Veronica Hears of the Condemnation
The three women covered themselves carefully, as the March air was still cold with a penetrating damp. Each brought along a basket, for this was the day to purchase necessary foods and wine for the solemn Passover feast. There was the customary anticipation in them, as they planned their celebration in the traditional way, recalling and reliving the truths they had been taught since they were children. At the same time they talked in awed tones of the new movement spreading throughout their community and the larger part of their world was a movement they believed in, but did not know was destined to change everything.
The women set off towards the teeming markets, across the cobbled stones in their sandals, headgear covering their faces. As they walked quickly to shield themselves from the chilling wind, the three began to experience feelings of unusual uneasiness as they proceeded through the crowded streets. The air, always pervaded by unpleasant odors, seemed today to be particularly heavy, almost suffocating. As they endeavored to approach the market stalls, they found themselves impeded by a steadily enlarging body of shoving, raucous people. Now, with considerable consternation, one asked the other, “What do you suppose is happening here today?” The other shook her head and shuddered, “I fear something terrible is going on.” In their world it was not unusual for altercations to break out between the various religious and political sects, though unsettling. The three women slipped in one of the wider doorways to catch their breath and there encountered another shopper. The woman had overheard their wondering remarks and asked them quietly, “Do you not know what has happened? Pilate has condemned the one they call Jesus to death. He is on his way to Calvary for crucifixion.”
The oldest of the three women reeled, leaned against the wall, dropping her basket in horror. The other two, their faces paling, were struggling to comprehend what was unbelievable to them, such appalling news. “Surely there must be some mistake,” said the youngest, as tears began to swell up in her eyes, “for this is Passover, and all was well when last we heard Him speak.” The other continued, “Only last weekend, was He not received with vast acclaim as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey? There were thousands of people there, on both sides of the path, spreading palms before Him, bowing and praising Him. The oldest affirmed, “We indeed were witnesses to that amazing spectacle, and we saw how all the people were rendering Him heartfelt praise and homage. They respected Him as their true leader. Why, they loved Him. It is impossible now to believe what you are saying. How could this happen?” “I do not know”, the stranger responded, “but nevertheless it is true. Some are saying He is a rabble-rouser. Some accused Him of blasphemy because, they say, He called Himself the Son of God.” She shook her head. “Yet still others, many who have seen Him perform miracles beyond any human explanation, truly do believe He is the Son of God.”
She paused and hesitantly studied the three, all of whom were listening intently in their great distress. “My own sister, suffering from constant bleeding, an affliction before which the physicians were both baffled and helpless, decided in desperation to go last weekend to where she heard He would be passing. We tried to talk her out of it, in her weakened state, but she said to us, “”If I can but touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed.” The woman sighed in recollection, and continued, as her story, like so many like it, had captivated her audience. The crowd surrounding him that day was vast, as countless numbers were desperately seeking to be healed; others simply wanted to hear him speak. For who could hear His words without being struck to the core of our being? He spoke with such authority “we had never heard anything like Him before.” She wrapped her poor shawl around herself. “My sister braved the crowd, and managed to reach out as He passed and did, miraculously, touch his robe. Instantly, she felt a warmth course through her sick body, and knew she had been cured. He stopped the procession, turned His face to the crowds and asked, ‘Who has touched my cloak?’ His apostles remonstrated with him, that anyone of these multitudes could have touched him. My sister looked up in fear and trembling and said, ‘It was I, sir.’ He looked kindly at her, took her hand to help her to her feet, and said
Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” How could we not believe, after what we know happened to her? But these are strange times, are they not? Anyway, I am fearfully sorry to inform you that there is no hope for Him now. Pilate has washed his hands, in an attempt to proclaim his own innocence, for he himself did not believe the case they tried to make against Jesus — he, Pilate, the most powerful Roman, but in the end a craven coward. As she said this she looked around, fearful of witnesses to her remarks. “And look at that seething mob; always they lust for blood.”
Veronica Wipes the Face of Our Lord
The three women, no longer conscious or caring about their planned errands, thanked her, and began the retreat back to their homes, when one of them, the youngest, ever impetuous, stopped and asserted, “I must go and see for myself if this terrible story is true.” “You cannot go to that cruel road. You will be crushed by the crazed hordes, those who thrive on these brutal methods of killing.” “Even so,” she asserted, “I am going.” When they perceived that she could not be dissuaded they looked at each other, and said, “Then we are going with you.” She nodded gratefully, and they set out, feeling their way with nervous trepidation through the dismal and crepuscular streets to the area where they knew that poor souls destined for crucifixion would pass.
As they drew closer, the noise was deafening. They cut through an alley endeavoring to get nearer to the scene. The Condemned, they knew, was expected to pass through that very spot. Soldiers leading the walk to Calvary were already pushing bystanders roughly aside as they forged a path for the Man with the Cross. The crowds in their turn snarled at and resisted the soldiers, for even in their eagerness to watch the death process they hated these detestable symbols of Rome and its power. Now they could see other soldiers, prodding Jesus on with whips and scorn. From their location they saw Him as He fell, under the appalling weight of the Cross, to the unforgiving stones below. He lay on the ground, trying to gather his breath and his dwindling strength. The guards, experienced at this type of spectacle, began to fear that He would die before arriving at the crucifixion site on Golgotha, and thus escape the final ordeal. They turned, searched the crowd, and seized upon an unwilling bystander from the sidelines, shouting at him to pick up the end of the Cross and carry it. The stranger, by the name of Simon of Cyrene, tried in vain to resist, but the soldiers threatened him with their clubs, and thus he was obliged to take his place next to Jesus, sharing the infamous burden of the Cross.
From the slight elevation on the side of the roadway where the three women were standing, they were able to peer down and observe this exchange. They saw at once to their horror that this was the Christ, the same formerly triumphant figure, so bruised and battered His facial features were almost unrecognizable. The blood was streaming into His eyes from some kind of fixture attached to His head. They gasped, as they realized He was wearing a crown woven out of sharp thorns. His body was covered with wounds, the skin of His shoulder so worn off that the shoulder bone could be seen when His poor robe slipped. The soldiers continued to scream and curse and threatened the crowd with whips to stand back, then relentlessly turned their whips over and over against the back of the Condemned. The mob pushed and shoved and watched with rabid curiosity, as well as relief that someone Else was suffering that heinous death penalty.
Suddenly, Veronica began the descent to the road and tried to push forward in an effort to break a path through the leering, screaming mass. Again and again she struggled with the lines of sweating bodies, six or seven deep, determined to get to the suffering Man, as her friends watched with astonishment. The crowd pushed her back with indignation and yelled insults at her, but she persevered, undaunted, searching for an opening in the wall of bystanders. She was shoved from side to side, which only seemed to increase her intent and her momentum as she refused to abandon her quest. At length she broke through to the very edge of the rocky path, to find Jesus exactly opposite her. Her eyes streaming with tears, she looked at Him, so rejected and scorned now by all. Yet even in His pitiful state, his body a mass of blood and bruises, His eyes revealed to her His kingship. She knew instinctively that with a mere exercise of His will, He could throw them all in defeat to the ground if He desired. (Did He not say to the apostles in the Garden, at the time of his arrest, that even then he could entreat His Father who would furnish him with more than 12 legions of angels?) But He did not exercise that power, rather He submitted Himself to the trial before Him.
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 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.”