The sixth Station of the Cross is Veronica wiping the face of Jesus.
While this story does not appear in any of the Gospel accounts of the Passion, it has become an important source of meditation when thinking about the Way of the Cross. Most of us remember that according to the story, a woman came from out of the crowd, removed her veil and used it to wipe the blood from Jesus’ face. The story goes that Christ left an image of His face on that veil.
The purpose of this article is not to delve into the history of how this devotion began or its historicity. Instead, the article will follow the Church’s wisdom in spending time reflecting on the meaning of this event.
At the heart of the story is Christ taking His cross to Calvary. Along the way He is beaten and mocked. His Mother encounters Him. But the only other help He gets is the kind that is compelled by Simon of Cyrene, who is forced by the Romans to help with the cross.
One of the interesting things about the Veronica story is that it seems as though she acts not out of coercion or familial closeness. It seems as though she is simply moved by compassion. And this compassion leads her to action.
I’m sure there were many people who felt badly for Jesus that day. We are told that he encounters weeping women who are crying over his plight (Luke 23:27). And yet how few people actually acted upon this feeling. Too often we feel sympathy for those who are hurting without it leading to any kind of movement of the will. In school, we feel badly for the kid that is picked on by everyone else. But does our compassion move us to stand up for them? We say our hearts break for the suffering of the poor. But does our compassion move us to see to their material needs? We say we feel badly for the elderly who are forgotten in nursing homes. But does our compassion move us to spend time with them ourselves?
Feelings are only feelings. They carry no moral weight. It is how we act on those feelings that matter. And Veronica broke from the crowd and helped Our Lord. And in doing so, she debases herself socially.
In the ancient Jewish world, women always went around with their head covered with a veil. One of the reasons why was that if a woman walked around in public with her hair uncovered, it was a sign that she was sexually available. In Luke 7:36-50, a woman comes to wash Jesus feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. We are never told what her sin is, but is assumed that she is a prostitute. One of the reasons why is because of how her hair is unveiled on Jesus’ feet.
Veronica removes her veil and offers it to the Lord. This must have been socially humiliating to be seen like this in public. But her compassion outweighed her social shame. It is important to remember that being compassionate can cost you. If you identify with the outcasts, you risk becoming an outcast yourself. I remember back in high school, I had a classmate that no one wanted to sit with at lunch. I invited him to my lunch table with my friends. The next day, all my friends moved to a different table to leave me alone with the student I invited. This in no way compares to what others have sacrificed in the name of compassion, but it is only a small illustration of the social cost of reaching out to others.
It is also important to see that Veronica offers only what she has. She doesn’t not have bandages or a towel. She cannot bind Christ’s wounds or numb His pain. All she can offer is her veil. When we come before Christ, we may not have a lot of money or education or other skills and gifts we think ministers of the Lord should have. But as long as we offer what we have, no matter what it is, God can do great things with it. When someone is hurting and we think we don’t have the words to comfort them, we shouldn’t let that stop us from offering what we can. Yes, someone with more skills at counseling could probably provide more help, but when we offer what we can, God can do the rest.
Finally, it is said that Christ left His image with her. In her is mirrored His own compassion. She was doing in a small way, what Christ does in a large way. We will never be able to love as He loves. That’s not the point. The point is that when we live His love as best we can, His image will be imprinted upon us for all to see.
And notice this very important point:
Christ’s image must be made in blood.