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Speaking to the Soul: God can use anything even a towel

Speaking to the Soul: God can use anything even a towel

In the first century there was a woman in Jerusalem named Berenice. She had a hemorrhage of blood, probably what we call menorrhagia. Mennorrhagia is treatable today, and doesn’t carry the stigma that it did in first-century Jerusalem. For Berenice, though, her issue of blood was more problematic. She was probably in constant pain, low in iron, unable to participate in everyday activities. Her life was literally flowing out of her. Socially she was outcast, ritually unclean. Anybody she touched also became unclean. It would have been impossible for her to marry or get a job; she either had a benefactor or she was a beggar. It was not a good life; in fact, it was a slow death.

Somehow Berenice heard about an itinerant preacher, another would-be messiah roaming The Galilee. She may not have thought much about it at first. After all, there were other healers, she’d tried them all and spent all her money in the effort. Nobody had been able to help her. There were stories about how other people had been healed, but there just didn’t seem to be enough healing for Berenice. She continued to bleed.

This next part is a mystery that only the Holy Spirit can explain, but somehow Berenice began to wonder if this man, Jesus, might be able to heal her. Maybe it was desperation, or maybe she was just in the habit of trying everything that came along, but something compelled Berenice to find Jesus and to touch the corners, the wings, of his garment.

The storyteller gives us a clue about Jesus’s identity in this passage when he talks about the corners of Jesus’s’ garment, which is where the fringe would be. The Hebrew word for corner — which is where the fringe, or tzit tzit, were placed — is the same as the word for “wings.” Thus, the woman found healing in Jesus’s wings. And we remember Malachi 4:2, “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

Berenice may have known this passage from Malachi, or she may have just intuited that Jesus’s tzit tzit held something for her. We don’t know. What we do know is that somehow this unclean woman made her way through a crowd of people, putting them all at risk of being unclean too, and risking their wrath if she were discovered. And then in.a desperate, shockingly audacious act, she reached out and touched Jesus’s tzit tzit.

In that moment when desperation turned to action her bleeding was healed. She is not mentioned again.

Or…. is she?

There is another woman, unnamed. She also lived in Jerusalem. She may or may not have known Jesus, but she also has a Bible story.

The Bible story is that as Jesus was making his way to Golgotha, the hill outside of Jerusalem on which he would be murdered, a woman approhached him with a cloth and wiped the sweat and blood from his brow.The Bible itself does not connect these two women, but Christian legend says that the woman who had been healed of excessive bleeding is the woman who wiped the blood from Jesus’s brow as he was walking to his death. He helped her to live, she helped him as he was dying.

The legend continues: After this tender act of kindness, an image of Jesus’s face appeared on the cloth. I suspect that Berenice kept the cloth for awhile as a personal memento of the man who had healed her; but word got out. Soon followers of the Christ path began to want to see the image, then to venerate it. There were miracles. Berenice married. She and her husband spread the good news about Jesus, and she kept the veil with Jesus’s image on it with her during their missionary journeys. The Emperor Tiberius was healed just by looking at it after his doctors had given up hope and left him as desperate as Berenice had been when she first met Jesus. When she died, Berenice left the veil to Pope Clement. There is a “veil of Veronica” at the Vatican, though that one is probably from the 8th century. It is called “Veronica” because of the two Latin words, vera and icon: true image. Today we call the unnamed woman who wiped Jesus’s brow Veronica because of the true image she gave us of Jesus.

There are other legends, some contradictory, some explanatory. One is that her name was actually Martha, and that she was the sister of Lazarus! That makes a good story too, doesn’t it? They are all stories, remember. The historicity of these events isn’t important, it’s the truth which is whisked along on the threads of our stories that should get our attention.

The truth is that in the life of the woman we now call Saint Veronica we have a true image of tenderness. All of us were in a slow death spiral before we encountered the Christ spirit. Whether we reached out in desperation or something else happened, there was a time when we were dying and now we are living. Because of that, we too can be tender to those we find who are dying. Veronica simply took what she had — a towel — and brought it to the place of need.

What do you have?

Where it it needed?

God can use anything.

*Veronica is the special patron of:

  • against bleeding
  • against hemorraghes
  • domestic workers
  • dying people
  • laundry workers
  • linen weavers
  • maids
  • parsonage housekeepers
  • photographers
  • rectory housekeepers
  • seamstresses
  • washerwomen


*“Saint Veronica“CatholicSaints.Info. 10 July 2015. Web. 11 July 2015.



Linda McMillan, Lindy, lives in Shanghai, China



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