This is the time during our Lenten journey when the passages from John’s Gospel about the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus are read at our Sunday liturgies. Although we might hear them annually, these passages continually impart new messages if we listen carefully. Each year the circumstances of our life are different, and therefore we are different, so it follows that the readings offer something that has not previously stood out. There are many themes in these gospel stories, but what struck me this year is the theme of preparation. I am not referring to being prepared for an encounter with God, though that is essential to any life of faith; rather what stood out is being prepared to share Him with others. Indeed, the Samaritan woman had no idea she would meet the Messiah that afternoon, the man born blind did not know Jesus would pass by at that particular moment, and Lazarus could never have imagined that Jesus would bring him back to life that day (or any other day for that matter). Nor did the disciples accompanying Jesus expect Him to perform these dramatic, life-changing miracles. But each of these Scriptures teaches us that it is our response to Jesus for which we must be prepared. He needs us to help free others from what keeps them alienated, blind, or entombed. To do so, we must let Him prepare our hearts first, so that we might assist others in bearing fruit, too.
In the story of the Samaritan woman heard on the third Sunday in Lent, (John 4:5-42) Jesus journeyed into the Samarian town of Sychar. The woman was trying to avoid all contact with the townspeople, evidenced by her efforts to fill her water jar at Jacob’s well during the hottest part of the day rather than in the morning when it made more sense. The last thing she wanted was a conversation with a stranger, and especially not a Jewish man. Yet, she allowed Jesus to engage her in a challenging conversation and remained open to what He offered her, the living water that only He could give. Accepting what He offered, she ran throughout the town calling for everyone to come meet this man who had “told her everything about herself.” She had no thought of doors slamming in her face or people calling her names and telling her to go away. The very people she had been going out of her way to avoid were the ones who she was now seeking so that she might share the Good News. Strangely, they listened to her. This was because her encounter with Christ had visibly transformed her, moving her to a response that was, until now, completely out of character for her.
What also stood out about this passage was the often omitted part concerning the conversation Jesus had with His disciples after the woman left Him. (John 4: 27-38) The disciples were urging Jesus to eat and He responded with a metaphor, saying: “For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” What Jesus meant was that the work of spreading the gospel is a team effort; the part we play is important to the entire process of building the Kingdom. He was indicating that we never know what effect we might have upon those we meet, nor do we know how ripe they might be for receiving the salvation offered by God. Therefore we should not ‘write anyone off’ as the disciples had previously done with the woman. (They were silently wondering why Jesus was bothering to talk with her; John 4:27.) In this section of the passage we learn that we must always be prepared to welcome others into the Kingdom, and therefore to evangelize through our words and deeds. We never know exactly what the fruit of that might be.
In the Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent we heard about the man born blind who was able to stand up to the Pharisees after being healed by Jesus. (John 9:1:41) They threw the man out, but that did not stop him from going back to Jesus to say he believed Jesus was the Son of God. At the beginning of the passage, however, Jesus’ disciples were preoccupied by trying to ascertain who sinned, the man or his parents, and thereby who caused the blindness. Jesus let them know that they were missing the point entirely. He said: “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4) Jesus was saying that it is important to do the work at hand and not get preoccupied or distracted by trivial issues. We have to keep everything in the light of eternity, which means we need to take the opportunities which present themselves now and respond to them. It is up to God to judge, but what He asks of us is that we reach out to others in mercy and compassion. Again, we never know who we might affect by our good works.
Finally on the fifth Sunday of Lent (John 11:1-45) we will reflect upon the dialogue Jesus had with Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, prior to raising Lazarus from the tomb. Besides the sisters, there were crowds present who witnessed when Jesus wept and when He prayed aloud in thanksgiving, glorifying the Father before crying out, “Lazarus, come out!” After Lazarus emerged from the tomb and was unwrapped from the burial clothes, the passage ends by saying, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what He had done began to believe in Him.” Once again we see that the effect Jesus had went beyond Lazarus being resuscitated. There were many in the crowd who were presumably brought back to life in a spiritual manner as their faith was enlivened. That is to say, they responded to Jesus. Once again we see that good works affect those who witness them, and we never know who that might include.
Turibius of Mogrovejo, whose feast is March 23, is a saint whose story echoes the message of these Scriptures. Born in Spain, St. Turibius (1538-1606) was a prominent lawyer who taught at the University of Salamanca. At the age of 40, however, he was selected to be bishop of Mogrovejo, Peru. He was not a priest at that point, but being a man of faith, he ascertained that if this was what God wanted of him, he would follow this call to service and so he was ordained. He was eventually known as the defender of the rights of the native peoples in Peru against the colonialism of their Spanish conquerors. He had a huge diocese and traveled extensively in order to bring the gospel message and justice for the oppressed. Many lives were impacted by his witness and message. It is said that among those whom he influenced were two children from Lima, a girl of Spanish descent and a biracial boy, both of whom received the sacrament of Confirmation from him. They were the future saints, Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres, both of whom heroically brought God’s mercy and love to their people through word and deed. Just as in the gospels of the Samaritan woman and the man born blind in which the disciples had to learn the lesson of being open to all people without discriminating against their background or ethnicity, we also see that message in the life of St. Turibius. He did not look down upon the indigenous peoples of Peru, but rather opened his heart to making sure they were given compassion and were treated with justice. Along the way, he impacted many of the people of Peru, including two future saints.
We are called to continue to “share in the fruits of the work” of those who came before us. (John 4:38) The lessons of the gospels and the witness of St. Turibius are clear. While we generally have no idea who we might be impacting by what we say or do, we could be ‘entertaining angels’ and future saints unknowingly. What we do can help quench thirst for God, bring sight to those in spiritual blindness, or bring life to those who are entombed by despair. Our behavior can affect the lives of those who might be open to Jesus who do not yet know Him, or perhaps it might help inspire someone to grow in whatever faith they already possess. And who knows, we might inspire someone to a vocation in ministry who might not otherwise recognize that they are being called. No matter what it is, we are called to grow in holiness not just to be prepared for our own salvation, but to respond to Jesus so that we might sow new seeds and also reap the fruit from seeds sown by those who have gone before us. This call is what we are invited to renew this Lent.
May we have faith in the gifts given to us by God so that we might use them to sow seeds and reap fruit for the Kingdom! May we imitate St. Turibius of Mogrovejo in works of compassion and justice, trusting that our work is touching the lives of others even if we do not see the result! May we respond to the work of those who serve us, imitating St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres! May we trust that our prayer and works are part of a ‘team effort’ and that we are one Body laboring for the same goal! And may we learn to make decisions in the light of eternity so that we may discern what is important and let go of that which is not! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post will be April 10, at the beginning of Holy Week.
1. This is one of my photos, taken in Big Bend National Park, west TX. It is a small offshoot of the Rio Grande. I chose this photo because it reminded me of the living water offered by Jesus to the Samaritan woman. There was a tremendous amount of wildlife at this stream; therefore, that it was life-giving was obvious to me. It also reminded me of the place on the Jordan River in Israel where Jesus was said to have been baptized by John, hence a connection with waters of Baptism.
2. This is another of my photos, and yes, that is Jacob's Well, the very well where Jesus sat with the Samaritan woman and had the dialogue in which He offered her Living Water. While it does not look like much, it still works; we put the bucket down and drew up water.
3. This is a painting called The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh (1888). I love the prominence of the sun in the center of this painting. It is as if God is sending down the rays of His grace which nourish the crops that the man is sowing. The entire work seems to be bathed in that yellow hue. He sows and perhaps someone else will reap, but it cannot be complete without God's grace. I find this painting to be rather joyous. Maybe it is just me, but if you look really closely at the sower's face, there is more than just the hint of a smile. For a closer look and more information, click here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Sower_-_painting_by_Van_Gogh.jpg
4. This is called The Healing of a Blind Man, painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-11). I chose it because of the crowds standing behind Jesus who are observing the healing of this man. Presumably some of the people in the crowd are the disciples of Jesus, but some may be townspeople who are observing the compassion of Jesus for the first time. We can imagine some of those people might have been so affected at what they saw and heard that they went on to share their new faith with others. It might be good to reflect upon this painting, putting oneself into that crowd to experience it for ourselves. http://www.artbible.info/art/large/795.html
5. This is the Raising of Lazarus by Giotto (1304-06). This is one of the many works of Giotto that are in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. I chose this because one can see Martha and Mary as well as some apostles who are witnessing Lazarus as he emerged from the tomb. Some fall at the feet of Jesus, in glorifying God, and others stand in awe of what they are witnessing. It is clearly a moment that depicts the last verse of the passage mentioned above, saying that many came to believe because of what they saw Jesus do. https://www.wikiart.org/en/giotto/raising-of-lazarus
6. This is a portrait of St. Turibius of Mogrovejo. I chose it because he is clearly at prayer, seemingly with the native people who appear behind him in his heart and mind. One could also presume that he might be saying Mass for them, since he seems to be standing before an altar. Either way, I liked the fact that he is shown here with the people he was so passionate in defending and evangelizing. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-turibius-of-mogrovejo/
You can find more here, too: http://www.ucatholic.com/saints/turibius-of-mongrovejo/
For those of you who use Magnificat for prayer, you can find a piece on St. Turibius at the end of the March issue.
7. & 8. These icons are both the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first one is Santa Rosa Patroness of the Americas. I chose this icon because I love that she is standing upon the earth, upon the Americas, as if interceding for her people and all those who call upon her. That everything is tinged in rose hues says to me that her prayers affect many, (not to mention that it is her name). One does not know who she may have touched or how our imitation of her work for the poor might touch those who we may not even realize. You can purchase a copy at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-santa-rosa-patroness-of-the-americas-166-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The second icon is San Martin De Porres. I chose this because I love his humility. The lemon, for me, is new life and upon seeing the icon this time, it seems as if he is offering a new gift through his intercession. Perhaps we can ask him to intercede for us, for whatever needs healing within us so that we might in turn bring that healing gift to others. He has sown the seed of that lemon and perhaps we can reap it and then share. You can purchase a copy of this icon, or search Fr. Bill's site for many other wonderful icons at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-martin-de-porres-213-william-hart-mcnichols.html
In the gospel for Ash Wednesday we heard that we need to be humble in our prayer as well as in performing deeds of righteousness. Jesus emphasized that the good works we do are to come from the heart without seeking reward. (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18) We received ashes, but not to make a show of it; rather we received them as a mark of our humble repentance and of commitment to growth in the spiritual life. As Jesus said, when we fast and abstain we should not have long faces so as to garner the admiration of others, nor should we blow a horn as we drop our donation in the basket, so to speak. We give and we pray “in secret” in order to grow in the virtue of humility. In short, what we are really trying to do during the season of Lent is to learn how to give and how to receive, both of which require a measure of humility. It is a time to be more reflective so that we might learn to grow in gratitude for our salvation, and to open our hearts to what God is offering. We learn to better recognize the great gifts we have been given, and also how to receive them with humility and gratitude; offering a simple “thank you” to God for all He has done.
What is most remarkable in the passage from Matthew’s gospel is that three times Jesus repeated, “And your Father who sees in secret [or what is hidden] will repay you.” So often the point that is stressed concerning this passage is doing things in secret. Indeed humility is essential to a life of holiness. But there is something else emphasized by Jesus: God will repay us for our good deeds. This thought is astounding, even shocking. We, who are totally indebted to God and who so often let Him down because of our sinfulness, are repaid by God? God does repay us, but it is not in the sense that He owes us something; rather, He wants to acknowledge and respond to us in gratitude and even humility. The Father ‘repays’ us by offering us many graces and gifts, most especially our salvation. He offers grace which builds upon grace, enabling our growth in holiness. (John 1:16) The more we do for God without needing the acclaim of people, the more we grow in the humility and gratitude which are graces from God. Therefore, He gives us what we need to progress in our life of faith so that we may grow closer to Him. That is the reward He offers and it is the one we should seek. Thus, Jesus is essentially teaching us that good works lead to more good works, giving leads to an appreciation of gratitude, humility leads to holiness, and so ultimately, love begets more love.
Learning to give is actually easier than learning to receive. In giving, we make a sacrifice, which if done sincerely from the heart, should pinch a bit. Though a true sacrifice can be difficult, we generally think more about how or what we are to give than how we are to receive. During Lent this giving is underscored: with more intentionality we give alms, increase our works of mercy, add to our prayer and acts of repentance, and abstain or fast on certain days. We often talk about ‘giving something up’ so that we are making a personal sacrifice. Of course, if it is to be meaningful, we must do something that has lasting results. We might sacrifice time by volunteering one day a week in a soup kitchen, adding to our daily prayer, or by choosing to add more corporal works of mercy to what we normally do. The point of offering that extra time is to open ourselves up to recognizing and then receiving what God wants to offer, such as a deeper understanding of who He is, the greatness of His mercy, deeper love for our brothers and sisters, or what might be holding us back from our growth in relationship with Him. In other words, the point of all our Lenten activity is to acknowledge our sinfulness, to receive graces we need to let God help us overcome those tendencies, and therefore grow in an awareness of just how deeply God loves us.
Unfortunately, many of us are not very good at the art of receiving. When someone gives us a gift for no discernible reason, it may make us uncomfortable. Perhaps we feel that accepting a gift is a sign of weakness or that we are unworthy. Perhaps it is that we do not know how to say thank you. And worse still, we might have developed a false humility, such as the habit of rejecting the gift of a simple complement, deflecting it by indicating that we did not deserve it and thus insulting those who honestly meant it. When we are falsely humble what we have inadvertently done is to imply that the other has no sense of taste! If we decline a gift for one of these reasons, what we are actually doing is not allowing the other the pleasure of giving something which is simply intended to say that they appreciate us. We do not have to do all the giving in our relationships, nor should we. And we should not deprive others of the ability to share their gifts in ministering to us by acting as if we have to do all the ministering. Whether we realize it or not, it is a gift to the other if we let them give to us! In other words, to give a gift is an act of humility and graciousness, and like the Father we repay the giver with love and gratitude when we accept their gift with a humble, sincere ‘thank you.’
God’s nature (love) is that of perpetual giving. The entire Bible is a continual story of God giving something to His people in a dramatic way in different times and situations. At creation we received the gift of life and enjoyment of all that God created. Later God gave the Promised Land to His people, and also the gift of the Law, not meant as restrictive, but as a life-giving aid to help them know the best way to remain close to Him. He also sent help in the form of leadership, prophecy, and wisdom. Even in the face of rejection, God went so far as to send Jesus, His only Son, to offer us salvation. This is the way love is: love continually gives without reserve. Therefore, during this Lenten season it would be good to keep in mind that what God wants most is to give to us. In Hosea, we read: “It is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) God wants our hearts to be turned toward Him, which means He does not so much desire that we give Him something, but rather that we let Him give to us. He alone knows what we most need. Along with St. Ignatius of Loyola we need to be able to say, “Your love and your grace, O Lord, are enough for me.” Indeed if we can receive His grace and His love into our hearts, that is, if we can allow His glory to enter into us in a new way, we can learn to share what we have received with others.
During this Lent we can grow in holiness through our humility in both giving and in receiving. If we receive from Him, we will then have something to offer our brothers and sisters. We can enter into the mercy and love of God by giving as a gift that which we have received, glorifying Him through acts of sincere giving. We can (and should) pray more deeply for ourselves: for forgiveness from our sins, including our contribution to the sin of the world, for the ability to forgive in return, to grow in whatever area of weakness we struggle with. We can pray for others: for those who reject God, do not know Him or who are indifferent to Him, and for forgiveness of the things they may do which tear down rather than build up. And we can pray also for the neglected, suffering, poor, marginalized, and unwelcomed. We can (and should) respond by putting our prayer into action, opening our arms and our hearts to those who are in need in our communities, churches, and even in our own homes. Our fitting return to Jesus, then, is to seek Him with sincere hearts and to accept the gifts He knows we need by responding in word and deed with a humble, sincere ‘thank you.’
May we respond to God’s gifts of grace and mercy with a humble, sincere word of thanks! May we learn how to be better at receiving so that we might grow in graciousness, humility, and gratitude! May the example of our ability to receive and then to make a return be our evangelization to our brothers and sisters in the way of the Gospel! May we open our hearts to giving to others such that we might receive their gratitude in joy, and may we give others the gift of ministering to us, too! May we have the courage to stay committed to our Lenten works of repentance, prayer, mercy, and generosity! And may we receive God’s love and His grace acknowledging that these are indeed enough for us! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next entry March 27.
1. I found this image at a page posted by the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee and there is permission to use it. I chose it because this simple cross in ashes is what we receive on Ash Wednesday, and it corresponded to the content of the first paragraph. http://www.dioet.org/ashes-to-go.html
2. This is Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount to his followers, painted by Blessed Fra Angelico. I chose it because it captures the humility of the setting and of those who are receiving the message. It is set on what seem to be bare rocks; there seems to be nothing there except Jesus and the disciples. This emphasizes the message that all we need is offered to us by God and that we should not worry about anything, but instead trust in God for all that we need.
3. This image caught my attention because it depicts a woman feeding someone who is apparently ill, while another is assisting in holding the man, who seems to be Jesus since the halo around His head has the symbol for Christ. One woman is holding Him upright so that He might take in the nourishment. I was not able to find out where the picture is from, but I believe the woman with the halo is St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was known for her works among the poor and the sick. It seems to be a depiction of Matthew 25 in which Jesus indicates that when feeding the poor, among other things, we are doing it for Him. I found the image at the following site which is about the Corporal Works of Mercy, therefore it is a good resource for that, too: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=1017
4. This next image is a mosaic of Jesus healing a leper which is found at the spectacular Cathedral in Monreale, Sicily. I chose this because it speaks of gratitude and humility. Jesus offered healing to 10 lepers and only one had the humility to return and offer his profound thanksgiving. Of the ten who were healed only one was a gracious receiver, willing and able to return to the Giver of the gift before he went about the rest of his life. I suspect that he became a witness, evangelizing others by telling what God had done for him and thereby glorifying God with his life.
5. This is an icon called St. Ignatius In Prayer Beneath the Stars by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose it because it shows what St. Ignatius taught about learning to know, serve, and love God more by following the movements of the Holy Spirit. His experience taught him that God gives us all that we need and that God knows what this is better than we do. Therefore it is important to learn how to discern the difference between what we think we want and what God knows we need. Ignatius came to the conclusion that all we need is God’s grace and love and that is indeed enough. Through the gift of The Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius provided the tools for people to come to understand this by immersing in prayer and reflection. (The Spiritual Exercises are a 30 day retreat in which we meet with a spiritual director daily and pray daily in silence at a retreat center; or the retreat can be done in 30 weeks with a once weekly meeting with a spiritual director while we live our normal, everyday life.) You can purchase a copy of this, or other icons of St. Ignatius, or other subjects, at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/william-hart-mcnichols.html?tab=artwork. This specific icon can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-ignatius-in-prayer-beneath-the-stars-137-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
6. This painting is called Kitchen Table (Still Life with Basket) by Paul Cezanne (1888-1890). It is at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. I chose it because it reminded me of the bounty with which we have received. The fruits in the basket, the tea pot, and the rest of the items on the table are in a kitchen setting, and to me the kitchen is the heart of a home. It is in the kitchen that we prepare the food which we share and in which we are nourished by those we love through the gift of family and friends. It seemed like the kitchen is a great place to be inspired to offer a humble, sincere ‘thank you’ to God. For a closer look see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paintings_by_Paul_C%C3%A9zanne#/media/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_188.jpg
7. This is one of my photos. I took this in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, while strolling the grounds at the hotel where we were staying. I chose this photo because the flowers reminded me of simple gifts given us by God. Quite often, like the buds of flowers, we have to cultivate those gifts. This means we have to let the bud unfurl, so that we can find the beauty which is hidden within.
Heart Speaks to Heart