Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent

Dear Friends,

I have a story about St. Anthony.  As you probably recall he’s the saint we call on when something is lost.  We might pray, “Tony, Tony look around something’s lost and can’t be found.”  He always comes through.  Now the story I have about him happened when he was just 9 years old.  St Anthony belonged to a wealthy family and they had the tradition of generously giving to the poor.

One day a beggar knocked at their door.  And it was Anthony who opened the door.  And there standing in front of him was a very poor looking man.  Seeing the sad plight of the beggar Anthony dropped a small bag of gold coins into his hands.  But the beggar refused the money and gave it back.  So Anthony went to the kitchen and came back with a platter filled with all sorts of fruit and bread.  But again the beggar refused.  Anthony then went into his dad’s room and got some clothing and a nice warm coat for the beggar.  And again the beggar refused the gifts.  Anthony was losing his patience and in frustration, staring into the face of the beggar he said, “What do you want me to give you?”  And the beggar looked straight into his eyes and said, “I want your sins!”  Simple as that, “I want your sins!” 

At once the beggar disappeared leaving Anthony all alone.  It was a mystical moment he never forgot, he was deeply moved, realizing that it was Jesus who had appeared as the beggar.  Our Lord wanted his sins.  In this story Anthony stared into the face of Jesus, and all Jesus wanted was his sins.  To look into the face of divine innocence, the face of Jesus, is to know that you’re accepted and your sins are forgiven.  And the face of Divine innocence the face of divine love is experienced by us as mercy.

In the Bible the wish to see God’s face is expressed more than a 100 times.  God has a face and this means he is someone we can enter into a relationship with.  He talks to us, he listens to us, he sees us, he makes a covenant, and he loves.   The desire to know God truly, the desire to see God’s face, is innate in every human being, even in atheists, they just don’t know it.  As St. Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you O Lord.”   And as we know God had shown his face, he is visible in Jesus Christ.

To see and live within the gaze, the look, of the Holy face is our goal.  That’s Heaven.  Not long ago I went to a funeral and during the pastor’s talk she wondered out loud if Heaven would be boring.  You probably surmised that it wasn’t a Catholic funeral.  I should have shouted out, “No it won’t be boring!”  Baptized into the mystical body of Jesus, in Heaven, we are pulled into the ever present love of the Trinity.  That’s a love that is infinite and rapturous and ecstatic.  And it’s a love experienced while looking into the face of God.  That’s not boring.  We will not be on the side lines looking at God; instead we’ll be pulled into the infinite, the rapturous, and the ecstatic.  The catechism (221) tells us that God has revealed his innermost secret:  He himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in this exchange.  Peter, James, and John in today’s Gospel got a look at what this Divine Love looks like in a human face.  Our Lord’s face becomes like the Sun in Glory.

And here on earth we get glimpses of the face of God; we get glimpses in the faces of our spouses, our children, our parents, and our neighbors.  We get a glimpse of the face of God in scripture, prayer, and the sacraments, the Eucharist and Reconciliation especially.

Sometimes when we struggle, instead of going to the face of Jesus we instead go to all the artificial consolations, all the distractions the world can throw at us.  In sin we turn away from the face of Christ.  But what makes a saint is one who struggles and longs to see the face of God.  And we can very easily see the face of our Lord in the confessional.  Looking into the face of our Lord, disguised as a beggar, St. Anthony heard our Lord say, “Give me your sins,” very simple, “Give me your sins.”   In the confessional Our Lord’s love meets our sins, he forgives us, takes them away, strengthens us with grace and through it all he remains love.  Not a very fair exchange we give him sin, and he gives us love, forgiveness, and grace.   The confessional is  a very safe place.

In California, a priest relates the story of a young girl sitting outside the confessional and every time someone left the confessional, she started clapping wildly and loudly.  The little girl’s mom was so embarrassed but she had told her daughter that confession makes us friends with God and like the angels in Heaven she was just so happy for the people leaving that little room.

I’d like to end with a poem written by the priest, Fr. Emory Petho, who heard my confessions when I was a kid.

Holy Face of Jesus

Be my joy

Holy Face of Jesus

Be my strength

Holy Face of Jesus

Be my Health

Holy Face of Jesus

Be my courage

Holy Face of Jesus

Be my Wisdom

Holy Face of Jesus, image of the Father

Provide for me

Holy Face of Jesus, mirror of thy Priestly heart

Be my zeal

Holy Face of Jesus, gift of the Spirit

Show me Thy love

Holy Face of Jesus, saddened by sorrow

Grant my requests through Thy merits.


Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley