Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad; Poetry that Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart; and How to Flourish in a Fallen World are available through Amazon.com. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum. He is the 2015 Catholic Civil Rights League recipient of the prestigious Exner Award.
COMMENTARY: Christ’s authenticity, reflected in the image on Veronica’s veil, should inspire that same authenticity to shine in us.
In the Sixth Station of the Cross, a woman wipes the face of Jesus. A miracle ensues insofar as the cloth she uses receives the true image of Jesus’ face. She is appropriately called “Veronica,” which means “true image.” Her birth name is unknown.
The meaning of the incident is twofold. There is truth because the image on the cloth conforms to the face of Jesus. It is a real likeness of his face. This corresponds to Aquinas’ definition of truth as the conformity of the mind with things. The second truth is that Jesus is true to his mission. One truth, therefore, is laid upon another.
A camera can take an accurate picture of a person, but it cannot reveal whether that person is being true to his nature. Veronica’s true image is also of Jesus’ true mission. She is not repulsed by Jesus’ visage. She responds with loving concern. Jesus responds with loving gratitude, a gesture that accords with his own truth as a loving Savior. He allows himself to be depicted, from an aesthetic point of view, at his very worst.
In our modern, highly technological world, we want to be depicted when we are at our very best. We assign a high priority to the face and try to make it as attractive as possible. Helena Rubinstein’s cosmetic industry has made her one of the richest women in the world. The excessive preoccupation of having a beautiful face, however, has created a division between the image of the face and its underlying reality.
The distinguished historian, Daniel Boorstin, in his 1962 book, appropriately titled, The Image, documents the American people’s eagerness to accept the image of things rather than their truth. The “face,” for example, ceases to be a real face but a facade, an artificial substitute that seems more desirable.
Boorstin offers a pithy example to clarify his point. “Admiring friend: ‘My, that’s a beautiful baby you have there!’ Mother: ‘Oh, that’s nothing — you should see his photograph!’” Photogenesis does not give us a better face. It gives us, supposedly, a better image of our face.
Jack Ruby, after being imprisoned for murdering Lee Harvey Oswald, asked his portrait artist to give him a “little more hair.” The love we have for our image can cause us to lose sight of our reality. Narcissus paid the ultimate price, dying of hunger after falling in love with his extended image which he saw in the pool.
When T.S. Eliot has J. Alfred Prufrock says “there is time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,” he is referring to the common practice in the contemporary world to put on a false front. Society becomes a collection of strangers. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard warned that when the clock strikes midnight, people must end their masquerade party and remove their masks. They cannot continue to conceal their identities indefinitely.
The British TV comedy Keeping Up Appearances shows how frantic people can become when they try to be what they are not. Their futile effort is patently ludicrous. Their persistence in this folly, however, ensures continued air time.
St. Veronica is not Helena Rubinstein, a cosmetics magnate. She accepts the unvarnished truth of Christ. The agony written on his face speaks eloquently of his role as Savior. He is not trying to escape from fulfilling his mission, excruciating as it is. In Matthew 26:39 we read Christ’s words:
“O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me — nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt.”
We should live according to the Truth. We should not trade that truth for something that we are not, however attractive that may be in its allegedly improved form as an image.
If the existentialist philosophers have given us one word that we should live by it is “authenticity.” It is in the tortured face of Christ that he speaks to us. His authenticity should inspire that same authenticity to shine in us.