Hear and See in Holy Week
You know the saying, “Hearing is believing”, and you might want to say: “No, seeing is believing.” And you are right, of course. But at the moment, for me hearing is believing.
I decided recently to have a little holiday at a resort, from where I am writing this column. I expected to be sitting on the beach, wearing my newly-acquired swimsuit—only to discover that we are some distance away from the sea.
But in quiet moments, listening carefully, one can hear the constant pounding of the waves, a reminder that the sea is there, just over the hill.
Other senses are engaged, too. Time away for home is also for listening to the birds, smelling the flowers and generally appreciating the good things of life.
But time away is also for interior listening, and as Holy Week approaches, for imaginative listening to those events so central to our history and faith.
Imaginative listening can take different forms. Picturing the event, or even resetting it in a different context.
Today, as I write, being in rural KwaZulu-Natal, I have taken out a book which I inherited from my mother: The Road to Calvary, Stations of the Cross, with wood carvings by African artists Ruben Xulu and Bernard Gcwensa accompanied by reflections by Fr Cyril Farrell.
Bernard, the older of the wood carvers, was partially disabled when he teamed up with Ruben, a young deaf and dumb boy. Together, having discovered Christianity, they spent their lives creating religious art, with biblical scenes carved in many churches across KwaZulu-Natal. Their Stations of the Cross are particularly evocative.
One of my favourite stations—if “favourite” is the right word—has always been the sixth: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. Unlike Station V, where Simon of Cyrene is forced to help, Veronica chooses to do so.
An unknown woman, out of her motherly intuition and compassion, recognises a need and comes forward from the crowd. She wipes the face of Jesus, a man she does not know but who she sees is blinded by blood and sweat as he staggers forward.
I ‘ve always been fascinated by the fact that she saw the need and freely chose to help. She was rewarded, according to tradition, by receiving an imprint of his Holy Face on her cloth, and that has tended to take prominence in the story.
Debates still continue about Veronica’s cloth, but whatever the truth is, the Holy Face can be seen as one of the focal points of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The opening words of Pope Francis’ bull proclaiming the Year of Mercy are: “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy.” Thousands of paintings, icons and sculptures have been created of the Holy Face.
Looking into the faces and eyes of those who suffer is looking into the face and eyes of Jesus. Mother Teresa of Kolkata responded in her own way. Many carers around the world do so, like Veronica, anonymously.
At this time Pope Francis writes: “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognise that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!
“May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” May we be Veronica today !
During my few days of interior listening I intend to visit some of the places where Ruben Xulu worked and find his Stations of the Cross in Hlabisa.
Ruben, who sadly died violently at the age of 30, was given a great gift of faith. I want to see that with my own eyes, too. And I want to discover if he ever carved the Resurrection.
Yes, seeing is believing, as is hearing and touching and being touched in merciful sharing of moments of pain and desolation.
May your Holy Week truly end with the joy of the Risen Lord.
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