Of all the people who have influenced my life, I believe my maternal grandmother was the greatest. It was her faith in God, lived every day, which made the deepest impression. That she was a woman of prayer was evident; she did not hesitate to speak of her faith, though she never preached. While she was in constant pain from arthritis, she laughed a great deal. She had suffered much in her youth, losing her mother in a fire, followed by a cruel stepmother who also died, and then another stepmother, but I do not remember her ever bemoaning those events. I believe that my grandmother was quite holy, though like all people, not perfect. Although she only had a third grade education, the wisdom which flowed from her faith and love of God, habit of prayer, enormous generosity to everyone, and the way she lived the teachings of Jesus, all had profound impact upon my life. She had a heart filled to overflowing with the love which united her to Jesus through Mary. I came to realize that she had immersed herself in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Another great influence upon my life was that of Harvey Bankston, whose name might have been Hardy, but who eventually invited me to call him “Pop.” In short, his father was a freed slave who had lived in Virginia where Pop was born. I was a 25 year old religious Sister when I met Pop; he was 99. That first day he was hand mowing his yard in the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer. As I was visiting with his wife Clementine, (Mum), Pop came in, changed his shirt, poured some homemade whiskey into a small glass and offered me some. I told him no thank you, and his response was: “A gentleman always offers a lady something to drink.” This dialogue became a daily ritual. I was smitten the first time he said it. There is much I could recount, but the two things that stood out most were his faith and his love. Pop taught me more (and more accurately) than any book or history course about what it was like “being black in a white man’s world.” (Pop’s words) There was no rancor; as he said, “it just was.” But when the man prayed, oh my, when he prayed! Pop was always soft spoken and gentle, but his love for God was so evident, it moved my heart tremendously. It was as if he had given me something to drink; not liquid, but rather Love from the Heart of Jesus.*
In June we celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, respectively. They are not holy days of obligation, but we celebrate them for a reason. The Church is not only encouraging us to praise and worship God, and to honor Mary for her role in salvation history, but it is reminding us that we can enter into a deeply loving relationship with God. That is, the love and example of Jesus and Mary should be great influences upon how we live, just as those who stand out in our memories as good and holy people also molded us in some way. And although our hearts cannot be sacred as Jesus’ Heart is sacred (because He is both God and man) and our hearts cannot be immaculate as Mary’s heart is immaculate (because she was conceived without sin), these hearts can and should influence us. In other words, our hearts can be sanctified by inviting the sacred to reside there; similarly our hearts can be purified through prayer and grace. It is because we are not perfect that we need to turn to the hearts of Jesus and Mary and let them be a refuge and a fountain of love from which we can drink. These hearts teach us to reflect or ponder prayerfully, to trust God, to forgive ourselves and others, to be humble, to have mercy, to let go of prejudice and fear, to find courage to live justly, to value all life, to be a peacemaker, and to always point others to God through our word and deed. These hearts also know what it is to suffer, and so they comfort us when we need their help.
It would be good to take time to reflect with gratitude upon the good and holy people who have positively influenced our lives by offering us something spiritual to drink. Perhaps after reflecting upon our experiences of them, we can share these stories with family, especially in the light of faith. But we should also reflect upon how we have let Jesus and Mary influence us, and perhaps grow in how we let their influence shape our lives. Then we can reflect upon the type of influence we have been or want to be upon others. This is a form of evangelization because what we say and do in living the gospel is a way of exposing others to God’s care and love. If we try to do everything with love, there is no doubt we will be affecting others, inspiring them to come to know the Lord, too. Love is a form of evangelization. Even the smallest gesture of care can change a life forever, whether we ever come to know it or not. This is what it means to enter into the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary: it is about becoming a conduit of their love from which others can drink, too.
May we enter into the Hearts of Jesus and Mary! May our words and deeds have a positive effect upon others, signs of love which enrich and bless! May we reflect upon the Scriptures, the lives of the holy ones and of those who led us to drink of Love, that we might emulate them! Let us meet in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*If you want a bit more on Mum and Pop go to my Archives from July 2013 when I first wrote about them. The entry was called “Falling in Love.” My Archives contain everything I have ever posted from 2013 through the present and are always available for reading or re-visiting. You can find the links on the right side of this page arranged by year and month. For now, here is the direct link: https://www.catanesesd.com/micheles-blog/falling-in-love
1. My photo, glowing trees in a vineyard, taken near Schulenburg, TX. This photo represents the glow of holiness, and also that the fruit of the vine becomes the Blood of Christ at Mass, of which we can drink.
2. Painting, Farmhouse by Vincent van Gogh. This seems to depict the simplicity of Mum and Pop's farm house, but also that of their beautiful hearts.
3. My photo: statues of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They belonged to my mother, given to her by a close friend. They were blessed by St. Padre Pio!
4. Painting, Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah by Marc Chagall. This spoke to me of the influence of family and of shared love, too.
5. Icon, Mother of God, Life Giving Spring by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I loved all the images in this icon of water offered to slake thirst, especially for the suffering or ill. Perhaps it is timely to pray with this icon given our struggles with the coronavirus at this time. If you wish to obtain a copy in any medium you can purchase one at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-god-life-giving-spring-179-william-hart-mcnichols.html
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.
The most difficult parts of staying at home these past months have been the inability to see friends and family the way we would like and the inability to be physically present in our faith communities. While some might be venturing back to church, others are unable to do so for various reasons. Being physically separated from worshiping with the Body of Christ also means we are unable to receive Holy Communion. Hopefully these ‘losses’ have led to reflection upon what indescribable gifts these are. Whether or not we have returned to celebrating within our churches, perhaps this past Sunday, (the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ), felt extra special. And as such we should continue to reflect upon it, taking the time to recognize the privilege that it is to be a member of the Body of Christ and what an unfathomable gift it is to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ when we receive the Eucharist.*
We are part of the one Body of Christ which paradoxically is both ours and not ours. It is ours because each of us is part of the Body, united as one, joined to it by baptism. Because it is ours we have a responsibility to take care of the entire Body, that is, each member of it. And thus we should reflect upon what St. Paul said when he wrote that each member has equal value and importance no matter what their placement or function in the body might be. (1 Corinthians 12) Each member, then, is not only of equal importance and dignity, but each one has the responsibility of taking care of the other parts, as well as taking care of themselves both in a physical and spiritual sense. Therefore, if one member hurts, all hurt; if one member sins, all are diminished. Conversely, if one member is healed, all partake in the healing. The Body, then, is ours because we belong to it and are united “as one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:29)
But the Body is also not ours. We do not own or possess it; rather, it belongs to Christ, the Head of the Body. We are not our own: we belong to Christ, 'purchased with His Blood’ when He chose to die on the Cross for us. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) At our baptism we became part of His very Body through the love given by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are His and we belong to Him. This does not mean we lose freedom, however; rather, it joins us to God in a way that reinforces the gift of freedom which we have always had. Remember that true freedom does not mean we can do anything we want, when we want. Freedom means we choose to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, something which actually leads us to greater freedom because it connects us more fully to God. God is the source of all freedom and we must remember that freedom is about Truth, (that which is revealed by God) not about our egos or wants: freedom is about what communicates love to our brothers and sisters and to our Lord in our so doing. True freedom, because it is based on love, builds up, it does not tear down.
Freedom means that we are connected to the love that is God. Thus, loving our neighbor, whoever that person might be, (everyone, including those who are not members of the Body of Christ) is what it means to live in freedom. You see, freedom is also both ours and not ours. It is ours because the ability to choose is a gift we have all received; it is not ours because it has to be offered and shared, just as love has to be shared. We do not possess freedom all for ourselves. For freedom to be true, it has to be extended to others, but always grounded in love no matter what the response of the other might be. Therefore, we need to be prayerful and discerning about how we choose to respond to one another. Again, freedom does not mean ‘throwing all caution to the wind’ and doing what feels good: freedom means doing what Jesus would have us do, something which can be difficult at times. Loving our neighbor means listening to one another, forgiving wrongs, being willing to change, and trying to make the best choices, the loving ones which are grounded in Truth. Freedom is not an easy gift to bear, nor is love, if we are honest, because it means at times we must sacrifice our needs, wants, self-centeredness, our way of doing or seeing things, to follow the gospel of love. Jesus said the truth will set us free. (John 8:31-32) Yes, it will when we accept it. The truth is that we are One Body receiving from the source of Love: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which unites and empowers us as members of that one Body. Let us pray with this in the days ahead, reflecting on the gospels, praying for discernment prior to our much needed action, that what we do is grounded in love, and that we work toward justice and respect for all God’s people, recognizing that living with dignity, something we share with all people, truly does set us free.
May we reflect upon the gifts of our membership in the Body of Christ and of the Eucharist! May we embrace the paradox that the Body of Christ is both ours and not ours! May we share freedom grounded in Truth and Love with all our brothers and sisters! And may we be filled with the Holy Spirit as we pray for discernment and then move to action, small or large, in order to heal the Body and build up the Kingdom! Let us continue to meet in the Sacred Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Just a note: When we receive only the consecrated host, the Body of Christ, we are still receiving the fullness of Christ: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We are not 'losing something of Jesus' if we do not receive from the cup. Each of the species, host become His Body and wine become His Blood, contain the fullness of Jesus.
1. Painting, St. Hilarion by Arthur Lismer, (1885-1969) Lismer was one of the Canadian "Group of Seven" artists.
2. Painting, inset of Chalice and Host by Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1684) .
3. Icon La Sangre de Cristo by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in a copy you can purchase one in one of many mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/la-sangre-de-cristo-242-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Painting, Festival of Lights, by John August Swanson.
5. My photo: Paris city street, taken from the window in the hotel room in which I was staying on a trip a few years back: a bustling city, representative of all God's people.
Heart Speaks to Heart