"In an instant, I saw five brilliant rays of light shine forth from his most holy wounds, and all came to my face." St. Veronica Giuliani wrote these words more than three centuries ago, describing her mystical experience of Christ.
Pope Benedict recalled these words in his general audience Dec. 15, as he continued his series of reflections on holy women and mystics in Church history. Thousands of pilgrims and faithful were on hand in the Vatican's Pope Paul VI Hall, including priest alumni from Rome's Pontifical North American College, who were celebrating 40 years of priesthood.
St. Veronica, he said, was "a courageous witness of the beauty and power of divine Love," who received the divine gift of intimate unity with Christ in his suffering and death.
Born 350 years ago this month, Veronica was a Capuchin Poor Clare sister in Citta Castello, Italy. She entered the convent when she was 17 and remaining there for 50 years.
Pope Benedict said that in her witness, Veronica was true to her name, which means, “true image.”
"She became the true image of Christ on the Cross," he said.
She placed Christ above all things in her life, as could be seen in her diary, which spans more than 22,000 pages. In her writings, she described a relationship with Christ that saw him as a divine “spouse,” to whom she sought to be more and more united in love.
She wanted to share in his life so much that she even prayed to be crucified with him. Her prayer and spirituality were focused on union with Christ, and in a special way, union with his suffering. This close relationship led to mystical experiences in which she shared in his wounds.
The Pope quoted from one vision in which Veronica described five rays of light that burst forth from a vision she had of Christ. She described the rays as "like small flames."
"In four there were nails,” the saint continued, “and in one there was a lance, as if of gold, completely on fire: and it passed through my heart, from one side to the other ... and the nails pierced my hands and feet. I felt great pain, but in the same pain I saw myself, I felt fully transformed in God.”
In addition to the wounds of Christ on the cross, known as the stigmata, she united herself willingly to Christ’s pain from his crown of thorns.
“She saw all things in the light of Christ’s love, manifested in his passion, and she united herself to his self-oblation to the Father for the salvation of souls," the Pope explained.
Throughout her life, she offered up her prayer and sufferings to God for the Pope, the clergy and for all people, including the souls in Purgatory. Sr. Veronica also had a love for the Scriptures and a devotion to the Church. She prayed often, too, for the help of Mary and the saints. "She invites us to draw daily nourishment from the Word of God so as to warm our hearts and guide our lives," said the Pope.
At the end of her life, she suffered an agonizing death. She experience this suffering as being bound tightly to the agony of Christ. During this final suffering, she said: "I have found Love. Love has let itself be seen."
Pope Benedict asked that her life and teaching be an inspiration to people today to grow in union with Christ and the Church in complete trust, to participate in Christ’s loving concern for the salvation of sinners and to "fix our gaze on Paradise, the goal of our earthly journey where we will live ... the joy of full communion with God.