STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Sixth Station — The Face Of Jesus Christ Wiped By Veronica, by Evelyn Underhill

underhill stations of the cross

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

Humanity’s Second Opportunity: Loving Receptivity

In Veronica and her action we have a singularly exact, as well as a beautiful, symbol of the receptive attitude in which we stand towards God’s image: the conditions under which it may be imprinted on our souls. More, we may discern here not merely a symbol of this his utmost gift to us, but also something of our duty in relation to it.  Along with our share in the mysteries of his eternal sacrifice, we receive the necessity of passing on the Divine Imprint.  “Donner est chose naturel à Dieu.” [Literally, To give is a natural thing to God.]  It must become a second nature to his sons.  His passion gave to us Love’s image: our passion must give it to the world.

It is strange how near this brings him to our hearts: how easily Veronica’s portrait – limned in such an hour, by such a means – has earned the title of Veritable Image of our God.  We know this failing, struggling yet unconquerable Christ, the man who fell upon the road, who had to be helped, from whose face – the face of Divine Humanity – a pitiful woman wiped the sweat, far better than we know the Messiah who was transfigured in the mount.  The true outlines of that ineffable figure, radiant of the Uncreated Light – Christ, our God, the Eternal Word of our becoming – are veiled from us, as its shimmering radiance veils from us the true outline of the sun.  Only when we turn to his humanity, which we share with him, can we recognize his splendor without risk of blindness: as sunlight is most actual to us in the dust which it turns to gold.  Then, through that merciful mist, we see the veritable image of Divine Perfection, which his sufferings imprinted upon the consciousness of the race.  It is the image of human weakness, manly courage, self-forgetting love.

The Eternal Wisdom still treads the path beside us.  Day by day the drama of his eternal passion is set before humanity.  His feet still set the measure whereto the worlds keep time.  His true image may still be sought, if we know the secret, at the hands of those who help him on his way.  In and through the travail, the anguish, the patient endurance of the universe, these have perceived the features of reality.  “The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,” Heaven and Earth, hill and forest, city and wilderness – the whole mighty, living picture of the world – still give back to those who gaze steadfastly the image of a striving, loving God.  We, then, if we will but run to the encounter of Life, offer it our lowly services, minister to the pain and weakness inseparable from its splendor and strength, may receive in payment for our most menial offices the image of Perfect Beauty, born of the humble sufferings of Perfect Love.

The True Image.  His world will give that back to us from the most unexpected places, if we be but receptive enough: if we will learn of the contemplatives to hold out our consciousness before him in his coming, cleansed from the stains of earth, that it may receive the imprint of the divine.  But a oneness must be established between the life of the Spirit and the instinct of our hearts if that imprint is to take effect.  Until some divine alchemy has made those hearts sensitive to the rays of the Uncreated Light, we shall not give back its picture to the world.  We must react, eagerly, quickly, to the striving life-process of the Eternal Wisdom – feel for it and in it – love it, not only in its beauty but in its need of us, its costing toil, if we would receive in our turn the character of its life.

Veronica, because of her simple and pitiful love, received the Divine Image easily – naturally almost.  She offered a humble service to the suffering man, and ever afterwards there dwelt with her the features of the loving God.  As we go up and down the world, meet its pain, its weakness, and its holiness, that image everywhere awaits our first self-forgetting act of ministry.  It awaits Science toiling in the laboratory, Art striving to give beauty to its brethren and save their souls by this infusion of reality, Pure Love as it tries to lessen the torments of degeneracy, wickedness, and death.  In and through the striving world, the Triune God of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty treads his way.  He is served and discovered in each act of service rendered to that world, since he is its very substance, Life of its life, and there is no existence out of him.

“Look upon the face of thy Christ!” cried the Psalmist.  Where?  In the vineyard and the harvest field: in all Earth’s patient round of death and birth.  Above all, in the record of humanity’s self-giving labors, sacrifices, and griefs.  There the royal features come out, undeniable; the Divine Face, so little to be guessed at under the shadow of a clumsy cross, through the gathered dust and sweat of exhausting and undignified toil.  “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” said the Old Dispensation.  “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou give God’s image to the world,” says the New: lifting man by this covenant to a conscious partnership in the stern business of the universe, the veritable inheritance of the Sons of God.  There is here no abatement of his anguish and travail, but a raising of humanity to the companionship of the Striving Christ.

What, then, will give our image, our veritable image, the image of our realest, truest selves to the watching world?  Only our willing and complete reaction in freedom to that stress and anguish which is a part of our dowry as Sons of God, as sharers in the Universal Life.  We are known in our works, in so far as we give ourselves utterly; in so far as those works are the fruit of travail and difficulty, of total consecration; in so far as they tax to the utmost our courage and strength.  Then it is that the features of Divine Humanity show themselves, to be received and recognized at the hands of ministering love.  The portrait of the perfect Christian offers little satisfaction to our aesthetic instincts.  It is a picture of human weakness persevering beneath the whip of unconquerable charity: enduring all anguish in the interests of the world’s eternal life.  “Thus did your lovely Forerunner.”  The faithful squire can only answer, “It is enough.”

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