This is quite a joyous time of year. It is replete with feasts, holidays, and ceremonies of every kind. Amidst the graduations and summer activities ramping into full swing are the wonderful celebrations we have in our liturgical calendar. The last few Sundays contained major feasts reflecting the core truths of our faith: respectively, we observed the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, the arrival of the Holy Spirit (and birth of the Church), the recognition of God as One God in Three Persons, and finally the solemnity of Corpus Christi. All of these liturgical feasts are about the love and mercy of God who does not want us to be bereft of His presence or His gifts, all of which we joyfully acknowledge with gratitude. The mysteries contained in these liturgies are at the heart of who we are as Christians and so they act as reminders that God has ‘outdone Himself’ in mercy and love. The light of His love for us shines bright, especially in the gift of His presence through His Body and Blood given for us. These are meant to sustain us and to make us as a light for others, luminous with His presence within.
The feast we celebrate this week, Corpus Christi, is about one of the most magnificent acts of love ever. This act of love is repeated every time a priest consecrates bread and wine, which through the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. When Jesus offered this gift on the night before He died, He made it clear that He intended for His followers to literally take His Body and Blood within them. He had indicated this earlier, as seen in His famous ‘Bread of Life’ discourse in John 6. The discourse had scandalized those who did not understand Him when He said that we must eat His body and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. But on the night of the Last Supper Jesus did as He had said He would: He blessed and broke the bread, handing it to His disciples with the very words, “Take and eat.” He did likewise with the cup. So while it is amazing that we actually do consume the Eucharist, He left it as such so we could internalize His presence and the many graces we need that we might take this forth into the world. Therefore we cannot receive His Body and Blood and remain immobile; Jesus invites us to prayer and He moves us outward in love and mercy toward others.
The Body and Blood of Jesus should fill us with nothing short of luminosity. Just as the beauty contained in nature reflects the glory of God, so it is with the luminosity which comes through the process of becoming holy. Luminosity is not something that can be contained; the point is to share light, not hide it. An image that comes to mind is that of a beautiful painting, a print of which hangs in my home. It is called Chalice and Host Surrounded by Garlands of Flowers by Jan Davidsz de Heem. (Seen at right) What strikes me most is the luminosity of the host: there is a light emanating from within it. If you look closely, you can see the faint image of the corpus, that is, the body of Jesus Christ, in the midst of the consecrated host. That luminosity does not remain only in the unconsumed host or wine, but rather it is what we receive when we partake of it. It is the very presence of Jesus. In the painting you can see that the host is above the chalice, but so close that the radiance seems to be connecting the bread and wine become Body and Blood. For me this symbolizes that the two are as one; and so the chalice gleams with what is within it and the host radiates outward. The image is professing the message of Jesus: “Go forth and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
Light and fire are always signs of sanctity. Many holy people have been seen throughout the ages as being aglow with love, mercy, and charity. Painters and iconographers typically paint a halo (properly called a nimbus) around the head of holy ones for this reason. A nimbus is not a ring which hovers over the head of a saint, but rather it is a truer, more accurate depiction of the holiness that emanates from within them. Holy people do glow with the love of God. Their actions speak of Jesus and their presence brings His peace. And the more we are filled with the presence of the Lord through prayer, the sacraments, and the graces of God, the more we will glow, too. If this seems a bit outlandish, I would challenge you to recognize that you probably have seen or experienced the glow of love. For example, who has not seen a radiant bride or groom? They are filled with joy and love for one another and so they seem to glow. And if you have ever felt that wonderful ‘warmth’ in the act of loving another person, you probably also were aglow with love. This, then, is how it is for the holy ones. When we are around them we somehow intuitively know that we are in the presence of holiness, the continuous radiance of God’s presence within them. Years ago I had such an experience at Christmas Eve midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As massive as that building is, when (Pope) St. John Paul II entered the building, we could feel his presence long before we could see him. It was absolutely electric: the crowd responded with spontaneous applause because it was seemingly the only way we could respond. It was not the same as encountering a rock star. It was so much deeper because it was truly a sense of being in the presence of the holy.
Similarly, we are given a great opportunity to respond to the presence of Jesus. Every time we partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are given the opportunity to grow in radiance through His power and presence. Even if we do not feel anything, and most often we do not, we can rely on faith to know that the truth of His presence is so. This is what holiness is: it is becoming so filled with Jesus that we cannot contain Him and so we overflow with His love and His light. We become luminous, not always in a way that is visible, but in our deeds of love and mercy offered to others. Every Christian is called to holiness and every one of us has the capability; it is not only for a select few. If we take Jesus into our hearts in Word and Sacrament, if we really ruminate on the Word (literally, chew on it) and we truly allow the Body and Blood of Christ to be active within us, cooperating with the power of the grace alive within us, then we will become radiant with His love. The Eucharist is dynamic and transformative; it is filled with the presence and the power of Christ. It does not ‘go away’ or diminish with time after we are finished receiving it, but rather it grows, empowering us to see temptation for what it is and to persevere in times of suffering and pain. It enlivens our faith in times of trouble, it helps us to become the disciples we hope to be, it helps us to grow in holiness, enriching and increasing our ability to reach out to others through our service, and it leads us home to God.
We are one Body of Christ and so together we can continue to work toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Jesus is counting on us to take Him into our hearts so that He does not remain only in the tabernacle or on the altar, but that we take Him outward into the world. We are not meant to merely witness the consecration, but rather to participate in it by responding to the words of Jesus: “Take and eat, take and drink.” The Eucharist is our sustenance and it is our food for the journey. Let us become luminous by participating in that which is full of light and love, sharing that luminosity with those to whom we are sent.
May we joyfully celebrate the gift of the Eucharist by taking Jesus into our hearts and embracing Him with love! May we be filled with wonder and awe in the presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ! May we lead others to holiness by our works of love, no matter how small our acts may seem to be! May we learn to see the luminosity of God reflected in nature, in the holy ones in our midst, and in ourselves! May we generously share the light of His love with others! And may we come to the table of the Lord often and always, finding Jesus ever-present in welcome and love! Let us continue to meet in the Body and Blood of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Sangre de Cristo. I chose it because I love how the blood of Christ is flowing into the chalice, a clear depiction of His Body and Blood given for us, offered continuously. Jesus is looking outward as we gaze at Him, so it is apparent that He is more interested in us than He is in Himself. You can find the icon at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/la-sangre-de-cristo-242-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Following the icon is the de Heem painting which I described in the post, called Chalice and Host Surrounded by Garlands of Flowers. Jan Davidsz de Heem lived from 1606-84. You can find this work at http://www.lessingimages.com/viewimage.asp?i=40030421+&cr=236&cl=1.
Next is a Russian icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov, a saint who was said to literally look as if he was afire when he prayed, burning with the fire of God's love within him. He was probably one of the most luminous saints ever. I chose this version, among many, because not only is he seen at prayer, but there is an abundance of shades of yellow and gold in this icon. The entire icon seems to be bathed in light. The trees, (as connected to the next two images I have used), seem to glow, and even the very rock upon which he is kneeling has a yellow cast to it, as if even the rock is on fire at its core.
The fourth image is a painting by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. (1862-1918) He is well known for the many portraits he painted, but I think his landscapes are also quite marvelous. I chose this because the entire work seems to be bathed in light. The tree and its surroundings seem to shimmer. It was a reminder that creation is aglow with the beauty of God. Just as a painting is a reflection of the vision of the artist, so is creation a reflection of God.
Last is one of my own photographs, taken just outside Schulenberg, TX. It is obviously a vineyard, so it could not be more appropriate for this piece; in the liturgy the Body and Blood of Jesus begins as bread and wine, "the work of human hands and fruit of the vine." (From the Eucharistic prayers at Mass). But the most remarkable thing about this photo is that when I took the shot, my eye did not see the luminosity of the trees. I only saw it when I downloaded the photo on my computer. I promise that the photo was not altered in any way. This is what my camera ‘saw’ and so it is what God wanted us to see: luminosity.
Though we may not articulate it as such, one thing we all seem to want is to have unity. But unfortunately, underlying our desire is the temptation to think (not always secretly) that if everyone would only see things our way we would indeed have unity. The reason for this is simple: in our own mind, even if unconsciously, we think our way is the best way. What is so ironic about this thought is that it is precisely why we have disunity. However, let us not be dismayed at this conundrum wrought by our humanness. If we truly look at it, our desire for unity is actually a desire for God. I say this because God is the truest unity: God is three Persons, but yet there is only one God. When we desire unity we are seeking the oneness found in the Holy Trinity. The only antidote for our dilemma of desiring unity while living with so much plurality is to find our unity in God. God is the healer of all that is broken and the unifier of all that is divided because in His essence God is an undivided unity of Three in One.
Actually, plurality and diversity are good things. In no way is being in unity a negation of our diverse gifts or a denial of the importance of having differing ways of approaching problems or tasks. Unity does not mean sameness. As a people we are a work in progress and so we should always seek to use our creativity and to bring unique ideas to the table. As St. Paul pointed out, we are many parts of the Body of Christ, each with differing gifts. But the point is that we respect and use each gift in order to make a whole, not for one part of the body (to use his analogy) to lord it over any other part or to be seen as having more propriety than any other. (1 Cor 12) There is no unity in such attitudes and that is why we can become at odds with one another. The goal, therefore, is to find ways to complement each another and to use our diverse gifts toward the good of the whole community. It seems like an elusive goal because we are indeed broken, but that does not mean we should not try to work toward it. In fact, working toward personal wholeness is what we are all called to do; it is what we call ‘holiness.’ And if we all work toward it individually, we can find unity as a community.
In last Saturday’s (daily Mass) liturgy the first reading stated, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” (James 5:16) If we use the present moment, the only reality we truly have, in order to pray and discern, we will come to see how we can best use our gifts. The wholeness we desire for ourselves will spill over into the work we do because that is how holiness works. As people come closer to God, they start to do the things that are Godly. They start to imitate Christ by using the love which the Spirit gives them, (grace), in all they say and do. Our fervent prayer therefore, includes prayer for others which leads us to action. To do this, we have to become attentive to how the Holy Spirit moves within us. As St. James said, if we are suffering we should pray; if we are in good spirits we should sing a song of praise; if we are sick, we should ask to be prayed over and anointed in the name of the Lord. (James 5:13-14) In other words, if we are attentive to the present moment, bringing our focus on the challenge at hand rather than longing to be somewhere else, our prayer becomes quite powerful indeed.
The one longing to be elsewhere that we should have, however, is the longing for Heaven. But we cannot forget that we have to be here first, attending to the people and the tasks which have been given us. St. Paul wrote of his struggle with a ‘dual longing’ in his letter to the Philippians. He wrote: “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” (Phil. 21-24) Like most people of faith, St. Paul longed for Heaven so that he would be united with God, yet he knew God had a purpose for him to fulfill here. Therefore, he chose to do what was most pleasing to God, knowing that eventually he would be with Him in Heaven.
Paul’s struggle sheds light on why we find unity so elusive: often we would rather do things our way than God’s way. Quite honestly, God’s way is incredibly mysterious much of the time, and it can be frustrating as we try to discern the way we are to proceed. There is so much disunity in this world, so many voices clamoring for our attention, so many varying opinions, that we can easily become confused, or worse still, jaded. But if we cling to the Holy Trinity, an undivided unity, can we find peace. The mistake we make which inadvertently ends up putting us off course is that we try to understand the mystery of who God is and how everything works rather than simply trusting in Him. Trying to understand the mystery of God is like trying to understand the universe: it is too vast, too far beyond us, and it is infinite. We can try to unravel its mysteries, but the more we discover, the more we realize we do not know. And so, as in understanding the universe or any other mystery, we must be content in accepting that try as we might, we will never understand God completely, at least not in this life. And for this reason, we truly need to trust the Holy Trinity who alone can guide us through all that mystery.
Our one God has revealed Himself as a Trinity, a unity of Love. Jesus, the Son of God, said to His disciples that He and the Father are one (John 10:30) and He also spoke of His Holy Spirit which was to come into the world at Pentecost, as celebrated last week. In the gospels we ‘witnessed’ all three Persons as they manifested together at Jesus’ baptism and at His Transfiguration. Even so, we will never understand how it is possible; it is an absolute mystery. Therefore it is not a good idea to wrestle with trying to understand that which is too far beyond us. Instead, we need to turn to God Himself, the undivided Trinity, as a source of wholeness and unity, and simply rest in Him and in His love. We can pray as St. James taught, trusting that our fervent prayer is powerful. We can ask for the graces only God can give that we may be more whole ourselves and that we may be a peaceful presence rather than a divisive one. We can call upon the Lord to heal that which is too big for us and which divides the world, trusting that in the end our Triune God will pull all the broken pieces into Himself, healing us as He brings the ones who persevere into the Kingdom of Heaven, the fullness of His love.
We cannot heal the world ourselves. We can only rely on God to do what is impossible for us. The Father created the cosmos, and in a tiny corner of it He created humans; we were originally created in wholeness, but our participation in sin shattered the unity. Subsequently, He sent His Son Jesus to bring healing, wholeness, and salvation through His dying and rising. And He sent the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into Heaven that we might have greater access to the graces we need in order to persevere in our journey toward God, helping others to also come to know God, the Holy Trinity. It is in embracing the mystery of our One God in Three Persons, who is Love and who offers Love to us, that we find hope. The point to our lives is not to understand, but rather it is to trust in God, the undivided Unity for whom we all long. And in this trust we can rest in Him, the One who is Love, so that all that is divided may become one in Him. Let us praise God, the Holy Trinity, for all the blessings He bestows!
May we have the healing and wholeness for which we long! May we trust in God that all which is divided will be eventually united in Him! May we give glorify and praise to the Holy Trinity in our fervent prayer and in our work to bring others to Him! May we be content in the mystery of God as we rest in His love! May we give praise to the Father, give glory to the Son, and gratitude to the Holy Spirit, one God in three Persons! And may we seek to rest in God, not alone, but with the community who is the Body of Christ! Let us meet in heart of the Holy Trinity! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: As happens so often for me, the inspiration behind this entry was inspired by a song, a hymn I grew up with called “O God, Almighty Father.” The refrain goes like this:
“O most Holy Trinity, Undivided unity, Holy God, mighty God, God immortal be adored.”
The first image is what is undoubtedly one of the most famous and well-known icons in the world, St. Andrei Rublev's Holy Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are depicted as the three 'angels' who visited Abraham in the Old Testament passage. I chose it because it truly is an inspiring work with the Trinity sitting in the garden, a representation of that which God has made in creation, at prayer and rest, the Son pointing to the cup as if to say it is His body and blood which will be poured out for us. Exquisite!
Next is a photo I took at St. Peter's in Rome. The people are praying before the tomb of St. John Paul II. He was someone who pointed all of us to prayer through teaching and example during his pontificate. But even more important was how St. John Paul was so courageous in inspiring people to rise to the challenge at hand, finding even the gift of one's own diminishment through sickness or age to be something one can offer.
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. Paul the Apostle. In it one can see how St. Paul is carrying the gospel message far and wide, as implied by the beautiful book in his hands and the mountains in the background. St. Paul longed for Heaven, as every Christian should, but he also knew he had been given gifts in order to spread the gospel. He is depicted as lovingly, but resolutely, carrying the Word of God, because that is what Jesus has asked of him. I love how that can be seen in this icon. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-paul-the-apostle-196-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Next is a NASA photo of multitudes of stars, beyond counting, in the night sky. I think it speaks for itself of the vastness and mysteriousness of the universe. I could stare at the night sky forever and recommend finding somewhere without 'light pollution' to do so, too. It is magnificent.
Next is a photograph I took while in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I chose to use this here because of the unity of the rocks. If you look really closely you will see that the cut-out in the rock is heart shaped. It made me think of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who are "an eternal exchange of love extended out to us." (slight paraphrase of the words of St. Augustine.)
For the past week a song has been running through my head, I suppose in anticipation of the Feast of Pentecost. The song is relatively short, something we sang at a prayer group to which I belonged many years ago. It is a song of praise and exhortation, asking the Holy Spirit to "fall afresh on me" and then "on us." I remember how comforting it was to hear our group collectively singing for the Holy Spirit to come upon us with His graces, praying that He would fill us and use us as He desired. Essentially, we were praying for specific graces, asking the Spirit to help us to be good disciples. It seems that this song is connected to my reflection upon the Feast of Pentecost because the intent of the song identifies what was happening when the apostles and disciples were gathered in the Upper Room. They were praying in accordance with what Jesus had instructed them to do, waiting in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come down upon them that they might be used as God desired. As the Easter season passes into Pentecost, then, it seems appropriate for us to echo their prayer that the Spirit would fall afresh on us, too.
Asking for the Holy Spirit to descend is something that was never meant to take place on only one day, such as on the original Pentecost or on the day we were baptized. We see this in the fact that Jesus began the process of imparting the Spirit before the day of Pentecost by ‘breathing on’ the apostles when He appeared after His resurrection. (John 20:23) He empowered them through His Ruah (the creative wind and breath of God which was at creation in Genesis 1 and 2) and so this is how they were enabled to understand when Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) Later, He instructed them to continue to wait in Jerusalem for the fullness of the Holy Spirit to come, falling afresh upon them, adding more grace to what they had already received.
After the Ascension the apostles followed Jesus’ instructions to the letter. Luke wrote that they returned to Jerusalem for prayer in the Upper Room where many people were present; it was not just the apostles, but rather a group made up of all His disciples, including family. In Acts 1:13-14 Luke named each of the apostles, now eleven, and then he wrote: “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” In verse 15 he goes on to say, “…there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place.” Notice that after the Eleven, soon to be restored to 12, only Mary was named specifically. That she was named reveals that they regarded her highly and that she was an important presence in the midst of their prayer and discernment. They held her in high esteem not only because she was the Mother of Jesus, but because she was a woman of deep and abiding prayer. Mary was (and remains) the best intercessor there is. They had discerned that her gifts were essential to the community, along with their own. But I must point out that all 120 people gathered were in prayer and therefore all were deemed important to the process.
The text of Acts goes on to describe how they chose Matthias, the successor to the betrayer, Judas. In choosing, they exercised the gift of discernment first by listening to Peter as he described how the Spirit had worked through King David in the time before Jesus, and then by proposing two deserving disciples from which to choose. Following this, all 120 people prayed asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to choose the one best suited to restore the apostles’ number to twelve which was done so as to have a symbolic connection with the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a sign of the wholeness of the nation as it was originally intended, and hence wholeness for the Church. They then chose lots, trusting that God would reveal the best choice. This process is the basis of that which is still used in all Church discernment: discussion, prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, and thoughtful choosing, often by vote.
It is important that we recognize that Pentecost was the birth of the Spirit-filled community of believers which we refer to as the Church. As a community all members were, and still are, equally responsible to pray for the Spirit to fall afresh. Though we have different ministries, the Holy Spirit’s descent on all those gathered at the first Pentecost tells us that we are all important to the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ. It is not for the leaders only; we all must be responsible for doing our part. For example, we are the primary teachers of the faith for our children; we cannot expect the hierarchy of the Church to be the only ones to do it. It is the same with vocations to the priesthood or religious life: we must all do the encouraging and inviting. Yes, we all can pray for the Spirit to fall upon them, but sometimes the Spirit needs us to do more than pray; He often needs us to be His intended instruments by following through with some action. The Spirit descends, but we must call Him down, then plant the seeds, nurture, and water them.
We are all important to the life of the Church. Imagine what would have happened if the apostles had called down the Spirit and then no one responded after the joy of Pentecost had faded away! Imagine if only twelve men went forth to spread the Good News and no one else discerned their role, such that they left everything to those twelve! It is clear that God intended the Spirit to enliven all of us in different ways with different gifts, just as the apostles heard and spoke in different languages during the Pentecost experience. Therefore we need to discern continually what our gifts are and how we are to use them. We need to keep praying about how we are to serve the Lord, not if we are to serve Him. And if we all take Pentecost to heart every year, calling upon the Spirit to refresh that which He has begun in us, asking Him to fall afresh upon the Church and the hurting world, then we will see with renewed eyes, hear with renewed ears, and love with renewed hearts.
No job or ministry is too small, and we can all do small things with great love. If we are not sure what we are called to do, we can be like Mary interceding for those who need God’s grace to alleviate suffering, especially that which is needless or the result of sin. We can pray for those whose suffering comes unbidden, especially for the ones for whom life is like a constant martyrdom. If we feel we have lost much due to age or sickness we can offer that as prayer also. We can offer it for reparation of sin, as redemptive suffering, or maybe in solidarity with the suffering elsewhere in the world. However, when we ask the Holy Spirit to come, if our suffering or the suffering of the world does not seem to diminish, we must remember that the grace we may be receiving might be that of perseverance, bearing the suffering in union with Christ and for the redemption of sin. Therefore, there is always a role for everyone, even if it is not the one we would have chosen for ourselves. All of us are important and all of our prayer and works, even the work of suffering, makes a difference.
Therefore let us call upon the Spirit to fall afresh upon us each day of our lives. We can do it every morning before we arise. If we call upon the Spirit for graces known and unknown at the start of every day, we will be prepared in ways beyond our imagining to meet the as-yet unknown demands of the day ahead. All we need to say is this: “Come Holy Spirit and fall afresh on me. Use me as you need so that my actions today would be for the good of all those I meet. Come Holy Spirit and fall afresh on your Church that we might continue to spread the Good News. Come Holy Spirit and fall afresh on the entire world that there might be peace and healing this day. Amen!” Perhaps if we began every day like this we would begin to see a change in our perception of the world and of ourselves. Our hearts will change and we will see and hear with more sensitivity, love more deeply, and have an increase in courage, trusting that everything is in God’s hands. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on us!
May we pray for our Church that on this Pentecost the Holy Spirit may fall afresh on us, enlivening our understanding of community and our part within it! May we call upon the intercession of Mary and the apostles that they would continuously call down the Holy Spirit upon all the areas of the world which are in need of God’s grace! May we pray for the Holy Spirit to fall afresh upon us for the needs of each day! May we have renewed eyes to see the presence of the Holy Spirit within us and around us! May we have renewed hearts to bear with faith all the adversities of life! And may we know the joy of the Holy Spirit as He fills our hearts anew at Pentecost! Let us meet in the midst of the Fire of Love, the Holy Spirit! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is part of a painting of the Pentecost event by Alessandro Filipepi Botticelli, called The Descent of the Holy Spirit. I chose it because I was drawn to the rays of light which were falling upon them from above and also because Mary was in the center of the group, (which is seen in the complete work.) Truly the Holy Spirit was filling them with joy, peace, and many other graces.
The second image is a photo I took while in Rockport, TX. I loved the contrast of the colors in this scene: the water a deep green, the sky a vivid blue, and the cloud enlivening both colors. The wispy quality of the cloud, and that it was throughout the sky, seems like an image of the Spirit of God, or Ruah from the Old Testament. In Hebrew 'ruah' translates to 'wind, breath, or cloud.' This ruah was the "mighty wind which hovered over the waters" of creation in Genesis 1:2.
Next is an unusual painting attributed to Bl. Fra Angelico, though it may have been done by one of his students. I am not sure where the original is, but I chose it because unlike most Pentecost interpretations I have seen, it contains more than the twelve apostles and Mary. Therefore it is unusual, (and in my opinion, refreshing), to see the event depicted more accurately. Now if only he had included a few more women. I 'forgive' him for this, however, because I love his work.
After the Fra Angelico is my favorite image in this entry. It is called Pentecost. It is my favorite because of the medium used: it is a quilt! It was created by named Arthur Poulin, OSB Cam. (The letters after his name mean he is a Camaldolese Benedictine monk.) It is on Pinterest, to which one must subscribe, but here is the link anyway. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/15058979974308248/?from_navigate=true. I chose it because of the colors which seem to represent the fire of the Spirit coming over the waters. It tied in with what I wrote last week about the fiery cloud which is referred to as Shekinah. And lastly it also ties in with the idea of the Spirit hovering over the waters which I mentioned above. Love it!
Next is another of my photos, also taken in Rockport, TX. It was taken on a nature trail. I chose to include this little bird because it represents the smallest among us. Every creature has a purpose and nothing we do is too small. This tiny bird with its beautiful 'voice' has a purpose, which is to praise God in its song... and so do we.
And finally: The Holy Spirit The Lord The Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose it because it shows the hand of God bestowing the Holy Spirit and the many graces He bears upon the world. It is a sign of infinite love. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. However, there is a little confusion as to when it should be celebrated. Some of us celebrated it last week on Thursday while some dioceses have moved the celebration to the 7th Sunday of Easter. The idea behind moving it to Sunday is that it enables everyone to participate in the Mass on this very important feast involving a mystery of our faith; the thought is that many people cannot make it to Mass when it is on a weekday and so miss out on it entirely. No matter when we celebrate the Ascension the fact remains that we should take every one of the events surrounding the death, resurrection, ascension and glorification of Jesus very seriously. However, we might think of the glorification of Jesus without having a sense of what this actually means. We may think, “As Son of God what more glorification could He need?” Glorification is not meant as an accolade. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye because this feast is important to our understanding of God and the gift of our salvation. It is about revealing the fullness of who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and that He is going to return again at the end of time to bring us into the New Heaven and Earth that we heard about at last week’s Sunday liturgy. (Rev. 21) And finally, it is about entering into the light with Him.
A few months ago I saw the film Risen at the theater. There were two scenes that made a strong impression upon me, one of which was the ascension of Jesus. Rather than having the apostles standing around staring at the soles of Jesus’ feet as He rose into the air on a cloud, it was far more ‘biblical,’ in evidence that the screen writers had read both Testaments in their Bibles. Jesus was depicted as being enveloped by a bright cloud, reminiscent of the cloud seen leading the Jewish people across the desert with Moses; it was the same cloud Moses entered into when it came to rest over Mt. Sinai or over the meeting tent. That cloud, the Shekinah (God’s protective presence), had fire in its midst and was clearly seen by the people. In the gospels it was the same Shekinah cloud which came upon Jesus when He transfigured before Peter, James, and John on Mt. Tabor. Therefore, to see Jesus in the film being surrounded by the bright cloud and simultaneously seeming to emanate light was a powerful sight to behold. I felt like I was one of the apostles viewing the wonder of it along with them. Rather than just seeing His feet, the fiery cloud showed all of Jesus, rising further and further away into the heavens. It was nothing short of magnificent.
In Scripture fire always attests to the presence of God. This is why the fire is blessed by the priest and is carried into the church in a dramatic way at the Easter Vigil. It is why at baptism the godparents and parents are given a lighted candle for the child who has just entered the community. It is why we light candles before the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is housed and have lighted candles accompany the Word to be proclaimed at the ambo, then stationed at the altar for the Eucharistic sacrifice at Mass. Similarly, cloud is also a sign of God’s presence. We use incense to show this: while it represents our prayers rising on high to God, it also represents the mystery of the presence of God. For example, at major celebrations the priest incenses the altar before the liturgy of the Eucharist begins. The cloud envelops the sanctuary as a sign of the presence and mystery of God. These are powerful gestures because what they symbolize is an unfathomable reality: the presence of God among us.
It is also important that we do not think the Ascension was merely a vehicle to get Jesus into Heaven. That Jesus brought the apostles to Bethany as witnesses tells us that He intended this as an important event. Remember, He had already ascended to the Father in the process of His resurrection. After His death, He first went down to Sheol to release the souls of those who had waited so long for redemption, and accompanying them into Heaven, He opened the gates of Heaven for all of us, returning to earth in His glorified, resurrected body for forty days to instruct the first incredulous, then amazed apostles. He prepared them for the coming of the Holy Spirit so they would be ready to take over leadership of the Church. When the time came for Him to leave He instructed them to take the Good News to the ends of the earth. Then two angels appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, delivering an exquisite message: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into Heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into Heaven.” As if witnessing the Ascension was not enough, they reminded the apostles that Jesus would return again to complete the Kingdom at some time known only to God, as He had indicated to them a few moments earlier. (Acts 1:6-8)
After His resurrection Jesus’ body was glorified, which the apostles ‘experienced’ when He walked through closed doors, yet could eat or be touched. Indeed, we also will have that resurrected body after Jesus returns on the Last Day. But the reality of Jesus’ glorification is much greater than the body He now has. The Ascension in brilliant light and cloud is a sign of His divinity: the Son of God became human so that He could bring us redemption. He came down from Heaven humbly as a vulnerable little baby, but returned there in glory, having accomplished the will of the Father. He remains fully God and fully man for all eternity. But in this feast we are reminded that He is indeed the Second Person of the Trinity, who in His mercy includes us in His Body as His people. He is glorified in everything He accomplished, everyone He healed, every word He spoke, and with every prayer He prayed in which He in turn glorified His Father since they are One. We should be overwhelmed with amazement at this: God has joined us to Himself and nothing can break the bond of His love. In witnessing His ascension through the eyes of the apostles, we are invited into a mystery so great, so vast, so deep, that we cannot fully comprehend it. We are not invited to simply gawk; rather, we are called to rise up to Heaven with Him.
Someday we will see Jesus’ complete glory face to face, a reality which is eternal and will never change. But until He resurrected in glory, we were not invited to be at the throne of God. In His Ascension we are not left behind and we are not looked upon as too small or unworthy. Jesus sees us as His brothers and sisters, the beloved of His heart, and so the Ascension is a beacon of hope that one day we will be where He is. Until then, we are called to “glorify Him with our life,” which is the exhortation given by the deacon in the final dismissal at the end of Mass. We are not to sit idly by, staring at the sky. Instead, we are to play an active role in glorifying God by our works of love, mercy, and compassion.
It matters not what day we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. I admit to preferring unity in celebrating the Feast of the Ascension on the Thursday which is 10 days before Pentecost, just as the timeline of Scripture says it took place. But if we recognize that Jesus was not born on December 25 and can live with celebrating Christmas on that day anyhow, then we can live with the Ascension being celebrated on a different day than a Thursday. Everything is in God’s time (Kairos) anyhow. Therefore, rather than wailing and gnashing our teeth about Ascension being celebrated on the ‘wrong day,’ whether our preference is for Thursday or Sunday, what is most important is that we focus on the mystery of our faith, allowing ourselves to be filled with wonder and awe at its reality. The calendar is not important: the glorification of Jesus and participating in it, is. So let us allow ourselves to stand in Bethany with the apostles, witnessing Jesus being enveloped into the light which is simultaneously emanating from within Him. Let us open our mouths in songs of praise, our eyes to the wonder of His Ascension, our minds to the reality that He will come again, and our hearts to the mercy and love which He has offered us. We are His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Let us enter into the light as we await the outpouring of the Spirit anew.
May we sing praise to the Lord for the marvelous deeds He has done! May we be grateful for Jesus’ wondrous love which endured so much in order to bring us salvation! May we have the eyes of the apostles in which to see the world as infused with His presence! May we have hope in the promised return of Jesus! May we be content in the assurance that our suffering and the brokenness of our world will be finally healed when we see Jesus! May we invite others into the Good News as witnesses to the wonders of mercy and love which God has given, sharing it in our word and deed! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are all my own. The first was taken in Theodore Roosevelt Park in North Dakota. I chose it because of the fiery light depicted in the setting sun. The sun was retreating, as if into the heavens, symbolic of Jesus leaving the earth yet in reality is still present. That we cannot see the sun at night does not mean it is not there, but that it is simply out of view. The mix of fire and cloud is appropriate to my image of the Ascension.
The second photo was taken as I was climbing Mt. Mucrone in Biella Province in northern Italy. I was viewing another mountain as a cloud descended upon it during the climb, prior to my own Shekinah/Moses experience on Mt. Mucrone.
Next is the Ascension of the Lord by the famous medieval painter Giotto. I chose this one specifically because it depicts Jesus fully, not just His feet, and He is surrounded by light, similar to what the film, Risen, showed.
The fourth image is a photo of a glorious cloud with the sun just behind the upper portion. The number one rule of photography is not to shoot into the sun, but the cloud cooperated and provided cover so that I could shoot into the sun without the light washing out the shot. This photo is literally the fire in the cloud.
Fifth is an icon called The Second Coming of Christ the King by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose to use this icon because it shows Jesus blessing us, even though the background might seem ominous. He will come on a cloud and He will come in glory: that is what He assured the apostles at the Ascension. We have nothing to fear, and it will be a time of joy in seeing Him face to face as we resurrect, too. The color of His robe depicts peace. The icon can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-second-coming-of-christ-the-king-149-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Finally, the last photo is also mine. It was taken at Marble Falls, TX. The beauty of the scene depicts creation, and therefore the wonders of all God has done. The new Heaven and Earth will be even more beautiful. Hard to imagine, but true!
In this sixth week of the Easter season the parents of Jesus come to mind. This may seem a bit odd, but if we are attentive to this new month our thoughts will automatically include Joseph and Mary because May is wrapped in their presence: it begins with the feast of St. Joseph the Worker (May1) and ends with the Feast of the Annunciation (May 31). Not only that, May has long been considered the month of Mary. Therefore with this month held securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary we need to focus our attention on them both. It is significant that soon the Easter season is coming to an end while simultaneously Mary and Joseph are intertwined with it. They were Jesus’ first earthly family, from which His second family, the Church, could eventually be born. They guided Jesus as He grew into adulthood, teaching Him and keeping Him safe so that He could fulfill the mission for which He came into the world. Indeed, Jesus was held securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary.
Joseph’s presence (liturgically) is somewhat hidden this year since May 1 fell on Sunday and as a result we ‘lost’ the feast dedicated to his role as worker. Since it is an optional memorial, (he does have another, more significant feast day in March), and because a Sunday liturgy always supersedes another memorial, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was omitted. All that being said, it does seem appropriate to connect St. Joseph to the end of the Easter season because Joseph was imperative to the life of Jesus, and thus to the mysteries of our faith, chosen by God to ensure that Jesus could grow into adulthood just as any other man. However, Joseph was not merely a figurehead to serve as a convenience for Jesus and Mary. To think that would reduce him to a role rather than to see him as the wonderful saint that he is. Joseph was chosen by God because he was a righteous, holy man who served God selflessly having great love and devotion for Him. Indeed Joseph is known for his humble work, providing for his family and protecting them on some rather perilous travels. Joseph worked not just at carpentry, but he labored at helping Jesus become a man. Though he is not recorded as saying anything in the Scriptures, we do know that he was one of the first teachers of Jesus, as role model in the faith and as a parent. We simply cannot underplay the importance of Joseph: even though God is truly the Father of Jesus, without Joseph, Jesus would not have grown into the Jewish culture with the understanding which comes through experience. Humble St. Joseph indeed held Jesus securely in his arms.
I see St. Joseph as the patron saint of the obscure, the overlooked, the humble, and the exceedingly patient. He is one of the greatest saints, while seemingly content with being the least known. Though Joseph seems ‘overshadowed’ in May which is thought of as Mary’s month, Bishop Jacques Perrier, (bishop of Lourdes from 1997-2012), wisely said, “The Virgin Mary should not be separated from Saint Joseph.” * And similarly they should not be separated from our thoughts during the Easter season. Among other mysteries essential to our faith, Easter reminds us that the Church is a family, headed by God and populated by His children. Jesus died and rose to save us all, but also to unite us as one body. All children need the guidance of parents and so God has shared the parents of Jesus with us. In that light we now turn to Mary.
Mary was also one of the first teachers of Jesus. After she was widowed she continued to influence Him as a mother would, having the wisdom to know when to let go, encouraging Him when He needed to begin His ministry. She gracefully and lovingly became as a follower, yet when Jesus left the world He entrusted the Church to her, saying from the Cross, “Behold, your son,” referring to the apostle John who was representative of those who would soon become the Church. In the first chapters of Acts we see that Mary was at the center of the apostles, a position that they automatically gave to her. Tradition tells us that throughout the rest of her life she interceded in prayer for the church, living away from Jerusalem for the most part. After her death she was immediately brought body and soul into Heaven and then was given the title ‘Queen of Heaven,’ not like another god to be worshiped, but as the one closest to Jesus who we revere because of her purity, love, and grace. Mary is venerated under many titles as she continues interceding for the church. She is truly a caring mother to us all, spending her time in Heaven striking out against the work of evil, laboring to foster peace, helping men and women to be directed toward her Son, even appearing in the hope of guiding us on the right path. Her message is always one of peace and mercy, and her desire is to help us grow in holiness. Therefore it is fitting that we set aside the month of May to both honor her and to prayerfully ask her intercession.
Mary is the Mother of the Church, but she is also the Mother of All Nations. My favorite image of her is an icon written by Fr. William Hart McNichols and it seems appropriate to gaze upon it now. In the icon Mary’s arms encircle the earth, around which are twelve tongues of fire representing the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus and the wholeness of the Church, the entire Body of Christ. But she is not just holding part of the earth, as if that was even possible; all of the earth is held close to her heart. In holding the earth so lovingly and tenderly she is also cradling the earth in protection. She not only loves the people on the earth, but she also loves all that God has created. The beauty of the earth is enhanced in Fr. Bill’s icon by Mary’s incomparable beauty. It is as if she invokes the Holy Spirit, the Advocate spoken of by Jesus, to let the fire of His love burn brightly on the earth. Her saffron robes speak of the peace she desires for us. It is as if she echoes the words of her Son: “The Advocate will teach you everything and remind you of all I have told you.” (John 14:26) Mary stands upon the heavens, or perhaps in the heavens. She is not God, but rather she is reflecting His grandeur so that we will be moved by it to value more dearly that which He has made.
To be clear, in the early 1950’s Mary did appear in Amsterdam under the title ‘Mother of All Nations’ to a woman named Ida Peerdeman. (The apparitions which occurred were given the approval of the bishop there. Cardinal Ratzinger, eventually Pope Benedict XVI, declared that what Mary taught through Ida should be declared dogma one day.)** It is fitting to think of Mary in this way because her role has always been motherly: first as the mother of Jesus, then as mother of the Church. So it seems natural to think of her as mother of those beyond the Church, too. Is it not appropriate to reach out to those who are outside the family in order to invite them in? This inviting in is called ‘evangelization.’ Mary has always led people to her Son. Therefore she is desirous of holding the entire world securely in her arms. She intercedes, but she also comes from time to time to help, guide, and remind us of all that Jesus has taught.
In this month of May, as we come to the end of Easter and approach the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, let us also be reminded of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary as our parents, to whom Jesus was entrusted, and to whom we are also given. From the beginning of time God has wanted us to be intimately close to Him and will stop at nothing to ensure our safety. In the Easter season we joyfully celebrate His great love and mercy given through the gift of salvation, but we also rejoice in the great gift of the earthly parents of Jesus who now reside in heaven, sent often (both seen and unseen), to continue to labor with the Holy Spirit in the work of bringing us safely home to God. St. Joseph the Worker and Mary our Intercessor, Immaculate Queen of Heaven, call us to the work of growing in sanctity, praying and sacrificing for the well-being of our fragile world, and imitating them in inviting others into the family known as the Body of Christ. We are all invited to rest securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary, where as one Church we live in Easter joy.
May we allow Joseph and Mary to lead us to Jesus! May we have Easter joy in knowing we are one family as the Church, the Body of Christ! May we reach out to those in every city and nation, those within our church family and those outside, as we have been taught by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! May we be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit to discern where we are needed to labor with Him! And may we have the peace of resting securely in the arms of Joseph and Mary, our spiritual parents, as in turn we all are held in the merciful, peaceful arms of God! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus. Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* This quote is from a blog called A Moment With Mary. The quote can be found at
** This comes from a page about The Lady of All Nations apparitions. The page is at
The first image is a holy card depicting Mary and Joseph with Jesus securely in their arms. I like this one because the image depicts the Holy Family as symbolically being securely in God's arms, with the Holy Spirit descending upon them. This image captures most of the main points of my entry. I do not know who the artist is.
Next is an icon of The Holy Family at Work. It was found in a blog on iconography which I follow. The icon is Russian, painted by V.O. Mumrikov. It is rare, almost unheard of, for an icon to be signed, but this one was. The site is https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/workers-of-the-world-adjust-the-physical-labor-of-the-holy-family-icon/
The next three icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols, mentioned in the blog entry. The first is called San Jose Sombra del Padre and shows Jesus securely in the arms of Joseph, who also seems securely held in the cloak of God the Father. It is a stunning, yet tender icon, and one of my favorites. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-sombra-del-padre-161-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The second icon is Murom Icon of the Mother of God. I chose it because Jesus is securely in Mary's arms, but His hand is raised in a blessing, as if He is saying thank you to her. But He is also blessing her lips so that she can impart His message as she directs all people to Him. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/murom-icon-of-the-mother-of-god-230-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The third of Fr. Bill's icons is my all-time favorite, as mentioned above. It is called Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations. The first time I saw this magnificent work I audibly gasped and my eyes filled with tears at the beauty contained within the icon. I saw it during a slide show, so she was larger than life in every way. I am still moved with awe every time I see her, which I do daily, since a copy hangs in my prayer room. You can find this icon at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/mary-most-holy-mother-of-all-nations-080-william-hart-mcnichols.html. I know I repeat this often, but indeed it bears repeating: go to Fr. Bill's website http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/ and peruse the many beautiful and sometimes challenging images and icons which he has painted. You can purchase any of the works as a card, plaque, paper giclee (copy) to be framed, as a canvas copy, and many other mediums. I get nothing from the endorsement except to share the wealth of beauty that Fr. Bill sees in his heart and puts on the Masonite of the originals. So feast your eyes upon the work, and get something for yourself to pray with!
Finally, the last image is a photo I took last week in Rockport, TX. If you look closely you will see that the mother duck had many, many chicks in her care. They seemed secure in her presence, but there is comic relief from the one on the right who is standing tall, stretching to make sure he has the attention of the mama. I guess from time to time we all need a little extra attention.
Heart Speaks to Heart