Friday, June 16, 2017

Holy Hijabs

Keeping our faces covered until the coming of Christ 
2 Corinthians 3:15—4:1, 3-6
Brothers and sisters: To this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over the hearts of the children of Israel, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us, we are not discouraged. And even though our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

           Do you know what a “hijab” is? It’s a head-covering worn by many Muslim women in public. I know it is sometimes viewed as a sign of subjugation of women by men, and that does definitely happen, and should be denounced. But there is a deeper metaphorical meaning of a hijab: it is to veil, or to protect, the holy and the sacred from the unholy or the profane. In other words, just as God and heaven are veiled – hidden – from the view of earth, so too are women veiled from the gaze of men. But notice, this is not because women are inferior to men but exactly the opposite, it’s because women are superior to men, like heaven is superior to earth.

            The Western world has an equivalent of a hijab as well: when a bride enters the church on her wedding day, she sometimes veils her face. Not only that, but some grooms are not permitted even to see the bride before the wedding. Now, are all these crazy customs to demonstrate the inferiority of the bride to the groom (and to everyone else), or to highlight her superiority? Well, just as the father of the bride, who has to pay for the wedding if the veil means his daughter is superior or inferior. 
Furthermore, we use veils in the Catholic Church to highlight holiness. Some churches cover the tabernacle with a veil, some cover the chalice and paten with a veil, some nuns wear a veil, even the Communion rail is a veil to distinguish the sanctuary (the heavenly and sacred) from the rest of the church (the worldly and the secular). All these veils denote a metaphorical but also metaphysical “line in the sand” to shield the sacred from the sinful, to protect women from men, to hide heaven from earth, to distinguish and delineate what is superior from what is inferior. That is, hijabs can be holy.

           In the first reading today, St. Paul devotes a few verses to talk about veils, too. The Apostles writes: “To this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil covers the hearts of the children of Israel, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed.” In other words, with the coming of Christ in the Incarnation, the great veil between heaven and earth has been swept aside, and we get to sneak a peek into heaven when we see Jesus. Nevertheless, our vision is still veiled and clouded, heaven is still hidden from plain sight, and “we walk by faith not by sight,” as St. Paul will clarify two chapters later in 2 Corinthians 5:7.

            So we have to ask the question: when will the veil be completely removed, when we will get to see the Bride lift the veil, and see the Bride and Groom kiss? Well, that’s exactly what the last book of the Bible tells us. The Book of Revelation, or in Greek “Apocalypsis” literally means “unveiling of a bride.” In other words, the end of time and the end of history not only marks the coming of Christ, but also the unveiling of the Bride of Christ on her wedding day. Christ will return as the divine Groom, and the Church will be revealed as the Bride, holy and humble, and the glorious Groom will lift her veil and kiss her eternally.

          The Book of Revelation closes with the importuning and impatient Bride begging the Lord to return in glory. We read: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’” (Rev. 22:17). Brides can’t wait for their wedding day. But until that day arrives, while we walk by faith and not by sight, the Bride of Christ, the Church, should walk with veiled face, humbly wearing a holy hijab. And by the way, that goes for men as well as for women.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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