Sometimes ritual can offer us so much familiarity that we can pass through it without thinking about what we are saying (praying) or why we are doing it at all. In the liturgy, especially in the Opening Rite, the temptation is to recite the prayers without really paying attention simply because we are so used to doing it. After the opening greeting, the first thing we do is pray for God’s mercy. We want to be worthy in His presence, not because we have to be perfect in order to stand before Him, but because in our love we want to present our hearts to Him as best we can. The point of it is not to berate ourselves because we are human; rather, it is that we are aware of Whose presence we are in and we are awed at the depth of His great mercy. God is one who loves us so greatly that we are humbled at the magnitude of a love we cannot match, but yet He accepts the love we offer with more joy than we could ever imagine. In short, God loves that we love Him back. In humbly asking for His mercy, we have also put our hearts in the proper disposition to receive it. After we pray for this mercy (the Penitential Rite) the Gloria is prayed as a response: knowing God is merciful is a cause for rejoicing. And so it is fitting that after we ask His mercy, we echo the words of the angels on the night of Jesus’ birth, adding our own deep gratitude by saying, “We give you thanks for your great glory.”
It is right that we should give thanks for God’s great glory, a reality which is imprinted throughout the entirety of the Scriptures. While God’s glory defies description, the holy ones who encountered Him did their best to describe what is truly indescribable. From the earliest passages God is characterized in terms of both great glory and loving intimacy: the two are inseparable. It is as if His love sets Him ablaze with divine fire. That glory and love are intertwined should not surprise us because everything God has done for His people throughout salvation history is about His love for us. God is love, as St. John declares in his first letter, and therefore everything He does is a manifestation of that love. (1 John 4:7-21)
The experience of Moses and of the people of ancient Israel is one of the best examples of the greatness of God’s glory. God revealed Himself to Moses first through a burning bush. The bush was literally ablaze with God’s presence, yet the plant was not consumed. It should have been annihilated, yet God’s presence spoke of great love and mercy for His suffering people. Moses should also have been annihilated at being face to face with the glory of God. Instead, filled with the fire of God’s love he went on to lead His people to God’s holy mountain, Mt. Horeb, where the people witnessed the glory of God who came in thunder, lightning, wind, flame, earthquake, and trumpet blasts. Moses not only immersed himself in the presence and glory of God, but he was allowed an intimacy which was so great that God’s glory was absorbed and reflected on his face: he became so radiant that his face had to be covered. God called Moses His intimate friend and even allowed Moses to hear His name spoken. No one else has ever had an experience of the glory of God such as Moses was allowed. And in his great gratitude he made a response of love, devoting his entire life to service of God’s people.
Elijah, greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament, was the figure most like Moses in terms of intimacy with God. While He did not see God in the same dramatic way as Moses, Elijah had such an intimacy of the heart that He was able to discern the voice and the presence of God when it was all but invisible. He did see God in fire from heaven (1 Kings 18), but most significantly, when he was in grave danger God brought him to Mt. Carmel and there revealed Himself in a “light, silent sound.” (1 Kings 19:12) This is an incredible statement, and not at all an oxymoron: one might wonder what a 'silent sound' is when it seems like one word should cancel out the other. A silent sound is the presence of God deep within one’s heart. In other words, it is not a sound one hears with the ears, but rather with the heart. God’s glory can come in a light, silent sound. This is something which becomes imprinted deeply within the heart and soul. Elijah knew how to recognize God’s glory in this very intimate, indescribable way. As a result, shortly thereafter Elijah was taken up into heaven in a fiery whirlwind as the glory of God’s love bore him into Heaven. There are other examples from the Old Testament, but the fact remains that God has always shared His great love in a variety of ways, and His love constitutes His glory: His love is the very essence of His glory and vice versa.
We know that the season of Christmas was all about God’s great glory coming wrapped in flesh, lying in a manger. His glory was declared by the angels and was witnessed by shepherds and kings. In a feast we celebrate this week, the Presentation of the Lord, we remember that God’s glory was hidden from almost everyone at that point, although known to the aforementioned few. In addition to shepherds, magi, and the Holy Parents, the glory of God contained within Jesus was recognized by two elderly prophets who had dedicated their lives to waiting for the messiah with such reverence and devotion that when He came, they declared His glory immediately. Upon seeing Jesus, a tiny baby held in His mother’s arms, Simeon declared: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32) Simeon saw and gave thanks for God’s great glory. And as he spoke an elderly woman named Anna also came and gave thanks, glorifying God. These two reveal to us that the glory of God was sent into the world as Jesus the Lord, so we could better know, love, and serve Him, and so ultimately we would enter fully and completely into the immensity of His love, that is, the fullness of His glorious presence.
All of this is to say that when we enter into the liturgy we have a great reason to rejoice and declare our blessing, praise, adoration, and thanks to God for His great glory which is expressed to us as mercy and love. We rejoice because we have received of His glory at Baptism, and with each reception of the Eucharist we eat and drink that great glory again and again. And in response, we are moved to share of our goods, our time and talents, (or our service), so that the glory of God may be revealed to those who may be in great need of the Good News. We reveal God’s glory every time we complete an act of mercy, forgive an offense, act in generosity, love another, or lead someone to God in prayer. We experience God’s glory when we are forgiven or when we are suffering and someone attends to us. Sharing love is sharing in God’s glory.
God’s glory can seem to be hidden as it was to those around Simeon and Anna in the Temple, but there are ways in which we learn to see, just as they did. Not only do we learn to see through reception of the sacraments, particularly Eucharist and Reconciliation, but we learn by opening our heart in prayer. Whenever we pray alone in our room or with the community in church, we are opening our heart to receiving God’s glory, and therefore we learn to recognize when we are in the presence of God even if it comes as to Elijah in a “silent sound.” We hear this silent sound with the ears of faith, which means that it may be imperceptible to our outward senses, but that our heart tells us that He is present. Likewise, when at the beginning of Mass we pray the Gloria together as with one voice, we can experience being in the presence of God’s glory in the midst of His gathered people. Let us then be filled with gratitude as we say: “We give you thanks for your great glory.”
May we rejoice in God’s great glory which is His mercy and love offered to us! May we be filled with gratitude for all the ways God reveals His glory through the many gifts and graces we have received! May we put our joy and gratitude into action, responding by sharing the gift we have received as a gift, opening our hearts and our arms to those seeking help, not discriminating between haves and have-nots or current community members and strangers, but rather offering what we can to anyone who is in need! And may we rejoice at knowing that the glory of God is intended for everyone, and therefore, may we pray that all people may someday meet around the table of the Lord where all are welcomed! Let us meet in the silent sound deep in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Next entry will be February 13.
Note: To be accurate, we do not pray the Gloria during Advent and Lent. We omit it during those seasons so as to heighten the longing and also to make the rejoicing more meaningful at Christmas and Easter respectively.
Images: The first photo is a star cluster which I found a long time ago, but do not know who to credit. I suspect it is a NASA photo. I chose it because it truly speaks to the glory of God reflected in all of His creation.
Second: This is an image painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols called The Hebrew Name of Yahweh-adam Kadmon. I chose it for many reasons. One reason is that I simply love that the letters of the Tetragrammaton, (I Am Who Am) are superimposed upon one another. These letters are aflame as the glory of God was the fiery presence in the bush which was burning, but not consumed. The other reason I chose this is because the name of the image is a reference to Moses hearing God say His name, not just as I AM, but also later when God spoke it when He passed by Moses in the great act of friendship and intimacy. (Exodus 33:18-23) You can obtain a copy of this image by going to Fr. Bill's page at Fine Art America, http://fineartamerica.com/featured/hebrew-name-of-yahweh-adam-kadmon-183-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Third: This is another one of the works of Fr. William Hart McNichols. It is called Holy Prophet Elijah. I chose it because it depicts Elijah being fed by a raven. This took place at the beginning of the ministry of Elijah when God told him that in the midst of the drought and famine he would be fed by ravens. (1 Kings 17:1-6) And later when Elijah was fleeing for his life God sent a messenger (an angel) to feed him so that he would have the strength to get to Mt. Carmel where he experienced the glory of God in the light, silent sound. (1 Kings 19:12; read the entire story which is found in chapter 19. It is gorgeous.) God feeds us with whatever we need whether it is the physical food which strengthens our body, the food of grace which strengthens our spirit, or the food of love and mercy which strengthens our heart. You can also find this at Fr. Bill's site, along with so many other wonderful icons and images:
Fourth: This is a beautiful painting of The Presentation of the Lord: Scenes from the Life of Christ by Giotto di Bondone painted between 1304 and 1306. It is in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. I chose this because Giotto captured the tenderness of the scene in which the prophet Simeon takes the child Jesus from His mother's arms and declares his praise, glorifying God. Anna, whose words were not recorded, speaks eloquently through her gesture of pointing to the Child. I marvel most at Mary in this fresco, however: as always she gives Jesus to others, sharing Him without clinging. It is prophetic of her role at the wedding in Cana (John 2) when she propels Jesus into His public ministry. You can find a bit about the painting at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giotto_di_Bondone_-_No._19_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_3._Presentation_of_Christ_at_the_Temple_-_WGA09197.jpg
Fifth: This is one of my photos taken of the Alps near Davos, Switzerland. I chose this photo because the Alps are magnificent and speak to me of the glory of God. The clouds remind me of the experience of Moses who entered into the cloud of God's presence, the Shekinah.
Sixth: This is An Old Woman With a Rosary, by Paul Cezanne (1895-96). I chose this because I loved the humility with which the woman is praying. It seems like she is hearing the 'silent sound' of the glory of God. She is immersed in it in the midst of a sincere, simple moment of prayer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paintings_by_Paul_C%C3%A9zanne#/media/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_067.jpg
Seventh: This is another of my photos. I took this in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I chose it because the riot of color and the beauty of the falls were an experience of the glory of God when I was there. The photo transports me back to that time though as I see it now, the falls are like that silent sound: I have to hear it interiorly.
The season of Christmas ends each year with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Ordinarily this feast falls on a Sunday, but because of the way the calendar worked this year the feast had to be placed on a Monday. For those who felt its absence, the gospel of this Sunday (now in Ordinary Time) was about what happened immediately after Jesus was baptized. Therefore, those who were not able to attend daily Mass to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord earlier in the week could also participate in the mysteries of that event. We can still reflect upon the meaning of the moment in which Jesus went into the Jordan River and came face to face with John the Baptist. John was overwhelmed with joy in the recognition of Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit, he could not help but exclaim: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” He was so sure of who Jesus was that the next day he repeated the proclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God,” to two of his closest disciples, directing them to follow Jesus rather than to remain with him. How wonderful it would be if each one of us directed others to Jesus with the same joy, saying with our deeds and with our words, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
It takes faith and courage to help orient others toward Jesus in the way John did it. But if John the Baptist had not directed Andrew and John (the brother of James) to Jesus, how would they have found Him? These two men were seeking the messiah, and thus were followers of the Baptist. Jesus had not yet begun His public ministry, and it was to do so that He was at the Jordan: with John’s proclamation, Jesus had been revealed and would now begin to share His gospel message. Andrew and John were men of prayer and therefore they trusted the Baptist when he directed them toward the Lamb of God. They immediately shared this news with their brothers Simon (Peter) and James respectively, and also their friend Philip, all of whom were also prayerfully awaiting the messiah. They in turn ran to their faith-filled friends, though some required a bit more evidence, such as Nathanael, who at first scoffed at the notion of the messiah coming out of a lowly place like Nazareth. But Nathanael came to believe after he had an encounter with Jesus, an encounter he never would have had if not for Philip. Without John the Baptist helping them to recognize the Lamb of God, those men might not have known to follow Jesus. These same courageous followers would go on to repeat the message long after Jesus was dead and resurrected. Without these people, the Christian Church would not have begun to grow.
All the readings for this past weekend were dedicated to the theme of recognizing the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In the first reading Isaiah, whose writings filled the Advent and Christmas seasons, described the Messiah like this: “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) The Lamb of God comes to bring light and salvation to a world darkened by sin. But in the second reading we are reminded that Jesus will need people to bring this message down through the ages. (1Cor 1:1-3) St. Paul began his First Letter to the Corinthians by reminding them that he was called by God to be an apostle and that he and a disciple named Sosthenes were, like them, called to be holy. They were called to live the gospel of Jesus, and through their witness, (which he refers to as holiness), bring others to Jesus so that the message is indeed brought to the ends of the earth. We share this call if we are followers of Christ.
If we turn to John the Baptist again, we can see that he was born for the purpose of being the forerunner of Jesus. Discerning the presence of Jesus seemed to run in the family: his mother, Elizabeth, recognized the presence of Jesus while He was in Mary’s womb, even though Mary had not yet revealed to her that she was pregnant. We know Elizabeth and John shared that recognition because upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth cried out, “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:43-44) That is, both the unborn baby who would become the Baptist and his mother were filled with joy in the presence of Jesus Christ who was still within His mother’s womb. Therefore we know that John’s orientation toward Jesus began from that very moment. It formed him in his purpose, which was to live his entire life preparing for the moment when he could say to others: “Behold the Lamb of God.”
All of us are born with such a purpose. Our purpose is to bring the Kingdom to people and places that might not have a chance to hear the message. One might argue that John had a special role in salvation history, and that is indeed true. But it is also true that each one of us has a role in salvation history as well. Our role may not ever get us into history books or the annals of the church, but the fact remains that we each have a role in salvation history insofar as we are needed to call the attention of others to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. We all are called to point to Jesus, saying: “Behold the Lamb of God!” If we are concerned about how to go about this, we must remember what Paul taught: it is through our holiness (actions) that we speak the message of Jesus. Not all of the apostles had the leadership skills of Peter; not all of them were as well educated or eloquent as Paul. And not one of the apostles could 'do it all.' Rather they all carried out their mission using the skills and gifts which they possessed, sharing generously in the joy of knowing and serving the Lord.
This theme is actually the same one we encountered in the Advent and Christmas seasons. In Advent the readings directed us to quiet reflection so that we were prepared for the coming of Jesus and to then make a loving response. In the Christmas season we were directed to the manger which was now occupied by the baby Jesus. Our attention was drawn to generosity, something Jesus would emphasize in His gospel message once He began His ministry: the parents sacrificed, the shepherds praised, the magi brought gifts, and even the animals brought warmth and the gift of their feeding trough. All were saying in their own way, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
Therefore, as we embark upon the season of Ordinary Time we are reminded once again that generosity and mercy are important. Isaiah calls us to be like Jesus, possessing the heart of a servant and being a light to those we meet. Paul urges us to be holy, with the intention of drawing others to Him through our service, mercy, and generosity. The gospel encourages us to be like John the Baptist, who responded to the Holy Spirit at the Jordan and as a result was able to point others to Jesus. His heart leapt once again with joy at this recognition, a joy which he invites us to share. To possess the heart of a servant, becoming a light to others, (to become holy), is a response of love to God. The more we desire to become such a servant, the more our love for God will grow. And the more our love grows, the more our light will shine in witness to the mercy and love of God.
At all times we are called to be a witness, not always with words, but in the way we conduct ourselves in all the situations which are part of our lives. We are meant to offer healing, mercy, and love by offering our gifts of time, talent, and treasure to everyone we encounter, especially those in need. And like the holy ones who have gone before us, we need to continually pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance when opportunities to point others to Jesus arise. Finally, the ultimate message of the gospel is that our generosity is not limited to a season, but it is part of living a Christian life. Therefore we need to pray for this gift, and to share it with others when we can, so that we can proclaim together with John the Baptist and all the disciples of Scripture: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
May we have the heart of a humble servant, desiring to be a light to the world and to grow in holiness! May we embrace our role as disciples, orienting others toward Christ by our words and especially our deeds! May we be witnesses to the Gospel message, respecting the dignity off all people by building up, rather than tearing down, bringing love and mercy, and hence, our faith, to the ends of the earth! And may all our words and actions direct others to know and love Jesus, the Lamb of God! Let us meet at the feet of Jesus, open to follow Him, along with all the holy ones!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post January 30.
1. This is called The Baptism of Christ by one of my favorite artists, Blessed Fra Angelico, the great Dominican painter. This fresco is housed in Florence, Italy in the Museo di San Marco dell'Angelico. It was painted sometime between 1438-45. I love this because it is as if Jesus is already walking on the water, as if to prophetically point to His ministry which starts as soon as He steps out of the water, according to John's gospel. It is a powerful image, especially if you notice the way the Holy Spirit is depicted as surrounded by and emitting light. Jesus is the light of the world, the Lamb of God. He is God's own Son. I also love how Fra Angelico 'sneaks' St. Dominic into the side of the scene. Fra Angelico was a true Dominican, humbly reminding us that for some, (ordained deacons, priests, bishops), service can include the art of preaching. St. Dominic preached with words; Fra Angelico with paint.
2. This is a photo I took while in Nazareth, Israel. The bougainvillea steal the show, but the fig tree next to it reminded me of the encounter of Nathanael and Jesus in John 1:45-51. Nathanael scoffed until Jesus told him He saw him praying under the fig tree, something only God could have known. Nathanael believed immediately.
3. The third image is a painting which I found in an interesting article on the Flemish influence on Renaissance art which was posted prior to an exhibition. It is called The Visitation by Cosimo Roselli, (circa 1490-1500). I chose it because I loved the tenderness of both Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth seems to be kneeling in adoration of Mary's womb, gently opening the cloak of Mary, as if to be a prophetic witness to her own son who would be the forerunner of Jesus. It is as if she is showing John what he must one day do: open (or prepare) the way for Jesus.
For those interested in the article in which I found this painting, go to http://www.huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=14531
4. This icon is one of my favorites written by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. John the Forerunner Also the Baptist. I love the wildness of John, yet he is attentive to the Holy Spirit. As a prophet, his words take flight and even though they are often very challenging, there is a gentle side of John, humble in the presence of God. He not only teaches us how to point others to Jesus, but He teaches us how to recognize His presence. Only if we listen to our heart will we hear the word of the Spirit who speaks to us there. There we can join John in the great joy of knowing Him. You can obtain a copy of this icon, and see many other beautiful works by Fr. Bill, at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/st-john-the-forerunner-also-the-baptist-082-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5.This picture is a 'tip of the hat' to a newly ordained deacon and dear friend. A deacon is one who serves, preaching the Gospel in word and deed. In his preaching and humble service, this deacon is a forerunner in his own right: pointing others to Christ. (Congratulations, Dwight!)
6. Finally the last photo is one I took at the Jordan River in Israel. This is said to be the site where Jesus was baptized by John. Even though the water looks murkier now than it did then, it was still very moving to be at the spot where John proclaimed: "Behold the Lamb of God!"
Often we hear the reminder, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Indeed, but let’s be clear that there are two things emphasized here. One is the focus on Jesus; the other is that Christmas is not a day, but rather it is a season. Going against the lure of secular culture which encourages us to throw our Christmas trees to the curb the day after the feast of the Nativity, we need to remember to savor this entire season just as we savored Advent. The Christmas season is so brief that it is important to take the time for reflection, and with gratitude, simply drink it all in. We have been invited to sit with the shepherds, the kings, and the Holy Parents as they are rapt with adoration and love for the Child Jesus. We need do nothing but be present to experience the love which emanates outward from Jesus to all who are gathered around His crib. It is a time of joy, glorifying God, becoming awestruck with wonder, and being filled with gratitude for the magnanimity of God. It is a time which celebrates God’s great mercy and generosity, and we are called to live the season in that same spirit. However, in our secular culture the pull is away from this: the emphasis seems to be on greed and getting rather than upon the message behind the coming of the long awaited Messiah as a tiny baby. Indeed, Jesus calls us to generosity, not greed.
Christmas is a brief season, but it is replete with important feasts representative of the life into which this tiny Baby entered. It includes various remembrances from the Holy Innocents to the Holy Family, the martyrdom of St. Stephen to the gospel writer, St. John. And throughout the season we sing carols which are only heard during this time of year, gladly acknowledging the greatness of the gift we have received through the newborn Jesus and His family. However, there is one song that I have not heard in a while, a carol sung much more frequently in the past then it is now. The ‘neglected’ carol is Good King Wenceslas, of which many of us only know the first line: “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen.” It is a rather catchy tune, but the lyrics never mention Jesus or His birth, so perhaps that is why we rarely hear it. However, what we may not realize is that the song is about the essence of Christmas: it is about mercy and generosity. Rather than being about Jesus, it is about being like Him; its lyrics are about the message of Jesus rather than about the circumstances of His birth.* The song challenges us to take something away from the manger scene, but only so that we might give it to others. That is, we are supposed to bring the joy and wonder of the Child out into the world. We are to live what the Christmas season is about: generosity, and not greed. We share His love, we do not hoard it.
The song fits into the Christmas season because it connects the martyr St. Wenceslas, with the first martyr, St. Stephen, whose feast is the day after Christmas. Wenceslas, also known as Vaclav, was not a king, but a duke. He was born in Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) in 907, and raised by his grandmother, St. Ludmilla. In brief, Ludmilla supported the Christians of the region, influencing Wenceslas to grow up with the same values. Eventually Ludmilla was murdered, but Wenceslas gained leadership. He devoted his time to uniting Bohemia and also to supporting the Church. He was known as a peace-maker, a man of generous heart and kind deeds. Unfortunately, in 935 his brother Boleslav set up an ambush by inviting Wenceslas to attend a Mass on the feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, murdering him while he was on the way. Wenceslas is said to have forgiven his brother as he lay dying. He was soon declared a martyr because he died while trying to make peace and uphold Christian values in the land.
Although we do not know much about St. Wenceslas, the good ‘king’ of song, we do know that he was generous with the poor. The carol is based upon this virtue which he lived heroically, and the opening line about his ‘looking out on the feast of Stephen’ is symbolic of the martyrdom for the sake of Christ which he eventually underwent. The generosity for which he was famous was well documented. In the year 1119 a historian named Cosmas of Prague wrote the following about the ‘good king’: “But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.” **
The life of St. Wenceslas reminds us that embracing the coming of Jesus is not something we do for a day, but rather it takes a lifetime to learn the mercy and generosity of Christ. It takes courage to live a Christian life in the midst of a secular culture. Just as we tried to resist the urge to disregard the season of Advent, trying to move against getting caught up in the frenzy of doing seemingly good things at the expense of our spirituality, so too do we need to resist the pull to forget that Christmas is a season and not just one day. Buying gifts to give at Christmas is indeed a good thing, but if we got so caught up in the sense of obligation that we forgot the true reason, we have accomplished nothing other than accumulating a whole lot of stress. Similarly, if we forget that Christmas extends beyond December 25th, we can continue to get caught up in the materialism and consumerism of running around looking for more bargains, returning unwanted gifts to find something better, thereby misplacing the point of the coming of Jesus in the first place. Jesus came so that we might learn generosity, not greed.
If we look to our crèche scenes once again, our focus goes to the people gathered. We see the shepherds who came to bring praise, heads reverently bowed at the wonder of it all. We observe the magi, who came with their magnificent prophetic gifts for the newborn King. We see the animals that provided warmth for the family, and even the manger which they ‘sacrificed’ in order for Jesus to have somewhere to lay. Finally, we notice Joseph and Mary who gave everything they had for this Child, offering the whole of their lives to provide nurturing, care, and security. All those in the scene are there in the spirit of giving. But most of all, present in the stable is the amazing generosity of God who gave us His Son that we might have life. Absolutely everything about the Nativity scene is about giving. The question to ask, then, is: what do we bring? Clearly, all we can bring is the gift of ourselves. We offer our lives to follow the Child who we heard Isaiah declare would lead us all. (Isaiah 11:6) We offer the humble gift of our suffering, woundedness, and the good intentions which fell flat; we offer our imperfect love and our imperfect lives, but also our giftedness and good works. To the One who has offered all that He is, we offer all that we are. It is really the only gift that He desires, and it is the gift which gives Him the greatest joy: it is our generous gift of self which Jesus treasures the most.
As we continue to celebrate this Christmas season, the joyful giving exemplified by Good King Wenceslas can touch our hearts in a deeper way. We can take the time to reflect upon those gathered at the crèche scene, and why they are there, so we do not miss the generous love with which Jesus came into this world. We can discover the joy of giving without seeking return as we realize the magnitude of the gift given us by Jesus. If we seek to be like St. Wenceslas, we can take the wealth of who we are and what we have to offer, (not always something material), and we can learn that as the song says, “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”
May we reflect upon the great gift of all those who are gathered at the manger with us! May we ask Jesus to help turn any area within our hearts which is greedy, or any motivation we have toward selfishness, into generosity and mercy! May we give our time, talent, and treasure to those who are in need, and be generous in our thoughts and deeds when we are challenged by the spirit of impatience, judgmentalism, anger, gossip, divisiveness, envy, revenge, unforgiveness, selfishness, or apathy! May we follow the example of St. Wenceslas, giving to those who are poor in any way! May we pray for our world and its leaders, that they may become more generous, kind, and merciful in how they make decisions! And may we be humble like the tiny Child, offering all we have to Him, as He does for us! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Next entry: January 16.
* The entirety of the lyrics of the carol Good King Wenceslas can be found at the following link: https://www.carols.org.uk/good_king_wenceslas.htm. You will note that the title of this entry is the first line of the final verse, and from the final verse is also the last line prior to the closing ‘prayer’ paragraph.
** The quote from Cosmas of Prague can be found in the following article about St. Wenceslas. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=592
Other sources used for this entry:
The first image is of the Nativity, painted by Giotto in 1309. It is found in the lower church in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. While the kings seem to be absent from this scene, I chose it because it seems rather 'true to life.' The shepherds are a bit awestruck and overwhelmed; the cows and sheep seem to be much more attentive, joining Joseph who sits on the ground contemplating the scene (although one sheep is distracted and foraging, sort of like us when we forget the season!)
Second is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Holy Protomartyr Saint Stephen. I chose this icon because of the reference in the song (Good King Wenceslas) to the Feast of Stephen. His feast is the tie of the carol to the season.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy in one of a number of mediums, it can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/holy-protomartyr-deacon-st-stephen-261-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Third is a painting of St. Wenceslas taken from a YouTube video of the carol, complete with lyrics. I chose this painting because it so beautifully depicts Wenceslas as in the song: he is giving bread to the poor. To watch the video click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-ZrmdMEasQ
Fourth is a photo I took in Grapevine, TX. I chose this because it represents the joy of the Christmas season. As I said, there is much good in celebrating the season so long as we keep it all in perspective. We should decorate and we should have fun. But we also need to share the reason for the season.
Fifth is a stained glass window which depicts all of the 'characters' from the combined Nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke. Everyone, including the animals, is shown in this remarkable stained glass. I chose it because I loved that the magi, often referred to as kings, were dressed humbly without crowns. It took me a few moments to realize that they were indeed the magi. If not for the gifts in their hands, I would not have known who they were! This highlights that, despite the lyrics of the carol which calls the men kings, (We Three Kings) the only true king in the Nativity scene is Jesus, the Lord. The shepherds are also in the proper stance, pointing to God, on high, personified by the Star. This whole humble scene is a glorification of God. I found this scene with help from Google at http://www.desktopimages.org/preview/169763/2100/1070/o
Last is an exquisite painting by Caravaggio, Adoration of the Shepherds. I chose it because the shepherds are reflecting upon the scene at the manger to which the angels drew them. Poor as they are, they are aware that they have a precious gift to offer along with their adoration of the Holy Child. In truth, they are giving the gift of their lives just as He gives His to them.
I offer my prayer for all my readers to have a blessed and happy New Year!
Heart Speaks to Heart