Monday, October 27, 2008

St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Anthony - Seeking the Origins of the Franciscan Tradition of Contemplating the Holy Face

Is it a coincidence that the conversion of St. Francis of Assisi developed in the first years of the 13th century when the image known then as the Veil of Veronica revealing so vividly the Holy Face of Christ was first displayed for public veneration in Rome?

Here are several writings on the Franciscan devotion to the Holy Face, one from a contemporary author and one from the great follower of St. Francis, St. Anthony.

"Francis and Clare put all their senses and human and spiritual faculties at the service of their contemplative life. They prayed with their eyes and their ears, their hearts and their minds. ...They had contemplated for so long the face of Christ, both disfigured and transfigured, that they saw His shining countenance concealed under every human face, even the most deformed by illness or sin. ...

"Francis, who had always taken great delight in 'whatever...was beautiful to look upon' in nature (cf. 1 Cel. 3) ...cultivated an enlightened, kindly way of looking at people, seeking what was good in them rather than what was bad, emphasizing their positive qualities rather than their defects. He viewed everything in the light of the Creator, who, at the dawn of creation 'saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good' (Gen. 1:31). He did not pass judgment on anyone or divide people into classes. ...

"No one, not even the greatest criminal, can completely destroy in himself the pure, luminous aspect of his soul which mirrors God and in which the Spirit is present though dormant.

"This insight allowed Francis and his brothers to make the whole world their 'cloister,' in which they saw God everywhere present. (cf. SC 63). They were able to 'see' and pray just as well in the world of work, suffering, and human struggle as they did in solitude.

"That is why Francis, right up to the end of his life, never drew a line of separation between the solitude of the wilderness and the company of the poor because both were his privileged places of contemplation in which he always found God. ..."

from Christ, Our Joy: Learning to Pray with St. Francis and St. Clare

(pages 23-24)

by Michel Hubaut, O.F.M.

Translated from French by Paul Barrett, O.F.M. Cap.

Published by Greyfriars Review, St. Bonaventure University,

Supplement to Volume 9, 1994/95

as quoted in

Now the words of St. Anthony:

"The Lord manifests Himself to those who pause while in peace and humility of heart. If you look into the murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see your own countenance. If you want the face of Christ to appear in your countenance, pause, collect your thoughts in silence, and shut the door of the soul to the noise of exterior things.

The greetings of the angels and the blessings of the Good are not for those who live in public squares, that is, outside of themselves, agitated and distracted. The sweet "Ave" was addressed to the Virgin Mary when she was absorbed in prayer, in the privacy of her house...God, in order to be able to speak to the soul and fill it with the knowledge of his love, leads it to the solitude, detaching it from preoccupations of earthly things. He speaks to the ears of those who are silent and makes them hear His secrets."

From the Sermons of St. Anthony
as quoted in the booklet
"Companion Prayers" by the Conventual Franciscans of 12300 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042-1419

By contemplating the Face of Christ in prayer we are able to see the Face of Christ in ourselves and in our neighbor. May the image of the Holy Face of Manoppello help us to come to prayer, and then to the love of God and the love of neighbor.


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