In the light of eternity
Jesus Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
In just a few days much has transpired. Last week the hosannas were sung and then faded out. Silence fell in a blanket of sorrow which drifted over us and drowned out all but the sound of our hearts breaking when we were at the foot of the cross and then at the tomb. But now the Alleluias resound because of a glorious Easter morning. On the morning of the first day of the week, Jesus burst forth from the tomb. The tomb is now empty: the Lord has risen! He has conquered sin and death and is risen from the dead! The One who was dead now lives! Jesus is alive! Alleluia!
Prior to this glorious event we had asked Mary, the mother of Jesus, to accompany us through the journey of the Via Dolorosa. We sat together at the tomb and we held vigil when she and the other women returned to wherever they were staying; perhaps this is in the upper room where the Last Supper took place and in which the apostles were hiding. We have observed that Mary was not concerned with hiding, but rather she was comforting her friends who had become as family, and they were comforting her. Thus, we were still together when the event of the resurrection took place. With this in mind, we are also invited to be a witness when Jesus reveals Himself to her.
The event of Jesus appearing to his mother is very intimate, but we are invited to be witnesses because we have been on the journey with her and have been present to one another through the darkest times. And so, on the first day of the week, as the sun is beginning to come up over the horizon, there is a palpable energy in the air and somehow there seems to be a glimmer of hope arising with the new dawn. As Mary goes outside to get some air and to view this sunrise her heart begins to beat in tune with her Son once again. While her heart had beaten in emptiness and aloneness for the past three days, she now feels a difference: she feels Him near again. Then as if He never left, Jesus is simply there. He is right behind her, but she is not startled in the least. When she turns to face Him, she already knows that He is there. Jesus, her Risen Lord and also her Son, stands before her, marked with the signs of His suffering, but radiant with resurrection glory.
Unlike Mary Magdalene who will mistake Jesus for a gardener, or the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who will be with Him all day before knowing His identity, Mary has no trouble recognizing her risen Son. Yes, He does look different because His body had been glorified in resurrection, but as His mother she knows Him more intimately than anyone else. Mary does not ask us to step back or to leave the area where Jesus has come to reveal to her that He is alive. Since we are also her children, she shares this incredible moment with us. She knows the reality of the resurrection and that none of us can ever be the same again. However, if seeing Jesus along with Mary seems so intimate that we feel we must avert our eyes, or that the moment is simply too mysterious for us to envision, then we should have no fear because we do see Him on Easter morning. We see Him at the table when He comes to us in the form of bread and wine transubstantiated into His Body and Blood. Every time we witness this, we are witnessing the resurrection and every time we receive Communion we are entering into the resurrection. The Eucharist is an invitation into new life and it transforms us. It is Easter every time we receive and every time we adore His sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. It was offered for Mary, the apostles, and for every one of us who believes and cries out with St. Paul: “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11)
With the dying of Jesus all pain was joined to the suffering He went through so that in our suffering He is present. In His rising everything is imbued with hope which can only find its source and its culmination in Jesus Christ. Everything is bathed in new light and new life; all that is beautiful becomes infused with greater beauty. Everything has more depth, more breadth, and more luminescence: everything is infused with His grace. Every sound becomes music to our ears singing ‘alleluia’ and every sight brings new awareness of the Divine. No relationship is the same. No person is the same when one has had an encounter with the risen Christ in worship and in the sacraments.
This new life and new awareness heighten our longing for the day when we will join Jesus in resurrection, the day when He returns for us. Just as we walked the journey with Jesus and Mary through Lent and Holy Week, we must continue to walk it in the light of the resurrection. To say it in another way, we need to walk in the light of eternity. The reality of the resurrection and the hope in Christ’s return ought to help us to see that everything we say and do, all of our prayers and choices need to be said and done in the light of eternity. The reality of the resurrection should change everything for us. If we are Easter people (and we are) we are to behave as such. Our efforts at prayer and everything we sacrificed in Lent should have opened our hearts to receive the resurrection as well as the specific graces we asked for during the journey. If we forget our resolutions, sacrifices, and works of penance because we are so excited that we persevered, that we ‘made it,’ then we will have missed the point of all of it. Lent is not a 40 day marathon which ends with a sigh of relief at the sound of the first alleluia. Rather, it is a time in which we allow our hearts to be broken so that we may appreciate the mercy of God all the more in the rising of Jesus. Lent is meant to open our eyes and our ears so that when the resurrection occurs we can experience it all the more vividly. The graces we have prayed for were the seeds of holiness planted during the 40 days, watered with the rain of our tears and supplications, which we do not want to be uprooted after the new burst of sunshine on resurrection morn. The journey continues, only now we have better eyes and ears with which to see and hear, and renewed hearts with which to love.
Even if we do not feel different and the outward situation of our lives has not changed in the slightest, and even with the apparent spread of evil in the world, we do have something which is priceless to which we cling: we have renewed faith, hope, and love. We do know with renewed certainty that healing does overcome suffering and pain, light does overcome darkness, truth does overcome lies, and life does over death. No matter how long we have to wait for our own resurrection, we know that it will come one day. Our world certainly needs resurrected life and light and our mission now is to be agents of that grace through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is why we need Mary and her resurrected son, Jesus, to walk with us daily. Even in the face of grave atrocities and dangers, we know that life does prevail over death and God does prevail over evil, sin, and death. The power of God’s mercy and love do prevail in the end and He is ever faithful to us. Therefore let us live our lives in the light of eternity, where nothing can harm us and where we will live in everlasting life with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is Risen today! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
May we live in Easter joy! May our hearts be filled with renewed light, hope, and life! May the fruits of our Lenten journey be evident to us and to those whom we bring the light of our faith! May all we do be done in the light of eternity, whereby our choices speak of mercy, peace, and especially hope! May we continue to walk with Mary and the Risen Lord Jesus as we travel the journey of the Easter season! And may the alleluia on our lips be the alleluia in our actions! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Risen Jesus! Peace! And Happy Easter to all!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first painting is The Resurrection by Matthias Grunewald. It is part of the Isenheim Altarpiece. It is one of my favorite resurrection paintings. What I love about it is how the light seems to emanate from Jesus. The features of His face almost blend in with the light and vice versa. It is an artistic masterpiece, capturing the mystery of what the glorified Jesus must look like.
Next is the icon The Risen Christ Appears to His Mother by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose this because of the tenderness of the moment. He is showing her His wounded yet glorified hands, as any Son would want to explain to His mother what has happened to Him. She raises her hands as in wonder and awe and yet in readiness to embrace Him. The look of tenderness in the eyes of each one is remarkable.
This icon can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/56-the-risen-christ-appears-to-his-mother
Next is another seemingly unusual choice for me, a painting called Saffron, by Mark Rothko. (1957) Upon reading about it, it seemed to fit perfectly because there is a connection to the painter Matisse whose work I used last week. It seems that daily for an entire month Mark Rothko visited a painting by Matisse called The Red Room which hangs at the MoMA in NY. It was the inspiration for Rothko's all color-field paintings, such as the one featured here. Of Saffron Rothko said, "If you look at it you become that colour and you become saturated by it." This is how I understand the mystery of the resurrection: the more we partake of it through our prayer and meditation, but specifically through the Sacrament of Eucharist, the more saturated by it we become. I also like how the light seems to be trying to burst forth from the field of red. If you look carefully you will see that the colors are similar to the ones used by Grunewald to surround Jesus in the first picture above.
You can find the source I used at http://anartlovers.blogspot.com/
Finally the last image is a photo I took while on vacation in Oregon a number of years ago. I chose this waterfall because of the play of light at the top of the photo and because of the life present in the green of the trees and moss, as well as in the water. The rush of water in this place reminds me of the waters of Baptism which have washed over us and over all those who were baptized at the Easter Vigil this weekend.
After the Hosannas Fade
We began Holy Week with Palm Sunday, a day in which Jesus triumphantly entered into Jerusalem to throngs of people crying ‘Hosanna.’ They greeted Him as a king: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38) However, it did not take long after the hosannas were mere echoes for people to change their cries to “Crucify Him!” If we want to resist giving up in the face of this change of climate so as to remain steadfast on the journey through this harrowing week with Jesus, we need to find a way to do so. We are reminded of the need to participate fully, which is why we have vocal parts during the reading of the gospel on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday. Truly, we must participate because if we were to only observe then we would be no more than spectators at a gruesome event, outside of the opportunity to truly be with Jesus. If we are to be compassionate, as true disciples, we need to go where many of the apostles seemingly could not. This is not easy, so my suggestion is that we go with the best companion we can find: let us enter into Holy Week with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who walked every step of the way of suffering with Him. She was always a merciful mother, but through this experience it became ingrained in every fiber of her being. Only a mother of mercy can guide us through this difficult journey if we are to enter in rather than to merely observe. We need her now, especially after the hosannas fade.
With the intimate connection of a mother to her Son, Mary endured suffering many times throughout the life of Jesus. One of these occasions was at the wedding in Cana when she helped Him know the time for beginning His ministry was at hand. She knew that the minute He worked a miracle there would be no turning back to the quiet, private existence they once shared; she now had to let Him go. Though Mary was among His followers, as many gospel passages attest, she stayed out of the public eye and continued to learn from Jesus. Her heart was fully engaged, but she let the will of God be done. She must have rejoiced with everyone who Jesus healed and set free, and she also must have felt His pain with every rejection and attack by His enemies. All mothers are sensitive to that which happens in the lives of their children and in Mary’s case it was no different, except that she would have her heart so broken open that she would enter into a passion that only one who has lost a child would know. Being there for the entirety of the events of Jesus’ Passion, death, and burial, she must have felt every agonizing step He took and every horrific blow He endured, right down to the moment the breath went out of Him as He died. Mary wept, but she kept saying ‘Yes’ to the plan of the Father, never interfering, but having mercy in tandem with her Son who said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” None of this would have been soothed by that fact that Mary had heard Jesus talk about rising on the third day, just as the apostles had heard; whether her faith allowed her to understand it completely is doubtful given that she was no more privy to what His talk of dying and rising meant than anyone else. But even if she had 100% understanding of what it meant that there would be a glorious rising on Easter morning it would have been no easier to watch what happened to Him along the Via Dolorosa. Her heart still broke, as any mother’s (or father’s) heart would have.
In reflection upon all that, then, we need to acknowledge that if we really want to walk the Via Dolorosa this Holy Week it would be most beneficial, albeit quite difficult, to walk it with Mary. If we are prepared to have our hearts broken so that they become more merciful and compassionate, we can choose to see what she saw and hear what she heard. However, as we begin this week with her it is important to remember that it is not Mary who we accompany, but rather it is Mary who accompanies us. She travels with us not because she needs our presence, but because we need her. Mary has a mother’s heart; as she accompanies her Son so will she walk with us as our mother, too. In walking the journey of the Passion of Jesus she will offer the support we need to enter into the enormity of Jesus’ agony as He wrestles with His humanity, fearful of the suffering and death He will endure because of our sins. She will be with us as we witness the suffering of her Son in the garden, and she will remain at our side as we watch Jesus’ friend Judas betray Him with a kiss. She will hold us up as our knees grow weak when we see Him scourged, crowned with thorns and spat upon. And she will trudge with us up the hill to the place of Golgotha, weeping with us at the foot of the cross as we watch our beloved Savior die. She will be with us when His body comes down from the cross and she will be there when they lay Him in the tomb. The pain of the mother cannot be fully known to us, because as horrible as all of it is to watch, her pain will always be deeper than ours. But Mary never gave in to the forcefulness of that pain, as much as it was trying to crush her heart. She wept, but she trusted God. She believed everything Jesus said; therefore she knew that somehow Jesus would be victorious in the end.
Mary‘s presence is important for us on this part of the journey because her ‘yes’ to God was complete from the very beginning. Her heart was already filled with mercy and trust. She participated in the greatest act of mercy and love ever given us by God whose gift was enabled by her ‘yes.’ She was ‘all in’ from the moment she uttered that ‘fiat’ and so at the moment the Passion began, her love and mercy only made the burden of motherly pain more acute. Yet Mary offers us the key to enduring the walk with the suffering Jesus: she knows how to be with Him in His agony without being swallowed up by it. She could do this because she knew that like Jesus, the only way to endure the pain is to enter into it. He had to go through death to bring us new life; there was no way around it, only through it. Therefore, had she been merely an observer, she could not have borne all that she experienced. But because she immersed herself rather than to shy from it, she was able to let the grace of God sustain her in what had to be the worst experience that anyone could ever have. Because she was always completely on the journey with Him, she knew that she would not be losing her Son. That was impossible.
Even though Jesus had the weight of our sin on His shoulders during the Passion, and even though His thoughts were on every one of us, the connection with His mother remained deeper than any other human connection. He knew she was there even when He could not see her. He never left her any more than she ever left Him. It is in this love, as demonstrated in the sharing between mother and Son, that the Passion became so intense for Jesus. He brought us all completely into His heart, not just our sins, and so we remain attached to the One who is saving us. Through love we are united to Him and to one another, and it is in this community of love that we are able to bear the pain. This is what families and friends do. We uphold one another through faith, hope, and love. And we learn with Mary that only by entering fully into His Passion are we able to enter fully into His resurrection. Mary, therefore, will help us as we proceed together through this week. Through her love for Jesus, and for us as her children, we can let her accompany us on this most intense part of the journey after the hosannas fade and the agony begins. Let us cling to Mary this Holy Week to see as with her eyes and love along with her breaking heart, relying on our own gifts of faith, hope, and love that we will be with her through to the end, and then to the beginning.
May we pray for the courage to complete the journey of Lent! May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear so that every moment of Holy Week is a testament to love! May we cling to Mary in order to persevere on this most harrowing part of the journey! May we learn from the hearts of Jesus and Mary to love and forgive all those who try to do harm to our faith or who attempt to thwart our journey to the cross and to resurrection! May our love and care bolster one another if the journey becomes too difficult, especially for those who have lost so much and who suffer terribly! And may we continue to build community through keeping our eyes on Jesus, whose journey does not end on the Cross! Let us meet at the tomb, keeping vigil together in order to be awake to glory on Easter morning! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is The Entry into Jerusalem by one of my favorite painters, Bl. Fra Angelico. The original is found in St. Mark’s in Florence, Italy.
Second is the newest icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It is called Mother of Mercy – Dedicated to Pope Francis in This Year of Mercy. This icon actually contains the joy shared between Mary and Jesus. I find it an appropriate reminder since on Ash Wednesday Lent was referred to as a joyous season. We should keep in mind that Lent only makes sense in the light of Easter. If you are interested in obtaining a copy you can find this icon by clicking here: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/mary-mother-of-mercy-dedicated-to-pope-francis-in-this-year-of-mercy-289-william-hart-mcnichols.html. It would make a lovely Easter card or gift. (Remember I do not receive any remuneration for endorsing the work of Fr. Bill. I simply enjoy sharing the wealth.) If you are interested in Fr. Bill’s comments on this icon click here: http://fineartamerica.com/blogs/mary-mother-of-mercy-dedicated-to-pope-francis-in-this-year-of-mercy.html Also, there is a symbolic similarity with the 4th image, so read on.
The third image is a painting called The Way to Calvary by Duccio di Buoninsegno.
Fourth is an image which is an unusual choice for me since I normally use photos, iconography, and Renaissance artists. This is a Madonna and Child by Henri Matisse which is on the wall of a chapel he built called Chapelle Du Rosaire in Provence, France. (1950) This painting came to me, literally: after I had finished the text for this post, I turned on the TV so I could view as I stretched my legs on the treadmill. A show was on the PBS channel about art in France. Just as I tuned in, the Chapelle was featured, along with this image. The narrator said, “If you look closely you will see that the Madonna is not holding onto the Child. He is free!” It was at that moment I knew I needed to include this image. The connection symbolically with the icon by Fr. Bill above, is that Mary is not holding onto Jesus in it, either. She has let go there, as well. I only realized that after I saw the Matisse and saw the similarity; though the position of the hands of Mary are in the praying position in the icon, she is not holding on to Jesus. ~ Ironically, Matisse was a non-believer. However, after he finished the chapel he replied to a friend who had teased him about it suggesting that he may have had a change of heart. It is hard to know, but nonetheless he did create a beautiful chapel. For more on Henri Matisse, click here: http://www.henri-matisse.net/biography.html
For more on the Chapelle Du Rosaire, click here: http://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/matisse-s-masterpiece-vence-s-chapelle-du-rosaire/
Finally, is an image also created by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Variation on Our Lady of Sorrows. You can find it by clicking here: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-variation-on-our-lady-of-sorrows-236-william-hart-mcnichols.html. I chose this because of the lily, which is not quite ready for Easter yet, but is a reminder that we are getting closer through the Passion of Christ. If you are interested in Fr. Bill’s explanation of this image, click here: http://fineartamerica.com/blogs/variation-on-our-lady-of-sorrows.html
Seeing Most Wonderful Things
Difficult as it is to imagine, Holy Week is beginning to come into view. But lest we be tempted to rush things, we need to remember that we are still in the midst of the journey and that there is value in the process. But five weeks into this, we might be tiring a little. Perhaps to avoid losing our bearing and focus we can find a way to keep our efforts in proper context. To do this, let us recall that we began Lent by hearing it referred to as a joyful season. We know it is joyful because of the graces offered to us and because the events we reflect upon do not end in death, but rather in Jesus overcoming death through His resurrection. We are hoping to grow in understanding of His great gift to us, and in how we might become better in our discipleship, which is another way of saying we hope to grow in holiness. If we can remember to keep our focus in this context, then we will not be overwhelmed by the process, nor will we fall to the other end of the spectrum and become lax in our attempts at penance, prayer, and works. If we can strike a balance in remembering where we are going and why we are doing it, our eyes will remain clear, so that perhaps along the way we may see the most wonderful things.
In these weeks we have had many opportunities to reflect upon the actions and teachings of Jesus revealed through the Scriptures, that we might grow in understanding of the great gifts we are being continually offered. If we really enter into these passages, particularly the gospels, we will open our spiritual eyes to the most wonderful acts of God’s mercy and love. Knowing what Jesus offers through the witness of these gospels we have been encouraged to participate in Reconciliation, the process of having the sorrow caused by our sin changed to freedom, joy, and renewed life. This, too, is a wonderful opportunity to open our eyes in new vision. All of these things enable us to step back and see what beauty there is in the gentle mercy of God which has been extended to us, and which continues to be extended as we move into this latter part of Lent. Therefore, we have the vantage point to reflect back upon our experience of these past 5 weeks to see the hand of God which we may not have noticed so far, so that we may look forward to the last weeks of the season with eyes more acclimated to the path. Grace allows us to see wonderful things.
The inspiration for this viewpoint comes from a saint, Dominic Savio, who had a feast day recently. Though I have been to his tomb in Turin, he never grabbed my attention as much as during this past week. Dominic is one of those saints who died very young, at the age of 14. But his contribution to those with whom he lived, his sincere caring about the welfare of others, and his deep devotion to Jesus and Mary are quite obvious when one looks closely at his short life. He was gifted with the ability to see things in a unique way, but in his innocence he thought that everyone had the type of vision and experience which he had, leading him to a bit of suffering through the misunderstanding that arose because of it. Despite the occasional misunderstanding of his peers, he managed to see truth and mercy in the midst of their youthful conflicts, helping to be a peacemaker with the intention of keeping them from offending God. Because he had the eyes to see, he had the compassion to help other boys who were suffering; he always gave attention to those who he observed to be the most neglected.
St. Dominic Savio was born in 1842 in a small town in northern Italy. Having always possessed the gift of piety, at age 12 he was sent to the Oratory, a school for boys in Turin run by another great saint, John Bosco. While there, in addition to his talent for peacemaking, Dominic was known for great devotion to God and intense prayer that sometimes included ecstasies which he tried to hide from the other boys for fear they would laugh at him. (Remember, he was in many ways an ordinary teenager.) Because they perceived Dominic to be ‘different’, the other boys sometimes did not understand when he would have what he called a distraction, a vision which came during prayer. Once, when accused of something done by another student, he remained silent and took the blame until eventually the truth was made known. Though he sometimes corrected the other young men, at the risk of coming across as being self-righteous, his aim was to change the ways of those engaged in bullying so that they would not offend God, and also to protect their victims. His desire to grow in holiness was so powerful that he took on some mortifications and penances. But when this came to the attention of St. John Bosco, he made Dominic stop because he saw that these were not healthy spiritual behaviors. Dominic was obedient and immediately ceased. St. John apparently was a wonderful mentor: according to one source he showed Dominic “the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense.” * Dominic must have been a good pupil, because eventually the other boys came to respect his leadership. Unfortunately, he came down with tuberculosis and was sent home with the intention that he would recover better there. Due to some truly misguided, but well intentioned treatments, he weakened instead of healing, and died in 1857 just before his 15th birthday. Said in the presence of his father, his last words were, “I am seeing the most wonderful things!”
Dominic’s struggle with being misunderstood did not end when he died, however. When talk of canonizing him arose, many felt that his life had been too short to consider him worthy of being named a saint. Obviously that argument did not hold up, because after a number of years he was indeed canonized. But it is this point which is most compelling about the life of St. Dominic: it does not matter how short or long our lives are, we all have the potential to grow in sanctity and in fact, each person is called to it. It does not matter if we are poor or rich, old or young, practicing Christians all our lives or converts to the faith. Every one of us should be as Dominic, living “the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense.”
It is not necessary to have ecstatic visions like Dominic, but we can have the eyes to see. That he saw “the most wonderful things” at his death is because he was able to see them while alive. What this means for us is that we need to allow our eyes to be opened that we might see the wonders which God has done and is doing all around us. That is what the journey of Lent offers us. Every prayer we utter, turning our attention to God, is an opportunity to see the wonderful things God does. Every time we are forgiven, forgive others, recognize a grace received, or fall short and realize that we can try again, is an opportunity to see the wonders of God’s love. Every act of love, every time we feel lonely and then realize we are not alone, or when we reach out to a person to heal our loneliness and theirs; every time we see beauty in nature or within ourselves, are moved by a Scripture, are moved by the love of a friend: all of these are an invitation into new vision. Even in the midst of suffering or the depths of near despair when we feel the presence of Jesus the least, the faith, hope, and love we have received can be enough to help us to take one more breath, one more step, and feel one more beat of our heart in tune with His. This is why Jesus died and rose for us. Therefore, let us not forget to keep our Lenten practices in the context of Easter, so that like St. Dominic Savio, we keep our eyes on that which is most important. Let us ask God to help us to see what might not be immediately obvious, so we might experience joy on our Lenten journey, and that we might say along with Dominic: “I am seeing the most wonderful things!”
May we ask God for the eyes to see that which is not immediately obvious in the hopes of gaining a new sense of His presence! May we begin to see the potential beauty all around us, that we may see wonderful things! May we have the perseverance to be where we are rather than to become distracted by what is ahead! May we ask for the intercession of St. Dominic Savio that all who are bullies may become peacemakers instead! May we seek out the gifts of ‘the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense’! And may we continue to find Jesus Christ on the journey to Jerusalem with us that we may be prepared for Holy Week when it arrives! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* I got this quote from a very informative site on St. Dominic Savio, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominic_Savio, (note 57, from EWTN)
I also used two other sources: The One Year Book of Saints by Rev. Clifford Stevens, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1989, 2002; and http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1318
The first photo is one of mine. It is the close up of some bluebonnet flowers. I chose this because bluebonnet season is almost upon us in Texas and while we are quite proud of the natural beauty of the fields of bluebonnets which will be in bloom soon, this photo challenges us to look more closely at what actually makes up the sea of blue visible from afar.
Next is an icon called St. Dominic Savio Patron of Juvenile Delinquents, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-dominic-savio-patron-of-juvenile-delinquents-130-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The remaining photos are also mine. The one appearing after the icon is of the tomb of St. Dominic Savio in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians, in Turin, Italy.
Next is a scene I took in while walking in the woods behind the Cenacle Retreat House in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY. It speaks of finding God unexpectedly in the midst of an ordinary snowy day. God is in the midst of beauty always.
The final photo was taken in Biloxi, Mississippi. I chose this picture because as before, it fit with finding something not immediately obvious upon first glance: it seems like multiple suns are setting, but the reality is there is one sun, refracted because I was taking this photo through a plate glass window. If we are patient and attentive we can see beyond what we assume is there, only to find a deeper reality.
A community of wholeness
This week marks the middle of Lent, more or less. Hopefully our Lenten sacrifices and works are bearing fruit, though some of us may be feeling like we are stumbling around in the dark, unable to see where we are going on this journey. The efforts of some might have become habitual, but others of us might feel like we are at a standstill, unable to see that there has been any movement so far, thinking that our efforts have not really made much difference in our lives or the lives of others. But what we need to keep in mind is that the journey is far from over and that we are not alone. We have entered into Lent with Jesus and with the community, so there nothing to fear. Jesus is continually inviting us to enter into the banquet of His mercy and forgiveness, a never-ending gift offered to us in many ways. What is important is that we do not take this invitation for granted, nor should we stop trusting the power of our own efforts and prayer, which not only affect us, but affect the entire Body of Christ. Even if we cannot see the results, we need to trust that God is with us, offering us grace to keep up our efforts at working toward holiness and wholeness.
As part of my Lenten reflection I have been praying with selections from the book, “Crossing the Threshold of Mercy,” which is a compilation of quotes mostly from the writing and homilies of Pope Francis. One quote that caught my attention is appropriate to the gospel for this weekend which is from Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost Son, (sometimes referred to as the Prodigal Son.) Pope Francis wrote, “Let us never tire of also going out to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgment is severe and unjust and meaningless in light of the father’s boundless mercy.” This reminds me that we must notice there is a son missing from the party before we can even begin to try offering such an invitation. The only way to do that is to pray that our eyes be opened as to who among us is alienated by their own choice or by our lack of welcome.
To put this into the perspective of this rather well-known Gospel, there were two sons who sinned against their father. The first had disrespected everything about family and love by demanding his inheritance immediately and then in living a life of dissipation, squandered it all. But in his heart, he knew his father to be merciful, so eventually he returned in great humility and shame to the father who indeed rejoiced at the return of this young son. The older son also disrespected family and love, because in the resentment he harbored against his brother, he revealed a further resentment against the boundless mercy and goodness of his father who forgave his wayward brother. He would not forgive his brother, nor would he acknowledge that the riches of his father’s mercy had always been extended to him. He could not see that he literally resided in a family in which love, mercy, and total giving were always present. Instead, he refused the same mercy offered to his brother now being offered to him when his father left the party in order to beg him to enter into his joy.
The parable never tells us what that older brother chose. Jesus has left it up to the ‘listener’ to decide how to write the ending, so to speak, and therefore left the challenge for us as well: are we like the older brother who refused to enter into the banquet? Do we resent others who have been gifted in some way and who in our judgment do not deserve it? This is important for us as we examine our conscience to see if we have failed to enter into the invitation of God to let go of resentments or to be reconciled with others in any way. But there is a deeper challenge, which we can see only if we take the perspective not of the brothers or the father, but rather of one of the party-goers who is celebrating the return of the young son. This viewpoint asks us if we have noticed that there is a lack of wholeness in the body of people inside the party. It asks if we have even missed the older brother. It also asks us to find out why that older brother is choosing to stand alone in the night. This is at the heart of what Pope Francis has written.
In taking on the perspective of a party-goer we must recognize that there is a lack of wholeness in the community because of those standing outside of the banquet. This implies that we have work to do in order to invite those who are missing to enter into our joy. We have to notice their absence in order to begin the process of inviting them in. Once we have done that, we can begin our efforts at invitation and welcoming. Invitation is not about proselytizing, but rather it is about evangelizing. To proselytize is to give the ‘hard sell’, as one would recruit a follower to a cause. To evangelize is to let both our actions and our words speak the gospel message in order that the Word itself would work inside the receiver’s heart. It is a way of modeling the values we have learned from Jesus, but is not about arguing or ‘beating people over the head with our bibles.’ True evangelization is about living the gospel as best we can, offering love and mercy to others as Jesus would have us do. Therefore, we take to heart what Jesus taught in Matthew 25 when He indicated that we need to welcome the stranger. While this can refer to the alien or foreigner in our land (to use the plea repeated throughout the Old Testament), the stranger is anyone who is regarded as ‘different,’ or an outsider, whether they have chosen that position or not. That actually describes each one of us since we all have experienced being ‘on the outside looking in’ at some point in our lives. We do know the feeling.
Like the older brother, some might refuse to enter in because they are angry over some past wound, or because they do not understand the way of mercy. There are some who will refuse to act with respect and who will refuse to see that they have always had the love and mercy of the Father. These might scoff at our faith, at our attempts at doing good works, at our participation in a church family, and at our attempts at reaching out to them. We cannot force anyone to accept gifts any more than the Father forces us to accept His. Part of acting in mercy is to allow the other one the freedom to accept or reject our offer. But even more important is that we allow them the freedom to reject it without holding a grudge against them or judging them poorly. If we were to judge, we would be just like them: holding onto resentment and fear. With these we can only offer kindness and charity, hoping that our good works and the joy of being within the banquet might eventually allow them to cast aside their resentment and enter in. That means, as the Pope suggests, that we must never tire of reaching out to those who are like that older son. Jesus never stops inviting us into His mercy, so we need to ask Him to give us the grace to never stop inviting others into it as well.
If we want those on the outside to let go of their refusal to enter we must continue to keep the welcome mat out and the door open. We do this through our efforts at personal wholeness asking for healing of our own sinfulness through the grace of God, (that is, to become holy), so that we can become able to invite others into the Kingdom. Then we can begin to look past ourselves and learn to see that someone is in pain and is missing from the banquet. Only then can we begin to have the attitude of mercy of the Father, which is to never stop working at inviting the one outside into the banquet. Let us trust in the grace of the Holy Spirit that we might continue to grow in holiness, that we may continue to immerse ourselves in the Passion of Christ, that we may learn to notice who is in need of invitation, and that we might work toward building the Kingdom into completion by sharing the mercy and love we have received.
May we pray for our eyes to be opened to the one standing outside in the darkness! May we not fear to enter into the darkness to invite the one outside into the light! May we persevere in our Lenten efforts no matter how we feel about the quality of the journey thus far, trusting in the mercy of God who knows the intention of our hearts! May we open our arms to those who are struggling to let go of all that keeps them from mercy and love! May we be freed from all judgment of those who will not enter into the banquet of mercy! And may we never cease in our efforts to grow in holiness because in so doing, we are indeed building up the Kingdom of God! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first photo is one of mine. It is of an active Catholic parish in Medora, North Dakota. I chose this photo because this small, humble parish was alive with people and subsequently with worship. Our church families are those who gather at the banquet to which we are all invited. We are united as members of the community, the Body of Christ.
The next image is the famous Rembrandt painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Next is another of my photos. It was taken at a farmhouse near Noto, Sicily. I chose this one because the figure seems to be walking away from the house, where the banquet is being held, symbolic of the older brother.
Last is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called El Buen Pastor. I chose this because sometimes the one trying to get into the house is the Lord Himself. We cannot get so carried away with our merry-making that we forget Him and subsequently leave Him outside. Therefore we must always be attentive to our guests, those who are inside the house, as well as the ones who we are trying to invite in. This icon can be found at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/el-buen-pastor-188-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Heart Speaks to Heart