Today’s blog post is a continuation of the series on the Stations of the Cross crafted by artist Timothy Schmaltz which is located outside the Malvern Retreat House where my cohort of the Academy for Spiritual Formation meets for our sessions. Today’s image is one of the more difficult for me as a Protestant, as the event has no record in the canonical gospels.
The image is based on the concept of St. Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. The format which I have been using to contemplate these stations is to show up to the contemplation, slow down into the contemplation, stay still with the contemplation, and finally stay with the contemplation as I go out into the world.
Showing up to an image of Veronica requires me to honestly state that I do not understand the need to add to the Biblical accounts with apocryphal stories. A friend gave me a copy of a book retelling the folk-tale of the “Three Trees.” The story was a beautiful story, but it was a story. The story was an interesting parable and commentary on self-image/self-worth, but it was a story. To honestly approach this text requires me to state that I struggle with apocryphal stories. In the case of adding these stories, I find myself protesting (and being very Protestant) internally.
Slowing down into the story requires work for me, but as I slow into the image, I find myself appreciating the compassion that the folklore around St. Veronica’s tale contains. Was Veronica the woman healed by Jesus after touching the hem of his garment? Did she come back to Jesus and share compassion after his compassion was shown to her? If so, do we have a parallel in story to the Samaritan leper healed with nine others in Luke 17?
The thing about the leper’s tale is that the leper could have easily walked away from Jesus after Jesus had done what was asked of him. The other nine lepers walked away and the story of Luke’s gospel neither records ill-effects or curses upon the other nine. The Samaritan leper is told by Jesus that the leper’s faith has made the leper well. To hear such words from Jesus would be seen as quite a boon to the folks receiving the gospel account—they will never hear those words or that voice in this life until Jesus returns or they cross to the distant shore. The Samaritan leper is blessed.
Perhaps one of the valuable parts of Veronica’s inclusion is the invitation people have to see reciprocal compassion shared into the life of Jesus. The life of Veronica is one which legends seem to indicate was neither easy nor pleasant. If she is the one who has been bleeding for years, that could not have been pleasant, healthy, or even acceptable in that society. She was unclean. The legend allows Veronica to return love to the one who freed her from that state.
Perhaps the value of staying still with Veronica is the understanding that we all have our broken places where we bleed. We all have places where we sometimes feel unclean and unworthy of God’s love. What if the wonderful part of being still with the concept of Veronica is understanding that we might be invited into similar places of acceptance, compassion, and even reciprocity with this saint. Perhaps one day in this life (or definitely on the other shore) we might see our love returned (face to face) to the one who first loved us.
This concept of sharing that love and having it accepted is what shall stay with me as I go forward. May God lead me to such a blessed moment as Veronica’s moment in this legend.
May my Roman Catholic friends have compassion with me as I continue to work my way through these stations. All worldviews evolve over time. Thank you for your patience.