We have probably heard vignettes about giving a gift to a child and then discovering that they enjoy playing with the paper or the box seemingly more than the gift. On first glance this might seem humorous, or perhaps we surmise that the child has missed the point, or something along those lines. But if one really thinks about it, there is a lesson in this from which we can all learn: it is the small, simple things in life that often give the greatest pleasure. In fact, being ‘easily entertained,’ if you will, is actually Scriptural. Jesus used children as examples to emphasize the attitude we should have, saying that unless we become like little children we will not enter the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3) There is much one can say about this teaching, but certainly it includes finding joy in simplicity. Being childlike allows us to find joy readily, so that we become beacons of the love and mercy of God, attracting others to the Lord by sharing our joy. Childlikeness is a type of honesty; that is, when children discover joy in simple things, there is no guile involved and consequently no need for approval. Small children have no need to ‘fit in’ or coincide with the opinions of others. Unhindered by these things, they simply enjoy much of what they encounter. While we lose this wonderful tendency as we grow older, it is not at all impossible to find it again, as evidenced in the lives of many of the saints. To have the ability to find joy in simplicity enables us to grow in the habit of having a grateful heart throughout life. And living gratefully, we learn to ‘see God’ all around us, receiving a glimpse of Heaven, a foretaste of things to come.
A favorite saint for many people, St. Thérèse of Lisieux is best known for her “Little Way.” Perhaps she was the most childlike of all the saints, truly taking to heart Jesus’ supplication that we become like little children. She referred to herself as “a little flower in His garden,” * hence she has been referred to as “The Little Flower” since her death and subsequent canonization. St. Thérèse had been the spoiled, baby of the family until she had a personal epiphany and then grew into a young woman, somehow moving from childishness to childlikeness. The transformation was built upon the purity of her love for Jesus; the source of her sanctity was accepting His love and allowing it to mold her, and her childlikeness was the expression of her response to Him. As a result she was able to find joy in the simplest way, even in the midst of the horrific suffering she endured in the last few years of her short life. She was quoted near the end of her life as saying, “During Matins I saw the stars twinkling and then I heard the Divine Office, and it pleased me.” ** Something as simple as these things gave her great joy even though she was unable to arise from her sickbed. Perhaps this was her glimpse of Heaven, a process begun long before that moment.
Just as Thérèse was not born with sanctity but grew in it as a response of love for Jesus, so too can we respond. However, it does take work, just as she discovered in her own life journey. She had to overcome great self-centeredness which may have arisen from insecurity due to the loss of her mother while she was still a small child. No matter, she did do it, not because she was gifted in some way the rest of us are not, but because she allowed herself to find signs of God’s presence all around her and therefore, within her heart, allowed grace to form and guide her. Therefore, we can work at finding joy in the presence of God and in that which is His handiwork just as Thérèse did.
As we near the end of the Easter season we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. Perhaps we can enter into a foretaste of heaven, considering what it is that gives us joy in order to ‘spiritually ascend’ with Jesus as we reflect upon this feast. In addition to material things or people, let us consider that which is part of our spiritual life: Have we ever thought to find joy in our relationship with our most holy mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary? Have we ever rejoiced over our guardian angel or at the thought of the presence of all the angels? Have we ever found joy in response to the Saints and holy ones who intercede at our request or who inspire us by their lives? Do we realize that we glimpse Heaven in the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus who becomes one with us when we receive the Eucharist? Do our friends (and/or family) give us joy, and do we realize that they are gifts of God? And finally, do we see God as did Thérèse, in the twinkling stars, a flittering butterfly, or in some other aspect of nature? Whatever it is that brings us even the smallest amount of pleasure or joy, and therefore brings us closer to God, is a gift. We do not need to enter into the depths of ecstasy in prayer in order to experience joy, but rather it is when we unclutter our hearts and respond to God’s love like a little child, that we find the greatest joy and therefore find a glimpse of Heaven.
May we allow the grace of God to help us become as little children! Through the intercession of St. Thérèse may we find joy in the little (and the big things) in our daily lives! And may we find a glimpse of the life to come in Heaven as we unite ourselves to Jesus! Let us meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* St. Thérèse is often quoted as saying she wanted to be as a little flower in the garden of God, but it is actually a combination of two statements she made in reference to her desire for littleness. (From her autobiography, The Story of a Soul)
** St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Last Conversations, Yellow Notebook, July 3, No.7 (1897) Thérèse was dying at the point in which these conversations were written down by one of her sisters who sat at her bedside.
1. Photo, Little children at play.
2. Photo, St. Thérèse quote.
3. Icon, St. Therese of Lisieux Doctor of the Church, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. Her official name in religious life was (Sr.) Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Her devotion to the child Jesus certainly was central to her spirituality, and therefore it makes sense that she would want to be as a little child, too. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-therese-of-lisieux-doctor-of-the-church-043-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. My photo, Oaks at the entrance to Wormsloe State Historic Site, near Savannah, Georgia.
5. My photo, sort of: I took a photo of this photo which was part of a display at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, a few years before the tragic fire which destroyed much of the Cathedral. I was struck by this unusual photo of her: St. Thérèse is pictured with the hosts for Eucharist. I suspect the hosts were unconsecrated at that point and that perhaps she was acting as sacristan for a community Mass. Nonetheless, I loved the connection between Thérèse and the Eucharist.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
A few years ago my husband and I were fortunate to be able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The entire journey through Israel and Palestine was filled with blessings and many insights into the Scriptures. The last site we visited was Emmaus, a small town to which most pilgrimages do not go because now it is a place which is hostile to Christianity; therefore, it was a gift to be able to go there. We hear about this small town during the Easter season because Jesus appeared (at first not recognized) to two disciples who were discouraged and on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walked, not only did the Risen Jesus explain how the prophecies were fulfilled, but He did something that changed everything for them: at dinner He blessed and broke the bread, at which point they recognized Him and He vanished. (Luke 24:13-35) They were so excited, literally on fire with the Eucharist, that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem, no small feat since these places are not really close together.* After hearing this passage again, I realized that we know next to nothing about these two disciples, except the name of one of them, Cleopas. In fact, we do not even know if the second one was a man or a woman. They were ‘little,’ unnoticed but for their encounter, never to be mentioned again. And yet, both the disciples and Emmaus have an indelible, fixed place in our awareness because of what took place there: the Risen Jesus made manifest in the bread blessed, broken, and shared. The freedom which arose within the two disciples’ was immense. They let go of their discouragement and fear, becoming immersed in the joy of encountering the Risen Christ.
If we are honest, we all like to be noticed in some way even if we are the most introverted or shy of people. Everyone wants to know that they have caught someone’s attention, to be loved, to have made a difference, or to get credit for something we may have accomplished. Unfortunately for some, this desire can become a bit too strong, resulting in either self-centeredness or the sin of pride which overpowers everything we do. That pride can lead to envy and other sinful behaviors even in the most prayerful of people because sometimes it can be so subtle that we are not aware of this motivation until we have our eyes opened to it. If another person points this out to us, it can be quite painful, but it can also be a bitter pill to swallow if we realize it during prayer; that is, if it is the Lord who reveals this to us. However, it is in that revelation that freedom begins. Remember that Jesus said the truth will set us free? Well, at first truth can make us rather uncomfortable, but if we accept the graces offered by the Lord to let go of our sinful tendency, we will come to great freedom and joy. We will discover that there is great freedom in being little, unselfconscious, and even ‘under-credited’ by the world. When that happens and we accept it with joy, we are truly free, because it is in that freedom that holiness grows, noticed, if you will, by the One whose judgment is the only one that counts: our merciful God.
In the story of the two disciples who traveled to Emmaus with Jesus there are two important aspects to consider. The first is that upon reflection, they realized their hearts were burning within them during the entire time they were walking with Jesus, even though they were quite discouraged because they had thought that perhaps He had not ‘been the one.’ This teaches us to trust what is happening within our own hearts. If we are experiencing a true movement of the Holy Spirit or the presence of Jesus with us, then we ought to meet Him in our prayer to talk about it with Him. Just as with the two disciples, He will reveal what we need. The second is that they recognized Jesus when He blessed and broke the bread; that is, when He gave them Himself in the Eucharist.** Of course, we have access to Jesus in the Sacraments daily. Thus, every time we experience the Eucharist we are in fact having the same encounter with Jesus that they did! And I might add that when we go to Reconciliation we are also having an intimate experience of Jesus since it is then that we encounter His Divine Mercy and receive grace to free us from our sins. Therefore, we know that through pouring out our fear and brokenness to the Lord we find true freedom to grow in holiness because in this letting go, we become comfortable with ourselves as we are, no longer needing recognition from anyone but the One we love.
Finally, the story of the two disciples teaches us that God’s mercy brings the joy which heals all pain. In other words, God’s mercy brings the strength to endure any suffering we might have, and in knowing His closeness, we find great joy. Freedom from fear, discouragement, and from the need to be noticed with the rewards that come from the world, brings joy and peace; the wonderful truth is that God offers it through His death and Resurrection. It takes trust to let go in this way, and therefore our prayer needs to always be: “Jesus, I trust in you!”
May we embrace Divine Mercy, allowing the Lord to transform our brokenness and desire to be huge in the eyes of the world into an acceptance of being little so that He can be big! May we grow in freedom to be who God created us to be, that we might give Him great glory! And may we find the joy that heals all pain in the Heart of the Risen Lord! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Fun facts: The town of Emmaus, by the route they would have taken, is a little less than 7 miles (11 kilometers) from Jerusalem. That should make it a bit clearer as to just how empowered the 2 disciples were as a result of everything that had transpired. To have run all the way back after taking all day to walk it is rather amazing. The Church that is in Emmaus/El-Qubeibeh today is called the Basilica of the Manifestation of the Risen Christ to Clopas and Simon, indeed a mouthful! (Traditionally it was said that the second disciple was Simon, but nowhere is that mentioned directly in the Scriptures.)
** Jesus disappeared as soon as He blessed, broke, and shared the bread because it had become His Body, and therefore He only needed to be present in one form. He was equally present in the bread, now Eucharist, as He had been when He had been standing before them.
Note: Many great saints made themselves little as they let go of their desire to do anything but love God and do His will. The most obvious is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, of whom I have written many times. I believe the desire to give everything over to the Lord in total trust so as to become little in order for Him to be more known is a hallmark of holiness. Another of my favorites, among so many, is St. Benedict Joseph Labrè whom I have written about twice. Since I will be taking a ‘blog holiday’ for a few weeks, there will be no new entry on May 16. Therefore, my recommendation is that in two weeks, you might read an Easter entry I wrote in 2016 in which St. Benedict Joseph was mentioned along with a couple of other saints, a full paragraph devoted to him.
If you would like more information on St. Benedict Joseph Labrè you can click here:
1. My photo, sculpture behind the altar in the Church in Emmaus, Palestine.
2. My photo, taken in Big Bend National Park. This little flower stood out, obviously.
3. Icon, the two disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and then at table.
4. Icon, Christ All Merciful by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find this at fineartamerica.com/featured/christ-all-merciful-022-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5. Painting, Quebec Village (Saint-Hilarion) by Arthur Lismer (1926) You can find more on this painting at https://agnes.queensu.ca/explore/collections/object/quebec-village-saint-hilarion/
In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart