This morning’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration is so rich and full in ideas and teaching (as is every event in the life of Christ) that it is difficult to pick one out for reflection. We all know the story so well – Jesus becoming radiant – aglow – transfigured in the presence of the three chosen Apostles, Peter, James and John – then Moses and Elijah appeared in glory also and were talking with Jesus about his ‘passing’ which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.

There is one little detail I want to say a few words on – “His face shone like the sun” this is in the account given by Matthew and Luke not in Mark from which today’s account is taken.

I have been struck very, very often by the number of times the word ‘face’ comes into the Psalms, the Hymns etc. in the Liturgy, e.g. “how long will you hide your face from me?” “I will behold your face in righteousness” and in Psalm 26 “Of you my heart has spoken, seek his face” – “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek, hide not your face” – “Turn your face against my sins” – and Psalm 41 – The Psalmist longs to stand once more in the Temple, to appear before God’s face – “when can I enter and see the face of God?” Ps.69 – “Hide not your face from me” – “I diligently seek your face”.

The face or countenance is so important a part of every person. We know we cannot see the Face of God. In Exodus 33.20 the Lord says to Moses: “You cannot see My Face, for no one can see me and live”. But God has now become incarnate in Jesus Christ and Jesus’ answer to Philip in St. John’s Gospel 14.9 is:“to have seen Me is to have seen the Father

In today’s Gospel we have seen the face of Christ in glory but as we move through Lent and especially nearer to Easter when we move towards Jerusalem, we are going to see the Face of Christ, the abandoned, the rejected Christ until once again at Easter, we see the Risen Christ’s Face, glorious and radiant.

Many saints and holy people have written widely on devotion to the Holy Face especially a Carmelite Nun, Sr. Marie of St. Peter of Tours in France. Her writings were approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1885, and in 1958 by Pope Pius XII who declared the feast of the Holy Face of Jesus to be kept on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (Shrove Tuesday). Sr. Mary of St. Peter was beatified by Pope Benedict on 30th May 2010. The prayers given by Jesus to Sr. Marie of St. Peter were primarily against blasphemy, abusing the Holy Name of Jesus and making reparation for all the attacks against religion and Holy Church. We surely need that prayer today!

The devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus so inspired St. Thérese that she added it to her name. Our Lord said to Sr. Maire – “Every time my Face is contemplated, I will pour out my love into the heart of those persons, and by means of my Holy Face the salvation of many souls will be obtained” – and again: “I firmly wish that my Face reflecting the intimate pains of my Soul, the suffering and love of my Heart, be more honoured! Whoever gazes upon me, already consoles me”. St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde also received wonderful promises from Jesus for those devoted to His Holy Face. Pope Pius IX said – “This salutary reparation to the Holy Face of Jesus is a Divine Work destined to save modern society”.

Of course, we are all familiar with the Holy Shroud of Turin since it was exposed to the public as recently as 2010 – there we see a living face, its expression a mingling of majesty and sorrow, of peace and calm power, in strange contrast with the cruelly tortured body. It is a face that bears the impress of a superior spirit, unbroken by suffering and unconquered by death. “After 19 centuries human eyes could again look upon the likeness of the Saviour as He was in death, still bearing the emblems of His sacrifice and with the expression in which His Face was moulded by the hand of death”.

Pope Paul VI as a very young priest in 1931 said “It seemed so true, so profound, so human and so divine, such as we have been unable to admire and venerate in any other image”. And again, Paul VI said in 1967 – “Perhaps only the image of the Holy Shroud gives us something of the mystery of this human and divine Face”.
The French writer Paul Claudel said of the Shroud – “Something so frightening and yet so beautiful lies in it that a man can only escape it by worship”.

Pope John Paul II in 1998 wrote – “What counts above all for the believer is that the Holy Shroud is a mirror of the Gospel. The Holy Shroud invites modern man to wonder on the mystery of suffering and to deepen his knowledge of the causes. It is the Icon of suffering of the innocent of our times. The Holy Shroud not only pushes us to stop being so selfish but it brings us to discover the mystery of suffering that ,sanctified by the Sacrifice of Christ, engenders salvation for all humanity. Believers in front of the Shroud have to exclaim ‘Lord, you cannot love me more’ and immediately realise that the responsibility of this suffering is linked with sin, to the sins of every human being”.

In May 2010 our present Pope Benedict XVI went on pilgrimage to pray before the Holy Shroud and said: “This is the power of the Shroud from the face of this “Man of Sorrows”, who carries with him the passion of man of every time and place, our passions too, our sufferings, our difficulties and our sins Passio Christi. Passio hominis from this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood, the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Pope Benedict concludes – “Let us always praise the Lord for his faithful and merciful love. When we leave this holy place, may we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, may we carry in our hearts this word of love and praise God with a life full of faith, hope and charity”.