Face to Face
Today’s response to Psalm 24, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face,” captures the whole sense of today’s feast. The saints are people who longed to see God; their longing fulfilled, they now see him face to face.
But where did that longing come from? How did it get planted so deeply in their hearts that nothing else would satisfy them? On the whole, the psalm focuses its attention on the actions and habits of heart that allowed these people to “ascend the mountain of the Lord.” But there’s one clue about the origins of this longing. The first lines proclaim
The LORD's are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
In other words, everything comes from Him, including the deepest longings of our hearts, not to mention our hearts themselves. They originate in God and they want to return to Him. Like salmon leaping for home, our hearts detect that inner pull and are drawn back to their deepest source.
We often hear that the saints were “very ordinary people,” “people just like you and me.” That’s true as far as it goes. But the saints are different in this one respect. They could no more not-long for God’s face than a salmon can refuse to head upstream to the place he was born. You might say that they were in touch with their “spiritual DNA.”
Well. What about us, then? When Jesus speaks about those who may be called “Blessed” in his Sermon on the Mount, he is teaching that blessedness is possible. The “DNA” is there, and it’s calling, sending out a beautiful, powerful “pull.” But our response is not automatic – that’s how we differ from a salmon or a monarch butterfly or any other creature who returns to ancestral breeding grounds. For us creatures made in the image and likeness of God, born with the freedom of God, longing for God’s face is triggered through saying “yes” – to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be clean of heart, to make peace, and even to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
Saint Paul, that crusty, tender, difficult, passionate man, spoke of his own longings when he wrote to the people of Corinth: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). In touch with that relentless, loving pull, Paul listened to his heart’s longings. They led him to Rome. Where will ours lead us? May they grow ever greater and deeper, and may we be eager for justice, for purity of heart, for peace, for mercy, for meekness and even for persecution for righteousness’ sake, until that day when we too are at last face to face and fully known. Amen.
—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA, Provincial of the U.S. Province