Many of us have a fascination with the saints and holy ones of the Church. And well we should, since these are people who have imitated Christ in a way which is considered heroic. We can learn from them how to grow in holiness so that we, too, can imitate Christ more fully. The official canon abounds with saints and the beatified that are known, but there are also many who will never be known except by those whose lives they touched, and of course, by God. Additionally there are those who are called venerable who may or may not ever be canonized due to lack of exposure, and therefore no one asking for their intercession. I have to admit, it is to these that I am attracted right now, the ‘holy obscure,’ (my term for them) because they are like most of us, though perhaps a bit more sanctified. There is something about the holy obscure that helps me to see even more clearly that we do not have to be known to be holy.
A good example is a woman who is probably unknown to many: Venerable Margaret Sinclair. She was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1900 and died in West London in 1925. At a casual glance her life was totally unremarkable. Her family lived in a tenement and she worked in a factory. But she tried to go to Mass as often as possible. Once her sister Bella said they were not holy enough to go to Mass so often, to which Margaret replied, "We're not going because we are good, but because we want to be good." Although she was engaged to be married at one point, she realized she had a call to religious life. In 1923 she entered a community of Poor Clare nuns. She begged for alms and worked diligently to help the poor. She eventually contracted tuberculosis of the throat to which she succumbed on April 9, 1925.
Margaret was declared venerable because of her simplicity and the love with which she lived. What seems to attract people to her today is her ordinariness: she had the struggles of ordinary people and therefore she helps us to see that we do not have to be particularly gifted in some obvious way in order to grow in holiness. However, she was extraordinary in her love for those to whom she ministered and also in her love for God. She persisted in following the call which she received without a thought of being in any way different than anyone else. And that is why she is so attractive: she lived in obscurity, but she loved greatly. She may not be that well known to us, but she is very well known to God. *
Given that we embark upon Holy Week starting this Sunday, Venerable Margaret Sinclair and those like her help us to see that there is not a one of us who is unknown to God in our every intention, action, and desire. It was for all of us that Jesus entered into His Passion and death. He not only carried our sins with Him, but He carried each one of us in every way. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to cries of ‘Hosanna’ from the crowd, He carried each one of us into the city with Him. When Jesus was sharing in the Last Supper with the apostles He made it clear that He already had each one of us in mind. After the meal, Jesus gave a long discourse to the startled and disconcerted apostles. At the conclusion of the discourse He prayed that His Father might be glorified by what was about to transpire. He prayed for the gathered apostles, that they would stay the course. But then Jesus did something astonishing: He prayed for us. He said: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21) On the night that the worst of the Passion was about to begin Jesus made sure to let us know that each follower who was there and each follower who was to come was already in His mind and heart. He took all of humanity to the cross with Him, but He wanted us to know that He is intimately aware of each of us.
Therefore we know that Jesus took us into the Garden with Him. He took us to the scourging, crowning with thorns, humiliation by the crowds and soldiers, the carrying of the cross with His many falls on the Via Dolorosa, up the hill, and to the gruesome crucifixion. He took each one of us on the cross with Him and He rose for each one of us. There is not a one of us who is obscure to Him, not then, not now, not ever. When we experience humiliation, betrayal, the deep pains of suffering like a scourging and crowning with thorns, when we carry our own crosses in the course of our lives, we are not forgotten then either. We need to be reminded that Jesus did not simply carry our sins on the cross, He carried everything about us. That is why the burden was so crushing. As if carrying the sin of the world was not enough, Jesus carried our pain and suffering, too. That means He carried our hearts within His. He suffered, bled, was broken, and died with every aspect of our being in His heart. We can never know the weight of that burden, and we can never know the depth of the love with which He bore it. But we can know that He never forgets a one of us. There is no such thing as obscurity with God.
This is why Holy Week is such a celebration and it is why the thought of His suffering is so unbearable for us, too. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the gifts Jesus gave us in the Eucharist and in the priesthood He initiated that night. With every Eucharist each one of us in known to Him, and like Margaret Sinclair, we go not because we are good but because we need it to become better, holier. The gift of the priests who are empowered to bring the real presence of Jesus to us is indescribable. Without them, we would not be able to immerse sacramentally in the One who carries us with Him at all times. (Therefore, we must pray for vocations and pray for those who are already ordained!)
On Good Friday we weep for ourselves that our sin has contributed to the pain and sorrow of the Lord who we love so dearly; we weep for His mother who watched Him suffer so horrendously; we weep for Jesus who bore it all with love beyond all telling. But within all that weeping, like St. Peter, we know without a doubt that He had all of us, not just our sin but also our beauty, with Him on the cross. That which was marred and disfigured within us by our sinfulness, was made beautiful again by His forgiveness, mercy, and love. This is what He died for: that our wounds would be healed, our sin forgiven, and our beauty would be evident to us as it is to Him.
On Holy Saturday we sit in stunned silence waiting for Him to burst forth from the tomb, with the tarnish wiped off our hearts. The silence is nearly deafening. All we can do is sit, ponder what we have experienced, and pray. We reflect upon what we just did during Lent so that it has impact which we can carry forth as the fruit of our spiritual labor. In the silence we listen to our own hearts, waiting to hear His voice again, a voice which says to us “I love you” over and over and over again. It is the voice which tells us that He brought us to the grave and that we are forever carved into His hands and feet and most especially His heart. He knows us, He loves knowing us, and He loves that we desire to be holy. He never forgets a one of us. There are no obscure people to God.
Therefore let us live in the hope of things to come, but not without truly experiencing every step of the way of the Cross with Jesus. Let us remember that to Jesus we are indeed well-known. Let us be reminded that He died for us, yes, but not just for our sins. He died because He loves us. He died to take away our guilt and to replace it with glory. In light of this, there is no way anyone could ever be obscure to God.
May we enter into Holy Week knowing that in His great love Jesus carries us with Him! May our hearts be filled with sorrow born of love as we accompany Him! May we find hope in the midst of suffering in the knowledge that every hair of our heads is counted and every beat of our heart is known to Him! Through the gift of His Passion and Cross may we make room in our hearts for others! And may the gift of His death on the Cross inspire us to share His love with all those whom we meet, that we might inspire them to come and follow also! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Crucified Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*For more information on Venerable Margaret Sinclair you can go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sinclair_%28nun%29
The first two paintings are the work of Bl. Fra Angelico. The first is All Saints and the second is The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
The next two works are those of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first one is a drawing of Jesus in the garden being comforted by an angel as He undergoes the agony. It is a particular favorite of mine because of the tenderness of the angel. It also says to me that while we are never obscure to God, neither was Jesus ever out of the Father's sight. The second of Fr. Bill's works is the icon called Weep Not For Me Mother. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/all-categories/product/291-weep-not-for-me-mother
Finally the photo is one of mine. It is a reminder that after the death of Jesus a stone was rolled in front of the tomb which held His body. It is meant to be a Holy Saturday image.
Lent can be full of surprises. Even though we think of it as a time of deeper sacrifice, prayer, and almsgiving, there are a number of unexpected celebrations which pop up throughout the process. Depending on the lunar calendar for the timing of when Lent begins and ends, it seems that every year there are many reminders that Lent is indeed a joyful season, just as the whole of our Christian spiritual life is meant to be joyous. St. Patrick and St. Joseph have already punctuated our Lenten observance, and this week we have the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. This feast is about the announcement of the coming of the Son of God into the world and it is about a yes that was spoken which changed everything. It is interesting that during Lent we are directed to think of the parents of Jesus who lovingly raised Him so that He could enter into the ministry for which He came. In true Lenten fashion we can also remember the sacrifices, prayer, and difficult work that came with raising one who was integral to the plans of the Father for the salvation of the world. No doubt they had to constantly be in tune with the rhythm of the Spirit in order to correctly discern their roles step by step. They truly had to go with the flow of God.
The feast of the Annunciation reminds us that Mary had to let go of all her expectations for the direction her life would take. Every child has hopes and dreams for the future, so I am sure that as a little girl she had many thoughts of what her life as a wife and mother would be like. For Mary, however, those hopes and dreams were always in concert with whatever the Lord would want for her. As she grew, she cultivated her heart to be in a constant ‘state of yes’ to God. She was willing to continually go with the flow of the Holy Spirit, such that when the angel Gabriel approached her, she was not frightened, but rather welcomed him along with the message he bore from the Holy One of Israel. She was, however, startled by how he addressed her: “Hail, full of grace!” This was not because Mary was unfamiliar with the ways of God, but rather it came from having a heart full of humility.
Mary said yes, letting go of all the ideas she may have had about how her future might be lived. She let go of worrying about whether Joseph would marry her, even though she knew he would have difficulty understanding her pregnancy. She also had to let go of the plans she had as to where they would live with their child since they had to follow the rules of a census and then later had to flee for their lives. Mary could never have imagined that she would eventually be a fugitive and foreigner in Egypt when she said yes to God. And I can imagine that even when they returned to Nazareth, Mary had to continually rely on the plans of God as to how she was to raise Jesus who was fully God and fully man.
Implicit in both the feasts of St. Joseph and the Annunciation, is the ideal of letting go of our plans in order to follow those of God. To do so is the ultimate sacrifice. It is also the hallmark of those who are holy. It means we have to trust God so radically that we put ourselves completely in His hands, come what may. It is not about fulfilling His will such that we are puppets in the hands of a fickle or whim-driven God. It is about trusting in His love and wisdom, knowing that He sees things from a far different vantage point than the one from which we see things. It is in having the faith to accept that which we do not understand, knowing that God is compassionate, merciful, and kind, and that He knows what is best for us. It means embracing endless mystery and giving up the need to understand. Of course, this is not so easy, but He will help us if we ask. Love is the key here. If we love God and trust His love for us, He will lead us home to Him.
Even Jesus, who was the Son of God, had to go with the flow of His Father. He said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24) He understood that He had to let go of His life, a life I am sure He loved because He was able to see the beauty of the world and all the people in it. But He recognized that He would have to let go of how He embraced life by also embracing the path of suffering, betrayal, and death. He surely could have invoked His own will at any time, a fact which is evidenced in many passages in the gospels, especially the Passion narratives. Perhaps this is what He had to struggle with all along. At the beginning of His ministry Jesus was confronted with the temptation against following the plan of His Father while He was out in the desert. He came to see that only God does not have to acquiesce to going with the flow because He is the flow. Therefore Jesus could follow through with everything asked of Him by the Father because He was able to put His human will aside and choose the flow of His divinity.
In other words, the only way to accomplish the call we have been given is to trust that God has only the best intentions for us. But since there is more to the Kingdom than ‘me and my will,’ the only way to truly love God, and make a return of love in gratitude for all He offers us, is to trust in His plan and to do so even when, (especially when), it involves suffering. We need to trust that we are that grain of wheat which has to fall to the ground and die, letting go of all that we cling to which prevents new life, and trust the promise of the life to come. Jesus went on to say, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) I do not think Jesus meant we are to literally hate our lives. Rather, I think He meant that we should not cling to life each step of the way such that we prevent growth. Jesus hopes for us to trust in His plans, even though He knows that we do not always understand, because His way is the path to eternal life. Mary learned to trust in God by saying yes to the angel whose message was definitely outside of anything she could have imagined. But the one thing she did know is that God loved her (and the world) so much that even something as impossible to understand as her conceiving and giving birth by the power of the Holy Spirit, was that to which she could say yes. She knew that going with the flow was the only way, though she could freely choose to say yes or no. She chose not only to go with the flow; she chose the flow itself, who is God.
Let us be like Mary, choosing to let God’s way become ours. This means we need to continually pray for the grace to let go of our way of doing things and accept His way, which is the way of mercy, compassion, and love. It is the way of accepting mystery; it is the way of embracing suffering, of working against injustice, of reaching out to the poor, marginalized, sick, and alien; it is the way of forgiving those who have wronged us, including the one who might be an enemy. It is not something that comes to us naturally. Therefore we need to pray, asking God for the desire to trust Him as Mary did and then for the ability to receive this grace. This is why Lent is such an important season for us: we need to continually learn these lessons. And the only way to learn is to immerse ourselves in prayer, sacrifice, penance, and almsgiving so that we turn our focus from ourselves to the other. Let us learn to trust in the flow of God so that we might grow in holiness just a bit more this Lent.
May we immerse ourselves in the study of the gospel so that we might learn how to follow Jesus without reserve! May we learn from Mary, praying that we might have radical trust in God! May we ask Mary to intercede for us to have the courage to say yes to God’s call! May we persevere in our acts of penance, our renewed efforts at prayer, and the pathway of generosity throughout Lent and beyond! And may we have the freedom and the trust in God that we may go with the flow, who is God! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first painting is called Annunciation by Antoniazzo Romano and is found in the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome.
The icon which comes next is La Sagrada Familia, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/la-sagrada-familia-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The two photos are mine and were taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The alternate gospel reading for this Sunday is about a blind man who is healed by Jesus. (John 9) There is more going on in the passage than first meets the eye. What we realize upon reflection is that the real issue is spiritual blindness and not merely the physical healing of the man. Just as the blind man had to go and wash in the pool in order to see, it seems that to have sight we have to do more than simply desire it. We must put in the effort to receive the freedom which comes with it. It is one thing to see with one’s eyes, but it is quite another to see with one’s heart. Jesus wanted to ensure that the people who were witnessing this scene would understand that to be a person of faith means that we allow God to heal that which blinds us. We need to see the reality of who we are and what we are called to do. He also wants us to be healed of our inability to receive His great love, a lack which stems from the fallacies we have believed and the accumulated grime which comes from sin, rendering us blind to one degree or another. Jesus wants us to see with our heart so that we are filled with the same mercy and love with which He is filled and with which He loves us.
Years ago I heard a story told by a religious sister who recalled a trip to Italy many years previous, when life in her community was semi-cloistered. She was in Rome prior to her final vows and the day came when they were to attend Mass at St. Peter’s. Because of the thinking in those days, religious sisters were not allowed to look up or meet the gaze of others when out in public due to a custom referred to as ‘custody of the eyes.’ The point of this habit - (pun definitely intended) - was to combat temptation and also to have a demeanor of humility. For this sister, the result of maintaining custody of the eyes is that she never really saw the magnificent basilica at all. However, she could tell us in great detail what the pattern of the floor tiles looked like! At the time, I remember laughing because she intended the story to be humorous. But in retrospect, it is tragic because she was in one of the most beautiful churches in the world, the seat of her Catholic faith, and she never saw a thing… except the floor. Having been to St. Peter’s I can assure you that the tiles on the floor are indeed quite nice, but there is great splendor in the architecture, the stained glass, the mosaics, the statues, (not the least of which is Michelangelo’s Pietà), the famous Bernini columns, and the tomb of St. Peter. To have gone all that way and to have seen none of that is indeed heartbreaking.
The point in telling that story is to emphasize that we need to open our eyes and see. To travel around as if we are practicing custody of the eyes, missing the beauty of that which is around us, would be to miss so very much. The virtue of humility and trying to avoid temptations are good habits to foster, but to get caught up so intensely in these practices, becoming so scrupulous that we lose the ability to see, is simply not wise at all. It is to choose to put on blinders instead of facing the reality of the world, both in its brokenness and in its beauty. And it is to lose sight of Jesus and the call He has given us as His friends and disciples. We cannot serve if we cannot see that which needs healing and love. And if we cannot see, we will miss the presence of Jesus, also.
In the passage about the curing of the blind man the Pharisees had chosen custody of the eyes of their heart. They not only refused to see the miracle in the man’s healing, but they refused to see who Jesus was, and in doing so they also dismissed what Jesus could teach them. Their pride was so puffed up that persisting in their blindness, they rationalized their position by saying Jesus was dangerous, rather than seeing the truth before them. Worst of all, they continued to teach others that their blindness was really sight. Hearts cannot see without love and mercy, and since they lacked these things, they were truly blind!
It is no coincidence that this week we celebrate a saint who saw with the eyes of his heart, one who can teach us much if we turn to him. On March 19 we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. Though we know very little about him from the gospels, we can learn volumes about him because St. Joseph was the model of manhood for Jesus as He grew up. Along with Mary, he was the first teacher Jesus had in their Jewish faith. He also taught the art of woodworking and the path of mercy and love. While Jesus is fully God, He is also fully human; though Jesus is one with God the Father and is therefore imbued with all that which is God, He also had to learn how to live as a man in first century Palestine. Growing into manhood is what St. Joseph taught Jesus, and the lessons were ingrained forever within Him.
St. Joseph is the perfect guide for us, too. He is our (foster) father in a way similar to the way Mary is our mother, though I suspect we rarely think of him that way. He was as humble in life as he has been after death, pointing us to Jesus rather than to himself. In fact, in light of the gospel of the blind man and the Pharisees, St. Joseph seemed to have had the most important understanding for one who is a truly great teacher: to never stop learning, and to recognize that a good teacher is not one who simply imparts knowledge to his students but rather is always open to learning from his students, too. The Pharisees biggest flaw, it seems, was to think that they had ‘arrived’ at being wise, rather than to see themselves as guides who were still in need of being taught by God. They felt as though they alone knew the Law and needed no further instruction, hence rendering themselves blind. St. Joseph, on the other hand, taught Jesus in word and in deed, but also was open to learning from his Son. He recognized that he was in the presence of God and never allowed himself to be greater than Jesus. He learned to see with his eyes and with his heart, just as Jesus taught him to do.
St. Joseph can be our guide to spiritual sight also. We can allow his humility to guide us through life, recognizing that others are children of God just as we are, so that we never put ourselves ahead of them. We can learn to be the opposite of the Pharisees, recognizing that we always need to learn and never ‘arrive’ fully until we are in the next life when all is revealed to us. St. Joseph kept Jesus from getting ahead of Himself. That is, he kept Jesus grounded as a boy and as a teenager growing into manhood, teaching Him how to be responsible, how to toil at a trade, and how to live as a man of faith according to the Law with mercy and love. He modeled how a man is a good husband to his wife and a good father to his children. All this was to prepare Jesus for His future ministry, something Joseph would never live to see.
Let us ask St. Joseph to guide us as he guided Jesus so that we may grow out of our areas of spiritual blindness and all that holds us bound to sin rather than that which moves us to freedom. This is what we seek during Lent: to have the eyes of our hearts healed once again so that we may see how greatly we are loved, to recognize the gifts we have been given so that we might use them as God intends, and to see the beauty in the hearts of others, loving them as we ought. We can ask St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, to lead us to his Son for the healing which we seek and for his intercession so that we may have the courage we need to follow Jesus as a disciple, renewed by our Lenten practices.
May we learn from St. Joseph how to see with the eyes of our heart so that we may serve those around us in humility and love! May we be open to learning from those with whom we share daily life! May we learn to keep our eyes open to the beauty of the world around us, but also to those who are wounded and need love in whatever form that entails! May we have the desire and the courage to ask for our own hearts to be cleansed so that we may have renewed spiritual sight! And may we see as Jesus sees with a heart tempered with compassion, mercy, and love! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is a painting called The Healing of a Blind Man by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca. 1255-1319). You can find information on it at http://www.artbible.info/art/large/795.html.
The photos are mine. The first was taken inside St. Peter's in Rome. It shows the top of the baldacchino which is held aloft by the famous twisting columns sculpted by Bernini over the main altar. For more information go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter%27s_Baldachin
The final photo is one of mine from many years ago. It shows a path in the woods behind the Cenacle Retreat Center in Long Island, NY. I chose this photo as a symbol of being led to God by St. Joseph since there is a little shrine at the end of the path where one could go to pray.
The two icons were written by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is one of my favorites, called San Jose Sombra del Padre. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/120-san-jose-sombra-del-padre.
The second is called San Jose en el Rio Grande' and it can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/312-san-jose-en-el-rio-grande.
If you are interested in any of these images please go to the links I have provided and you can see how to purchase copies there. You can also find his work at Fine Art America at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/william-hart-mcnichols.html?tab=artwork
Please remember that the icons seen here are used with permission. This is what it says on Fr. Bill's page: All of Fr. Bill’s icons and images are copyright property belonging solely to him. Printing them without his permission is a violation of U.S. Copyright law. We regularly grant permission to use the icons but wish to have information about where and how they are used. Digital transfer fees and publication fees are required for most books, websites and publications that are for profit. Please send an inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org
It is amazing to think that we are already into the third week of Lent. Though we are almost halfway through, we may find that we are struggling to keep faithful to that which we decided to do for our observance of the season. Or worse still, we may never have settled on any course of special observance at all. Because we know there is an extra emphasis on prayer and doing works of penance, it could be that we are putting a bit of pressure on ourselves to do our acts ‘perfectly.’ Truly, I do not think pressuring ourselves is a good idea. All it accomplishes is missing the point of making a sacrifice, forcing ourselves to suffer as if suffering is the end we desire. ‘Beating ourselves up’ is never a good thing. We want to focus on growth in a particular area, but we do not want to forget the point of why we are doing this in the first place. It is not about perfection. Therefore our focus should not be on the action itself: it should be on the process of our growth in holiness in solidarity with the Christian community because of our love for God.
First of all, what we do should be done in humility. Jesus instructed us to pray in secret and to not be like the Pharisees who wanted to be seen praying on the street corners (Matt 6:5), and who “widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels” (Matt 23:5) in order to appear holier than they actually were. The only public witness we need to give to what we are doing is our actions of kindness, compassion and mercy which will speak for themselves.
Therefore, our Lenten sacrifices should not be self-centered. We do whatever it is we have chosen in order to focus more on God and on other people. While it is about growing in holiness, we do not want holiness for our own sake; instead we want to be holy to glorify God and to be a witness to others so that together we can work at building up the kingdom of God. For example, when St. Thérèse of Lisieux said her vocation was love, it was not about being loved or about simply being a warm person, delightful to be around. Love is an action; therefore she was saying that she wanted to give love in any way she could to those around her, especially to the ones who were the most difficult to love. Our desire to grow in holiness during Lent should be for the same reason. It should be so that our actions prove our intentions. That means if giving something up or adding an action is going to move us to more compassion, more mercy, more generosity, and more love, then we should go for it. The point of anything we do, even if we feel like we are doing it poorly, is to become more Christ-like. So if we are struggling with whatever it is we set out to give up or add during this Lent, it is important not to judge ourselves or to focus on the perfection of carrying out that act, but to focus on growing in love so as to love God better through loving our brothers and sisters.
Finally, we need to be careful of an error which we sometimes make in working at our Lenten sacrifice. This error is to think we are to ‘go it alone.’ The entrance antiphon (alternate prayer) for the third Sunday of Lent contains this line: “I will pour clean water upon you and cleanse you from all your impurities, and I will give you a new spirit, says the Lord.” That passage of Ezekiel goes on to say: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.” (Ez. 36:23-26) God will help us to become purified! We do not need to do all the work. The mistake we make is in thinking that the effort is all ours. It is God who gives us the grace we need and it is God who has placed the desire to grow closer to Him in our hearts. But even if we are unaware of such a desire and feel like we are doing the “Lenten thing” because we are obligated, that is a start. God can work with that, just as He can work with anything so long as we are open to Him. We cannot forget that God has to be part of this equation. Without allowing God to walk with us and to work with us, our efforts will feel as if for naught.
And that is the beauty of Lent: it is not about what we do, it is about who we do it with. We do our practices to grow in generosity and kindness. This helps us to cleanse from sin, but it also helps us to focus away from ourselves and toward those around us. We go to Reconciliation to take away all that which comes between us and God, and so we may obtain the graces we need in order to be better able to love. We do not go to Reconciliation because we fear punishment. We go so that we might love better. We do not give up meat (or whatever is equivalent for those who regularly forgo meat) simply to be healthier, to aid the environment, or to follow a 'silly rule,’ for that matter. Instead we do it to make a sacrifice which reminds us of who we are, of our desire and attempt to grow in holiness, and to refocus our priorities. Giving up meat is something we have to be intentional about and so it helps to focus our attention on our other Lenten practices, too. It is not the meat deprivation that is significant; rather, it is the process of growing in holiness as part of a community, the Body of Christ, which is deeply important.
It is who we celebrate Lent with, then, that counts the most. We celebrate the season with the Christian community, all of whom are on the same journey, struggling to grow in holiness and doing acts of generosity, healing, and prayer. We celebrate it with God, who will do much of the work in us if we let Him. He will give us a new heart and He will sprinkle clean water on us to heal us of that which has soiled our inner beauty. He will put His spirit in us, which is to say, He will give us the graces we need. And we celebrate Lent with the entire world, whether they are aware we are doing so or not. As we grow in holiness we change, and so too our relationship with the world changes, even if it is quite subtle. The more we acknowledge our sinfulness the less we can judge others for their sins because we see that we are also capable of the sinful or hurtful things which wound the world. As we grow through Lent we see that we can be more patient with the differences of others, but also we can pray for that which is destructive or evil to be thwarted by our efforts at kindness, compassion and peace, and most especially through our prayers to God.
Let us allow God to walk with us through our Lenten observance. Let us allow Him to put His heart within us, replacing our stony hearts with ‘natural hearts.’ A natural heart is the heart He originally intended for us. It is a heart that allows itself to be opened up to seeing our own flaws, not feeling guilty, but desiring for His sake to be better. It is a heart that yearns to love as He loves. It is a heart which recognizes just how much we have been given, is filled with gratitude, and in gratitude desires to share that love through good works. The good news is that we do not have to work at our observances alone. Our natural heart is a work in progress, given by God, who wants us to have the joy of knowing the depth of His love for us. Therefore Let us persevere in our Lenten practices, knowing that we do not go it alone.
May our Lenten observances take on greater meaning as we continue through this season, no matter how imperfect our attempts so far have been! May we focus not on the practices we have promised but on the Lord for whom we do them! May we have the desire and courage to face our weaknesses and to go to the sacrament of Reconciliation where all sin is wiped clean! May we be renewed in our strength as we turn to the Lord who walks with us through Lent! May we allow the Lord to give us natural hearts, hearts filled with kindness, generosity, compassion, mercy, and love! And may we trust the process, even if we see little progress, knowing that with the Lord all things are possible! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first photo is mine. It was taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I chose it because of the sense of solitude that I experienced at that spot. It was a spot that felt like it was "in secret" as a place of quiet prayer and reflection.
Next is a photo I took of a photo of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: it was part of a permanent display at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
The third photo is of Fr. William Hart McNichols as he took part in Las Posadas at Nuestra Señora de San Juan de Los Lagos Capilla in Talpa, NM. While it is an Advent photo, I chose it because of the gentle leadership and relationship which is apparent between Fr. Bill and the young 'St. Joseph' seen walking with him. They are leading each other; that is, they are part of the community, together in prayer.
Next is an icon written by Fr. Bill McNichols, mentioned above. It is called San Jose en el Rio Grande. I am aware that St. Joseph's feast is next week, but I feel that one can never say enough about this wonderful saint. He is the humblest of all saints, (in my opinion), because he had the task of being the guide to manhood for Jesus, though in reality not really His father, but a type of foster father. As in the above photo of Fr. Bill and the young boy seeming to guide each other, so too are St. Joseph and Jesus guiding each other. Should you want to purchase a copy of it, the icon can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-en-el-rio-grande-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The last photo is one of mine, taken in North Dakota. It is a sunset over the Badlands.
Heart Speaks to Heart