The Face of God

A Reading from the Book of Revelation 

Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. 

 The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They shall see the Lord face to face, and bear his name on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.  

They shall see the Lord face to face. What does it mean to behold the face of God? What does it mean? And does God even have a face? Let us ponder this. What do these words signify? What is so special about the face? 

I suggest that there are three things. First, there seems to be something sacred about the face. 

A mother cannot bear to see her child’s face being dirtied, at least that is how my mother was, even though the child may not care all that much, at least that was how I was. She will wipe away whatever dirt, uncleanness, and any other questionable secretions the child has on his or her face. That is the eleventh commandment of every good mother: Thou shall not have dirty face in my house. 

And when a person dies, no matter how ravaged they were by illness or injury, we always seek to preserve their dignity by cleaning up their faces, making them as beautiful as possible.

There seems to be something sacred about the face.

Second, the face reveals our emotions. 

Sometimes, we make faces to each other to express how we feel. We colored our texts with emoji, those cute little facial expressions, to make the receiver receive not only our words but also our emotions, so that in reading our text, they see not only our words but also the manner in which we speak the words. 

And when we are in love with someone, our face radiates and shines whenever our beloved gazes into our eyes. We beam from ear to ear. We smile. We turn red at the mention of their names. 

So, the face reveals our passion; it betrays our emotions and what our heart desires. 

Third, the face, especially our gaze, seems to reveal that which most spiritual in us. Our heart is laid bare before another through our face, and most especially our gaze. The face reveals something of our identity, our very self that seems to transcend even this world.

A sign of this is that we tend to keep the picture of our loved ones’ faces. And not only that, but we also keep the pictures that best captures who they are, their very identity, their very self. To remind myself to pray for my dear mother, I keep a picture of her in my prayer book. It is a picture of her holding me as a child. It reminds me of her tenderness, her gentleness, and her love. It captures the best of her, her motherhood. She was beautiful in that picture, and I imagine that she will be even more beautiful in heaven. 

So, the face reveals our identity, that which is most spiritual in us. 

So, to summarize, when we speak of the face of God. The words seem to signify: [1] something sacred that cannot be defiled, [2] that reveals God’s pathos, His divine passion, His Heart’s desire, [3] that lays bare who He is, His very essence, His Divine Identity. Therefore, to behold God’s face means to know him fully, to behold Him as He truly is, to apprehend the Divine Essence.

And this is the end for which we are all called. In the end, We shall see the Lord face to face and bear his name on our foreheads. We shall behold Him unveiled as He truly is, to know Him fully, and in knowing Him, to love Him intimately. 

But if this is the end, then how shall we prepare ourselves to see His face, to apprehend His Divine Essence. How shall we see Him face to face?

We read again in the Scripture: Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. 

Notice that in order for us to see God’s face, we must present our own face, our own heart, our very self before His face, His Heart, His very self. We are to prepare ourselves to be seen by the penetrating gaze of the almighty God. 

The problem is that we are deathly afraid of being seen. Because of sin, we have a complicated relationship with ourselves, which is reflected curiously in our relationship with our own face. We are insecure. We spent a great deal on our appearance, to make ourselves look pretty, and we do not love ourselves.

By nature, we desire to be seen. For to be seen is also to be loved. Yet because of sin, we hide. After the fall, Adam and Eve sow fig leaves to hide their shame. And we are even more creative than they are in sowing fig leaves. We do not like to be seen by God because we are afraid. We are ashamed. Just as we do not want our blemished face to be seen by our loved ones, so it is that we are deathly afraid that our ugliness should be uncovered, and our sins be revealed before the eyes of our Lord. Yet deep down in our heart, we know our wounds. We know our scars. We know our blemishes, and we can never hide from them.

Yet how many of us are still hiding? Hiding from God? Hiding from His gaze? 

The good news is that we are stupid. We are foolish. We are na├»ve. You can never hide your face from the Divine gaze. It will only pierce your heart deeper and deeper day after day. And there is no escape. The moment he turns His gaze from you, you are already in hell. In the end, the layers and layers of fig leaves shall all be stripped away, and your soul shall appear naked before the gaze of the almighty God. Yet by the fact that you still exist, you are living and breathing, I tell you that He is gazing upon you with love and compassion, waiting for you to turn your face to Him. 

Beloved brothers and sisters, you are special in the eyes of God. In His passion, Christ saw all your sins, your blemishes, your darkest wounds; yet He bore them all upon his most sacred face and his most noble body. He took upon our face. 

It is as if our ugly faces with all its blemishes and scars were altogether transplanted onto Him. 

And he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,

    and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… (Is 53)

To cleanse your face, He allowed His own face to be bruised, scourged, buffeted, defiled, and pierced with thorns until no beauty was left and until no dignity remained. 

You are special in the eyes of God. You are special in the eyes of God.

He did all these in order that He may imprint upon your soul a new image, a new face, a new heart so that after we have been purified by his blood, we may gaze upon His face naked and unashamed. 

My beloved brothers and sisters, are you still hiding from God’s face, are you still hiding from His Divine gaze, and are you hiding from Christ’s scourged face? Are you still hiding your sins under your fig leaves and living as if God does not see it? 

If so, I invite you to simply behold Christ’s face on the crucifix. He is speaking to your heart: see what I have done for you; which earthly lovers will do this for you? Bring them to me and I will put them to shame. So, would you turn your face toward me and allow me to heal you? It is the only way that you can be healed. All you can do is to add another layer of makeup or sow another fig leave. 

El Greco, Christ Carrying the Cross, 1580

But I desire to give you a new heart and a new face that is even more beautiful than what it was, before you have defiled it with your sin. And I am waiting for you in the confessional, and week after week, I am giving myself to you in the Eucharist. Would you not turn your face to me and let me behold it for a moment? 

Beloved, you are special in the eyes of God. Beloved. You are special in the eyes of God. 

What He sees is not a face marred with the scars of sin, but a face ready to be cleansed. He is ready to deck you like a king or a queen because that is who you are, not what the world tells you, an object to be used and manipulated, a slave to pleasure. LIES. 

If you turn your face toward him, He will cleanse you, He will give you a new heart, a pure heart. He will give you the grace to conquer your sins, whatever they are, however dark they may be. And with your face cleansed and your heart purified, you shall see Him face to face, and bear his name on your foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will you need light from lamp or sun, for He shall give you light, and you shall reign forever as His kings and His queens. For that is who you are. That is who you are. 

The reflection was given on November 12th and 13th at St. Dominic Church in Eagle Rock.



Popular Posts