Reflects on the Depth of the Human Face
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Peace begins when we look at one another as persons, regardless of race, nationality, language or religion, Benedict XVI says. But, he maintains, this is only possible when God dwells in our hearts.
The Holy Father reflected on how to achieve true and lasting peace during his homily today in a Mass at St. Peter's for the feast of Mary, Mother of God. Jan. 1 marks the annual celebration of the World Day of Peace.
"To meditate on the mystery of the face of God and man is a privileged path that leads to peace," the Pope suggested. "This [peace], in fact, begins by looking upon others with respect, recognizing in the face of the other a person, regardless of the color of his skin, his nationality, his language or his religion."
"But," he continued, "who, if not God, can guarantee [that we see] what we could call the 'depth' of the face of the person? In reality, only if we have God in our hearts are we in a condition to detect in the face of others a brother in humanity -- not a means, but an end, not a rival or an enemy, but another 'I,' a facet of the infinite mystery of the human being.
"Our perception of the world and, in particular, of our peers, essentially depends on the presence within us of the Spirit of God.
"It is a type of 'resonance': One who has an empty heart does not perceive anything more than flat images, lacking depth. But, the more we are inhabited by God, the more sensitive we are to his presence in those who surround us -- in all creatures, and especially in other people."
Nevertheless, the Pontiff acknowledged, the "human face, marked by the harshness of life and evil" sometimes struggles to be an "epiphany of God."
"Therefore," he continued, "in order to recognize and respect each other for what we truly are, that is, brothers, it is even more necessary to make reference to the face of a common Father, who loves us all, despite our limits and errors."
Unveiling God's face
Benedict XVI's homily was a reflection on the face of God and the faces of man, which he proposed as a key for understanding the issue of peace in the world.
"The face is the expression of the person, par excellence," he suggested. "It is what makes him recognizable and where he shows sentiments, thoughts and intentions of the heart."
"God," the Holy Father continued, "by nature, is invisible. Nevertheless, the Bible also applies this image to him. [...] The whole of biblical history can be read as a progressive unveiling of the face of God, up to the point of his full revelation in Jesus Christ."
Referring to Mary's title as Mother of God, the Pontiff explained that "the face of God has taken a human face, allowing himself to be seen and recognized in the son of the Virgin Mary."
"She who guarded in her heart the secret of divine maternity was the first to see the face of God made man in the tiny fruit of her womb," he reflected.
"A mother has a very special relationship -- unique and exclusive in every way -- with a newborn," the Pope continued. "The first face that a child sees is that of his mother, and this gaze is decisive for his relationship with life, with himself, with others, with God. It is decisive as well so that he can become a 'child of peace.'"
The Holy Father went on to offer a reflection on the Byzantine icon of the Virgin of Tenderness, which depicts the Child Jesus with his cheek against that of his mother: "The Child looks at the Mother, and she looks at us, almost as if reflecting to what she observes, and praying, the tenderness of God, descended in them from heaven and incarnated in this Son of Man that she carries in her arms.
"But this same icon also shows us in Mary the face of the Church, which reflects upon us and upon the entire world the light of Christ, the Church through which the Good News arrives to every person."
Benedict XVI maintained that it is important to be educated in respect for those who are different starting in childhood.
He renewed his call to "invest in education, establishing the objective -- beyond the necessary transmission of technical-scientific notions -- of a broader and deeper 'ecological responsibility,' based in respect for the person and his fundamental rights and duties."
"Only in this way can a commitment to the environment truly become education in peace and the construction of peace," he contended.
The Holy Father observed that "today it is ever more common to have the experience of classrooms made up of children of various nationalities, though also when this doesn't occur, their faces are a prophecy of the humanity that we are called to form: a family of families and peoples."
These children, he said, "despite their differences, cry and laugh in the same way; they have the same needs; they communicate spontaneously; they play together ..."
"The faces of children are like a reflection of the vision of God for the World," the Pontiff affirmed. "Why then wipe away their smiles? Why poison their hearts?
"Unfortunately, the icon of the Mother of God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the sorrowful images of so many children and their mothers in the claws of war and violence: fugitives, refugees, forced immigrants."
The Bishop of Rome spoke of "faces eroded by hunger and sickness, faces disfigured by pain and desperation." And he declared: "The faces of innocent little ones are a silent call to us to take responsibility: Before their helplessness, all of the false justifications for war and violence come crashing down."
"We should," the Pope affirmed, "simply become designers of peace, lay down every class of weapons and commit ourselves together to building a world more worthy of the person."
A cosmic celebration
Benedict XVI contended that people are capable of respect to the degree that they "carry in their own spirits a full sense of life."
"Otherwise, [the person] will be led to despise himself and what is around him, to lack respect for the environment in which he lives, for that which is created," the Pope cautioned. But, "one who knows how to recognize in the cosmos the reflection of the invisible face of the Creator is led to have greater love for creatures, more sensitivity for their symbolic value."
"There exists, in fact, a very direct link between respect for the person and the safeguarding of creation," he contended. "The duty [to protect] the environment is derived from that to [protect] the person considered in himself and in relation to others."
"If the person is degraded, the environment in which he lives is degraded; if the culture tends to nihilism -- if not in theory, then in practice -- nature cannot fail to pay the consequences," the Holy Father affirmed.
And he reflected that there is a reciprocal influence between the face of the person and the "face" of the environment.
"When human ecology is respected in society," he said, "environmental ecology will also draw out benefits."
Finally, Benedict XVI emphasized that the "coming of God transfigures creation and creates a type of cosmic celebration."
"The celebration of faith becomes a celebration of the person and all that is created," he suggested. "The Church renews this mystery for people of every generation; she shows them the face of God so that, with his blessing, they can walk the path of peace."