In the last reflection I said that the sacred mystery of the person can be truly and deeply reverenced only in the realm of the heart—within the embrace of sheltering love and never outside of it—in a realm bathed in sacredness and in a humble awe before the mystery of the person, who always surpasses comprehension while also drawing the heart ever deeper in receptive contemplation and loving surrender. This is because the more mystery is known as mystery, the more its meaning and its beauty are unveiled before us; and yet, simultaneously, the more the mystery is unveiled before us, the more we sense its surpassing greatness, its abiding “veiledness,” even in its very self-disclosure. This is also, as I said, simply because truly holy realities cannot be experienced unless they are received in a spirit that authentically corresponds with their nature, and this spirit is that of faith, hope, and love. It is, in other words, the deep and reverent attitude of trust, desire, and surrender which alone unseals within my heart a true openness to be touched by Mystery. I let myself be touched by Mystery in a way that does not reduce it down to my size, does not try to grasp or possess or control it, but rather in which I let myself be grasped, harnessed, by what touches me from the outside. And in this way I am truly set free to enter into the vulnerability of intimacy—the naked solitude of my heart making contact with the naked solitude of the heart of another person, and in particular with the vulnerable intimacy of the Trinity himself.

Every unveiling of mystery, in whatever sphere it occurs, therefore, calls for immense reverence. It calls for the attitude of humility and awe which is simultaneously a veiling and an unveiling: the unveiling of the mystery which, in the same moment, shelters the mystery, and the sheltering of the mystery which, in the very act of cherishing it, allows the mystery to unfold its beauty before one’s eyes and heart. This should be clear, for example, in what I have said so far about the sexual sphere itself, which is particularly sacred and capable of revealing the beauty of the person, but which is also particularly prone to the obscuring of the person when it is not approached with deep reverence and humility. All love is simultaneously a veiling and an unveiling; in other words, it is the creation of an atmosphere of reverence and tenderness, and it is, in this space, the unveiling of vulnerability, of naked self-gift, that can flower only in the security of this atmosphere. Even in the sexual sphere, when there is a mutual self-disclosure of persons, a mutual “unveiling,” this unveiling can only authentically happen when it occurs behind the “veil,” within the atmosphere, of a mutual reverence and cherishing tenderness.

To summarize: this opening of self to the other is only possible when the veil of one’s innate solitude, one’s interior mystery before God, is allowed to unfold itself, not into a space in which it is debased and mistreated, but into a space in which it is veiled anew with the reverent gaze of another person. Here my interiority is unveiled before the interior gaze of another person, made naked before their cherishing tenderness, and precisely in this way allowed to flower from within as a gift to the other; and yet this flowering in the unveiling of love is not a loss, a flinging away of self, a debasement, but an even deeper gathering-together in love and sacredness. It is a desire to commune with the sacred mystery of another person and to let them hold and commune with me in my sacred mystery, not in such a way that the mystery is somehow annihilated or “consumed” within the bounds of control or comprehension; rather, it is to draw near to one another in such a way that this ineffable mystery is not reduced but deepened, that even as it reveals itself ever more deeply, it simultaneously is sheltered and veiled in such a way that it ever surpasses and continually awakens awe and wonder and reverent humility.

In other words, the true unveiling of the person cannot happen just by pulling back whatever hides, by saying whatever was silent, by being an “open book” about one’s personal life or, in a very vivid case, by living one’s sexuality in an “open” way in the presupposition that flinging one’s sacred mystery before others so freely is somehow an affirmation of a deep and universal love. Rather, if the unveiling of myself does not occur within a prior and enduring veiling of reverent love, it is actually no true unveiling at all—that is, no true revelation of the person. Immediately, it gets stuck on the surface, seeing and feeling only the surface, and not the deep things of the inner heart, where alone true seeing and love and mutual belonging can flower. And I will feel this whenever it happens; I will feel that my sacred mystery is not seen by the other, but rather I will feel that they only see the surface, the periphery, and the very thing that I wanted to unveil before them goes unnoticed, if it is not in fact hurt by their very blindness to the mystery which I desired to give to them to cherish but which they take in possessiveness and use.

In order to tie all of these themes together, let me use a very beautiful example. God’s way of operating in this world always follows the dynamic movement spoken of here—seeking as it does to awaken in us the faith, hope, and love that alone can see, receive, and surrender to God as he is in himself. In other words, God always comes to us in the veiling which is a yet deeper unveiling, and the unveiling which draws us yet deeper into the veiledness of his surpassing Mystery. The example I want to use is that of the Shroud of Turin. This relic, for which there is a great deal of strong evidence that it is the true burial cloth of Christ, manifests this veiling-in-unveiling and unveiling-in-veiling in a beautiful way. It is, indeed, a veil. It is a cloth that was used to cover the naked body of the Crucified Christ. And yet on this very veil, Christ imprinted forever the image of his own body, laid bare before our gaze in the most intimate and sacred moment of his entire existence: the Resurrection. Yes, Jesus has given us a great gift, a “living theology of the body,” in offering us the imprint of his own Body, seared into the fabric of his burial cloth by the heat and light of his Risen Glory, which is the lasting witness both of the Passion he endured for us as well as of the victory of Love that triumphed precisely in this place. Here the veil is no longer something that hides or conceals in any way. Rather, the veil has become utterly transparent. The veil has become pure unveiling, pure self-communication.

And it is indeed fitting that this image marked on the shroud is almost invisible to the unaided eye—that is, it is an unveiling that invites one to draw close, to let down one’s defenses, to let oneself be touched and captured by the mysterious beauty of the One who, tattered and torn by immense suffering and lying in the rigors of death, also radiates with a mysterious serenity and peaceful joy. This serenity and joy show themselves definitively triumphant in the beauty of the Resurrection, in which the intimacy and love binding together the Son with his heavenly Father raises him even from the grave, and allows him to be present to us unceasingly within his Church and in the heart of the world until the end of time.

And so he comes to us, veiled and yet unveiled, in the most mysterious and yet most beautiful of ways, making himself present in the littlest of things: in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in the water of Baptism, in the words and gestures of Confession, in the words of Scripture, in the teaching and life of the Church throughout time, and in the very sacramental beauty of each and every moment. Do we see his Beauty shining through the veil, pulling back the heaviness and mundaneness that cover over our hearts, blinding us to the ravishing Mystery for which we were created—this Mystery which ardently desires to communicate itself to us, if only we open our heart to trust, desire, and surrender: the intimacy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, taking us up into the eternal circulation of their own eternal life of Love?

Yes, and does not this very “veiled presence” of God in this life stir in us the ardent longing to pass beyond the veil into unmediated intimacy with him? Does it not stir in us the confident desire to unveil our own hearts before his tender and cherishing gaze? Yes, this is precisely what our hearts have been made for: to pass beyond every veil into the space in which total nakedness and vulnerability blossoms in perfect intimacy. We have been created to enter into the space where solitude and nakedness interpenetrate and become one in the single embrace of intimacy. And here there is no longer any veiling which hides, but only the sheer unveiling of love and mutual beholding, in an atmosphere permeated by reverence and tenderness.

This leads to one final clarifying final note: I have not intended in these reflections for the “veiling” of which I speak to refer to a way of “hiding,” of creating distance and protective barriers between persons, nor of choosing an abyss of nothingness or emptiness as if this were the way of approaching God. Hiding and veiling, in this sense, have no meaning in themselves, except protection from what may hurt us. Indeed, everything is oriented precisely towards unveiling, towards inviting deeper into the space where the mystery may authentically unveil itself. This is why love, true love, knows that every veil must in the end be removed, every barrier that keeps hearts away from one another, so that complete and total intimacy may blossom between them in the very intimacy of God.

For, after all, there is no veil that separates the Father from the Son, nor the Son from the Father! They are utterly naked, utterly transparent before one another in the circulation of mutual beholding and reciprocal self-giving, sealed eternally in the intimacy that they share in the embrace and kiss of the Holy Spirit! The “veiling,” therefore, refers in the last analysis to nothing but reverence and love, to the reverent atmosphere of love in which the deepest secrets of the heart and body are shared in the tenderness of mutual belonging. We see this reality of openness in Christ himself, we see his welcoming his disciples beyond the veil, in his gestures and words at the Last Supper. During this sacred meal, and in this sacred atmosphere, he gives them the gift of his very Body and Blood, the very nuptial gift of self in which the spousal meaning of the body is super-fulfilled. And he also says to them, “I have called you friends, for I have revealed to you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15), thus expressing the complete vulnerability, the total unveiling, which he has granted to them in his love. And then, after this, he welcomes them into the very mystery of the mutual nakedness in reciprocal belonging of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He turns to the Father and prays to him in the presence of his disciples, saying, “All that is mine is yours, and yours is mine,” and then asking, “Even as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us. May they be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one…” (Jn 17:10, 21-23).

All of this shows us that the veil, therefore, is only there to be opened; the mystery is there as an invitation to draw near, to be transfigured by faith, hope, and love so as to be enabled to commune with the reality of the Beloved. And this unveiling, born of the ardent movement of faith, hope, and love, occurs already in this life, even as it will find consummation in the intimacy of heaven, when every veil is at last removed. Here we behold God face to face, in unmediated contact, and experience his direct embrace enfolding and permeating our entire being with the ecstatic joy and the everlasting gladness of perfect intimacy within the intimacy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.