When I was young my favorite passage of Scripture reflected St. Paul’s attitude toward his young protégé, Timothy: “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.” (1 Tim 4:12) It was very consoling to me at times when I had something to offer and felt that others did not think I had the ability or understanding for the situation. When I was relatively new at being a spiritual director I would often experience a subtle attitude of disappointment from people who were assigned to me during their retreat. I knew the unspoken sign that said: “What could this young woman possibly have to offer me?” I would try to be gracious, suggesting that if the person wanted a different director I could arrange it, otherwise I would be happy to meet with them. This did not happen every time, but it would happen often enough. I was only in my mid 20’s and looked younger than I was, so I understood to a certain extent. I knew all of us want someone who has experience when we are in need of a service. Yet we have to realize that everyone has to get experience somehow. We all have to begin somewhere, sometime, somehow, don’t we?
This week we celebrate the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus who were bishops in the early Church, appointed by Paul and entrusted with great responsibilities. We really do not know much about Titus except that he was mentored and sent forth by Paul, entrusted with some rather difficult ministerial tasks. Of Timothy, we know he traveled with Paul while still a youth and was empowered to be a bishop while rather young. Both men responded to a call to service and were trained by Paul, and both men had very difficult jobs to do in large cities as leaders of new churches which were in great need of education and discipline.
St. Titus was of Greek gentile origin. Paul helped him to use this lineage to his advantage as he dealt with gentile converts to Christianity. He was sent to Corinth to bring them Paul’s very ‘pointed’ and almost severe letter; the Corinthian church was no doubt the most difficult community in the early church because they were very attached to pagan ways which were not in accord with gospel values. There Titus taught the people the proper way to live according to the message of Jesus and helped them heal that which divided the community. Finally he was sent to the church in Crete, where he was said to be an excellent administrator and peacemaker. He taught and appointed presbyters (priests) and bishops and he was very well respected as a leader. Paul obviously relied greatly upon Titus and the gifts he was able to bring to ministry.
St. Timothy was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother, so he had understanding he could apply to both Jewish and gentile converts to Christianity. St. Paul saw that he was filled with great potential and began to teach him when Timothy was still a boy. As a youth he accompanied Paul on his second and third missionary journeys. This not only gave him exposure to the church as someone destined for leadership, but he also was able to learn from Paul through participation in his ministry. He began to preach during this time, which in those days was incredibly unusual for one so young. Therefore it is clear that Paul had a great deal of trust in the ability of Timothy. Paul sent him on many journeys to spread the faith and it seems he received the most difficult tasks of all of Paul’s protégés. He was with Paul when Paul was under house arrest, and was himself arrested at some point during his own ministry. We know that when Timothy became bishop of the entire church in Ephesus he was still young enough to struggle with credibility issues. In those days his youth would have been significant because old age was associated with wisdom and youth was associated with ‘being seen and not heard,’ more or less. Therefore he must have had great gifts in order to overcome the stereotypes which he faced when he was young.
As I said earlier, it was Paul’s comment to Timothy (quoted above) which was helpful for me when I was a young spiritual director. While I did not have the kind of responsibility which Timothy held, a spiritual director is entrusted with the inner life of another person and this is an incredible trust. One time when a considerably older woman than I was assigned to me during her retreat, and I saw that she seemed disappointed, I offered her the “out” previously mentioned. To her credit she said she would stay with me. Of course, I cannot reveal what she said to me, but I can say that she shared something which was similar to a great suffering I had experienced earlier in my life. I do not remember what I said to her during that meeting, but whatever it was, at the end of our session she confessed to me that she had indeed thought I was too young to ever understand what she wanted to talk about. She said she was amazed, however, that not only did I seem to understand, but that what I said was very helpful. (During direction it is not appropriate for the director to talk about him or herself, so I did not say that I had a similar experience. She could never have known that I had “been there.”) She had underestimated that a young person could have experiences that can help others, though I think she realized that one should not make such an assumption.
I imagine that is what Timothy experienced in attempting to accomplish his difficult tasks. St. Paul had the wisdom to know Timothy would encounter resistance merely because of his youth, so he continually encouraged him to “hang in there,” relying on the gifts God gave him. This is not wisdom only for young people; it is wisdom for all people. All of us have been given a mission by nature of our baptism. That mission is to bring Jesus and His gospel message to all those whom we encounter. We are to teach by word and deed. Paul told Timothy to set an example for all those who believe by being a leader who practiced what he preached. If we live the gospel then we, too, will not only practice what we preach, but we will often preach without needing words.
If we emulate Timothy and Titus and bring the light of our love into the lives of the suffering, we can do much to alleviate pain. We can be like Titus, of whom Paul said, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—external conflicts, internal fears. But God, who encourages the downcast, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus...” (2 Corinthians 2:12a, 13; 7:5-6). We do not have to be gifted preachers like Timothy, though I believe all of us are potentially gifted ‘preachers’ through the love which we share. Encouraging the downcast takes no special talent: it is simply about being present to those who need our help. It is about loving and caring for those in need. Many suffer losses and are grieving: some suffer through the betrayal of others, others through loss of health or a job; some struggle to make ends meet and others are lonely or neglected.
Therefore, let us be like Titus, lightening burdens and bringing peace simply by reaching out and doing what we can. Let us be like Timothy, offering whatever gifts we have for organization and leadership, recognizing that we should not leave tasks we can do to some other person ‘out there.’ If we were given the gifts, then let us be the doer, encouraging others to work for peace and justice or bringing improvement to a community. And if we are the ones feeling a little beaten up by life, let us take to heart Paul’s suggestion to Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Tim 5:23) That is, we need to be willing to receive from others as well as to give. For a community to thrive, everyone needs to offer what they can.
Let us imitate Sts. Timothy and Titus. Let us remember that there is a time for learning, but there is also a time of sharing the gifts we have. Every one of us can bring something to others, especially the gift of love. Let us be like St. Paul, encouraging the young to take responsibility for using their gifts. This is what building the Kingdom is about. The world has much that is broken within it, so we need to bring healing wherever we go simply by using the gifts we were given, taking up the mantle of these saints.
May we be courageous in our example to those who are young, teaching them to use their gifts! Let us be like St. Paul, accepting and nurturing the gifts of those who are gaining experience! Let us work with one another, bringing what we can to those in need! Let us pray for the grace to be like Sts. Timothy and Titus, taking on the difficult work of loving and healing by being peacemakers and leaders! And let us trust in God who is the giver of all good gifts! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first icon is of Sts. Timothy and Titus.
Next is a series of photos, all of which are mine. The first is taken of the shore on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. The next one is of some young men being ordained. The third is a sunset taken near Noto, Sicily.
The final image was done by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/images/product/316-i-hold-out-my-hand. If you are interested in obtaining it as a plaque, the web address given will walk you through it.
Sometimes we can unconsciously romanticize the lives of the saints such that we think of them as having it easy because they had so many spiritual gifts. Much as we want them to be ‘just like us’ so that we can relate to them, we tend to think of them as knowing all things through prayer, or having phenomenal gifts that somehow exempted them from the struggles we face in our daily lives. While it is true that some of them did have extraordinary gifts from God, there was usually some suffering that came with living with something which could evoke a lot of jealousy or misunderstanding from others. What makes a person a saint, however, is how they respond to the gifts they were given, not the gifts themselves. It is the love with which they lived (and their love for God) which shone through in all things which makes us recognize them as saints.
In the gospel for this Sunday Jesus asked the men who sought him out, “What are you looking for?” They responded by going with Him to the place where He was staying. It is clear that they were seeking the Messiah; however, they did not know in what way they would live their lives as followers. They were open and had a hunger for God which allowed them to leave everything and follow Him wholeheartedly. But the question Jesus asked was not just for them. It is important that we hear this question which is also addressed to us: “What are you looking for?” We may not be able to articulate it, but most of us are looking for the same thing the apostles were looking for: the love of God, answers to how to live our lives in the midst of conundrums, difficult people, painful situations, the brokenness of the world and our own brokenness, all while trying to serve Him and grow in holiness. The answer to these things lies in our relationship with Jesus.
What the disciples and holy ones discovered in following Jesus is that there are many ways in which we can bring the Gospel message into the world. They found that they were each invited to bring the Good News to everyone, but each did it in his or her own way, according to the gifts they were given. God wants all people to know His love and so the disciples knew they needed to bring it to others in order to bring about the Kingdom, but how they did it was as individual as each disciple. That meant each one had to follow the call that was given personally and uniquely. In following the call, we will find what they found: the answer to our own questions is Jesus Himself.
Throughout the centuries there have been many saints and holy people who have followed the call of Jesus in unique ways. One example of this is St. Anthony of the Desert, the first of the desert monks in the fourth century. When he was around 18 years of age his parents died, leaving him their wealth. Soon afterward he heard the gospel verse, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21) He was so moved by this that he felt the need to respond literally. He chose to distribute his wealth to the poor and left for a place outside the village so that he could pray. From there he began to seek out wise and holy people so that he could learn what it would take to live a life totally attentive to God. He eventually became the wisdom figure others sought out. There were many temptations to leave his lifestyle and return to the city, but he stayed in the desert and continually prayed so he might minister to others. He became the father of desert monasticism, which eventually gave rise to monasteries as we know them.
One thing that is impressive about St. Anthony is that he left everything behind to lead a life that was all but unheard of at the time. We, too, are called to spread the gospel, and we discern our path by listening to God in our prayer. Whether it is to enter ordained or religious life, enter into marriage, or to simply follow God’s call to a particular occupation, service, or community within our lifestyle, we all have to leave everything behind at some point and begin life in a new place or a new way. This is not unique to St. Anthony. All of us have to embrace the changes that life brings us, especially as we seek to serve God.
St. Anthony recognized what was within Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” It was a call to true poverty, which is not necessarily material poverty, though for him that was included. True poverty is a poverty of spirit and a radical acceptance of the life to which we are called, a life of a total response of love to God. St. Anthony learned that true poverty is freeing, though he had to struggle for a long time to get to the point of real interior freedom. True poverty is trusting God so deeply that we let go of having things ‘our way,’ going with the urgings of the Holy Spirit in order to love in our own unique way. It certainly includes generosity to the poor. But what is of even greater importance is giving that which is within us to those who are the poor spiritually, emotionally, or physically: poverty can be from a lack of understanding of God’s great love, or it can be from being neglected, lonely, ill, victimized by injustice, marginalized and forgotten because one is not dynamic or has a disability. Everyone has brokenness, and therefore we can reach out to others to be with them in their poverty. And therefore, we recognize that we, too, are poor.
St. Anthony of the Desert teaches us to become attuned to our own poverty. We cannot singlehandedly solve privation and misfortune, or stop war, injustice, terrorism, hatred, bigotry, or the effects of natural disasters. We cannot take away the pain of a person who is mourning, hurt, or broken in any way. That is our poverty. But what we can offer is the power of our love which comes from being powerless ourselves. The power of our love comes from God. Just as St. Paul said, when we are weakest then we are truly strong. It is Jesus Christ who becomes our strength. (2Cor.12:10) It is the faith, hope, and love which He gives us that becomes the wealth we share with the impoverished. We can offer the solidarity of our presence and the small actions of love and care that do, in fact, help people to know they are not alone and that they are loved. And we can (and should) work against violence and injustice. Some of us are called to take visible, public action and some are called to simply be available to those around them, working in the background by simply giving loving responses to whatever situation we are in. Some are called to give materially and monetarily, and others are called to serve like St. Anthony, giving our lives in a radical way to the church and the world.
What is most important is to realize that the most radical form of love, which St. Anthony teaches us, is to be open and to be forgiving. It is said that at one point in his life he chose to be literally sealed into a room because he was afraid that being so sought after would lead him to pride. However some people were very upset when he would not come out, so they broke down the door to get to Anthony. Instead of responding in anger, he forgave them and ministered to their needs. If we are to follow, forgiveness is the most powerful and most radical form of love we can have. Like Anthony we have to learn to wrestle with the demons which keep us from making a loving response, and learn to have the deepest form of poverty, which means we try to do what Jesus taught us to do. To love means to forgive unceasingly.
Therefore let us pray about our response to Jesus when He asks us what we are looking for. I believe what we are looking for, we already have. We have love and acceptance from God, and we each have a set of gifts and talents which uniquely empower us to serve those around us. Let us embrace the call to live as disciples. Like Jesus, (and St. Anthony of the Desert), we must respond by showing others the way to the Father expressed in our own inner poverty and in the richness of our love.
May we have the grace of being comfortable with our own poverty, and may we have the humility to recognize that we are all poor! May we receive the grace to hear and respond to Jesus’ question about what it is we seek! May we recognize the power of our poverty, that we can be one with those who are suffering by sharing our presence and our love! And may we pray for discernment so that we can make good choices, consistent with the gospel! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are mine. The first was taken in Ireland in County Mayo. The fisherman had just thrown their nets, and so this reminds me of the apostles being called as fishers of men. The second photo of the bare branches and leaves was taken in Lost Maples State Park in Texas.
The image image and the icon at the end are by Fr. William Hart McNichols. First is The Galilean Jesus. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/293-the-galilean-jesus. The icon is Mother of God She Who Hears the Cries of the World. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/220-mother-of-god-she-who-hears-the-cries-of-the-world. I chose the icon of Mary because she is attuned to our needs and intercedes on our behalf.
Following this is a painting of Saint Anthony of the Desert by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660).
Just about now many of us are pulling out the boxes again in order to put our decorations away. The Christmas season is over for the most part, and it is time to get back to … well, I am not sure what most people think of it, but the Church calls it Ordinary Time. Truly there is nothing ordinary about it. We have just celebrated the incredible mysteries surrounding the coming of the Messiah into our world and of those who witnessed and acknowledged the vastness of this gift. We are not the same as we were before that encounter. We were at the manger and we were together with Mary and Joseph. We were with all of the various people present there who subsequently left or fled the scene. Therefore we, too, bring what we learned there back out into our ordinary lives, which in truth can no longer be ordinary because we bring Him with us.
Actually, life is anything but ordinary. We think of it as such because we confuse ordinary with routine. Routine does not have to be ordinary if we allow ourselves the eyes to see. The very eyes that we allowed to be opened at the manger do not need to close just because we have returned to routine in our lives. The challenge of our humanness, no more or less than the challenge of the humanness of Jesus, is to continue to find God breaking through in our daily life. Just as Jesus was a worker of wood, a laborer, we also have the routine involved with laboring. Just as Mary and Joseph had to routinely provide for their Son, we also have to attend to obligations and repetitive daily functions. Surely their routine was far from ordinary. No less for us if we open our eyes to it.
This week we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, an event which effectively began His ministry. If we look deeper, we see that from the moment of His baptism Jesus was on the way to the cross. From the moment He stepped out of the Jordan River He was on the road to His own death which is why He came into the world in the first place. He came so that He could give the Good News of salvation, and to restore the understanding God wants us to have that we are all His children, so deeply, deeply loved. Jesus came to carry our sins to the cross and overcome death for us. He chose His path, first by coming into the world and then by entering into public life when the time was right. The baptism both prepared Him and made a huge statement about who He was and why He was here. It prepared Him insofar as it was a time of revealing His ministry; He had to go out into the desert and confront the reality that His ministry would be fraught with temptation and suffering. He did not need baptism as we do, but in being baptized Jesus teaches us that our joys and struggles are similar to His. After our baptism we, too, live lives which include joys, but which are also fraught with temptation and suffering. And His baptism also revealed definitively who He was when the voice of the Father was heard coming from Heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
From the moment of our baptism we, too, are on the way to the cross. That is, there is not a one of us who will live a life without suffering. This is the way it is for all people. None of us really chooses the cross we will bear, but the path we walk while carrying it is our particular path to holiness. It is not the cross that will define us, but rather, it is our response to it. Carrying our cross does not mean we will not have happiness, but it means that we will be more attuned to those around us. Just as Jesus had great joy in His ministry, so, too, can we. But all lives contain both joy and suffering. There is much to learn from both.
It is not just the poor or the sick that carry a cross. An example is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He was born into a wealthy family (in 1901) and enjoyed many privileges. He lived with gratitude for these blessings, but that gratitude moved him to action by sharing the love God had for him with those who had not yet known it. Pier Giorgio loved God by sharing with the poor and by sharing his faith with his friends through authentically living it. He was consistent in his fight for peace and justice. But in doing these things, he carried a cross. His parents did not approve of some of his choices, particularly in his choice of what to study in college. Pier Giorgio desired to study metallurgy to be with poor miners, but then chose to study mining engineering in obedience to his parents. He withstood the criticism of his father when he gave his money to the poor and his actions were mistaken for irresponsibility. (In humility Pier Giorgio kept his work for the poor secret from his parents.) And he gave his life when he contracted illness from a poor person he was helping. Pier Giorgio came down with polio at the same time his grandmother was sick, therefore he did not reveal his growing illness in order to be of service. By the time anyone realized how sick he was, he was beyond medical help, dying at the age of 24.
Pier Giorgio was known by his friends as one of the most joyful people they knew. Yet his cross was to suffer over political injustice, the plight of the poor, and the misunderstanding of his parents. The source of his joy, though, was the gospel of Jesus, and hence, Jesus Himself. He did not choose his call, but he did choose his response to the call he received. That is why I say that often we do not choose the cross that will be our path to holiness because it is really a call. However, we do choose our response to it.
Our cross, and hence, our road to holiness, can come in any form. It can come in obscurity or it can come in the public eye. It can come in the form of difficult health issues, painful relationships, abuse or neglect we have experienced, or from feeling the burden of whatever it is we do. Our suffering can also come from seeing the pain in the world: it can be the suffering of witnessing the violence which surrounds us (which seems to get worse all the time), it can be from witnessing the injustice that is directed toward those who are marginalized or misunderstood; it can be from being one of those who are marginalized or misunderstood. Whatever it is, it is our response to the call we have received, or the cross which is ours to bear, which will determine our happiness and our holiness. And the ability to respond to our call is found in what we have seen and heard at the manger during the Christmas season, come to fruition through baptism.
The cross we are given may not be the one we chose, but it is the one we have. Our suffering may be known only to us (and God). But we can see the suffering of others and reach out in compassion. Suffering expands our heart. It breaks our heart open, therefore expanding its limits. In suffering we can put ourselves with the other, knowing the road they tread. Even when it seems to make no sense, we can accept it because we know that Jesus could have chosen any road to bring salvation, but he chose to suffer. I always say if it is good enough for Him, it is good enough for me. And in reality, accepting a burden from the Lord in order to serve Him is to accept the joy of His love, the joy of His presence felt deeply in our lives, and the joy of sharing in love with others. Ultimately, that is a treasure.
Let us realize on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord that we are called to the joy of being united with Him and with the entire Body of Christ and therefore we are never alone in carrying our personal cross. Let us realize that we are on the road to holiness if we embrace the task He puts before us in what seems like a routine life. We will find that no matter what our personal road to holiness seems to be, all roads intersect in Him. So let us leave Bethlehem with Jesus; as the Christmas season ends let us enter the river and then go forth with Jesus finding renewed spiritual energy in Him as we embrace our lives of love and service anew.
May we have the courage to leave the safety of the manger for the unknown of our journey! May we accept the empowerment of Baptism along with the mission entrusted to us in our day-to-day lives! May we recognize the suffering of others and be moved to offer love! May we allow our hearts to be broken open so that we may be moved to compassionate love more deeply! May we have the grace to carry our own cross with dignity and integrity! And may we recognize Jesus ‘in His most distressing disguise’ in the poor and marginalized, so that we may be moved to action! Let us continue to meet on the road and in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first painting is The Baptism of the Lord and is part of a fresco by Giotto. It is found in the Cappella Scrovegni (Scrovegni Chapel) in Ravenna, Italy.
The second image is one of my photos. It is the Missouri River, taken in South Dakota.
Next is a photograph of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, followed by the icon Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The icon can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/holy-men-icons/product/97-blessed-pier-giorgio-frassati
The final picture is another of my photographs which was taken in Lost Maples State Park in TX.
When I was a little girl I used to wonder what it would have been like for the Virgin Mary when she was with her child Jesus as He lay newborn in a manger. I would sit before our home crèche scene and wonder what thoughts must have gone through her head. I would ponder what it was like for the shepherds in the fields to have angels appear, announcing the birth of the Child with great joy; what must it have been like to have gone to a stable filled with such holiness? I wondered what it would have been like to have been in the entourage of the magi. Would I have ridden a camel? Would I have sat next to the bags filled with frankincense or myrrh? I often wished I had been there, and I thought of how “lucky” those folks must have been to have seen and maybe even touched Jesus. While I am older and hopefully wiser than I was in childhood, I still wonder about those things, though my thoughts are a bit more sophisticated than they were then. But you know what? I hope my thoughts are not so sophisticated that I lose the wonder of it all. In fact, I hope that never happens. I say this because it is that very wonder and joy that keeps us on our knees in front of the manger alongside shepherds and kings, sinners and saints, in the midst of animals and a bright star.
I am going to guess that many of us have dreamed things such as these, of what it would have been like to have been present at the stable in Bethlehem or at some other time in the life of Jesus. These are not the dreams of children only. I did not know it at the time, but my fascination with the crèche scene as a little girl was a type of meditation. Today I believe, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, that when we ‘daydream’ in such a way, that is, if it is in the context of prayer, we are indeed in the scene. Since God is Lord of all time and space, He can transport us spiritually to actually being in a gospel scene, participating in that upon which we are meditating. In other words, it is real.
In meditating on the Nativity scene we would be with Mary and Joseph as they were kneeling before their baby, who they knew to be the Son of God Most High. We could imagine what Mary is feeling, having had this Child within her body, His blood and her blood coursing through her veins, and now looking upon Him lying in the manger. We could imagine what Joseph is feeling as he looks upon this Child and His mother who have been entrusted to his care. But we would also feel our own feelings and think our own thoughts as we participate in the event. For example, we could join the retinue of the magi, alighting on the spot on which the star rested. Indeed, what is it like as we dismount a camel, and walk into that stable? Do we drop to our knees, or are we so transfixed that we can hardly breathe and hardly move? Do we dare ask to hold the baby, as we often do with the tiny, newborn children of our friends and family? I think Mary would smile and place the child in our arms if we were to ask. (I would love to see a crèche set someday with a king or shepherd holding the Child!)
Years ago, while attending the parish where I grew up, I saw something I will never forget. Just before Mass on Christmas Day, a young mother brought her little son to the front of the church to see the nearly life-sized crèche scene. The boy, who could not have been more than three years old, voluntarily placed his stuffed lamb next to the crib. After Mass, his mother tried to get him to retrieve it, but he would have none of it. He insisted that he gave it to the baby Jesus for Him to have. That little lamb remained there for the rest of the Christmas season. I often think of the sacrifice of that little boy and I think it was as great a sacrifice as that of the magi because it came from his heart. The gifts of the magi, gold, frankincense and myrrh, no doubt sustained the Holy Family in their need, but the greater gifts they gave were in the sacrifices of undertaking such a trip. The material gifts were expensive ones, but in truth they gave more in the preparation, the rigors of the journey, the length of time away from their homes, in the dangers of the terrain, and from King Herod when they arrived in Judea. It was not the monetary value of what they gave that was important; it was the intentions of their hearts to seek out the newborn King and worship Him.
It is important for us to take time to have our own epiphany before the newborn King. We can ask ourselves what it has taken for us to get to this moment, in this year, on this day, when we come before the manger to adore. In doing so, we will find that we are more like the kings than we thought. Like them, we can give Him gold: we can give what we are able to the very poor to which He first came. Jesus was of the anawim, God’s poor ones. If we give to the poor, we are giving to Him. We can give Him frankincense; we can give him the sweet-smelling scent of our prayers rising up to Him. We can offer sincere, heartfelt intercession for those who are in need and for peace in our world, and we can offer Him our presence, listening to His word. We can offer Him myrrh: we can give Him our lives, dedicating ourselves anew as His disciples and friends. We can live that which He taught to the best of our ability, offering the cracked and broken vessels that we are. And in doing so, we have offered Him the whole of our lives, just as He offered the whole of His life for us.
Our meditation should not, no, it cannot, end here. Just as the kings had to leave the stable at some point, so do we. And just as their experience at the manger changed their lives, so too, it must change ours. Therefore, our meditation cannot end at the crèche. We must take what we learn there back into the journey of our daily lives. And what do we take away with us? I think that we take joy with us. We were face to face with the joy of the angels, singing “Glory to God in the Highest” and with that of Mary and Joseph, who are so very holy. We were kneeling in front of the manger, filled with the joy of all Creation, the very Son of God!
We take away hope. We have the hope of God’s promise, fulfilled in this Child.
We take away love. We have met love, who is God, in the baby Jesus. This love has filled our hearts such that we are compelled to share it with others.
We take away humility. The humility of God who became a tiny baby, and the lowliness of the scene, moves our hearts to recognize our own poverty.
We take away compassion and mercy. Neither the Child, nor His parents, nor the angels had said we were not worthy to be there. No one is worthy, but all are invited, so we leave with compassion and mercy in our hearts.
Therefore we are compelled to take joy, hope, love, humility, mercy and compassion with us as we return to what is our normal, day to day life. The epiphany we have experienced is probably beyond words to express; therefore we must express it with our actions. We can continue to bring our gift to the Lord by bringing joy to the joyless, hope to the hopeless, and love to the lonely and those who think they are not able to be loved. We can bring justice from the Son of Justice; mercy and compassion to those who are our enemies, those who are different from ourselves, those who are difficult to love, and those who have hurt us. We have come to see Him in everyone because we have gazed upon His face in the manger. In other words, we are learning to recognize Him in our brothers and sisters. That is the gift of the wise men to Jesus and to us. Let us spend time this week learning from them as we gather at the stable side by side.
May we have the courage to approach the manger alongside the kings, bearing the gift of ourselves! May we have the eyes of our heart opened to the reality of Love who lies in the manger! May we have an epiphany which changes our hearts as we stand before the One who brings healing to our world! May we truly learn to recognize Jesus in all our brothers and sisters as we gather side by side at the manger! And in our gazing upon the Lord as a tiny baby, may our hearts be filled with joy such that we are never the same! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus, not just in the stable, but in the world! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The top image is called The Adoration of the Magi by a Renaissance painter named Zanobi Strozzi. He was the top student of one of my favorite artists, Bl. Fra Angelico. For more on Strozzi go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanobi_Strozzi
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called The Nursing Icon of the Mother of God. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/249-the-nursing-icon-of-the-mother-of-god
The painting of the Kings came from a greeting card from a number of years ago.
The last painting is called The Adoration of the Shepherds (1609) by Caravaggio. You can find it and also an explanation of the painting at http://www.caravaggio.org/adoration-of-the-shepherds.jsp
Heart Speaks to Heart