STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Six — Jesus Meets Veronica, by Henri Nouwen

stations of the cross nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

Bring him home!”  That is the cry of the Filipino woman who holds in her hands a photograph of her “disappeared” husband.  Her eyes plead for compassion.  Her lips express deep grief.  Her face is full of expectation.  She says, “Do you see my pain, my anguish?. . .  The one I most love has disappeared.  There is no second of my days or nights that is not filled with the anguish created by his sudden going.  Where is he?  In prison?  Being tortured?  Dead or alive?  Please answer me!  If he is dead, tell me where his grave is so that I can go and weep there.  You people of world!  Listen to me!  Look at me!  Please answer!”

This Filipino woman represents thousands of anguished women whose husbands or sons suddenly disappeared and were never seen again.  They live in Argentina and Guatemala, but also in the United States and Canada.  They reveal to us the deepest wounds of humanity, the cruelly sundered bonds between humans, parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.  The catastrophic displacement of large groups of people, the overcrowded refugee camps, the wars raging between nations and parts of nations have dislocated more people than ever before in human history.  We can indeed speak of a dislocated humanity.

Veronica had been with Jesus as he taught, cured the sick, and announced the kingdom.  Jesus had become the center of her life.  Now she saw him cruelly pulled away from her.  She was overwhelmed with grief and agony and wanted to do something.  When she saw him coming close, she broke through the crowds and covered his sweat- and blood-stained face with her veil.  Jesus responded to this act of love and mourning by leaving there the image of his face – the face of a dislocated humanity.  Jesus’s face is the face of every man and woman who suffers separation, segregation, and displacement.  Veronica is the woman of sorrow; a sorrow that pierces the heart with immense pain; a sorrow that is being suffered all over the world by women of countless nationalities, races, and social conditions.  The agonizing question: “Why have they taken my child, my husband, my friend away?” can be heard as a scream resounding in all the corners of our world.

Can I hear that cry also in my own innermost self?  The walls of my room are covered with photographs of friends and family and with icons of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, but deep in my heart there is unspeakable pain – the pain caused by absence.  The one I most want to be with is not with me, and, even if we could be together, we would not be able to reach each other’s deepest need.  Veronica’s pain is my pain too.  I so crave for communion, for a deep sense of belonging, for intimacy, but wherever I go, whomever I meet, there is ever and again that experience of absence, disconnectedness, and isolation.  It seems as if a sword is piercing all communion and adding pain to every intimacy.  The pictures on my wall reveal my thirst for communion, but as I gaze at them with great love, I feel an immense pain rising up in me: “Why can’t I speak with him?  Why will she never write?  Why did they die before we were ever reconciled?  Why can’t we feel safe with each other?”  And as I light a candle in front of my icon of Jesus and look into the eternity of his eyes, I say, “When, when, Lord, will you come and fulfill the deepest longing of my heart?”  The thirst for communion is evoked every time I look at Veronica’s veil with the face of Christ on it and the faces of all whom I love. . . and the pain deepens as I grow older.

I know that I have to lose my life to find it – to let go of my pictures and to meet the real person – to die to my sentimental memories and trust that a new communion will emerge which is beyond all my imagining.  But how can I trust in a new life when I see the blood- and sweat-stained life of Jesus and of all those who suffer in prisons, refugee camps, and torture chambers?  Jesus looks at me and seals my heart with the imprint of his face.  I will always keep searching, always waiting, always hoping.  His suffering face does not allow me to despair.  My sorrow is a hunger, my loneliness a thirst.  As we meet, we know that the love that causes us pain is the seed of a life where pain cannot abide.

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