Seeing the Face of God

Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the knowledge of God, opening up spiritual horizons, taking us beyond our limited spiritual constructs. (Evangelii Gaudium 272)

Pope Francis is making a bold statement about the power of love and the divine nature of every person. To learn something about God we must experience human loving. And in loving another, the Pope says, not only is a new window on God revealed, but our own horizons are expanded, our hearts are stretched, and we reach beyond our limits. There is a sublime scene near the end of the film Les Miserable that captures something of what the Pope is claiming. After witnessing the epic struggle of a people, the final message comes in the most tender moment as Jean Valjean’s life draws to a close. What endures and what transforms everything is love, as the words of the song proclaim:

To love another person

Is to see the face of God.

Such is the power of human love as portrayed in Les Miserables that Archbishop Emeritus George Carey believes that some moments in the film story of the misery and ecstasy of human life contain the finest description of grace outside the pages of the New Testament. Saint John Chrysostom wrote that, ‘Whatever unlocks the human heart, unlocks the heart of God as well’. Saint Augustine said that the love with which we love each other is the same love as that with which God loves us. When costly, enduring love emerges between people, something new and beautiful is created. Every healing that love brings to a lost soul is a sacramental event. In all the aspirations of the human spirit, another face of God is revealed. This is incarnate spirit in time, place, flesh and free will. The mystery of faith, correctly understood, reveals that creation, evolution and all the capacities of humanity are revealed as embraced, healed and transformed from within by the God of Jesus.

But where is God, one might ask, in the terrible suffering, deception and cruelty at the core of our world today? Jesus spoke of the divine presence in the failures, the sinners, the criminals, even the evil ones of his time (Matthew 25). So we believe that Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, embraced and actually became the hopeless lives of the despised and condemned; that he experienced the utter degradation and humiliation of once beautiful bodies, the corruption and destruction of once brilliant minds. There are many unexplored and shocking revelations attached to that phrase we politely and mindlessly repeat every time we say the creed: “He descended into hell”. Our wretchedly human God still looks out every evening from the televised hopeless faces of people ravaged by the mad greed and bloodlust of those who have forgotten their true nature and their “true North”.

Yet where can the real presence and promise of the divine be physically and mentally experienced if not in the dark labyrinth of human hearts? And where else can there be the slightest evidence that God is an effective, invincible power healing humanity at its most desperate, most diabolic and most despairing, other than in the raw reality of our complicated, ambiguous and beautiful lives? Every day of his life, Pope Francis will be reminding us of this resisted revelation. Les Miserable (The Wretched) carry a relentless belief in the breaking of ‘the chains of slavery’. The exultant strains of ‘the music of a people who are climbing to the light’, who are singing of those ‘chains that will never bind you’ in that ‘new world about to dawn’, sounds like a kind of secular and graced Exultet, a redemption song of the people.

‘ To love another person is to see the face of God’. Dare we call it an elegant kind of mini credo of the Christian faith?.

(An Astonishing secret pp 220 to 222)