Falling in Love (Part 2)
My last entry was about falling in love. Since today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola it is appropriate to continue the thought by quoting a past Father General of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, (pictured to the left.)
Fall in Love
Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907–1991)
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
"Fall in Love, stay in love!" This is what the life of a Christian is about: falling in love with God and living life with that as our focus and motivation. St. Ignatius of Loyola taught this by how he lived his life totally devoted to Christ. He left behind a legacy through the Spiritual Exercises and the work of the men who have followed in his footsteps in the Society of Jesus, of which Fr. Arrupe was one. I could not write about Grand Coteau and fail to mention the Jesuits who live there and are formed there.
To all my Jesuit friends, and to all those connected with the mission of the Jesuits: Happy Feast Day! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus, the Lord of Love! Peace!
The icon is called St. Ignatius in Prayer Beneath the Stars by Rev. William Hart McNichols and it can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=163
For more on the Jesuits at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau:
Falling in Love
Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1983, I fell in love. I resisted it at first, but then I was hopelessly, madly in love. Lest you think the wrong thing, I am not talking about a romance with a person, but with an entire group of people! I was ending my first year as a novice in my religious community and had to go on what was called a summer experience. It had to be somewhere I had never been, and the experience to be engaged in, preferably outside my comfort zone. I chose to volunteer at a social service center in Louisiana. I had never been south of the Mason Dixon line, so it was, indeed, truly new and different. I worked with the economically poor who were mostly of Creole/Cajun/African American descent. As I said, the first week was not at all fun, and I began counting the days until it would be over....and then it happened: I fell in love. I began to love every one of the people I met, but the older people were the ones who really grabbed my heart, especially one couple. Oh yes, I fell in love.
She was Clementine and he was Hardy, of at least I think that was his name. I heard all sorts of variations, and to this day I am not sure what it actually was. That was no problem, though, because I called him Pop, which was what he told me to call him. Clementine (Mum) was about 76 years of age when I met her and Pop was 98, almost 99. She was his second wife, and the story of his proposal, (which I heard from someone else), was absolutely dear. It was obvious that they were very much in love. I could tell by how they looked at each other. But I have to be honest; it was Pop who stole my heart. He was the son of a freed slave and he told me more stories about what that was like than any history book ever could. But what Pop taught me the most about was God. I fell in love with Pop because he was in love with God. And oh, his love showed.
I would make our visits the last of my rounds for the day just so I could stay with them without having to cut it short. I was bringing Communion to the home-bound, which is how I met Pop and Mum in the first place. Mum had a bad knee so she could not get around very well. Pop, on the other hand, was mowing the lawn with a push mower, (the type that runs on manpower, and not gasoline), the first time I stopped there…. in the nearly 100 degree heat. He looked younger than his 98 years, but still it was June, and it was hot and so humid you could wring out a handful of air. Pop came in and listened that first afternoon; he never said a word. The second time I visited, he began a ritual that took place with each subsequent visit for the rest of the summer. He would come inside the house, change his shirt, enter the room where I was sitting with Mum, and sit down with a small glass containing a yellowish liquid (which no doubt was made in the backyard, if you catch my drift). Then he would offer me a glass. I would always say no thank you, to which he would always reply: "Sister, when a gentleman drinks he always offers one to a lady, even if he knows she will say no." This was the ritual day after day, though he usually had a little smile on his face when he said it. Then the stories would begin, and I sat as if at his feet. The stories were the “nectar” which I drank in.
Pop had no anger or rancor about having grown up in a world hostile to people of color. It simply was the way it was. He told me about working for a train company, his love of baseball, (something he and I shared), but mostly he talked about his faith. He could not tell a story without God being part of it. I think that is because God was central to the life Pop lived. We talked about Scripture sometimes. But the best moments were when Pop prayed with me. I could hardly say a word because to hear him pray was like being with the angels. To this day, I have never heard anyone pray the 23rd Psalm such as I experienced when he prayed it.
When the summer ended, the goodbye was tough, but I knew it was not goodbye forever. I knew Pop and I were already linked because he had entered into my heart. The last day I was there, he prayed not just with me, but for me. Pop blessed me, though that is not what he said. But in looking back, it was indeed a blessing of the most sublime kind. First he prayed the 23rd Psalm, and then he prayed in his own words, though what he said I will not share here because he paid me the highest compliment I have ever received in this life and that is between Pop, God, and me.
Pop changed me. That entire summer changed me, really. I truly was in love with all those dear people I met, many of whom have gone ahead of me and are already home with our loving God. I saw Pop only one more time, and that was 5 years later when he was 103. Mum and I wrote to each other in the years after my Louisiana summer and then after our last visit, but then the letters stopped. I know they both eventually departed this life and that they are now in Heaven with the Lord. I know that Pop still prays for me. I would not have made it through all life has thrown at me, good and bad, without his prayer. And I still think of the blessing prayer he prayed that day in July, 1983.
This may seem like a different type of entry than I usually post. I often write about saints, so this really is not all that different. But the lesson I hope to share is that we should fall in love a lot in this life. We should fall in love with many people, (and of course, I am not referring to romantic love.) In order to fall in love with people we meet, we first must fall in love with God. I say this because it is God who is reflected in the faces and in the hearts of others. God is love, so when we are totally taken by the beauty we experience in other people, it is God who is residing in the midst of that. Even when it is totally unarticulated and the situations we are in are not necessarily in a religious context, it is about God because it is about love. We cannot compartmentalize our spiritual lives to a few activities, or a few moments, or even a few hours of a day. Our entire day, our entire life is a religious, spiritual experience because God is in every moment of it.
One thing I will tell you about what Pop said to me that last day: he said that at his age he did not talk with people anymore because he had heard all he needed or wanted to hear in those nearly 100 years. But there was something about me he felt was different. I know what it was. It was not me at all. It was that he and I both saw the presence of the Lord in the midst of our visits, so we could sit in that presence and enjoy His love which became the bond of our friendship. It changed how I view people. Maybe retelling this story will help you to think about how God is present in your relationships and in the strangers you meet along the way who are not really very strange at all. Nor are they strangers. We are all pilgrims on a journey, and oh, how wonderful that pilgrimage when we realize we are not alone. As Scripture says, sometimes we entertain angels unaware. And in doing so, we fall in love.
May you fall in love with the angels you entertain unaware! May we find the Lord in the midst of relationships! May we invite the Lord to be in the center of the relationships that are challenging to us, and which are outside our comfort zone! May we allow the Lord to open our minds and hearts with His healing love which unites and never divides! And may we find the stranger in our midst and make that one feel at home, just as we will all be at home in Heaven some day! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus where all are friends and all are at home! Peace!
(Look for "part 2" of this entry on Wednesday!)
The photos are all mine, taken with 35mm film. (Remember that?) All were taken in the summer of 1983, except the third photo.
The first picture is at the Jesuit Seminary, St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. The second picture is of my beloved Clementine and Hardy, Mum and Pop.
The third picture was taken in the summer of 1988. This was the last time I ever saw either of them.
The last picture is of the St. Charles Parish Cemetery where I am sure they are both resting.
"I Have Seen the Lord!"
St. Mary Magdalene was a woman who was obvious, yet hidden. She was obvious in that she accompanied Jesus throughout much of His ministry and therefore she was seen with Him. She was said to be a very close friend of His, following Him after He healed her of some sort of terrible illness. All four gospels tell us that she was one of three women who were at the foot of the cross and who were also present at the tomb. She was the first one reported in the Gospels to have seen Jesus – (though it goes without saying that Jesus appeared to His mother first, something not included in the Gospels, no doubt, intentionally) – and she is the one who ran to the apostles in hiding saying, "I have seen the Lord!" Yet after the resurrection account she seems to have become somewhat hidden. For one who is sometimes referred to as “equal to an apostle” and who was obviously very close to Jesus, she seems to become obscure in her life after her encounter with Him.
One legend has it that not long after the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene went by boat to an unknown place in France and spent the rest of her days in a cave as a contemplative hermit. On the other hand the Greek Church indicates that she went to Ephesus with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and stayed there until her own death. Whichever is true, we know that she lived a significant part of her life after the Resurrection in a prayerful, contemplative lifestyle.
It seems odd that one who followed Jesus for much of His ministry, who was spoken of as an apostle to the apostles, who was decidedly and openly evangelizing while He was alive, would fade into the background after His death. It is important to recognize, however, that she had an important role as a woman of prayer and that her quiet role was very consistent with the message of Christ. For one, she followed in a long line of holy people who knew that it was not about them, but it was about Jesus. Take St. John the Baptist, for example, who years earlier had said: "He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30) referring to his acknowledgment that his ministry was to be forerunner of Christ; that is, he knew his job was to point to Jesus and then step out of the spotlight.
So, too, has it been for Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She knew she was to let go of Him when Jesus' ministry was to begin. In fact, according to the Gospel of John, Mary sort of nudged Jesus into beginning His ministry, as if to say she knew it was time to step out of the way so that He could do what He came to do. (John 2) What is important here is to remember that Mary spent her life pointing people to Jesus. She still does that as she continues in her very important role as intercessor for us and for the world. Everything she has done in her earthly life and in her life after her Assumption into Heaven is to point us to Jesus. As with St. John the Baptist, it is about Jesus, not about her.
Therefore, the fact that Mary Magdalene would have spent the latter part of her life in a contemplative role should not surprise us. She is doing what she was called to do: to step aside and live life not about her or her ministry, but to live her life for Jesus. She chose to live her life as given totally to Him. It was a unique call, very different from that of the twelve men, the apostles, who went out to different places proclaiming the gospel and then losing their lives. It is not to say that the men got the better part. (Being a martyr hardly sounds like the better part!) It is difficult to hear it intimated sometimes that men got the better things to do simply because they were men, and that this holds true today. You could argue “any which way to Sunday” that being a martyr was harder, and then you could argue just as fiercely that being a contemplative for years, and then dying in old age after years of solitude, is harder. But that would be missing the point entirely.
The point is that both the men who were apostles and St. Mary Magdalene (and I daresay any other women and men) had equally important functions. When we start to focus on whether men are favored over women, or whether active life is more holy than contemplative, or whether religious life is more important than married or single life, (or vice versa for each) then we are missing the point completely. Just as St. Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free person, there is not male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus," (Galatians 3:28). There is no lifestyle or role that is more or less important than the other. If we are truly living the message of Jesus Christ, then we are also trying to listen to His call to us. This means that to serve Jesus in the way we are called is what is most important for us. The call is unique and different for each person. To also paraphrase St. Paul who says it oh, so eloquently: if the Body of Christ had only one gift to offer, we would not be able to function. (See 1 Cor 12.)
Rather than debating the role of women as if it is somehow opposed to men, and rather than arguing the role of religious or clerical life as if it is somehow opposed to married or single life, we should be rejoicing in the variety of ways we can serve the Lord because of the variety of gifts He has given His people. Therefore instead of saying St. Mary Magdalene should have been an apostle, we can say she was an apostle. She was not called to preach as she traveled from town to town; she was called to "preach" silently in a cave by praying for the good of the Church and the world. She was called to appreciate silence and the beauty of God's presence which she found in solitude. She was called to prayer and reflection, because that was the pathway to her holiness. In her great love for Jesus, for whom she wept in the garden mistakenly thinking someone had stolen His body and wanting to do anything to get it back, she would spend the rest of her life contemplating the beauty of seeing Him face to face in earthly life and in His risen glory. I wonder: if any of us had seen the risen Jesus, would we want to spend time going around talking about it or would we want to simply spend time reflecting on that experience as we prayed for those who were struggling with whatever burdens they had? I believe the answer to this is as individual as each person. Any call to serve the Lord can be a path to holiness, and this is how St. Mary Magdalene lived out her call. It may have been her prayer that enabled the apostles who lived the active ministry to do what they did and to have the courage to die as they did. We will never know.
Our call is to accept our path to holiness, not to focus on that of another, wondering if one is more valid than the other. Our call is to let our gifts complement those of others, so that the Body of Christ is made whole with the gifts offered by the Spirit. This way we can work to make the Body of Christ whole through healing, mercy, compassion, gentleness, kindness, care, generosity, and most of all, love. Then like St. Mary Magdalene we can look at the beauty in the world, or in the eyes of another person, and say, "I have seen the Lord!"
May we be like St. Mary Magdalene in her early ministry when we need to follow the Lord in an active way, serving the needs of those around us! May we turn to St. Mary Magdalene when we need contemplation, discernment, and silence to be in the presence of the Risen Lord! May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear so that we may follow whatever pathway to holiness is given to us! And may we, like St. Mary Magdalene, be able to say at some point every day, "I have seen the Lord!" Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus where all beauty and love resides! Peace!
The icon at the top is St. Mary Magdalen Contemplative of Contemplatives by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=288.
The two photos are mine. The first is from New Mexico. I chose this to give the sense of the desert as a place of solitude, but also of beauty. The second picture is from Ireland. When I visited there this was a place of peace, tranquility and beauty.
The other day something truly amazing happened to me. I sat down to pray in my usual spot, a room in which there is a lamp that is on a timer. The timer makes a bit of a racket, like a ticking noise. It has done so for quite a while and I usually tune it out. But on this particular day, within 30 seconds of beginning my prayer, I reached over, with hardly a thought, to pull the timer out of the wall. When I touched it, I found it to be so hot that I realized it was a fire waiting to happen...and it seemed like it was not going to wait too much longer! I felt the outlet, and it was warm to the touch. Being the daughter of a firefighter, I knew to feel the wall also, because if it was warm it was time to call 911. This is because a hot wire can spark a fire if there is even a bit of sawdust back there. It can smolder and then the walls can act as a flue, a sure way for a house to go up in flames in a matter of minutes. Thankfully, the wall was cool to the touch and a disaster was averted. Given that I just sat down to pray, I attribute what happened to my guardian angel who acted as a messenger of the Holy Spirit and poked me interiorly to act. I have no other explanation. There was no voice telling me to pull the timer out; it was simply something I did. Believe me, the rest of my prayer consisted of prayers of thanksgiving and praise.
I grew up on the stories my dad told concerning fire safety. There were tragic tales of disastrous fires as well as stories of homes, businesses, and lives that were saved. He told of what it was like to be in a fire. Being a firefighter is not glamorous; it is dangerous and uncomfortable. In summer it is already quite hot and yet they have to don many pounds of gear and run into an inferno. Often there is nothing but smoke and they cannot see, so it is as if they are blind. In winter it can be unbearably cold. Can you imagine water freezing all around you and you are running around with a hose? The spray is painful. Nonetheless, there are men and women in every city and town who put their lives in jeopardy on a daily basis to help you and me to stay safe.
Ironically, I am continually attracted to the image of fire in spirituality. In the Bible the glory of God was depicted as a fiery presence. For example, Moses encountered God in the Burning Bush; God was also in the pillar of fire that led the Israelites around the Sinai desert and then to the Promised Land. Pentecost is the best example of God’s presence through fire: there appeared tongues of fire which settled over the heads of the apostles as they were filled with the Spirit. The Church, you could say, was born of fire and water: the fire of the Spirit and the waters of baptism.
Saints are often artistically portrayed with a halo (or nimbus) which is to illustrate the brightness of God which emanated from them. St. Charbel of Lebanon, for example, is said to have had light like fire emanate from him when he prayed. St. Philip Neri is said to have had a ball of fiery light come from Heaven and enter into his chest, such that he exuded so much heat that he never had to wear a coat, even in winter. And there are the patron saints of firefighters, such as St. Barbara, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Nicholas of Myra, - (yes, that St. Nick!) - St. John of God, and St. Florian, the saint most associated with firefighters. St. Florian lived in the third century and was said to have saved an entire town from burning down, miraculously extinguishing the blaze by throwing a single bucket of water. He was eventually martyred by being scourged, flayed alive, and then drowned in a river.
I cannot be sure why I experienced the urging of the Spirit the other day, but maybe it was because God was letting me know that there was a connection between the timer incident at my house and something that happened earlier in the day. I was near one of the firehouses where firefighters died at the end of May when the roof of a burning hotel collapsed on them, and felt the desire to walk over. After talking with the captain for about 5 minutes he invited me to address all the firefighters in their common room. The experience was very moving. We talked for a few minutes, and I came away more inspired than I could have imagined. They let me into their lives for that brief encounter and it was a touching of hearts. Going there was not premeditated, so I had no planned speeches or expectations. It was one of those moments where I saw the station and went over without much thought. My intention was simply to let them know they were remembered and were being prayed for. What followed between us was pure gift of the Spirit, the fire of His love, maybe.
Firefighters are heroes, though they say they are only doing their job. That may be true, but it takes a special person to have to courage to choose that as a career. There are other special folks who are also heroes such as all first responders, those in medical professions, teachers, clergy, and parents who sacrifice for their children every single day. However, what is most important in all this is to remember that the Holy Spirit does work through all of us. If we open ourselves to God through prayer, He does make a home in our heart. He does help us in doing what seem to be spontaneous acts of kindness and goodwill which not only touch the people to whom these acts are directed, but will also touch those who do them. By spending time in prayer each day, we open our heart to God and open our will to His, such that more and more they become as one. That is the path of any disciple: to become more like the Master.
Random acts of kindness are really not very random. They may seem so to the one who does the act, but really we are responding to the urging of the Holy Spirit who nudges us in hidden ways sometimes. That is, it is not an obvious feeling. We get what seems like a spontaneous thought or urge and we go with the flow of it. St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches that we need to learn how to discern which movements are of the Holy Spirit and which are movements from the evil spirit. The more we learn to discern, the more we can go with the flow in the seemingly small actions, such as the one I described. Discernment is about getting into the stream of “God consciousness." The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we become attuned to the smallest of His urgings and therefore we chose to act on them. We learn to recognize His presence and how He operates within each of us uniquely.
Yes, the firefighters I met touched my heart and therefore I was sitting down to pray in gratitude for them when the incident with the heated-up timer took place. I really don’t know if there was a connection between the two events or if it was just my day for fire related issues. But I have no doubt that it was the Spirit who prompted me to touch that little box and to avert a fire. I believe that God acts this way with all of us. Maybe we should be praying for the fire of God's presence to replace the fire of destruction in our lives and in our world. Given how much happens every day that is clearly not of God and which brings strife, violence, and division rather than peace, justice, and healing, maybe this can be a message to ask ourselves which fire is present in our hearts. I will be praying that the fire of love is what is present in our world, and I will be asking, no, begging, that it begins with me.
May we be safe from all destructive fire, be it the fire which burns buildings or the fire which destroys lives from within! May we have gratitude for those who protect and save us from earthly fires! May we let God's fire be the fire that refines our hearts! And may we all burn with the fire of God's love! Let us continue to meet in the very Heart of God, where His love burns bright! Peace!!
The first photo is of my father's firefighters patch which he wore on his uniform.
The second is an image of St. Florian. It can be found along with a prayer at http://www.2heartsnetwork.org/firefighters.htm
(I have no connection with the above website, but I thought the prayer was appropriate.)
Finally is an image called Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge. Mychal Judge was a Franciscan priest who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. The image was painted by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at
I love my Saints with feet of clay
I remember daydreaming about what it meant to be a saint when I was a child. I thought that it must have been really something grand to have been so perfected, going about all day in a trance, as if continually seeing the beatific vision. One only had to find a small book on the lives of the saints to see artistic renditions of such saints. They all had angelic faces, the hint of a smile, either with eyes looking upward as if in some sort of ecstasy or downcast in pious humility. Saints were described in only the most glowing of terms and seemed as if they came out of their mother's womb perfect and ready for some holy action. These stories did not do any of us a favor, because it seemed as if holiness was something that only a few lucky souls were blessed to be born with, as if they won some sort of "holiness lottery" before birth, leaving the rest of us a tad bit envious.
As I grew older my understanding grew to include the fact that many of the saints suffered a bit...okay, a lot... but they did seem to come into the world nearly perfect. Therefore, I thought, they had some extra “spiritual gene” to insure that they could suffer with grace. In short, I thought that their suffering really was not all that bad. But if this is true then it really was not suffering. How confusing!
What I am getting at is that when we are young quite often the saints are our first Christian heroes, after Jesus, of course. Therefore the idealized versions of their lives we read excited us into wanting to become holy, and to imitate Jesus as they did. The problem, however, is that as we grow we often keep those idealized versions of the saints stuck in our heads. We mature, but our vision of holiness does not. Then one day we realize that we can never be the way these people were depicted, so we give up the quest, telling ourselves that they did get that "spiritual gene" that we are missing. Therefore, we wonder, what is the point of trying?
The lives of the saints are fascinating, but the best thing that happened to me was reading some realistic biographies about them. I came to realize they all had feet of clay because, shocking as the realization was, they were human! It actually was a great relief to discover that they were not people who had it easier in becoming saints because they had some sort of extra proclivity for holiness. If you read carefully you will find that they all had weaknesses which they had to struggle to overcome. For example, they say that Mother Teresa (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) was very stubborn. If not for that stubbornness there would have been fewer people taken out of the gutters to die in dignity, however. By her own admission, St. Teresa of Avila described herself as a party girl; a rather lazy one, at that. She spoke of her own unwillingness to do too much work at prayer until one day she felt so guilty that she begged the Lord to forgive her ingratitude and to lead her to more discipline. If not for that, she would have never reformed the Carmelites.
There was St. (Padre) Pio who had a bit of a temper sometimes. Who can blame him? He had very painful stigmata for 50 of his 81 years. While he seems to have been chosen for a life of redemptive suffering, it was Padre Pio who asked to suffer for others many times in his prayer. He did not choose how he would suffer, God did. Nor was Padre Pio a masochist. Rather, he allowed the Lord to mold him and use him on behalf of others. Worse than the physical pain was the treatment by others who were jealous of him or who misunderstood the stigmata he bore. He truly struggled with that for many years. Many people focus in on the miraculous phenomenon attributed to him as if it was fun, a spiritual “walk in the park.” On the contrary, every one of those phenomenon, such as bilocation and reading people's hearts, came at a great price. His holiness consisted in submitting to the gifts as a way of loving the Giver.
Another example is St. Bernadette who saw Mary at Lourdes. First of all, Bernadette did not ask to see Mary. She loved Jesus and Mary as much as anyone her age could, but she did not seek visions. Because of her love, she was pure of heart and open to seeing what many others will never see. Therefore God responded to her openness by letting her be the one to whom Mary appeared with an important message of repentance and prayer. However, she was not perfect. Bernadette was blunt and stubborn, and these characteristics were what proved the truth of her statements. She saw what she saw and that was that! She did not understand what the Lady said to her about being the Immaculate Conception. But she loved the Lady and dutifully carried out her instructions.
As to wanting to have visions, St. Teresa, (among others) tells us never to aspire to these things. Such phenomenon can be tricks of the evil one to take us off track. We are to seek the Giver of the gifts, not the gifts. That is, we are to seek God first and the rest follows (Matthew 6:33). Having such gifts is not as easy as one may think. Everyone who has seen a vision or who displays spiritual phenomenon suffers and the gifts become a burden. That is because others do not understand and so they ridicule. Or they see the one with the gifts as an object rather than as a person; they hound them and want to get something from them, giving the holy one little peace. It is no wonder some of them had character quirks, having to put up with so much misunderstanding!
The point is that saints are not perfect people and that is why I love them! If being holy meant being perfect we would all be sunk. There would be no reason to aspire to it because it would be impossible. It would be a childish daydream at best. True holiness is being fully human, which means it is messy. It means entering into life recognizing that we are not in charge. To be holy we need to love and to let that love expand and grow. The path will be different for each one of us because each of us is different. To love is not as easy as it sounds. It means we need to let God mold us, which entails letting go of our own ego-centeredness. It means trusting God so much that we follow His lead. But if we let ourselves truly fall in love with God, then our hearts will be moved to reach out to the poor and to recognize our own poverty, which is a poverty of spirit. We will be moved to do acts of kindness without thinking of them as holy acts. Love will motivate us simply because we will see the face of Christ in each one we meet. Love will swell our hearts with gratitude for the love we receive from God, such that we will want to share it. We will not need visions because we will indeed see Him everywhere. There is much joy in that!
Being perfect? That will never happen – not in this life, at least. Loving as much as we can despite our feet of clay? Attainable! But we have to do the work of opening our hearts to God and letting Him lead. We have to pray and spend time with the One we love so much. And if we really love Him, we will not see it as work at all. It becomes a gift to us to serve Him. That is the holiness to which we can all aspire and it is definitely attainable. I like it much better than “plastic sanctity” which is definitely not attractive. I love my saints with their feet of clay because they remind me that it is indeed possible to become holy. If the saints, with all their personal foibles, can attain holiness, then we can do it, too.
May we look to the saints for intercession on the road to our own holiness, that they may be our guides and our inspiration! May we pray that our hearts are filled with love which overcomes our human weakness! May we pray that we can fall in love with Jesus such that we can do what lovers of God do, which is to share our love with others! May we see the miraculous all around us, and be moved to gratitude! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus, where the Love we seek to share is found! Peace!
The top picture is St. Teresa of Avila from a holy card I have had since I was a teenager. (See what I mean?)
The second is an icon called St. Padre Pio, Mother Pelican by Rev. William Hart McNichols which can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=176
The last picture is a photo I took in a church in Nova Scotia, Canada. This is part of a painting of the Holy Trinity which was in the cupola over the altar.
In the Shadow of the Father
Growing up I could never get it straight as to which was the true date of the feast of St. Joseph, March 18 or 19. The feast is March 19, but the reason for my confusion was that my grandfather, who was named Joseph, had his birthday on March 18. It was always a dual celebration of his birthday and his feast day, so I grew up constantly confusing the two dates. In my family there are Josephs going back many generations, (including my father), so one would think that with all those men named Joseph in the family I would at least be able to differentiate between my grandfather's birthday and the feast day of so wonderful a saint. Just like St. Joseph: always in the shadows and a bit mysterious!
One might wonder why I am writing about St. Joseph when his feast day is long past. I have been reflecting on St. Joseph because Pope Francis has added his name to the Eucharistic Prayer, which I think is fantastic. It is about time this great saint is remembered a bit more publicly. We hear so little about him in the Gospels, yet he had one of the most difficult roles in all of history. I have a deep devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, so do not get me wrong, but I think Joseph had the more difficult role. I say this because Joseph had to take the more hidden role, and because he had to be the earthly father to one who was not his biological son, but rather, his God. Unlike Mary, he was not born without the stain of sin. Therefore he had to rely on personal holiness and absolute trust in God in order to fulfill his role as a father to Jesus. And unlike Mary, he is shrouded in the shadow of obscurity since we know so little about him.
There are all sorts of theories about Joseph, but what we know is that he was definitely older than Mary. That was not uncommon in those days. A husband was to have a firm foundation beneath him so that he could support a wife and children. This means he had to establish himself with a trade. A woman was of age for marriage as soon as she could bear children. Therefore the women were usually significantly younger than their husbands. One theory says Joseph was married before and had other children. There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate this. Some artists depict Joseph as elderly in comparison to a child bride. That is also nonsense. That he was older is true, but he was not like a grandparent to Jesus. By the standards of their day, he was mature in comparison to Mary who had just left girlhood behind when they were betrothed.
More is revealed about Joseph in Matthew's infancy narrative than in Luke. (He is never mentioned in Mark or in John.) In Matthew, we learn that Joseph was betrothed to Mary when he discovered she was pregnant. He must have loved her because he wanted to divorce her quietly so as not to endanger her life. He knew that she could be subject to death since she was pregnant by one other than him. He then heard from an angel that Mary was indeed pregnant, not with another man's child, but with the Son of God. For Joseph to have had trust in the angel's revelation to him tells us that he was a man of deep faith. He was also very obedient to God, because he followed every message from God without question or hesitation.
Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem for the census and it was he who prepared the place of Jesus’ birth in the stable. There is no mention of anyone other than Joseph being at the birth, so he must have been the midwife to Mary. It is unheard of that a man would perform such a duty, but without anyone else there, it had to be none other than this holy man who tenderly attended to his young wife and to the Son of God. While Mary carried Jesus for nine months, it may have been Joseph who first saw the Son of God incarnate. I think that he really deserved that honor, given that he did so much with so little attention given him thereafter.
Joseph was at Mary's side when the Magi and shepherds arrived. He was the one who the angel told to take Mary and Jesus out of Judea. It was he who guided and protected them on their journey to Egypt and who understood when it was time to return home to Nazareth. He provided for his family and he was the one who taught Jesus his own trade of carpentry. The last glimpse we get of Joseph is in Luke 2 when they went to Jerusalem for their yearly duty. Jesus was “lost" (to them) for a few days, staying behind while His parents departed thinking He was in the caravan. No doubt Joseph and Mary were distraught but simultaneously full of faith that they would find Jesus unharmed. They knew who Jesus was and that it was not yet time for Him to be in ministry. While it is Mary who spoke in that passage, she had to speak for Joseph as well, reminding Jesus that it was not yet time. It says that Jesus obeyed them both and returned home to learn more from both His parents.
Joseph then disappears from the narrative and so he becomes hidden once again. We can conjecture that Joseph died at some point in the years when Jesus was between the ages of 12 and 30 since Mary was seen as a widow when Jesus began His public ministry. But we do not know exactly when Joseph died or even why he died; we have no clue as to any of the details. Joseph had fulfilled his role and so it was time for him to let go and to let Jesus protect His mother and fulfill His role of bringing salvation into the world.
Mary had to have a husband, but Joseph was not there merely for God's convenience. Joseph was there to be a role model of goodness to his Son, and He was there to help Jesus understand His true Father, God. It must have taken extraordinary holiness to raise the Son of God. Joseph had the humblest role in all of history; therefore, he had to be a model of humility for his Son. While Jesus and Mary rested in his shadow during his life, he had to be in the shadows of history since it is Jesus who was far more important. And he seems content to be in the shadow of his beloved Mary, because she was the mother of Jesus, whereas he was an adoptive father. Mostly, Joseph was in the shadow of the Father, who taught him how to be the best father Jesus could have on earth. Therefore Joseph must have been a man of great prayer and faith. I can think of no one I would rather turn to when I need help in these areas than Joseph.
Joseph should not be an afterthought for any of us. From him we can learn true humility. We can learn to be obedient when we do not understand what God seems to be asking of us. We can learn to be more other-centered. Joseph knew it was never about the honor of being the one chosen to be the foster father of Jesus. On the contrary, he had the grace to quietly fulfill his part: to adore his son, the Son of God, while being attentive to the boundaries of his role. While St. John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord, Joseph prepared Jesus for the way. He helped prepare Jesus to save the world!
Let us turn to St. Joseph as a role model for us in prayer and in acceptance of that which is difficult. Let us learn from him that the Father is never far from us when we have needs. Let us learn from him how to be humble and attentive towards those whom we love and care for. Let us learn how to be in the shadow of the Father, in the protection of the Spirit, and the love of the Son.
May we have a growing relationship with St. Joseph who remains with us, though hidden! May we turn to St. Joseph when we need help with our faith or trust in God, asking him to intercede for us! May we let St. Joseph be a patron of our families, leading us by example in love and unity! May we let St. Joseph be our model, leading us into the Shadow of the Father, who is our Father, too! And may St. Joseph lead us ever closer to His Son, and into His Heart, which beats in love for us all forever. Peace!
The icon at the beginning of the post is St. Joseph Shadow of the Father by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=170.
The photo is of an olivewood sculpture I have which depicts the Flight Into Egypt.
The last icon is one of my favorite icons of all: San Jose Sombra del Padre, also by Rev. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=368
Heart Speaks to Heart