In my last entry I wrote about silence and the gifts that are born within it, most especially the presence of God. In silence we come to open ourselves to that which is ordinarily hidden because we are not able to really see, hear, or experience it due to our senses being drawn elsewhere. I wrote that silence is filled with the presence of God. It is appropriate that I continue the meditation on silence today because this is the anniversary of the death of the great iconographer, St. Andrei Rublev who died on January 29, 1430 in the Andronikov Monastery in Moscow. His actual feast day is July 4 and therefore he is overshadowed by another favorite of mine, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as well as our Independence Day, among other celebrations. Given that today is the actual day of his death I thought I would say a few things about him.
St. Andrei Rublev was born in the 1360's, but relatively little is known about his early life. It is said that as a Russian Orthodox monk he began to study iconography under Theophanes the Greek and a monk named Daniel. He painted icons in a few cathedrals, the Moscow Cathedral of the Annunciation in 1405, a few years later the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, and also another cathedral 1425-27.* After that not much is known. He is best known for his icon of the Trinity which is the icon which set the stage for all other iconography to follow. That icon is considered one of the greatest icons ever written. I have even heard it described as the perfect icon. The Trinity icon is said to be based on an earlier icon called The Hospitality of Abraham depicting the scene in Genesis 18 in which Abraham is visited by three angels. Rublev’s Trinity is a very peaceful icon, in which we see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit depicted in gentle colors, seated at a table, seemingly about to share in a cup of wine, an allusion to the blood of Christ out-poured. The central figure is Jesus, who is pointing to the cup, with the Father to the viewer's left and the Spirit to the viewer's right.
In contemplating an icon we are drawn into the silence of the figure or figures which are the subject of the work. Icons are one of the best ways to become accustomed to silence, or to become friends with the gift of silent presence. When praying with an icon, we reflect deeply, allowing the symbols to speak to our heart. The main subject of the icon is who we ask to lead us into the silence, whether it be a saint who lived a life which we wish to emulate, or divinity, such as Jesus or the Trinity. The reflection upon the icon allows us to enter into the silent presence of God through the window opened by the icon.
Often people try to sit in silence as if sitting in a void. There is no way that this can be comfortable or even attractive unless we are emptying ourselves in order to be filled. A void is not fruitful unless it is an open space we are preparing to be filled with the presence of God. If this is so, than it is not really a void, but a space pregnant for the Lord to enter; He will begin to help us feel more comfortable in this "new land." Since it is rather difficult for us to do this if we have not grown into it, an excellent way to begin to make room for God in silence is to use an icon. The icon not only serves as a springboard to becoming comfortable in silence, but it draws us in gently. We can start to see and hear in a new way. The beauty of the icon will draw us into the beauty of God; it will help us to contemplate the figure depicted, the virtues he or she teaches, the attributes of holiness that we may be seeking, or anything that the Lord wishes to teach us. But the most important of the gifts received is being able to enter into the silent presence of God. The icon acts as a portal to this silent presence of Love.
St. Andrei Rublev began iconography as we know it today. Though we do not know much about him, we know that the Russian Orthodox Church declared him a saint. This means that his holiness must have been apparent in the life he lived. The evidence we do have of his holiness is the legacy he left in the divinely inspired work which is the Trinity. He had to have known God intimately as a man of prayer in order to have painted such a work of beauty. Therefore he can inspire us to reflect on the fruitfulness of living a life of prayer and reflection upon God in the silence of His presence. He can inspire us to wonder what we leave as evidence of our attempts at holiness. Just as meditating on any saint can help us to learn something about the path of holiness, St. Andrei Rublev can teach us that we do speak volumes to those around us by the way we live; we do paint an icon for others to imitate. And he teaches us that we can come to know God in silence.
What is the icon we write with our lives? Are we people who draw others into the presence of God in some way? Perhaps we can pray to St. Andrei Rublev to intercede for us, that we can find the presence of God in silence and beauty and that we can inspire others by the icon of our presence as well.
May we be able to enter into the silence and beauty of God through the inspiration of St. Andrei Rublev! May we be open to finding God through reflection in silence! May we become friends with silence, finding that silence is full of the life and presence of God! And may we become living icons of the presence of God for those around us! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Wikipedia (see link below.)
Some great resources concerning St. Andrei Rublev and his iconography: The first is a classic film which is on the Vatican's list of best films ever made. It is a film by Andrei Tarkovsky called Andrei Rublev; " loosely based on the artist's life and the first (and perhaps only) film produced under the Soviets to treat the artist as a world-historic figure and Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity" during a turbulent period in the history of Russia." (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Rublev)
There is more information on the OrthodoxWiki at http://orthodoxwiki.org/Andrew_Rublev.
Also if you go to iconographer Fr. Bill McNichols Facebook page there is a sale going on in conjunction with the "feast" day today. It says: A 25% off coupon just for FACEBOOK friends. In honor of the patron saint of Iconographers, St. Andrei Rublev himself, and the celebration of the anniversary of his death on Jan 29th 1430, enter coupon code ANDREI. This discount is only here and is only good for a few days, through January. It only applies to icon plaque orders. https://www.facebook.com/SaintAndreiRublevIcons?ref=hl
And last, but not least, is Father Bill's web page www.fatherbill.org. The icon depicted at the top of the page is St. Andrei Rublev Patron of Iconographers found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/holy-men-icons/product/123-st-andrei-rublev-patron-of-iconographers
A reminder: I get nothing, whether it be goods or services, no financial gain whatsoever, by promoting the work of Fr. Bill McNichols. He is a friend and I love to share the wealth of the beauty of his work.
When I was young I had an unconscious habit of humming. My mother told me that I did it more than I realized, and that even at the dinner table I would often be humming a tune, that is, until it was pointed out to me. Then I would have to acquiesce to an imposed “humming silence.” I guess one could say I had a natural love for making music, with some sort of tune always running through my head. But when I discovered that I could learn to play an instrument to express song it became a passion for me. I loved making music and listening to music. But it was not until I was into the work of really learning how to play (the clarinet) that I learned the value of the silence between the notes. I learned that the notes only make sense as music when one has appropriate spaces, or rests, between them. Another way to put it is that the silences, no matter how short, are what make the music express anything.
In the struggle of the last few months of moving parents and being there when they have crises (or even in their day-to-day needs) I have reflected on how important it is to take time to be compassionate with one’s own self. In my own journey I have come to realize that extroverted as I am, I crave silences between the necessary activities of being attentive to those who are in my care. And it is in those silences that I have come to see the beauty and importance of taking time to simply listen to that which is happening around me and that which is happening within me. Without time for silence, there is nothing but noise. And without silence, I cannot hear my own longings and desires; nor can I hear those of God. Just as we need the silence, or rests, to make notes convey music, so, too, do we need to rest if we are going to be fully attentive to the presence of God and to that which is within. If we are not physically rested, we might eventually burn out so that we cannot do the things we want to do, or at least we will find that we cannot do them well. The same is true of our spiritual lives.
The mistake we make is to think that silence means an abyss of nothingness, and therefore we run from it. Time spent in silence is not devoid of sound or stimulus. It is not about a vacuum; rather, it is full of its own music. Silence means that we make a space, clearing away that which is keeping us from truly listening to our heart, and allowing that which is within us to gently come to the surface so we can spend time with it. Silence is alive with presence. It is the presence of God which we come to realize in the silence and it is our own self that we discover as we come before Him.
Often I hear people say that when they pray they do not hear God speak to them. They say it is just, well, silent. The problem is that they are expecting to hear words or to get profound insights. That is not how it works with silence. God does speak, but He speaks in presence. He speaks in revealing to us who we are, and who we were created by Him to be. Listening to His presence is like going outside on a crisp, clear night and looking to the sky to see the Milky Way or a cluster of stars which absolutely takes one’s breath away. The feeling one has, the reaction to such a spectacular sight, is a type of listening in the silence. One's reaction to such beauty means that one has heard something stirring deep within. It is not words we hear. We hear in a different way that goes beyond words: we hear with our heart. This is how God most often speaks. He communicates in a way that goes beyond words and is experienced on a much deeper level. We sometimes miss Him because we were expecting words, but it is in the silences that we come to “understand” by experiencing His presence.
A time in the life of Christ that has been attracting me lately is a time of silence. It is the time between His birth and being left behind in the Temple at age 12, and it is the unknown of what took place between age 12 and the beginning of His ministry. I find this time fascinating because it is the time that formed Him into the person who emerges at His baptism, ready for the mission for which He came. We have no information whatsoever about this time because the gospels were not intended to be biographies. Yet it is the silence between Jesus' birth and start of His ministry which can tell us so much about Him as both God and man. It reveals to us something of His humility and obedience, of His love and respect for His earthly parents, as well as for His true Father in Heaven. And this silent time tells us that in this life all things take time to develop, grow, and be revealed. It teaches us that there are some things we are not meant to know, but rather that we have to embrace the mystery which is a part of all that there is. And it tells us that there is a certain suffering that sitting in mystery can bring. All of this is understood by Jesus who experienced it as we do.
I wonder how many times Jesus was tempted to be impatient with the process. I am sure that being tempted in the desert, as described in the beginning of the synoptic gospels, was not the first time he experienced temptation. I wonder how many times He asked the Father if it was time yet, just as children ask "are we there yet?" on a trip somewhere. I wonder how many times He sat outside in the silence of a starry night and listened to the Father with His Heart, not His ears. If Jesus was fully human like us (and He was!) then He had to have had these experiences. We do not know when He had full understanding of who He was, but no matter when that took place He had to learn to listen to the fullness of silence just like we do. He, too, had to learn that it is not always about the words or the sounds, but it is about the spaces between them.
As we struggle to understand our lives, the world around us, the pain of those for whom we care, the mysteries of suffering or of miracles which abound, the only way to come to acceptance of them is to spend time in the silence of God's presence. Just as God was so far above Moses that when Moses asked to see Him, God said he could only get a glimpse of His back in order not to be overwhelmed; and just as God told Job that He could not explain the mystery of suffering to him since no one can understand the intricacies of life, we too, will not have the sights or words we want. But like Moses or Job, we will have the presence of God which is so full of His love and wisdom that it satisfies our longing just enough to help us know we are not alone.
Without taking time to be in God's presence we will never have the opportunity to learn how to hear in the silence that which is most important to us. Silence is not empty, rather it is full. It is full of God's love for us, and in that love is all the revelation which we will ever need in this life. If we were meant to have the answer to every mystery in our lives, we would not need God, nor would we need anyone. If that were the case we really would have a deafening silence and we would be in a void. Instead, God in all His wisdom, realized we need mystery in order to continue to seek out others, to seek ourselves and the beauty within, and to seek out the One who loves us without any reservation or limitation. That is the most beautiful gift one can ever receive. Let us sit in the silence of God where the music is made more beautiful by that which is not heard but experienced in mystery.
May we discover the music of God’s presence in the silence of our prayer! May we take the time to care for ourselves in rest! May we take the renewed energy we find in rest and prayer outward in service to others! And may we find the beauty of our inner selves in the presence of God! Let us continue to meet in the silence of God’s Heart! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photo on top is mine. It was taken while I was climbing Mt. Mucrone in northern Italy. I chose it as a reminder that we are surrounded by the presence of God, as being enveloped in a cloud.
The second photo is a NASA photo found on Google.
The icon is Hagia Hesychia Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence by Fr. William Hart NcNichols. Here is a description of the symbolism of this icon as found on the site: "This icon of "Hagia Hesychia" (Holy Silence) is a rendition of a most unusual 18th century icon from Russia of an allegorical representation of Christ as the female "Hagia Sophia" (Holy Wisdom) and the mystical Russian Jesus Prayer."
It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/divinity-and-angelic-figures-gallery/product/283-hagia-hesychia-jesus-christ-redeemer-holy-silence
It has been a hectic two months. Recently my husband and I completed the process of moving my elderly father from across the country to our city and then moving my mother-in-law here also. Both parents have differing needs, and both had to move mostly because they could no longer take care of their houses anymore. We were not in control of the timing for reasons too intricate to explain. Both are now living in communities to suit their needs and abilities, and both are not too far from our home. But just because we have settled them into new living situations does not mean our involvement has lessened. In fact, in some ways it has increased. We have become the guardians of our parents and have joined the ranks of many people around our age who are caring for elderly parents.
In all of this we put our lives on hold a bit or worked our lives around theirs. It has managed to work out, and as I have previously written, much of the process has involved situations and circumstances that clearly demonstrated that God was with us. It is clear that God has been answering my frequent and most eloquent prayer, which goes like this: "Help!" There is much for which to be grateful. And yet, it is easy to feel tired, concerned about this issue or that, and incredibly stressed. But the other day, while praying about all the details (and my stress level) I came to see that it is important to take care of myself, too. But how does one do this?
As Christians, (and in other religions as well), we are taught about the virtue of compassion. We are taught to turn outwards to others in love, mercy, and peace. All of these are great endeavors and are what help us to become holy. But quite often there is one person we forget consistently: our own self. Somehow we think that selflessness means that others come before ourselves and that it is okay to totally neglect ourselves. We think that if we do anything for ourselves we are somehow being entirely selfish and that this is a bad thing. That is not at all true.
St. Catherine of Siena once said that to neglect oneself is to sin. We are stewards of all that which has been entrusted to our care and this includes our own selves. Our bodies and souls are gifts to us, and it is God to whom we belong. As St. Paul says, we are not our own: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) In other words, we have a responsibility to meet our own needs and not just those of others.
The key to all of it is to keep everything in balance. If the caretaker "goes down," so does the care: if we do not take care of ourselves and run ourselves into the ground in the name of taking care of someone else, then the whole thing comes crashing down. There is no room for making oneself a martyr in the name of responsibility toward others. Somewhere along the line we need to learn the balance of what we need so that we can best be available to our responsibilities toward those in our charge.
Therefore, I am proposing that we all learn to practice some self-compassion. (I am speaking to myself, too, in this exhortation.) Self-compassion means that we need to listen to our own body before it is tells us that we are tired, burning out, or too stressed to think straight. We need to become attentive to what our mind and heart, and also our gut, is telling us. If we are going to make good decisions for others we have to be making them for ourselves, too. This means we need to take periodic breaks from the stress by carving out time when we can do something rejuvenating for ourselves, such as reading a book, listening to music, gardening, or exercising vigorously; most especially we need to pray and meditate. Whether we are introverts who need quiet, alone time, or are extroverts who need to go out to lunch with a friend, (or both!), we need to do it and leave the guilt behind. There is no reason to feel guilty about taking care of ourselves. We need self-care in order to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit.
Practicing self-compassion means living in the present. I have found it tempting to return to the past where resentments, hurts, angers, and fears lurk. Nothing good comes out of that for anyone involved, least of all me. It is also tempting to look to a future which does not yet exist, thinking that if this or that happens then I will feel better. The reality is that it is not what happens around us that determines our happiness. Rather, what determines our happiness comes from within; it comes from how we handle what life throws at us. We can choose our response to that which happens by either choosing to be negative and angry or we can choose a positive attitude. Our response to situations is what determines our happiness, not some outside force.
It is not about being a liar to ourselves, painting on the “game face,” pretending to be happy in the midst of pain. Living a lie is not healthy. Practicing self-compassion means that we embrace the pain in a situation and the pain within ourselves. It means that we acknowledge that which is difficult and beyond our strength and ask for aid from those who can help. Whether it is a family member or friend, we need to realize that we can turn to others. That is what friends are for. And most important, if we turn to God we can do that which we may think is impossible. In our weakness is His strength. (2 Cor. 12:9) I have found this to be true during the journey of these past few months. It is not because I have some sort of hotline to God or because I am holier than anyone else. On the contrary, it is because I am weak and I am struggling on my own path to holiness that I cry out to God with that one, oh so eloquent prayer: "Help!"
Self-compassion means recognizing our limitations and weaknesses and embracing them. It means we acknowledge that we are not God, but that we need the One who is God to help us in our profound brokenness. It means that when we pray and cry out to Him, we are humble enough to accept the help in whatever form it comes. It means we let Him love us through others and that we learn to love ourselves by listening to our own needs, therefore enabling our ability to be there for those who are depending on us. Self-compassion means that we spend time with Jesus, who understands what we are going through because He knows human suffering and struggles.
Lately I have been reflecting on Jesus’ hidden years, the years when He was in obscurity. What I pondered is how He may have felt when Joseph, His earthly father, died and He had to sit with His mother's grief and His own. How did He feel being responsible for His widowed mother? Surely there were times when Mary got sick and Jesus had to tend to her. We know He provided for her when He was dying on the Cross, entrusting her to John's care; that could not have been the first time He took care of the one who watched over Him when He was a boy. Therefore, I know He understands our labors to care for others who have been entrusted to us, too.
Let us practice self-compassion in all areas of our lives. Perhaps we need to allow God to teach it to us. The best way to start is to ask for it as a grace. It is also important to spend time with Jesus, reflecting on His life, His joys and sorrows, and His efforts to take care of His parents during His life on earth. Let us take a little time for ourselves so that we can really listen to our own longings, needs, and desires. Let us talk about our fears and struggles with a trusted friend or spouse, and especially with God who loves us in our very brokenness as we try to attend to the brokenness of our loved ones. Let us strive to do at least one act of self-compassion each day, until we are comfortable with the concept that we are responsible for our own health in order to take care of the needs of others with the love, free of resentment, which we truly desire to give.
May we have the wisdom to seek the grace of self-compassion! May we have the courage to tell the Lord what we need, especially for the strength we need to care for others! Let us have the peace that comes with self-compassion! And may our compassion for ourselves spill out as compassion for others! Let us continue to meet in the Compassionate Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The two photos are mine. The top one is the Pacific Ocean at sunset, taken in Gold Beach, Oregon. The second is of Crater Lake. I added this picture to signify balance and serenity.
The icon is by Fr. William Hart McNichols and is called The Yakrom Mother of God. I chose this because it depicts Jesus as a young child, rather than as an infant. It drew me to reflection upon Jesus' relationship with His mother. In this icon it seems as if they are consoling each other. You can find this icon at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/289-the-yakrom-mother-of-god
I really enjoy attending a baptism. There is nothing like it to get us to remember our own baptism and the importance of this sacrament. Usually I have no idea who the person is who is being baptized since most of the time it is an infant. But whether it is someone who I know whose child is receiving the sacrament, an adult friend who is receiving the sacrament at Easter such as I experienced last year, or a total stranger, I enjoy being present at a baptism. The truth of it is that no one who is being baptized is really a stranger, or at least not after the baptism. Once they are baptized, the person is a member of the Body of Christ, a member of the same Body that I am. That makes us brothers or sisters in Christ.
As I witnessed a baptism on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord I remembered that baptism is actually the start of our new relationship with God. We become priest, prophet, and king; this means we have a mission that we embark upon when the time is right. For an infant, the parents and godparents are charged with making sure the child is educated in the faith, preparing him or her for the mission when it is appropriate. This means that the parents and godparents are supplying the faith, so to speak, until the child begins to receive other sacraments and has begun to live a mission into which they continue to grow. For adults, the period of catechumenate is the time in which they are preparing so that once the sacraments are received, they can move out into the world to live them.
Liturgically, we have spent time celebrating the coming of the Son of God into the world, an event that is the most monumental, unfathomable occurrence that has ever have taken place. We have spent time with paupers and wise men, Mary and Joseph, angels and even an evil king. We have contemplated the magnanimity of God, bending low to become one of us in order to bring us His Kingdom. Therefore it is fitting that after a time of joy and reflection upon the coming of the Lord, we move onto reflection on the purpose of His entrance into the world. The mission of Jesus was not static, but dynamic. There was movement from birth to ministry. Just as we have to move forward, knowing we cannot stay somewhere forever no matter how cozy and comfortable it is, so too, Jesus had to leave the manger and flee into a harsh world after a short time. When St. Joseph, His father, knew it was time to come back and settle in Galilee, he did not linger in Egypt, but returned. He knew it was time to move on. However, he waited for God to reveal to Him when the time was right.
We do not know what happened in the life of Jesus during the years in Egypt, nor do we know what took place between the return to Nazareth and His Baptism. We do know, however, that He went to Jerusalem yearly with His parents for Passover. We know Jesus lingered and was "left behind" once, causing His parents to return after three days of travel to find Him teaching the teachers. And we know that at this time, Jesus seemed to have awareness of who He was, but not of when the time had come to begin his mission. His parents seemed to know it was not the right time. Therefore He obeyed them and returned home. It was not yet time for Him to move on into His ministry.
We know that Jesus lived the years of preparation in "hiddenness." To be behind the scenes for all those years when He knew He was the Son of God with a mission to accomplish means He had to be listening to the wisdom of His parents who were essentially saying: "Not yet, Son." He learned humility from them, understanding that they had the role of raising Him as a young Jewish man, learning the customs and laws of their faith. His first teachers, that is, His parents, prepared Him well. At His baptism John the Baptizer protested that Jesus ought to be baptizing him and not the other way around; yet Jesus insisted it needed to be this way in order to fulfill that which had been promised. He learned this not just from His parents, but from the Father who sent Him. This shows us that we, too, need the teaching of the faith from our parents who help us to grow in relationship with our heavenly Father, too.
The Baptism began Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing; it is the beginning of His effort to move His people out of darkness and towards the Kingdom He came to build. By being baptized He is teaching us that we need baptism so we can really begin our relationship as adopted sons and daughters of God, working with Him to build the Kingdom. We need time to grow and prepare, to pray about what we are called to do as followers, each to his or her unique ministry, given our unique gifts and situations. If we are baptized as infants the preparation is that which is given by our parents and godparents and all those who educate us in the faith. If we are baptized as adults, the time of preparation is the RCIA as we come to understand more fully what we are going to receive and how to be fully alive in the faith.
The Baptism reveals not only who Jesus is, but it reveals who we are to Him, and most importantly, that all of us share a mission. We are His people who He loves so much that He shares everything with us. His ministry is ours. His people are ours. His Body and Blood are ours. His love is ours. His glory will be ours in the end. Conversely, our humanness is His, our bodily weakness is His, our pain and suffering is His, and even our sins become His, (in the respect that He takes them on, not that He commits sin.) The mission means movement from the comfortable to that which might be outside our comfort zone. There must be movement, but if we have been prepared, and if we continue to call upon the Lord in prayer, we can fulfill the mission to which we are uniquely called. Like Jesus, we need to continue to be in relationship with The Father, so that along the way we have His guidance. To be a disciple missioned through our baptism means we need to continually call upon God to help us in our day to day lives. We may be the only introduction to God some people ever experience. The Baptism of Jesus is inviting us to get out among His people, just as Pope Francis keeps insisting, but we need to know Him who we serve, also.
The Baptism of the Lord reveals not only the Son, but the truth about God as Trinity, reminding us that the Father sent the Son into the world for a reason. This connects Christmas to the Feast of Jesus’ Baptism and maybe this is why we celebrate it as the gateway to Ordinary Time. He comes as the Incarnation at Christmas and now we see the revealed Son beginning His ministry, the reason He came in the first place. This teaches us that we are given the gifts of life and the empowerment of Baptism to continue this mission in the way we are chosen and in the way we are called.
Pope Francis has said that we should celebrate the day of our baptism like a feast day since it is the day when our ministry as priest, prophet and king began. Do you know the day of your baptism? Mine was on May 15. Look up the date of your baptism and keep it as a feast as the Pope has suggested. It is the day when your preparation for ministry was initiated and it marks the beginning of your relationship as adopted son or daughter of God. Let us celebrate the day of our baptism to refresh our spiritual memory, renewing our relationship with the Father who sends us forth on a mission to complete the work begun by His Son.
May we have the courage to enter the journey anew! May we realize the gift of our own baptismal graces and ask the Lord to help us put them to use! May we have the strength to follow Jesus from Baptism into the mission as followers of His! May we recognize His presence in those to whom we minister and in those who minister to us! And may we celebrate baptism, knowing we are never alone, but that we are One Body in Christ! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord. Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The top photo is 'yours truly' on the day of my baptism.
The icon is San Jose en el Rio Grande by Fr. William hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/312-san-jose-en-el-rio-grande or at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-en-el-rio-grande-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The bottom photo is mine, taken of the Rio Grande outside of Taos, New Mexico.
For more on Pope Francis' statement on baptism see http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1400069.htm
A number of years ago a friend of mine told me about a humorous interchange she had with one of her small children while traveling. Apparently the family was traveling across the country by plane, and had to stop in another city part way through the trip to catch their connecting flight. When it was time to board the second flight, the child sighed and said something like this: "I sure hope the pilot knows where he is going this time." Clearly the child did not understand that the first flight had only gotten them part way. In the child's mind, they had flown around in circles: since both airports looked similar, she thought the pilot did not know where he was going and that they had not actually gone anywhere on that first flight, when in fact, they had already traveled far.
How much like that our lives can be! There are times when we are trying to get something accomplished and we feel like we are going around and around in circles. We have the perception that we are not moving anywhere at all, when in reality we are learning and growing. It may not feel like we are accomplishing anything, though there are virtues being acquired or lessons being learned along the way. Life is a journey, but often it can feel like we are on a road to "God only knows" where.
Ah, but that is the point: God does know where we are and where we are going. And better still, He does provide a map. The map is the Bible, aided by our relationship with Him through prayer, which helps us to better understand who He is and where we are going. The important piece that some of us miss is that we need to learn to rely on Him rather than trying to muddle through on our own. We often have the mentality that we should pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, thinking that we are showing weakness if we ask for help. When we do that, we are indeed ‘flying around in circles.’
The story of the Magi on the Feast of the Epiphany is a favorite of mine. I have always loved the idea that these exotic wise astrologers from far off lands went on a grand adventure to find a newborn king, though they really had no idea where they were going or who they were really looking for at the outset of the trip. They remind me of Abraham who was told by God to go, and simply went, without much else to go on except his love for God and a huge amount of trust. However, the Magi are even more appealing to me, if I can be honest, because they had no previous relationship with God. They were Zoroastrians, who believed in one god, but not necessarily the God of the Jews. These men saw the star as an omen, and in their understanding the star would lead them to a king.
The Magi must have been very open to whatever possibilities lay before them as to who this baby king would be. They must have had strong faith in the goodness of this king whom they had yet to meet. Maybe it was not religious faith on the surface of their consciousness, but they were open to the deep stirrings in their hearts; open enough to follow those stirrings into the unknown desert and beyond, all for someone they had not yet met. I have always believed it was the stirring of the Holy Spirit deep within them to which they responded, willing to risk the elements and the dangers of such a trip. This was a lot more difficult than hopping an airplane and flying in circles, so to speak, until one reached a pre-arranged destination. They had no idea exactly where they were going until they got there.
Also appealing in the story of the Magi is that they followed a star until they were certain that they were at the destination. Who knows how often they felt they were going in circles! When they finally arrived in Judea, King Herod did point them in the right direction, but they still had to find the exact spot where the baby was born. The story does not say the star turned red like a stop sign or that it pointed a great big arrow to the exact spot indicating that the stable in Bethlehem was the correct destination. They trusted in what their hearts knew. I am reminded of another story in the Scriptures: they seem like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who said their hearts burned within them when they were with the initially unrecognized, risen Lord Jesus. This leads me to think that maybe it was indeed the work of the Holy Spirit moving the hearts of the Magi to burn within them when the star stopped there. When they alit from their camels and went into the stable, seeing the babe for the first time, they knew this was the King for whom they had come.
The Magi were indeed wise men. They knew that this child was more than just a king. They somehow knew to worship and to present him with the great treasures they could give. But they also knew, because of trust they had in a dream, not to do what Herod had asked of them. They knew not to reveal the location of the family with the newborn baby king and so they left by another route, warning the family to flee as soon as they could as well. They trusted because they were learning to listen to the movements of the Spirit deep within their hearts.
We do not know what became of them, but there is no doubt that they returned home with more than they left with. They returned home having seen the Son of God. They learned whatever lessons the journey taught them, the greatest of which was to trust in the stirrings of their hearts which come from God. They learned to discern what was from God, (the star, the dream, the Baby), and what was not from God, (the promises of Herod that he wanted to worship the child). This is one of the most important lessons of the spiritual life. They did have the big epiphany of seeing the child and realizing He was the Son of God, the most incredible revelation of all for anyone to have. But they also learned to discern the series of epiphanies along the way of the journey. That is the true gift of the Feast of Epiphany.
This gift is for us, too. We do not have only one "aha!" of new-found faith or belief; we do not have a single miraculous moment that carries us through the rest of our lives with certainty of everything we encounter. We might have the one event that may jump-start our faith, but along the road we have many epiphanies as things grow brighter with each experience of God. Being human, we need constant guidance. Sometimes on the journey things seem to become darker, not brighter, and it does feel like we are going in circles. Then the task is to trust that He is still with us, never leaving our sides for a moment. Just as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta lived many years in darkness surviving simply on her trust in Jesus, so too, do we have to learn to trust when the road gets dark.
We need help to truly realize we have had a message of love from the Lord. Without it, we would miss many of the little epiphanies that we need to recognize His presence or a bit of wisdom He is trying to impart to us. Like the Magi, we become wiser, following not a star, but following the Light of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ. We become wiser every time we rely on God and every time we trust in His Word. We become wiser every time we imitate Him; with every act of selflessness, every act of forgiveness, every act of humility, and every act of love. We become wiser every time we say yes to what God may be asking of us and every time we accept a gift of grace from Him. When we do this we truly begin to see Him everywhere, and like the Magi we know when we are seeing Jesus in the face of the poor, the lonely, the outcast, our brothers and sisters, our co-workers, friends, and neighbors. When we see Jesus face to face in others it is the best epiphany of all.
May we ask for the grace to recognize the signs that guide us on our journey through life! May we trust in the epiphanies which are given to us daily! May we learn how to discern which movements are from God and which are not, so that we may always move closer to the Lord! May we trust that the Lord is with us on the journey and that He is also the destination! And may we become wise like the Magi in knowing that when the road is long and dark, there will soon be the light of love to guide us! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the newborn King, Jesus the Lord! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first picture is from a greeting card depicting the Magi greeting the Holy Family and Child. The photos are mine. The first was taken in the desert of New Mexico near Santa Fe. The second is clearly not a star, but it is the moon over Baveno, in northern Italy. It was the closest photo I had of a heavenly body illuminating a town. The third photo was taken on the trail in Lost Maples Park in Texas.
Heart Speaks to Heart