14 May 2017

Homily - 14 May 2017 - Will the face of the God be enough for us?

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a simple and beautiful prayer the Apostle Saint Philip utters today: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). It is a plea simple, beautiful, and bold. With these words, Philip expressed the deepest yearning of the human heart, to look upon the face of the Creator. David, the great King of Israel, recognized this longing and sang to God in words each of us can also sing: “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9).

The Lord, the Good Shepherd, calls out to each of us; he seeks us, even as we seek him! When Adam and Eve hid themselves from the Lord, he called out to them, "Where are you" (Genesis 3:9)? Does he not likewise still call out to us? Are these not the very words we so often use when we cry out to him? How often do we cry within our hearts, "O that you would tear the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake in your presence" (Isaiah 64:1)?

King Solomon, David’s son and heir, likewise sang words that may be both addressed by us to the Lord and by the Lord to us: "O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely" (Song of Songs 2:14).

And yet, despite his longing to see us and our longing to see him, the Lord said to Moses, "[Y]ou cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live," so great is the glory of the Most High (Exodus 33:20). Even the prophet Elijah heard the Lord in “a still small voice,” he “wrapped his face in his mantle” let his see the face of God (I Kings 19:12-13). Knowing all of this, Philip said, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Is it true? Is seeing the face of God enough for us, or do we want something more? To look upon him who is Goodness, Beauty, Truth, and Love, what more could the human heart desire?

Generation after generation longed to look upon the face of God but none could because they were not pure, because they were not holy and without sin. King David knew that only "he who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully," "shall stand in his holy place" (Psalm 24:4, 3). Even so, David sensed he would come to know the satisfaction of his – and our - deepest longings: "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding your form" (Psalm 17:15).

Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man's immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it.”[1] For this reason, in the fullness of time, the only begotten Son of God took on our flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary; he who was invisible made himself visible and said to the Apostle Thomas, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). In Jesus, humanity can now look upon the face of God and live.

Now that he has ascended to the right hand of the Father we still call out to him, "Your face, Lord, I seek!" He has left us the image of his face in the Shroud of Turin - the linen cloth in which he was buried - and in the Veil of Manoppello - "the napkin, which had been on his head" in the tomb and which Saint Peter found "not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself (John 20:7). The one shows his face in death; the other, his face risen from the dead. In Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, the one who died and is raised, we can look upon the face of God and live. In him, “the human face of God has burst into history to reveal the horizons of eternity.”[2]

The Holy Face of the Shroud of Turin (left) and of the Veil of Manoppello (right).
In death, each of us will stand before him and see him as he is; we will look upon his face and look upon our faces. What will we see? We know that

before his gaze all falsehood melts away… His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God… At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.[3]

This is why Saint Philip can say that the Beatific Vision, the sight of the face of God, will be enough for us.

If the vision of God’s holy face will satisfy the deepest yearnings of our hearts, why does Jesus tell us today not to let our hearts be troubled (cf. John 14:1)? The reason is twofold:

In commanding them not to be troubled, Jesus placed them, as it were, on the threshold between hope and fear. This way, if they fell into weakness and suffering in their human frailty, the hope of his mercy might help them to recover. On the other hand, the fear of stumbling might urge them to fall less often…[4]

We should not let our hearts be troubled, so long as we acknowledge our sinfulness and confess our sins, because Jesus “is the face of the Father’s mercy” and there is nothing to fear in mercy.[5]

Let us, then, seek to be so transformed through the power of his love that we will desire nothing else than to see him face to face knowing that it will be enough for us. Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1028.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer Composed Following a Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Manoppello, 2006.
[3] Ibid., Spe salvi, 47.
[4] Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 9. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. IVb: John 11-21 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 120.
[5] Pope Francis, Misericordiae vultus, 1.

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