Homily on the Feast of the Holy Face “Ecce Homo” at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu
The whole life of Jesus is a redemptive offering to the Father. Every aspect of his life from incarnation to the blessed resurrection. This is the reason why we develop the different aspects of devotion to the person of Jesus. We pray meditating His heart, His Wounds of the Passion, His Divine Mercy, His humanity as the Nazarene, his Childhood and many other Christological devotions. Today, just at the threshold of Lenten Season, we are celebrating another aspect of the person of Jesus Christ, the Feast of His Holy Face. What makes this feast quite significant is in this Basilica Church, we keep another icon, venerable and ancient, which is the “Ecce Homo”. Today, we formally celebrate this feast day in our church to launch awareness to the historical and spiritual importance of the Holy Face of Jesus which the image of the Ecce Homo presents to us.
God’s revelation in the Old Testament includes the manifestation of his face. God’s presence is being longed for by those who yearned for his salvation. We hear the emphatic prayer of the psalm: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psa 42:2 RSV). This is motivated by God’s seemingly wonderful but terrifying presence that He would not reveal His face to people in order them not to be overwhelmed by His Divine presence. It is a myth among the Jews that encountering Him would bring death to those who would like to see Him face to face (cf. Ex. 33:20). Another story that marks biblical stories of God was His encounter with Moses who can speak to God face to face (Ex. 33:11), yet in the later part of the story God only said to him he would only see His back and not his face the fullness of His glory (Ex. 33:23). The tantalizing condition of men to seeing short God’s face to the fullest however forms in one’s heart a buildup of longing and groaning. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us that the experience of the Moses of the Old Law will be perfected in the Moses of the New Testament: In Jesus Christ, he will not just be the New Moses who sees God face to face but in His own face is “a real, immediate vision of the Face of God…” (Jesus of Nazareth vol. 1, p. 5).
As it is a promise of an unhindered encounter of God’s Face, that moment which nourishes longing of God in life ignites also the embers of hope of the future glory. The more we look for the face of God, the more we become changed in our perspective in life – dare even to call it a conversion in seeing the value of everything in reference to the grace of hope God is bringing. Like Moses who asked God to show His glory, we continue to pray to God to continue reveal His face to us who is so merciful.
This is what is revealed to us in the devotion of the Holy Face of Jesus. All of us are sure of what we want to see in God: a merciful face, a face of compassion in the midst of the divine glory. God indeed responded to us in the fullness of time to bring into fulfilment this revelation in His Son Jesus who is “a real and unhindered vision of God’s face”. But since we prayed for God’s face now revealed in Jesus as merciful and compassionate, he gave a face of a suffering man. According to the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading, He is exalted and lifted in glory but it will bring astonishment to us in his sufferings, familiarity with our pains, he was despised and rejected. It is only in this face of our God who suffers with us that we can only understand well the grace of mercy we long for Him. This is the twist of the devotion of the Holy Face of Jesus: God does not simply transact graces to our lives so that we merely enjoy it without internalizing its meaning. God brought his mercy and compassion and the fullness of his salvation to us by choosing for himself to share first our sufferings and pains. Hence, in our longing to see a redemptive countenance, we must first unite our own portion of sufferings to His so that by His never fading glory of his Divinity, it will be transformed into a saving suffering. By this, we discover that in encountering the Face of God in the suffering Jesus, we are also being changed into persons and faces of hope to those who find meaninglessness in their misfortunes and weaknesses.
Pontius Pilate in the moment he presented Jesus in the Gospel shouting “Ecce Homo” is actually proclaiming the face of God to people who only dared to let him be crucified. Again and again, allow the proclamation of the man inflicted in pain and suffering as our example of hopeful trust that all the calamities of human life will become our steps towards our triumph over sin and death. When we hear of the “Ecce Homo” let us not forget that as life does have its crosses, the same face of God is revealed in the newness of a resurrected life. There our hope is being projected into. The redeeming face of Jesus brings us to Him in his resurrection what we might rise as well in the newness of life.