Veronica – True Image

Station Six – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

You speak in my heart and say seek my face, your face O Lord will I seek.

Psalm 27:8

The story of Veronica comes from Christian legend. According to the legend, a woman named Veronica approached Jesus to ease his suffering and used her veil to wipe the dirt and sweat from his face. An imprint of the face of Jesus was left on the veil, a “vera icon” or true image. Rather than an invitation to meditate on the truth of the legend or the identity of Veronica, this station invites us to meditate on the face of Jesus. To ask ourselves where we can see the face of Jesus, the true image.

As I have been writing these reflections, I have also been reading Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, by Makoto Fujimura. Silence and Beauty is a book about another book, the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo. It is also a reflection on the culture of Japan, the hiddenness of faith, and the nature of beauty.

Both books are about the persecution of Christians in Japan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Christians were given the option of torture and martyrdom or renouncing their faith and stepping on an image of the crucified Christ or the Virgin Mary. These images, called fumi-e, were bronze plaques made particularly for this purpose. The renunciation was required annually. The plaques were trodden on so many times that they were worn smooth. Yet there is evidence that many apostatized Christians continued to practice a hidden faith. Endo’s novel focuses on a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who is determined to remain faithful. Ultimately, he is confronted with a choice between stepping on the fumi-e or seeing other believers tortured. At the point he chooses to step on the image of Christ, he seems to hear the voice of Jesus saying, “’Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into the world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.’”

Fujimura quotes a Japanese artist who says to him that “Fumi-e is the best portrait of Christ I’ve ever seen.” Through this portrait we remember the many ways that we have trampled on the image of Christ by failing to love one another, welcome the stranger, care for the poor and those in prison and forgive our enemies.  It is to our trampled Lord that we turn to find mercy and grace.

Seeing the true image of God in the fumi-e reminds us that the image of Jesus that was imprinted on Veronica’s cloth is the image of Jesus who has been recently betrayed by one friend, denied by another and deserted by most of the rest. Yet, from the cross we will hear Jesus’ stunning words of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” When we who have betrayed, denied and deserted Jesus hear those words for ourselves, we see the face of Jesus in the fumi-e, we behold the vera icon, the true image.

This is Station Six of the Stations Journal. To see the stations that preceded it, go to Stations Journal.

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