In last week’s entry I used two different images with the hand of God coming out of Heaven to bless or to impart wisdom. That image has stayed with me especially since this past Friday was Earth Day. God has blessed us with the gift of our planet, our resources, the beauty and diversity of different creatures, (including humans!) and an incredible rhythm of how it all was meant to work together. Therefore, it is important to pray with the image of God’s hand coming forth not only to reflect upon the abundance of grace, but also to dwell upon His gift of the beauty in all that exists. With this in mind a verse in Psalm 145, (the Psalm of Sunday’s liturgy), stands out: “Let them make known your might to the children of Adam, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” Could the psalmist be implying that the might of God is best seen in creation? There is no doubt that His kingdom, which of course includes the earth, is filled with glorious splendor. All one has to do is look around at the beauty of nature and this becomes apparent. But however beautiful it all is, this is not the height of creation, nor is it our final destination. There is much more to come in the next world in which, as we cross into it, God will delight to say: “Behold, I make all things new!”
One thing which is sure is that nothing is static; everything is constantly changing and every moment is a lifetime unto itself. This is the way it was meant to be. All things, from the expansiveness of evolution to our own very short lives, were meant to ebb and flow in a cosmic dance put into motion by God. Over much of it we have little control, if any. But we do have control over how we handle the time and resources which have been entrusted to us. This was made clear by God at the beginning of Genesis when He told the man and woman to have dominion over the earth. Their very names in Hebrew, Adamah and He-vah, connote a connection with the earth. (Adamah means ‘of the earth’ or ‘of the dust,’ and He-vah, from the word for ‘living,’ implies her role as mother.) But the process involves first noticing that we are part of creation and that we participate in it. Sadly, we have become so busy that we often miss the beauty which walks, flies, or swims past us daily. We miss the music of the wind, the splendor of the sky, the grandeur of the stars, and the glory of a songbird when get so preoccupied that we have no time for noticing, or worse, when we lose a sense of the value of doing this at all.
The leaders in the newly formed church of the first century (which we read about during this season) were filled with joy in serving Jesus. They had changed after their interaction with Him. They were the same people, yet they were not. They had come alive as to who they were always meant to be; but what changed in them the most was that their eyes were completely opened. Just as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had their eyes opened to who Jesus was in the breaking of the bread, what had changed the most for them was the ability to see what had not been apparent before. Their physical eyes now saw everything with a new wonder and awe, one of the major gifts of the Holy Spirit, and their souls were illuminated with the glory of seeing God within as well. They saw the presence of God in everyone and everything. With their eyes seeing as never before, their hearts were also opened more deeply than ever: with new vision came a new depth of mercy and love.
The author of the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos, wrote that in his vision he saw a new heaven and a new earth. He described it as being filled with light, bedecked in jewels, and with living water running through its midst. Though symbolic, the reality he was describing was a place which is perfect. It is where God is and where we will one day be. He said, “God Himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4) This is the reality to which our eyes, and consequently our hearts, will be opened.
The apostles in the early church knew that there was more to come than that which was in this world; they came to see that the way to live the Christian life was to keep one eye on what is here, so as to be fully grounded in the gift of life and the building of the Kingdom, and to keep the other eye on what is to come so as to be living with Heaven as their goal. Again, the key to this is vision. To this end it would be good to ask ourselves: what is it that fills our eyes and therefore our hearts? Do we allow ourselves the time to stop and savor that which is around us? This life is a preparation for the next; if we do not value what is here, there is no way we can truly hope in what is to come. Heaven is a wonderful ‘notion,’ but if it remains as an abstract idea rather than the reality we glimpse from time to time in this life, then we truly have no idea of what it is that God has promised.
The Scriptures are filled with references to the beauty of creation. A cursory browsing of the Psalms will attest to the many praises given to God glorifying Him for all He has made. Though we like to think of the Old Testament as mostly historical and full of laws, it surely is not. There are numerous references and descriptions throughout these Scriptures about the blessing of created things. When the phrase ‘flowing with milk and honey’ was used to describe the Promised Land, for example, the writer was referring to the loveliness and bounty of the land which God had given them. The references are there, but we have to stop and ponder them to truly appreciate the love and reverence for the earth that the writers possessed and therefore desired to impart.
The New Testament is no different. Jesus’ references to agriculture and nature were more than just practical, commonsense metaphors. He could see with eyes that were deeply attuned to creation, so we can rightly suppose that beauty stirred His heart in ways that are beyond words. It may be that Jesus used nature metaphors and similes in His preaching because He wanted to remind us that while there is better to come, our home is not too shabby a place to be! Often Jesus spoke of something as small as a mustard seed or as large as a mountain. He spoke of grain and various crops, animals, fruit trees, rock, water, salt, light, fish, the birds of the sky and the flowers of the fields. He taught near the sea, (even walked upon it), in a garden, on a mountainside, and on the edges of the desert. Of course, He also spent much time in cities where there is a certain kind of beauty as well. But the point is that we are meant to open our eyes to see creation. If we do, we will see the hand of God.
Through the Easter season we are continually reminded that the work of Jesus was and is redemption. He offers us mercy, new life in the Spirit and hope for our future, a promise which has neither changed nor faded over the centuries and which is offered to us again this year and beyond. Therefore we need to allow the Easter graces we have received to open our eyes and our hearts to appreciate what we have always had, transformed through His death and resurrection. It would be good to reflect upon what we see, whether it is a bird in flight or a single cloud floating on air. The hand of God is reaching down from Heaven always, inviting us to receive grace and knowledge of Him. Though the world is filled with suffering and brokenness, beauty offers us hope. If we can see beauty in even the simplest way, we can remember that God’s promise is there for us until the end of time. We do more than simply persevere: we are meant to enter into life, savoring all that is around us in the created world, to value the people who are given to us, indeed to respect everyone, and be good stewards so that we will have something equally beautiful to pass on until the time in which Jesus returns. On that day we will personally hear Him say: “Behold, I make all things new.”
May we be filled with appreciation for nature and the beauty of all God has created! May we be filled with gratitude for the goodness of the earth and may we take care of all that has been entrusted to us! May we share the bounty that we have received with those who are struggling to survive as well as those who are suffering any hardship! May we learn to savor every moment and every opportunity to see the hand of God reflected in the life around us! May we learn to see beauty with our eyes so that our hearts may be transformed! And may we rejoice with hope in the promise of Jesus that He will make all things new! Let us continue to meet in the heart of the Risen Lord! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is The Holy Spirit The Lord and Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you peruse Fr. Bill's website you will see many icons with God's hand coming from above. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this one, it can be purchased as a card, plaque, or other format, at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Next is an image of the Earth as taken from space. I love every image of the earth from space; it is home sweet home, but there will be better in the next life! If you want to see some fabulous photos, check out this wonderful article and photos: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150721-pictures-earth-nasa-dscovr-spacex-space-science/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=link_fb20150722news-earthpicsnasa&utm_campaign=Content&sf11219650=1
Next is a painting called St. Paul and St. Barnabas in Listri by Simone Peterzano (1572-73). It shows Paul and Barnabas in Lystra struggling with the crowds who mistakenly thought they were the gods Mercury and Zeus after a particularly powerful speech by Paul. Chaos ensued when some angry folks from Antioch and Iconium showed up. (See Acts 14:8-19)
The next three photos are my own, taken in Rockport, TX. Overall, I had in mind the Canticle of Daniel (Dan 3:52-90). The first photo of a chicken represents the bounty of the land. "Everything growing on the earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." (Dan 3:76)
The next photo is of three dolphins. Part of this trio was a mother and her baby. "You sea monsters and all water creatures, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever." (Dan 3:79)
The last photo is a lone seagull seeming to float over the water. "All birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." (Dan 3:80)
Last is an image, the Viriditas Triptych, part of a larger work called Viriditas - Finding God in All Things by Fr. William Hart McNichols. These are his words: "This is the center panel of the full image, Viriditas at Loyola Chicago University. If you look at nature closely in the early spring, all green things begin with red (wounds) buds, shoots, and branches. Then they flower into green and abundant colors of infinite life. The leaves, vibrant rocks and stones are living examples of how nature praises the Creator. Earth's atmosphere, usually a thin line of blue is, in this version green, with the life of the Holy Spirit. Twelve tongues of the Spirit's flames hover round the World as in a New Pentecost which St John the XXIII and St John Paul II prophesied for the 21st Century." It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-triptych-william-hart-mcnichols.html. As noted above, you can go to the link and purchase the triptych or the entire work, Viriditas, as a plaque, card, or in another format.
The daily readings last week contained one of my favorite passages from the Acts of the Apostles. (AA 8:26-40) It is the one in which Philip followed the instruction of an angel and left Jerusalem to evangelize. It marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity from its birth in Jerusalem ‘to the ends of the earth,’ which was the commission given the apostles by Jesus before He ascended into Heaven. In it, a man from Ethiopia was confused by a passage of Scripture over which he was praying, and moved by the Holy Spirit Philip went to the man’s chariot to help him. The trust in God that Philip displayed was remarkable: first he ventured out of the comfort zone of the community in Jerusalem and then he approached a mysterious foreigner, a man completely unlike anyone he had met before. There was no fear in Philip, but rather there was a joy which was apparent in the zeal with which he shared his understanding. By the conclusion of the meeting the Ethiopian was also filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Even more fascinating is that the end result of the man’s desire to understand was the fulfillment of the very prophecy over which he was praying: “Who will tell of his posterity?” Philip surely did just that.
If we want to understand the circumstances of the Ethiopian, we need to know exactly who this man was. First, the passage tells us that he was a man of authority, a eunuch who served the queen of Ethiopia directly. One who was a eunuch was not a threat to the queen and so he was able to be closer to her than any other person in her service. What is more important, however, is the significance of why the author mentioned the man’s physical ‘status’: a eunuch was a self-mutilated man and therefore considered unclean by Jewish law. Therefore when he was in Jerusalem he could not have entered the part of the Temple where the rabbis instructed people about the faith. This is why he had no one to interpret the Scripture for him. The eunuch was obviously a devout believer, desirous of growing in his faith, and so God sent the apostle Philip to help him. The joy and fervor of Philip, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, obviously flowed outward to the receptive eunuch, who asked for baptism and thus received it in the nearby water. The Spirit of the Lord then ‘snatched Philip away to another city,’ and the man brought the faith back to Ethiopia with him, spreading Christianity far outside Israel for the first time.
From the moment the eunuch was baptized by Philip he became a full member of the body of Christ. That his body had been altered voluntarily, something which kept him apart from those in his previous faith community, now meant nothing. After baptism he would have been welcomed by the Christian community completely. All divisions had been washed away by the waters of baptism and he had been given new life in the Spirit. He would have to continue to participate in the Eucharist, prayer, and reflection upon the teaching of the apostles in order to continue to have interior growth and to keep the connection from being stunted. And just as he needed to continue to nurture the life of faith, so too, do we. We must avail ourselves of good instruction in our faith, especially in our understanding of the Scriptures. The Bible is our lifeline to God, along with the Sacraments. It is meant to be our moral compass, the sustainer of our faith, our support when we are struggling, and a source of wisdom, joy, and gratitude as a direct connection to God. In short, it is at the heart of our spiritual life. The Scriptures teach us about our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and about salvation history. It is a book about love and mercy and it is our story, too. Therefore we need to find our own Philip if we need help in understanding what is contained within the pages of Scripture.
Another challenge brought to us through the passage from Acts, however, is whether we rise to the occasion to be like Philip in sharing our faith when opportunities present themselves. If we are waiting for someone ‘more qualified’ to share faith, we will continually miss the chance to share the beauty of being a member of the Body of Christ and the joy of knowing Jesus. Granted, Philip was an apostle and only those who are apostles (bishops today) have the authority to interpret Scripture and to therefore teach it. But we all need to be witnesses to our faith, just as the eunuch did when he returned to Ethiopia. What we learn from him is that while we may not be as qualified as Philip was, we are all ‘qualified’ to love. That is, if we have been baptized, if we are believers in that which has been handed down to us, then we are meant to ‘instruct’ others in the faith by our word and deed; we are witnesses to it through the mercy and love by which we behave. Just as Philip interpreted the Scriptures for the eunuch so that he could understand who Jesus was and why He came, we can bring people to Jesus, too. We do not have to be quoting chapter and verse, but what will evangelize is our love.
Two examples of living the gospel, instructing as Philip did, are saints who shared a feast day this past weekend. The first of these was St. Benedict Joseph Labre (1748-83) who, after trying unsuccessfully to enter religious communities, found that he was called to bring others to Christ as a pilgrim, which meant that he was a beggar who traveled from city to city to pray at various shrines or churches. He was so dirty that he referred to the vermin which lived on his body as his friends. But St. Benedict was generous with everyone, sharing anything he had received while begging. He was known for his love, compassion, generosity, and prayerfulness. After he died on the steps of the cathedral where he both prayed and begged, many proclaimed him a saint. It is doubtful that he spoke theologically to the other homeless people he encountered, but I am sure he talked about Jesus all the time, whether it was in actual words or through his acts of love.
The second of the saints who led others to the faith was St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young woman who saw the Virgin Mary at Massabielle in Lourdes. (1858) Bernadette was only 14 years old at the time and was so unschooled that she was almost illiterate. Though not very book-intelligent, she was a pure, humble soul. It was to her that Mary entrusted her identity as the Immaculate Conception, a concept totally ‘over the head’ of Bernadette. Yet she lived the gospel by making the message known to pray, do penance, and offer works of mercy. She acted with love toward everyone she met, even the bullying town authorities who disrespected her and her story. She stayed strong, living the gospel message of love in the convent where she was forbidden to speak of what had occurred (unless she was asked), and where she was treated almost cruelly in order to ‘protect her humility.’
Both St. Benedict and St. Bernadette revealed and taught the gospel message with everything they did, though neither of them were scholars. But they possessed what Philip had: faith in Jesus, hope in His message, and love which manifested itself in joy. Although Benedict was homeless and filthy, everything he did was directed toward joyfully sharing faith. And though Bernadette suffered both physically through illness and interiorly from the bad behavior of those who were jealous of her, every time she spoke of Mary or Jesus, and with every action to help the sick sisters in the convent where she lived, she did it with love and hope in the promise that life in Heaven would be filled with joy. Therefore if we are seeking to be like Philip or any other saint, the gospel message must first penetrate our own hearts. During this Easter season we can ask the Risen Lord Jesus to empower us with courage so that through the baptismal graces we have received, enlivened by the Eucharist, we might take the message ‘abroad’ just like Sts. Philip, Benedict, or Bernadette. We can have the same impact on those around us as they did since we are filled with the graces given to us by the same Holy Spirit which inspired them. When the question is asked of us as to who will tell of His posterity, we can respond as true disciples so that others may share in the joy of knowing Jesus.
May we be inspired by the example of St. Philip, following where the Holy Spirit leads! May we seek and be open to greater understanding of the Scriptures! May we ask for the intercession of St. Benedict Joseph Labre and St. Bernadette Soubirous that we might have the courage to live the message of the gospel in the circumstances of our daily lives! May we have the perseverance to be a witness to our faith, putting it into action through love and mercy! And may the Word find its home in us so that we may rely on it at all times! Let us continue to meet in the heart of the Risen Jesus! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The title of this entry is a reference to the passage which the Ethiopian was pondering, Isaiah 53:8. It was quoted in Acts 8:33.
The first image is an icon of Philip and the Ethiopian. It shows the hand of God imparting the wisdom with which Philip teaches, and also the angel who inspired him to leave Jerusalem. It also shows that the Ethiopian is indeed a man of authority because of the opulence of the chariot in which he is riding. Last, you can see the water nearby which represents his baptism at the end of the passage.
Next is a photo of my Bible. You can see that there are highlights within it. I took the photo with the pencil on the desk so that it would represent study. Our Bibles are meant to be written in!
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. Benedict Joseph Labre Patron of Homeless and Lost. It depicts his chosen poverty, but also that he carries the light of Christ and as I see it, the light of holiness. God's hand, as in the first icon, reaches out in blessing and mercy. Benedict's eyes are always heavenward. You can find it at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-benedict-joseph-labre-062-william-hart-mcnichols.html. You can purchase a copy there, or you can peruse the other icons by Fr. Bill.
Next is a photo I took of some stained glass while in Nevers, France. This depicts St. Bernadette at the grotto in Lourdes as Mary appeared to her.
The gallery to follow are also my photos. The first is the tomb of St. Benedict Joseph Labre which is in the church where he died in Rome, Santa Maria ai Monti. The second is the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette in her glass tomb in Nevers, France. The final photo is the grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes as it appears today. The statue is at the exact spot where Bernadette saw Our Lady.
The last photo is also mine. It is of the sky over New Mexico.
During the season of Easter it is good to reflect upon what life was like for those who lived during the time after Jesus resurrected. A great way to get insight into this is through the Scriptures we hear at Mass. We have heard that after the apostles were empowered by Jesus who ‘breathed on them’ and then the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they had a deeper understanding of everything Jesus had taught them. They also had a better grasp on the gifts they had been given and of what Jesus intended for them to do as leaders. In this light we might think of them as nearly fearless in their encounters with the hostile religious and civil authorities. However, they were not impervious to threats of physical harm. After seeing what happened to Jesus they had a healthy respect for what could and would happen. They also had been given the wisdom to discern, so they most certainly knew when trouble was real. But I do think that they were fueled by deep faith and by the gifts God gave them for their ministry. Encountering the Living God is always life changing, and given how much time they had spent with Jesus, at that point they could not remain silent. They simply had to tell people everything about their new life in Christ.
In the passages from the New Testament readings of last week (Acts 4 & 5), we see that the tiny community of believers, not yet referred to as Christians, was trying to share everything they had with one another, especially those who had more with those who had less. We see that they took seriously what Jesus had taught about living in unity and prayerfulness, with the Eucharist at the center of their celebrations and love as the glue which held them together. Additionally, the teaching of the apostles was very important because these men were the witnesses to Jesus: they knew Him better than anyone else, but they also were witnesses to His resurrection in that they were taught by Him for the forty days before His ascension. Therefore this fledgling community was on fire with love and the Good News, desiring to share it with the world as Jesus had instructed. It was this very zeal and commitment to sharing that got Peter and John arrested by the religious authorities who were jealous of their success with the crowds.
There really is no stopping the Word of God because it is alive with the gift of spiritual life offered to us. Therefore, shortly after Peter and John were jailed an angel showed up in the night to release them. The angel told the men, “Go and take your place in the Temple area and tell the people everything about this life.” Peter and John did exactly that: the next morning they were out early, teaching with joy all that they had learned. They taught about the risen Christ, hoping to be the fishers of men Jesus had told them they would become in their very first encounter with Him. They told the crowds about what Jesus had said and done, adding that they had the authority because “they were witnesses to these things.” Though full of joy and the energy that comes with it, they were not haughty, but rather they were humble, accurately attributing their power as the power of God. They took no credit, but attributed everything to Jesus the Lord.
We are spiritual descendants of those first Christians and we will always be Easter people. Reading these passages, therefore, should encourage us to reflect upon our encounters with people. If we had been living at that time and we had not witnessed what the apostles had experienced, if we had never heard of Jesus the Nazarene before that moment, would we have listened to these men? What would have compelled us to take them seriously? After all, they were talking about a man who they claimed was the Son of God, a notion that was considered blasphemous by the Jewish people. These preachers were just the sort of men of which a good many Jewish mothers and fathers may have put their hands over their children’s ears and said, “Come away now. Do not go near that kind of people.” They might have told one another that these were dangerous men who were maybe even a little crazy because they claimed to see a dead man, they claimed that God’s Spirit had descended upon them; they claimed that pouring water over your head could initiate you into their group and that it would give you some power. They must be mad!
This past week I had an unusual encounter. I was pumping gas when a woman came over to me asking for a dollar because she wanted to buy food inside the mini mart. During the encounter she asked me my name, something which surprised me. When I offered my first name she informed me that she was the Blessed Virgin Mary and that her son was Jesus. She told me about her heavenly Father and that she had a tattoo which empowered her with the presence of the Spirit. Her story was inconsistent with what the real Blessed Mother might have said, but she was convinced of the truth of what she told me. Though it was clear she was probably mentally ill, she was kind, polite, clean, and relatively well dressed, though with an extraordinary amount of makeup on her face. We treated each other with equal dignity and as we parted she let me take her hand as she said thank you.
The woman made a claim that was truly odd, (and I am in no way suggesting that we believe everything we hear from others), but there was something about it that was reminiscent of the readings for this week. Upon reflection, what took place made me think of the apostles in the Temple area making claims that might have felt equally ‘off.’ While I know this woman was not who she claimed to be, and that the apostles were in fact authentic, it still taught me that we cannot discount anyone from being an instrument of God. That I am still thinking about this woman is proof enough for me. There were things in what she said that were strikingly symbolic. For example, her tattoo which ‘proved the presence of the Spirit within her’ reminded me of the indelible mark we are given through baptism and confirmation! So while she was indeed not who she believed herself to be, there was truth somewhere deep inside of her, muddled by her brokenness and affliction.
If we have the eyes to see we can find Jesus within every encounter. In this case it was clear that the woman I met was mentally ill, but the gift she offered was to see that all people are children of God. She acted with dignity and was respectful, and so it was important to return that dignity and respect rather than to dismiss her. This is the love, often referred to as mercy, which Jesus teaches us. While it was obvious she was not who she claimed to be, she caused me to think about the role of the true Virgin Mary and how she points us to her Son always. Indeed, we do need to be mindful of people who approach us since not everyone is as harmless as she; that is, we do need to be discerning of when it is okay to be in such an encounter and when it is not a good idea. But we can learn from them, and maybe see them as soon-to-be canonized Mother Theresa of Calcutta did when she said that the poorest of the poor were Jesus in His most distressing disguise.
It seems like God’s message in this is that everyone is worthy of the Kingdom of God. Listening to the woman’s tall tale with seriousness was the loving thing to do, but it was not a one way street. We touched each other. And in the time of the early church the apostles were simply trying to touch hearts with the Good News as well. They did not tell anyone to change who they were, but rather they wanted them to share in the message of Jesus so that God’s power would be the agent of change for their behaviors. The apostles had learned to remain humble, though filled with zeal for the Kingdom. They learned to treat everyone with dignity and to meet people were they were, as they were. They learned that the power of God was more important than they were; they were simply the instruments. They teach us that we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus bringing His healing, life-giving message in our words and deeds. We do not have to go forth as the apostles did making His message known through speeches and mighty deeds done publicly. Rather, we live our day-to-day lives taking every opportunity given to live the gospel message by fostering unity through charity, mercy, and prayer, buoyed by the communities of faith to which we belong, with the Eucharist as our anchor. If we do this then we will indeed be ‘telling the people everything about this life.’ This is our life and this is what the Risen Jesus calls us to do. Let us go forth and share the Good News with our lives.
May we continue to celebrate the joy of the Easter season in our liturgical celebrations! May we learn to see the presence of Jesus in others, especially those who come to us in ‘distressing disguise’! May we share everything about our life in Christ in word and deed without hesitation! And may we find the inspiration for mercy, charity, and prayer in our communities of faith so that we may live our spiritual life to the full! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Risen Jesus! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first icon is called The Risen Christ by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose this because of the colors surrounding Jesus, which bring out the vibrancy of Him being alive, fully divine but also fully human. Jesus, who breathed upon the apostles when He appeared to them, seems about to breathe on us, too. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-risen-christ-014-william-hart-mcnichols.html
If you want to purchase a copy as a plaque, giclee or card, go to the link and follow the directions. And explore the rest of the site, too: there are some gorgeous icons and images there.
The second image is a painting called St. Peter preaching in the Presence of St. Mark by Fra Angelico. Although it is a depiction of Peter in a Renaissance setting it does convey the zeal of Peter and the rapt crowds listening to his words.
Next is actually a photo which I took in a church in Salzburg, Austria. I chose this because it is not very clear. It almost seems to be pastels rather than oils which were used in this painting, probably because it has faded with age. But it conveys a blurring of reality and seems unfinished, incomplete; just as the woman I met was not clear as to who she really was, but did convey something which pointed to the presence of Christ, so too this rendering points to Christ, but we have to discern what we are seeing.
Next is another of my photos, taken also in Austria. I chose it because it is full of life, but you have to look closely to see the many houses on the hillside behind the city.
Finally, a photo taken by my husband of a square in Munich, Germany. I chose it because this is a modern day 'Temple square,' a place where people come and go as they attend to their daily lives. This is the world in which we live, so to speak; it is in the marketplace that we tell people everything about this life of being a Christian.
The Easter season is filled with beautiful stories of the resurrected Jesus appearing to His disciples. Perhaps one of the most well-known is the one in which an apostle acquired the unfortunate nickname, ‘Doubting Thomas.’ That designation is somewhat overstated because throughout John’s Gospel Thomas displayed many moments of belief when the others were dragging their feet a bit. It seems odd that because he faltered that one time over whether Jesus really did appear, the poor man was forever labeled. To be fair, all of the apostles had demonstrated more than a little doubt, floundering terribly at the arrest of Jesus, abandoning Him by running and hiding; and after Judas, the worst stumble was that of Peter who denied even knowing Jesus. Only two believed enough to run to the tomb when Mary Magdalene had said Jesus was risen and not there. Yet poor Thomas is the one remembered for having doubts about the apostles’ report of seeing the Risen Jesus. That just does not seem fair, especially since it was in being authentic and honest about struggling to believe their story that Thomas was finally able to proclaim with great reverence that in fact he did believe. For me, Thomas is the easiest ‘character’ to relate to in the entire lot of the apostles. Furthermore, he was willing to be totally transparent about his struggle to wrap his mind around Jesus having overcome death. Perhaps the greatest gift of Thomas is teaching us to open our spiritual eyes and really see beyond what is visible so that we too might say, “My Lord and My God!”
This past Sunday was Divine Mercy Sunday. I love that the Gospel about Thomas intersected with this celebration because I think we all struggle to see Jesus at various moments in our lives no matter how great our faith may ordinarily be. And it is through the mercy of God that we are forgiven for the lapses that might affect our actions. I think our conflict is made worse by the state of affairs in our world as we wrestle with all sorts of issues and realities. But it is only through and with mercy that we can reconcile the humanness of our doubts with the deep and abiding faith which underlies everything we say and do as Christians. We do not have to understand everything, nor can we, but we do have to trust that the Mercy of God, which has been demonstrated in the penultimate way through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is what will save us all in the end.
To wrestle with our faith, to have doubts, is normal; it is part of the journey and it is nothing for which we should be ashamed. To be a person of faith means that we recognize and consequently rely with gratitude upon the mercy of God and the many gifts we have been given, without which we could not do very much at all. Our hard work is necessary, but without the grace of God, we would progress very little, if at all, in our life of faith. As humans we do want to understand, but many things are far beyond us. Therefore, like Thomas we will often wrestle deeply with a situation involving faith or morals, or we will falter because of the knowledge that evil is prevalent in our world and we feel powerless before it. I think that for Thomas, it was less an issue of belief than it was one of comprehension. The evidence for this is that once he did see, he was willing to live in the ‘not understanding how it was possible’ that Jesus was in fact standing before him, resurrected from the dead. He did not say, “How is it that you are here, Jesus?” or “Explain how this happened.” Instead he landed on his knees and exclaimed the truth of his faith: “My Lord and my God!” He believed the unbelievable. And in so doing he learned that indeed, as Jesus said, “Blessed are those [of us] who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29) Yes, we are truly blessed with the gifts of faith, hope, and love.
Mercy, like love, is not always a 'warm-fuzzy' feeling kind of thing. To be merciful sometimes involves deep pain. The pain Jesus willingly accepted is the prime example of this. Because of mercy and love, He took on our humanity and ultimately paid the price to overcome evil. But here is where we get confused: when He died and rose evil did not go away. Just as our propensity to sin does not end when we are baptized, though sin has less hold over us due to the graces we receive that help us combat our sinful tendencies, so evil did not get annihilated forever either. The mercy of God continued, however, for those of us who believe and accept the gift. That is the key. Jesus lavished upon us love and mercy beyond our ability to comprehend when He died and arose from the dead. And He left us with greater ability to persevere in the trials of life because He provided the Sacraments, powerful instruments of continued mercy, the very power of God offered to help us in this world of dangers. The death and resurrection of Jesus empowers us to fight the good fight, as St. Paul said. The final victory will only come when Jesus returns and time as we know it comes to an end.
This is why the Paschal mysteries are so important: we acknowledge that we are awaiting the Second Coming of Christ and that until then we are at war with evil, but we have His grace to help us to persevere. It does not mean that there will be no suffering; on the contrary, there will be much. But we know that the ultimate victory will be ours, if not here, in Heaven. Therefore we are not to be fearful, and if we wrestle with doubt because of what we cannot understand perhaps we can ask St. Thomas to intercede for us that we may be able to trust that though we cannot see, God’s grace is indeed present. The apostles saw Jesus with their own eyes and they were not preserved from pain and suffering. But they had the joy of knowing their Lord was with them and that all of their efforts at sharing the gospel, and offering mercy and love, did make a difference. They could not have known when they died that there would be billions of Christians who would follow in their footsteps throughout history, also trying to build the Kingdom through mercy and love. Their efforts did indeed make a difference or you and I would not be here at this very moment sharing the faith.
That we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday this week, (instituted by St. John Paul II who had deep faith in the gift of mercy), should be a reminder to us that God’s mercy is a great gift to us. St. Faustina Kowalska, the one to whom Jesus entrusted the task to share this devotion, wrote a prayer which ends like this: “You Yourself command me to exercise the three degrees of mercy. The first: the act of mercy, of whatever kind. The second: the word of mercy – if I cannot carry out a work of mercy, I will assist by my words. The third: prayer – if I cannot show mercy by my deeds or words, I can always do so by prayer. My prayer reaches out even there where I cannot reach out physically. O my Jesus, transform me into Yourself, for You can do all things.” As Faustina has pointed out, our prayer reaches where we cannot go: God’s mercy can reach anywhere, so all we need to do is pray. And in praying our hearts move us to reach outward in word and deed. In opening our eyes through mercy we will begin to see beauty, just as St. Thomas found that he could see in a new way.
Through our celebration of Divine Mercy we can learn from St. Thomas, the one who struggled with not seeing and who teaches us that we do not have to understand in order to believe and accept. We can learn from St. John Paul II that in God is mercy which is ‘the second name of love.’ * We can learn from St. Faustina that in word, deed, and prayer we can be people of mercy, sharing the divine love even in our own faltering efforts. And finally we can trust that the mercy of God is always available in abundance to us and to the world which is in real need. Mercy does not ensure that we will have a trouble-free life, not in the least, but it does ensure that we will be bathed in the presence of Jesus, who is always with us, indeed until the end of time. We need not be afraid. We have the mercy of God to support us and to share. Let us say with St. Thomas: My Lord and My God!
May we ask for the intercession of St. Thomas to help us to learn to trust even when things do not make sense! May we ask for the intercession of St. John Paul II that we may know and share mercy, the second name of love! May we pray with St. Faustina that our prayer may reach where we cannot go! May we rely upon the Sacraments to provide the graces we need to persevere in the difficult challenges of our lives! May we trust in Jesus' promise that He is with us until the end of time as we work to build the Kingdom in whatever way we have been called! And may we be not afraid! Let us continue to meet in the Merciful Heart of Jesus our Risen Lord! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, section 7, St. John Paul II wrote: “... mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is as it were love’s second name and, at the same time, the specific manner in which love is revealed.”
Both the above quote from St. John Paul and the prayer of St. Faustina were found in Crossing the Threshold of Mercy: A Spiritual Guide for the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, ed. By Mark-David Janus, CSP, PhD
The first and fourth images in this entry are icons by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is called The Risen Lord Appears to St. Thomas and can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-risen-lord-appears-to-st-thomas-257-william-hart-mcnichols.html. The latter icon is called St. Faustina Kowalska Apostle of Divine Mercy. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-faustina-kowalska-apostle-of-divine-mercy-094-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
After the icon of St. Thomas is an inset of the Risen Christ from a painting by Fra Angelico. I really liked the tenderness and mercy which are seen in Jesus' eyes and overall expression.
The third and fifth images are my photos. The seascape was take in Jacksonville, Florida. I chose it because it is a sunrise through many clouds, so you cannot truly tell it is a sunrise. This is symbolic of the "lesson" of St. Thomas: sometimes you cannot see something that is truly there. We have to trust that the sunrise is taking place in this photo, just as we have to trust that God is present when things seem to be indicating the opposite.
The last photo was taken in Nova Scotia, Canada. I chose it because it reminded me of the waters of Baptism in which we are washed and which are a source of rich life-giving grace.
Heart Speaks to Heart