In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse of Lisieux described a scene in her childhood, when she was gazing from a window one afternoon and saw a man dressed like her father, Louis, walking across the garden. Puzzled by his stooped stature and a thin veil covering his face, she was frightened but calmed herself, thinking he had returned home from a trip and camouflaged his appearance to surprise her. She called out, “Papa, Papa!” expecting a reply. But the man walked on, silent, and vanished without a trace.
Later, during her life as a Carmelite nun, Thérèse received a grace to understand the meaning of the prophetic vision. As she wrote, “It was indeed Papa, who was bearing on his venerable countenance and white hair the symbol of his glorious trial. Just as the adorable Face of Jesus was veiled during His Passion, so the face of His faithful servant had to be veiled in the days of his sufferings.”
Louis’ “glorious trial” began in his elder years, when he suffered a series of strokes that led to mental failure. He battled depression, obsessive fears, speech difficulties and often wandered from home. Finally, after he went missing for three terrifying days, the family had no other choice than to admit him to a hospital.
“How we suffered!” Thérèse wrote, describing the bitter memory of that day. “And this was still only the beginning of the trial.”
People began to gossip. They accused his Carmelite daughters of abandoning their widowed father for the cloister and blamed Thérèse for triggering her father’s definitive mental collapse by entering Carmel at such a young age.
Heartbroken, she fled in prayer to the Scriptures and met the Holy Face in the prophecy of the Suffering Servant. She shared her consoling discovery in a letter to her sister, “It’s such a long time ago, and already the soul of the prophet Isaias was immersed, just as our own soul is, in the HIDDEN BEAUTIES of Jesus. ... His face was as though hidden! Papa! Ah, Celine, how can we complain when He Himself was looked upon as a man struck by God and humbled. Ah, the tears of Jesus, what smiles!”
At peace, Thérèse concluded her letter and pleaded, “Kiss everybody for me, and tell them all I would like to say!”
In my own life, I am grateful for all that Thérèse has been pleased “to say” to me about the “Hidden Beauties of Jesus.” Her words offered hope as I cared for my mother and watched her daily struggle following a crippling stroke. The words of Thérèse echoed within as I cared for my elderly father and witnessed his gradual loss of independence and rapid deterioration from cancer. Recently, while visiting an elderly friend suffering with dementia, Thérèse’s words were my anchor. “The Hidden Beauties of Jesus,” she seemed to whisper as I took my friend’s slender hand and peered into her vacant eyes and unresponsive face.
To aid her devotion, Thérèse always kept a picture of the Holy Face nearby. Her favorite image was attributed to the veil of Veronica, the true relic now venerated at the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Italy. In 2007, recounting his historic visit to the shrine the previous year, Pope Benedict XVI remembered the prayerful encounter before the sacred cloth and offered a prayer, like Thérèse, inspired by the words of Isaiah’s text: “Man of suffering, as one from whom others hide their faces, do not hide your face from us! O Holy Face of Christ, Light that enlightens the darkness of doubt and sadness, make us ready for the final encounter, when we shall see you, Lord, face to face.”
St. Thérèse, companion for all who long to see Jesus’ face, pray for us.
Jennifer Sokol writes from