This article is being presented in three parts over three consecutive days.
Part 3 – The Miraculous Image Appears
Before anyone knew what she was doing, Veronica ripped off the veil that covered her own head. She acted so quickly no one could exercise any effort to stop her. They were indeed shocked at the sight of this young, beautiful woman, who had removed the customary veil, unheard of — and thus revealed herself and masses of her long, dark curls. She extended her arms to Him. Then she gently wiped His entire face with her veil, clearing it of blood and dirt. The two gazed at each other for scarcely an instant. Not a word was exchanged. Time was standing still, it seemed, when suddenly she was yanked backward by one of the guards, who hurled curses at her and threw her heedlessly into the crowd. She plunged to the ground, seeking to avoid the murderous and trampling feet of the mob. The crowd began to move on, ignoring this foolhardy woman. Gradually the whole parade passed. Her two companions, searching in fear for her, finally found her on the side of the path, scratched and dirty. “I am all right”, she told them to ease their minds, “but my heart is broken.”
The three of them were beyond words at the horrible injustice they had witnessed of unimaginable torment being inflicted on this innocent Man. All three were crying tears of unbelief. They were not unfamiliar with suffering, but never in their lives had they felt such pain and regret, weighted even more by their absolute helplessness to do anything. “Come,” said one at last, “we must leave this terrible place.” They helped Veronica to her feet while she began to gather what she thought was her soiled veil tenderly to her breast in utter sorrow. The three looked at each other, silent in their misery, when all at once one of them stopped and stared at the veil with such intensity that Veronica turned to her, then slowly held the veil up and gazed at it in awe and wonder. For there on that length of cloth was imprinted the entire face of Christ, a perfect image of Him. It was an exquisite reproduction of the Christ, the Savior. For her extraordinary courage and love, He had endowed her with a truly miraculous gift, a lasting testimonial. It was as if He was still among them, that He did not leave them nor would He ever leave them. They stood there, contemplating the suffering yet loving face of Jesus. Then, as the day had mysteriously begun to darken, they began the sorrowful walk home to pray.
Jesus also encountered his Holy Mother on his walk as a condemned man up to Calvary. She would not depart from Him. While she understood that the price to be paid by her only Son was the Father’s will, was it not by the Mother’s prayers that Simon was brought forward to help Him carry the Cross? Was it not Mary’s prayers that someone should wipe her Son’s face? Was it not her prayers that called forth the Holy Women to console Him? Besides Veronica, he would try to console the pious women who had believed and followed Him, now crying bitter tears at his suffering. To them he spoke this admonition, “Weep not for me but for your children, because if this is what they do when the wood is green, what will they do when the wood is dry?” We should not be too hard on Simon for his reluctance to carry the Cross with Christ, for which of us is willing to carry our own crosses? A task that is repugnant to Simon at the beginning alters as he walks beside the Savior; He Who left his image on a linen cloth leaves an indelible mark on the soul of Simon. Fifteen hundred years later, Mary would leave her image on a cloth at Guadalupe. She would never leave us.
What of the disciples, the closest to the Messiah? Judas had hung himself on a tree, overcome with guilt at his betrayal of the Savior, the innocent Jesus, devoid of hope for forgiveness. Peter, following his denial of Christ, was now in near despair as he contemplated the gravity of his sin — a repentance legend has it that caused so many tears through the course of his life they wore a path down his cheeks. He would, at his own martyrdom, instruct his executioners to turn him upside down on the cross because, “I am not worthy to die as He.” The rest of the apostles and disciples, with the exception of John, fled the scene in terror. Only John, the beloved disciple, he who rested his head on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper, would stay with his Lord up to Calvary and with Mary, the holy Mother of Jesus, remain at the Cross. He would, history has recorded, be the only one of the apostles who would not die a martyr.
The veil was to become an icon, a source of deep reverence among the early Christians, and was preserved through succeeding generations. It was the first, the only image of the Christ. Veronica’s own name would be passed on as awed accounts were repeated of that day and of her steadfast devotion and heroism, a legendary saint, who was unyielding to fear or intimidation in her desire to do something to help her suffering Lord. Not much more is known about Veronica, and her action that day is not reported in the gospels. Yet she has traditionally been honored by the Church as the one chosen at her own conception by Divine Providence for the solitary privilege of wiping the face of the Messiah. In every Catholic Church in the world, the sixth station of the 14 Stations of the Cross is the image of the tender and loving Veronica extending her arms to Jesus. The original veil has, incredibly, been preserved over the years, and is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Pondering those events, we cannot help but ask ourselves where would each of us have been standing on that frightful day when the world would put to death the very Son of God? We recall that Christ Himself cautioned us, “Pray you are not put to the test.”