A Meditation on Exodus 34:29-35

When Moses comes down the mountain, the Israelites see that his face is glowing and radiant from his encounter with God. And yet they are afraid to look upon the glory of God, and so Moses puts a veil over his face after speaking with them, to hide the shining glory from their eyes. When Moses goes into the presence of God, he removes the veil, but again covers his face when he leaves the Lord’s presence. Saint Paul takes up this event in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (3:1-4:15), and contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant, saying that only in Christ and in the gift of his Spirit is this veil removed. As long as the New Covenant had not come, the veil remained over the minds and hearts of the people, but in the gift that is given through Jesus, this veil is torn.

The veil of fear, which causes us to turn away from the glory of God, is now removed from us. We have encountered “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:6b); we have been given the gift of redemption through the Cross of Christ. Indeed, when Jesus dies, the veil of the temple is rent, the veil that separated humanity from God, and the Heart of Christ himself is opened, a symbol that now the Heart of the Trinity stands completely open before his children.

This open Heart has given itself completely for us, unreservedly pouring out every last drop of its life to give us life, to share itself with us and to abide with us. So too, this Heart is open to welcome us in, to become a place where we can dwell in the intimacy of God’s loving embrace. If we look deeper, we realize that God’s self-giving and his acceptance of us is really only a single reality. The Cross is, in the same movement, Jesus’ entrance into the depth of our darkness and death—beyond the veil the separates us from God—and also the welcoming of us, with all that we are, into his own intimacy with the Father.

It is in this way that the veil is removed. We are drawn, through the Crucified Christ, through the One risen victorious over death and radiant with the glory of God, into communion with God. It is said that God spoke with Moses “face to face” (Ex 33:11), as one man speaks to another. But something more has actually occurred in Christ, for face-to-face dialogue with God, in this life, is not possible, but awaits us only in heaven. Yet already now the very Heart of God has been laid open to us—and we enter into this Heart through prayer and contemplation, through a life completely surrendered to him. We, like Moses, are invited to ascend the mountain, the mountain of our own hearts, in love for the God who draws us.

And, in faith, we are granted a seeing without seeing, a seeing that, indeed, allows our countenance to glow with the glory of this encounter. (See 1 Peter 1:8.) As Saint Paul says: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18a). Yes, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (3:17b). We have now been freed from the spirit of fear, the spirit of slavery, and do not need to cover over the glory of God as did the Israelites. For we are children of God in the Son, and in the Son, as we are continually transformed in his likeness, we can approach the Father. We are invited, in humility and trembling, in awe and reverence, but also in the confidence of beloved children, to draw near to the God who has drawn near to us.

So let us not be afraid to pray, to pray ardently and intensely, asking God to show us the beauty of his face, this beauty shining on the countenance of Jesus Christ. If we yearn to benefit the world, to help our brothers and sisters who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79), then this is the most important gift we can offer them, in a sense the only gift: our own joy in the Lord, our own intimacy with God.

Indeed, even as we are called to descend, in Christ and like Christ, into their darkness in compassion, there is a prior and enduring truth. This prior truth, indeed, alone gives meaning to our sharing in the darkness of others, gives it meaning as a sharing in the redeeming love of God. It is our participation in the intimacy shared between the Son and the Father, and in the undying joy that this intimacy gives. Let us therefore never cease to contemplate the beauty of him who is “the fairest of the children of men” (Ps 45:2), who even in his Passion, when “he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty, that we should desire him” (Is 53:2b), manifests the immense beauty of the Father. Let us therefore not be afraid to be joyful. Only on the strength of this joy can we also allow our own lives to become a gift for others, to be poured out in the likeness of Jesus.

May God grant us the eyes to see his glory, and may he grant this also to those in our world who need it the most. May we see him and know him: in this life, through faith and love, impressed as a seal deep upon our hearts, and, in the next life, in the full light of vision disclosed in the bliss of our eternal intimacy with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.