Today, March 24, we remember Blessed Ludovico of Casoria, a man who saw the face of Christ in those around him. He was born in Naples in 1814, and became a priest when he was only twenty-three. In the Franciscan friary he served, he began a Pharmacy as an outreach to the poor, as well as in other places. He also began infirmaries, to assist the poor.
What does the Face of Christ look like? Only those in Heaven know, and then only a few such as Blessed Ludovico. In 2002, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, wrote "The Face of Christ in the Face of the Church." He goes on to say, "Contemporary man needs to see the Face of Christ: The human person is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 24). "From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1703), which will have its fulfilment in the future life. Really, what God willed with the creation of the human person is that he/she reach total fulfilment (E. Colom - A. Rodríguez Luño, Chosen by Christ to be Saints. Elements of Fundamental Moral Theology, Rome 1999, pp. 66-67). To achieve such a goal is the last end and unifying principle of all of human existence. St Augustine expounds it with the famous expression: "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You" (St Augustine, Confessions, I, 1).
In contrast, in Exodus 33, 20 - "...He said, "you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live." (God said to Moses)" So that's why we most likely will not see His Face. So did Blessed Ludovico really see the face of Christ? That poses an interesting question, to which I only have a partial but not a simple answer.
To understand what Blessed Ludovico saw in the face of the poor, is very much the story of our Franciscan Rule. Remember Rule 5? "Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity. The faith of Saint Francis, who often said " I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except his most holy body and blood," should be the inspiration and pattern of their eucharistic life."
When we come to this point in our lives, where we only see "goodness" in the countenance of another person, and our prayer and interior life is deeply centered on the Lord, we will experience the joy of Jesus Christ in the other person. So do we actually see the Face of Christ ... No! (Because we never have seen His face, so we do not know what He looks like) - but we see His Face in Faith, in the goodness and purity of the other person. In our faith and spirituality, we have only seen facsimiles of what He might look like, artistic works, paintings, statues in Christian churches give us a model of what Christ could look like. Depending where you were raised (in which geographic area of the world) the image of Christ will probably be different, right? We pretty well accept the beard, the strong and kind look, but in Northern Europe he has blue eyes, and in Southern Europe he might have brown eyes. That is, of course, not relevant.
In fact, since Christ dwelt in the Middle East, it is likely that his features in his humanity were Palestinian, because at that time Jewish-Palestine was ruled by the Romans. (Given the political geography of today, I hope this is correct). So we see him as a person, probably with long flowing hair and a beard, as he is pictured in images that appear in old Bibles and in prayer books, and this is how we know Him. In meditation or contemplation (when our spirituality reaches that far), we only recognize him by his characteristics, that is His love for us, and the love we have for Him.
Since our recognition of "perfect love" is limited by our practice of it, we are not seeing the whole story. Franciscans recognize through our Rule, and most of all in our fraternities, that we are indeed very human, but, there are many fraternities that are a real family, as it should be, so we may have a higher viewpoint about Christ in the image of each other. Blessed Ludovico of Casoria, in his zeal to minister to the poor and infirm in/near Naples, Italy, about 200 years ago, did his best to pray and minister just as he would have to Our Lord, Jesus Christ. That is what is expected of all of us.
God bless you!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
March 24, 2012