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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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Why do we never sing “De Spiritu Sancto” (St. Athenogenes) in our churches? There are a dozen translations in English verse. Where could anyone find a better evening hymn than this, coming right down from the catacombs? Our hymnbooks know nothing of such a treasure as this, and give us pages of poor sentiment in doggerel lines by some tenth-rate modern versifier.
— Rev’d Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

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What Jesus Looked Like
published 21 December 2012 by Fr. David Friel

HAT DID JESUS LOOK LIKE? Do you have an image of Jesus that comes to mind when you hear His name? Maybe He looked like Chase Utley. Or maybe He looked like the Brawny paper towel guy. I personally like to think Jesus had red hair. But what did Jesus actually look like?

Your initial reaction might be to say, “Well, we really don’t know. That was 2,000 years ago, and there are no photographs around, so we really can’t say for sure.” But that’s not true. We can say for sure what Jesus looked like. We may not know for certain whether he had straight or curly hair or light or dark skin. But we can say, without a doubt, that He looked like . . . Mary.

Jesus is the Son of God but, when He chose to be born into time, He chose to subject Himself to the realities of human existence. He even became subject to the laws of science, which He, Himself, created. One of those realities of human existence is genetics. As we learned in high school biology, we all inherit genetic traits from our parents. One of the first people to study this—and the person now considered to be the “Father of Modern Genetics”—was Gregor Mendel (an Augustinian priest). As he, and those who came after him, could tell us, a child’s appearance is determined by the genes he or she receives from the parents.

So how did this work in Jesus’ case? Scripture—from Isaiah to Luke—emphatically makes the point that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. As we say in the creed, Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by relations with a man. So, because of the astonishing truth that Jesus was born of a virgin Mother, we can say that Jesus received all His genetic material from Mary. As a result, Jesus & Mary would have shared a very strong physical resemblance.

Of course, outward appearance is not what ultimately matters. Many young people struggle with being overly concerned about their appearance. They often feel pressured to resemble this or that famous person, or even this or that particular classmate. The truth is that God has made each person uniquely beautiful, so there is no need to try to look like anybody else. But, if it is not our outward appearance that ultimately matters, what is it? What does ultimately matter?

What ultimately matters is our interior resemblance to Jesus. The interior resemblance of Mary & Jesus was just as strong as their physical resemblance. They resemble each other in mercy, in gentleness, in compassion; they resemble each other in forgiveness, in love for the poor, in selfless sacrifice. Insofar as we resemble Mary, we also resemble her Son.

Every one of us is a reflection of our parents. My dad has red hair and big ears, and so do I. But we aren’t just children of our parents. We’re also children of God. Whereas our physical resemblance to our parents comes naturally, our interior resemblance to Mary & Jesus takes some work. So, let’s resolve to put some time and energy into fostering that resemblance. Let’s put aside our gossip and our grudges. Let’s put aside our judgmental attitudes and our laziness. Let’s put aside our pride and our jealousy. Let’s make time for our family and friends. Let’s make time for prayer and for service.

If we do that, the image of the Christ Child will be born again in us, and, when people see us, they will see the face of Christ.