The Sixth Station
Veronica Wipes The Face of Jesus
This month I’m looking at the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. This is a really puzzling station. In our story of Jesus men seem to get the main parts. Peter gets to be the head of the Church. John gets called the beloved. You can understand how people see the Church as a man’s world with women in the back ground. I’ll not get into the discussion on woman’s place in the Church, not today anyway.
This station gives us pause for thought if we think women have no prominence in our story. We have been considering the final journey of Jesus as he walked to his death. The scene is one of brutality, oppression and fear. Where are Jesus’ faithful companions? One of them has betrayed him and the others have run off. Jesus is struggling under the weight of the cross, his loss of blood so weakening him that Simon has been pressganged in to assist him. The crowd is shouting abuse and the guards are pushing them back. Into the middle of this Veronica forces her way through the crowd, ignores the guards and places a towel on the holy face. The face is streaked with blood from the wounds on his head. Veronica absorbs the blood on the towel to give a little comfort to Jesus. As she is pushed away she is left with the imprint of the holy face in blood.
I have no scriptural evidence for this but it is traditional. It is interesting to note that the name Veronica comes from the Greek icon meaning image and the Latin vero meaning true; the true image. The tradition seems to have come from the Eastern Church and became popular in the Roman rite about a thousand years ago. I’m more concerned about the message this story has for me than the history.
The first thing that strikes me is the courage displayed by Veronica. Many Jews had become followers of Jesus, some of them prominent like Nicodemus. Yet even prominent men were afraid to come forward to intercede. It was this lone woman who broke through the crowd and ignored the soldiers to bring some small relief to Jesus. The amazing thing is that she got away with it. Why did she act in this way?
I have no doubt that she was inspired by the Holy Spirit. There lies the first message. When the Holy Spirit moves you, you have nothing to fear. You will succeed. Now I had always imagined that the Holy Spirit would act through the Apostles, their successors in the Church and the saints. Veronica was just a wee wummin as they might say in Glasgow. She was not one of the elite; a bit like you and me. The message is clear. Be prepared to act as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. As ordinary people we can and will be called upon to act.
It may not be in a dramatic way like Veronica but in a small way. It might be to give that kind word to a stranger that gives them encouragement to carry on in a difficult situation or you might be moved to speak out against an injustice. The words just come to you. I remember Magnus MacFarlane Barrow describing how he came to found Mary’s Meals. He was just an ordinary young man, too shy to continue his university course who found himself starting a charity. He didn’t recognise what was happening at first but when he did he followed the Spirit. You know the rest.
The second message I get from this station is about the role of women in the Church. Not just women but all of us ordinary people. Critics of the Church often point out that we are a church of men and women are only good for making the tea. I think that is to fail to see how the Church works. It is true that our priests are men and the hierarchy is exclusively male. However, the vast bulk of the Church is not comprised of clergy and religious.
The Spirit acts through all of us. I think of the hierarchy as the management, the priests as specialists who alone can bring us to Christ through the Eucharist and the rest of us as the workforce whose job it is to get on with the work. The Church is not a club we join, pay our dues and draw the benefits. The Church is a way of life, new life in Christ.
Now I can hear the voice of reason tut tutting in the background. That’s all very well but we have lives to lead, families to look after, work to go to. We live in this society and we must fit in. We go to mass; we say our prayers. What more do you want?
I’ll let Veronica answer that. I’m sure she prayed and fulfilled all the requirements of the Jewish faith. Veronica did not stop there and she certainly did not fit in. She didn’t just stand out from the crowd; she elbowed her way through it. Do I stand out from the crowd or do I just try to blend in so that nobody will notice me? Veronica has shown us a great example. What she did was just a simple thing, mopping the face of a man in pain. The thing is, she did it publicly, her actions in stark contrast to the baying of the crowd. We don’t need to fight the world, we just need to be seen to live as Christ taught us and be a living example for those who don’t share our values. It takes a little courage to stand out. Where could I find the strength to live like that? I’ll have to double my prayers to the Holy Spirit.
The last message I see in this station is about the image that was left on the cloth Veronica used. At school I learned that Jesus left this image of his face as a reward for Veronica’s kindness. As Christians we are all seeking the face of Jesus. There are all sorts of pictures made by great artists but none of them is the real face. It’s not uncommon for great leaders to have their face shown to everyone. Kings, queens and presidents all have their image in the newspapers and on television.
Jesus is not going to appear on the box one night as we sit down to watch the news. If we want to see his face we must seek it out. I feel I need to take a leaf out of her book. I should be living my life as a true follower of Christ. If Christ’s teaching is at odds with the norms of my society then my life should reflect his teaching and be seen to do so. Do I meet the beggar is the same way Christ did? Do I speak out against falsehood and wrongdoing?
Perhaps if I try to live more like Christ and see people as he did, not just strangers but fellow children of God, loved by God just as much as I am, then I might just reach my goal and see God, face to face as it were. I’m fairly sure that if I continue to ignore my responsibilities to my neighbour then I might end up seeing a face I’d rather avoid.