Today is Palm Sunday and these palms we hold are the ancient world’s symbol of triumph. Christians see them as a symbol of our Lord’s triumph and definitive victory over sin, and death, and hopelessness. That’s why we place them on our crucifixes. Today is also known as Passion Sunday where Catholics throughout the world once again turn their hearts and minds to the suffering and death of Jesus. Now all around us we see the different images of the passion. In these fourteen Stations of the Cross we see the passion played out. And right now I want to focus on station number six; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
Now in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson the actress who imitated the actions of St. Veronica had a conversion experience, right there in the midst of filming the scene. Sabrina Impacciatore is an Italian actress and although she had grown up Catholic, she had long ago stopped practicing her faith. At the time when they began filming, she was at a spiritual low point in her life. She later explained that she really wanted to believe in Jesus, but she just couldn’t do it.
Her scene in the movie is quite memorable. Jesus is carrying his cross to Calvary and he falls again for the third or fourth time. The crowds surge in around him, abusing him as he lies on the ground. Without much success the soldiers try to control the crowds. And gliding through the middle of all this confusion is Veronica. She looks at Jesus with love and devotion. She kneels down beside him and says, “Lord, permit me.” She takes a white cloth and wipes his face which is covered with blood, dirt, and sweat. She then offers him a drink. It’s a brief moment of intimacy in the middle of violent suffering. Sabrina said it was a very hard scene to film. The churning crowd kept bumping into her and disrupting the moment of intimacy. And so they had to film it over and over again. Twenty times they had to film it before getting it right.
And that was providential. Because after twenty times of kneeling before the suffering Christ, looking into his eyes, and calling him Lord, the actress felt something start to melt inside her. She wasn’t seeing the actor pretending to be our Lord; she was seeing our Lord himself. Later, she explained that while she looked into his eyes, she found that she was able to believe. “For a moment,” she said, “I believed!” That experience lit the flame of hope in her darkened heart.
Sabrina finally understood the words Jesus spoke from the Cross when he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” The brutality of the scene made a big impression on her. She found herself thinking, “Jesus is someone I can trust, he went through this for me.” Even when we reject him, scourge him, crown him with thorns, betray him, and finally crucify him, our Lord still continues to love us. The Passion is God saying to us, I will keep loving you.
The name Veronica comes from the two words vera and icon and these two words mean true image. This true image refers to the image of Jesus’ face that was left on the cloth that was used to wipe his face. This relic is kept at the Vatican and scientists can’t explain it. Vera icon, the true image, eventually became Veronica, the name given to the anonymous woman who loved Jesus. As Christians all of us are supposed to be a Veronica, a true icon, a true image of Jesus. Because it’s only in Him, only when we live in His image, living as a true icon of our Lord, that we can truly be happy.
When we pray the Stations of the Cross, right before station number six we sing of Veronica. We sing, “Brave but trembling came the woman, none but she would flaunt the Roman, moved by love beyond her fear.” So as we enter into Holy Week, like Sabrina that actress, like St. Veronica herself, let us look into the eyes of our Lord, giving ourselves to him in all things. Praying for the grace to not be afraid to love. To pray for the grace to not be afraid to bring Him all of our sins, to bring to him our hurts, our doubts, our troubles, our hardness of hearts, our everything. Trusting Him in everything. In doing this our Lord will transform us, making us into a true image of Himself.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley