Psalm 51:3-4, 8-9, 12-13, 14, 17
Traditionally, today was the day the Church venerated Saint Veronica, that woman of faith and courage who approached Jesus as He carried His cross to Golgotha, offering Him a cloth to wipe His face, He leaving permanently imprinted on it the image of His sacred visage. There is no evidence, however, that this event ever took place, that Veronica ever existed. The episode does not appear in the Gospel accounts of the Passion. The very name Veronica may well have been invented in reference to the supposed holy relic that bore the “true image,” or vera icon. As for that relic, it disappeared for nearly four hundred years until 1999, when a scholar from the Vatican’s Gregorian University claimed to have rediscovered it in a remote Italian mountain monastery, a claim another scholar scoffed as an absurdity “halfway between Mickey Mouse and the Three Musketeers.” The Church apparently agrees with the latter. Although there have been other Veronicas canonized over the centuries, this one is no longer officially recognized as such.
Still, the legend remains strong within our faith tradition. It is the subject of numerous pieces of art. The Stations of the Cross still relate the story specifically. Religious stores continue to sell pictures and statuettes of her. And, if you are a laundress or a photographer, you may profess Veronica as your patron.
For me as well, Veronica remains real through my eyes of faith—whatever my historian’s vision reveals—because her story, apocryphal though it probably is, brings me closer to an understanding of how I am to follow Christ in my life. It is a story, after all, filled with human compassion and divine sacrifice. Thus, in prayer, I can take myself back to that time and place. I can see myself huddled quietly amid the hostile and derisive crowd, being very careful not to give myself away as one who follows this man, headed to public execution. Now here He comes, bruised and bloodied, barely bearing up under the weight of the crossbar made all the more burdensome by the taunts and jeers from those he drags himself by. Suddenly, a lone woman steps out into His path and holds up to Him the white cloth that she has taken from her head. He wipes from His face the blood, sweat, and spittle that the day’s abuse has collected there, hands the cloth back to her, and, after their eyes meet for only a moment, continues on past her toward His chosen destiny.
The crowd soon dwindles. Nobody has spoken to the woman, although
most have looked at her with oddity, if not disgust. I too hang back,
watching her as she stands silently, her gaze fixed on the cloth she still
holds in her hands. For me, she is the picture of kindness and courage,
a person “simple as doves” who extended a hand to a stranger, regardless
of risk to herself. Certainly, she was “like sheep in the midst of
wolves” who did not worry about what she was saying by her actions, but
rather listened to her heart and trusted that “You will be given at that
moment what you are to say. It will not be you who speak but the
Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” I continue to look on
in wonder and admiration, contemplating on what it means to follow Christ
in the world.
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