|photo by Daniel Ibanez/CNA|
Sunday today is called "Omnis Terra" in the words of Psalm 65 that we heard at the beginning of the Mass: "Omnis terra adoret te, Deus, et psallat tibi!" ("Let all the earth adore you, O God and sing psalms to you"). This Sunday was also called this eight hundred years ago ; and even then, as now, in all Catholic churches the Gospel of the wedding at Cana was proclaimed. Since then empires have fallen, swept away like autumn leaves; the Church has seen the succession of ninety popes; violent revolutions and wars have shaken Europe; fatal divisions have torn Christianity. So it seems almost a miracle the tranquility with which, in this Sunday's liturgy, we sing today as then: Praise the Lord, all you nations!
With this praise, however, today we also remember the fact that here 808 years ago, for the first time, Pope Innocent III carried in procession the Holy Sudarium of Christ from St. Peter's to Santo Spirito. It was the holy veil that shows "the human face of God", which Pope Benedict XVI will never get tired of speaking about; and "the living face of the Father's mercy" to which Pope Francis has dedicated this Jubilee Year. And also back then, in January of 1208, the divine face of God here in this church, was connected to the concrete mercy of men; this church which much later, in 1994, St. John Paul II dedicated to the "Divine Mercy", in honor of Saint Faustina Kowalska, whose relics we venerate here. The Polish Pope was also a visionary and once more we experience that here today.
In fact, 808 years ago, in that very first procession, Pope Innocent III decreed that the holy image was not brought to the nobles of Rome, but to the sick pilgrims and the poor of the city, whose most important abode back then was this hospital of Santo Spirito. He also ordered that the papal chaplain, drawing from Peter's Pence, should distribute three coins to each of the three hundred sick and the thousand poor who were invited to attend the ceremony and who came from all over the city: one for bread, one for wine and the third for meat. He also connected substantial indulgences to visiting the "true image" and for participating in its procession.
In fact it was an anticipation of the Holy Year, which only later, in 1300, was introduced to Rome by Boniface VIII. This all began right here!
From that time to the present modern age processions and expositions of the Holy veil have never ended. Soon there were countless pilgrims to Rome who wanted to contemplate the face of God. Later, it was in one of these processions that Dante learned to know the face of God. It is the face before which he ends the "cosmic excursion" of his Divine Comedy, as Pope Benedict XVI said ten years ago, when he presented his encyclical Deus Caritas Est. It is the face of the love that "moves the sun and the other stars", as Dante wrote in the best known passage in Italian literature.
It is the love of God who rejoices in us as "the bridegroom to the bride," as we have just heard in the words from the prophet Isaiah; and the strength of the Holy Spirit of whose various gifts St. Paul has once again made us aware in this church of Santo Spirito. And yet, nowhere else does this Spirit speaks more clearly and with more evidence as in the silent face of Christ, before whom we are gathered here today.
Because "this is the vocation and the joy of every baptized person: to bring and give Jesus to others", as Pope Francis said on January 3. And this is exactly what today is given to us - to become witnesses, in the moment when the good Capuchin friars of Manoppello here "bring and give Jesus", in whose face God himself shows his face.
In conclusion I would add just one thing on the Gospel of the wedding at Cana, about which so many instructive things have been said: who, in fact, could still wonder that Jesus worked his first public miracle exactly in favor of marriage and the family which are in such danger today that Pope Francis has dedicated synods to each of these! Indeed, in this time of Christmas in which we are still, we can understand perfectly that first miracle as a necessary extension of the mystery of the incarnation of God. For it is only within a family that we become human! With a mother and a father and - if we are lucky - with brothers and sisters. For this reason Christian artists have always portrayed the face of Jesus referring to his mother's, and vice versa. Because if God is the father of Jesus, his face should and can only look like hers. And it is this most ancient face that today in an almost miraculous way has returned to Santo Spirito in Sassia, that face which seems to be almost identical to the face of the Divine Mercy which has been venerated here for more than two decades.
It is a copy of that ancient original that Pope Innocent III showed the pilgrims and which for four hundred years has been kept in Abruzzo, on the Adriatic, in an outlying area of Italy, which today for the first time has been brought back to where its public worship began. From here, countless copies brought all over the world the true face of God that Christians knew. Precisely in this lies the deeper meaning of this moment. Before coming to Rome, the Holy Veil was kept in Constantinople, earlier in Edessa and even before in Jerusalem. It is not possible, in fact, that this face could be the property, could be the treasure of anyone, not even of the Pope. It is the signature of Christians. Only we know that God has a face - how and who he is. For this reason, the face of Christ is the first, the most noble and most precious treasure of all Christendom, even more: of all the earth. Omnis Terra! Before this face we ought to open ourselves again and again. Always as pilgrims; always to the outlying areas; and always having before our eyes one goal: that moment when we will be before him face to face.
translated from the original Italian