face of the Risen One. The images of the saints, for their part, reflect the light of the face of Jesus.
If we long to see the face of God, we must reverence the image of Jesus. If the image of Jesus leaves us untouched, then we have little desire for God. The more we treasure his image in our heart, the more we will long to see the face of God.
Then there is Jesus’ veiled face in the Holy Eucharist; his Holy Face is veiled, but his presence is real and substantial. Once again, if we long to see the face of God, we must reverence the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If we do not rejoice upon entering his presence in the church building, then we have little desire for God. The more we rejoice in his eucharistic presence, the more we will long to see the face of God.
So, St. Thomas Aquinas concluded his famous Eucharistic hymn “Adoro te devote”:
Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.
Finally, the vision of God’s hidden face, the beatific vision, seeing God as he is, is the essence of heaven. This is the joy of the saints. Those who behold God’s face have all their desire fulfilled, all their questions answered, and all their tears wiped away; they have received a gift they can never lose.
This is a gift that is given to the pure of heart and the poor in spirit, because no one can attain purity of heart if he does not start in poverty of spirit.
Jesus said, Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:3) To become as a child, means to welcome Jesus Christ in faith and receive his grace with the simplicity of a child, to rejoice in our complete dependence upon him, to place our trust in him, without condition, without reserve. This is what it means to be poor in spirit.
Purity of heart means the heart is free of ulterior motives and private agendas; purity of heart means the desire of the heart is set upon seeing the face of God, while every other desire is subordinated to that supreme desire.
In the words of the Psalmist: One thing I have asked from the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord … Thy face, Lord, do I seek. Hide not thy face from me. (Ps 27:4,8-9)
St. John, in today’s 2nd reading also told us: Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure as he is pure.
The path is not easy. We must put great effort into it. Jesus told us: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Mt 7:13-14)
The hard way from the narrow gate of poverty of spirit to purity of heart passes by way of sorrow and repentance for sin, the meekness that comes through mastering the spirit of anger, hunger and thirst for the righteousness that comes from God, and the practice of the works of mercy; it endures persecution and hardship at peace with God, while striving as much as possible to live at peace with all men, even those who do not want peace.
The way is hard, but it leads to the joy not only of a gift received, but of a victory won. The saints carry the palm branches of victory in their hands because they have survived the time of great distress and washed their robes, making them white in the Blood of the Lamb.
We must not let ourselves be discouraged by the difficulty. Jesus told us: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Mt 7:7)
The countless saints we honor today have gone before us; they are there in heaven; they behold the face of God; they desire that we might join their company; they pray for us and join their prayers to ours. Let us call upon them for help on the way, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
Jesus Christ himself wants it for us. That is why he became man, was born of the Virgin Mary, and poured out his Blood upon the Cross. He did it all that we might behold the face of God. Before going to the Cross he prayed for us saying: Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. (Jn 17:24)