No one Scripture verse sums up the spirit with which we are encouraged to live the Christian life like the exhortation of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice.” (Phil 4:4) If we take the gospel message seriously and if we take the promises of Jesus Christ to heart, then everything about our lives should lead us to rejoicing. St. Paul understood that being offered the status of forgiven, loved sinners, and the opportunity to be raised up to new life, is indeed cause for rejoicing. He had experienced such a transformation in his own life and he knew the difference between a life with Christ and one without. Paul knew that holiness is responding to Christ in joy and gratitude and that this response motivates the holy ones to share the gift of faith, hope, and love with little thought of any other way of life. The holy ones, therefore, are those who have so immersed themselves in the understanding of the great gift of God to us in Jesus Christ that their joy makes them literally shine with love. This is not to say that they never suffer again, but that all things can be borne when one is filled with the joy which is a gift of God and the result of allowing our understanding to be totally transformed in Him.
The joy of which Paul speaks is not cheerfulness, and it is not a false ‘game face,’ nor is it something which arises from naiveté. Joy is not a feeling and it is not the result of a series of wonderful circumstances. Joy is not the same as happiness, but it is a spiritual gift from God coming from the Holy Spirit. Understanding this is the key to understanding what St. Paul is saying. While there is an obvious element of happiness in spiritual joy, it is much deeper than happiness and simultaneously transcends it. It is deeper because joy is not a product of our emotion, but rather is the result of God’s presence taking root; it transcends because as a gift of the Holy Spirit it is otherworldly, it is from above. Happiness is fleeting, while joy becomes part of the heart in which it comes to live. Joy is a radical shift in perspective which enables one to love in a new way, a motivation which comes not from one’s own fallible heart, but from the very heart of God.
The Saints are people who prepare a place in their hearts in which joy can reside. As they grow in holiness their perspective, that is, their view of themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationship with God, totally shifts toward God and His desires for them. They fall so in love with God that their hearts are transformed in love that is often expressed as joy which becomes visible to others. This is because God is joy. We often hear that God is love, but love brings joy, and therefore the two cannot really be separated. Joy is not something we know with our minds, and it is not something that can be defined, though it can be described. To know God with the heart brings joy that is like no other because this knowing is experiential; it is pure gift. In one of his letters, St. Paul lists joy as one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) The Fruits are signs of the presence of God, and therefore St. Paul attests to the fact that among other things, God is indeed joy.
In reading about various Saints, one trait that is often reported is the sense of joy with which they lived and often with which they bore suffering. They were able to deeply savor goodness, but they could also persevere in suffering because of the joy in knowing that they were never alone and that their trials united them to Christ, serving as prayer for others. For example, the martyrs did not enjoy their fate, but the radical shift in perspective that took place freed them to become a source of strength to the community of believers. These holy ones exemplified that joy is not a feeling, but is a reorientation which frees one from the weight of concerns and points their awareness to God. This freeing causes a joy unlike anything imaginable. Joy also attracts others who might observe, wondering what makes the joyous one different, desiring what it is they have. St. Teresa of Calcutta put it best when she said, “Joy is very infectious; therefore, be always full of joy.” And again: “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.” This from a woman who dealt with terrible pain and suffering on a daily basis as she took the poorest of the poor from the gutters in order to help them to die with love and dignity. She knew that joy is not about good feelings, but rather is a gift we receive and a gift we can offer to others. She knew that to be loved is to experience joy.
Another example of holy joy is seen in the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97). She lived a rather short life which on outward appearance contained much suffering. Though Thérèse came from a close-knit, loving family of Saints in their own right, there was some trauma and feelings of abandonment in her childhood. When Thérèse was four her mother (St.) Zelie died; then two of her sisters who became mother figures for her (consecutively) left for the convent. The result was that Thérèse struggled to bond with friends while in school and also battled spiritual scrupulosity for a long time. However, as her holiness grew she was able to overcome these weaknesses. She entered religious life at age 15 with great joy, but soon experienced the difficulties of such a life. And as if that is not enough, she contracted tuberculosis within a few years and died an excruciating death at the age of 24. Despite all this adversity, she was renowned for the love with which she did everything as well as for the joy which emanated from her. Her Little Way, of which she wrote in her autobiography and poetry, was the reason Thérèse was named as a Doctor of the Church, a title reserved for the greatest teachers and theologians. One of her poems totally encompasses the essence of what inflamed her heart, motivated her actions, and enabled her to persevere through the suffering which permeated her life: it is entitled My Joy. In it she wrote that the source of her joy was her love for Jesus.* Indeed her perception shifted from being self-centered as a child, (though trying to love Jesus as much as she could), to accepting the radical shift of letting go of self. This process required work, but in doing so she was able to focus completely on Jesus, thus unifying with His love and the gift of joy.
As we see in the examples of those we consider to be Saints, holiness comes when we allow ourselves to be molded by the love of God. When His will comes before our own there is a joy which follows because we are freed from all that which keeps us bound. All it takes is small attempts at love, generosity, kindness, and forgiveness, fueled by the gifts given by God, to do something great in the life of one who is without or of one who seeks. We do not have to do great death-defying feats to become holy, but rather we have to open our hearts to Jesus so that we might learn to discern His presence, to see Him in the eyes of the other, so that we might reverence them as He does. He taught us that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do for Him. The joy which comes from learning to recognize Jesus in this way is the gift He gives us as He becomes the one who is grateful for the love which we offer Him by offering it to His children.
Holiness is to have had that shift in perception so that one sees joy where others see none; to see beauty where others do not, and to know that faith, hope, and love are present as we face opposition and falsehood. Holiness comes when we are willing to offer ourselves to God and then accept the gift of His love and joy which transform us to understand the beauty of living a life steeped in Christ. As in the First Letter of John we could then say, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:3-4) We already are in this fellowship as members of the Body of Christ; therefore we need to take to heart the exhortation of St. Paul to rejoice in the Lord. And taking to heart St. John, may our joy be complete.
May we open our hearts to Jesus so that we might have a shift in perspective! May we see through His eyes and love with His heart! May we learn to discern the Fruits of the Holy Spirit so that we might always know when we are in the presence of God! May we recognize the gift of love which we receive from God always and everywhere, and in that recognition may we receive the gift of joy! And may we rest in the love of Jesus who rejoices over every repentant sinner and never ceases to love us! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* For the complete text of St. Thérèse of Lisieux's poem called My Joy, click here:
Note: Next post is on August 14.
1. This first photo is one of mine, taken at Matagorda Bay, TX. I chose it because of the vividness of the colors in nature that day: all of the shades and hues of color present seemed joyous to me when I took this photo. The walking bridge seemed to lead right into the midst of it all, as if beckoning one into the scene.
2. This icon is called St. Paul the Apostle, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. True, St. Paul does not look joyful in this icon, but you must remember that in icons the subjects never are seen smiling because it is not as if they are posing for a photo. However, I picked this one for more reasons than one, but primarily because the "lack" of a smile truly exemplifies what I was saying about joy. It is a change in perspective and something truly interior. He is holding the source of his joy in his hands: the gospels, depicting his desire to share his joy with us, something he did in his ministry of preaching and letter writing. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-paul-the-apostle-196-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
3. This photo of St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta was taken right before she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. I chose this one because it shows the joy with which she was able to accept it. In clarification, her joy is not in "her achievement," but rather in being able to serve Jesus and to spread the gospel through her actions. That she was noticed and therefore rewarded was never about her, but it drew attention to the work of her sisters and the need to help the poor. However, as humans and as Christians, we are supposed to enjoy the fruit of our labors. It is not prideful to do so and I highly doubt anyone would accuse this most holy of women of being anything but humble.
4. I chose this photo because it perfectly states the reality I was trying to convey about spiritual joy: to express what it is, is actually impossible, though I attempted to describe what it is and is not. But Thérèse is 'spot on' with her statement as seen at the side of her photo: How powerless we all are at expressing the things of Heaven which we have seen, heard, or experienced in our prayer! When I saw this statement,I instantly knew I would use it here because it made me feel so much better about my stumbling statements to describe joy which fall short of what it really is. Thank you, St. Thérèse! It can be found at http://blog.littleflower.org/st-therese-daily-devotional/powerless-how/.
5. This is a painting called Paradiso by Giusto de Menabuoi (1375-76). It is on the ceiling of the Baptistry at the Cathedral in Padua, in the Veneto region of Italy. I chose it because it shows Jesus surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, (with Mary, His mother, depicted most prominently just beneath Him) which is referred to in the Letter to the Hebrews, that is, the saints in Heaven. I think this fresco is magnificent. It takes me breath away to see Heaven so depicted.
6. This is one of my photos, taken while hiking at Fort Davis National Park in Fort Davis, TX. Again, the beauty of nature brings joy. All of nature is a gift of God. Our planet and all the life sustained here is a gift, and so it should be a source of joy and gratitude.
A few years ago I read a series of books about a character whose name was Odd Thomas. “Thomas” was his surname and “Odd” his first name, not meant as an adjective, but as the actual name on his birth certificate.* If one stayed the course by reading all the books in the series, it was obvious that this main character was aptly named. He was odd in the sense that while he seemed like a regular guy in many respects, he was different from most other people. He was not odd in a pejorative way, but rather, because he possessed a completely innocent and pure heart; he was compassionate, sensitive, and completely unselfish, a masterfully written adult character displaying amazingly little ego. Not naïve, though innocent, Odd was actually quite intelligent, becoming heroic by stepping in when few others would or could. He also had some strange gifts, such as the ability to see dead people as well as to talk with them, and he could see evil in whatever form it arose. If that sounds ridiculous or beyond belief, think again. Throughout the ages there have been many real flesh and blood people who have possessed some if not all of those talents. We call them Saints. If we truly step back and look at a few of the men and women who we deem holy, considering the gifts they received from God as well as the heroic, holy qualities they nurtured through prayer and self-sacrifice, you will see that they were odd in their own right. Therefore it is fitting to celebrate those holy ones, praying that we, too, would learn to become odd.
If we read good hagiographies, that is, biographies of Saints that are scholarly written and not overly embellished or exaggerated, we will find that the men and women who fell in love with Jesus and lived motivated by that love, heroically serving Him by serving others, often suffered because of people who did not understand them. Some did possess what might be seen as supernatural gifts, but most were simply people who lived the gospel as closely as possible given their personalities and the circumstances of their lives. Every one of the Saints was unique, and the diversity in their ranks offers us many examples of how to be holy. But what they all did was to allow themselves to become different, to grow into their gifts, while not conforming to the world. Being this way meant they were a bit odd in comparison to the rest. (‘Odd’ will be used throughout to mean ‘being outside the norm’.)
Take for example St. Bernadette Soubirous, (1844-79). She is among a small group of people throughout Christian history who have seen the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like all of the others who came before and after, she was ridiculed, humiliated, discredited, and ostracized for sharing the messages that were given to her and for claiming to have seen an apparition. Bernadette did not seek to see Mary or to have any kind of miraculous visions. She was not stupid, something often misrepresented in descriptions of her. Rather, she was an under-educated child from a family so poor that they lived in a tiny, one room, former jail that was abandoned because it was considered too nasty to keep criminals there. As it happened, she was with her sister and cousin one day, gathering firewood from near the river in Lourdes, when she saw a beautiful lady who indicated that Bernadette was to pray along with her. She prayed a Rosary with this lady, never asking exactly who she was. One of the other little girls told Bernadette’s mother, and who knows who else, what Bernadette confided to them about seeing the indescribably beautiful woman high up in the grotto area. From that point onward, Bernadette suffered greatly at the hands of everyone, from her own family to government and Church interrogators, all of whom disbelieved and discredited her. It was not until she had many other visits from Mary that the evidence was enough to change some hearts. In fact, when her pastor asked her to find out who the woman was, young Bernadette did not even understand the reply she delivered to him: Mary had told her that she was the Immaculate Conception, a term Bernadette had never heard before and did not understand even after the pastor tried to explain it to her. But from the time she saw something no one else could see, and from the time she delivered the messages given by the Beautiful Lady, Bernadette was deemed odd. Even after she entered a convent in Nevers until her death about a dozen years later, her own religious sisters treated her with suspicion, as if she was nothing but an attention seeker.
Other examples of very holy people who were odd in the sense that they possessed unusual spiritual gifts are Saints Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola, John Vianney, Joan of Arc, and others who we look to as mainstays in our panoply of Saints. Earlier I mentioned that the fictional character Odd Thomas could see evil “entities.” This was also an issue for St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, (1887-1968). He entered the Franciscans as a young man, already having had some mystical experiences of Jesus and Mary. Not only did he bear the wounds of Christ, (the stigmata), which caused great pain for fifty years, he could read hearts, knew things that were impossible for him to have known, talked with his guardian angel regularly, wrote in languages he was never taught, bi-located, and was said to have healed a few people. But what made him most ‘odd’ is that he had nightly battles with the devil during much of his priestly ministry. His sanity was tested, his stigmata were investigated, and his own religious order censured him based on the jealousy of another Franciscan in a high office with a well-placed lie. As a result, he was forbidden to hear confessions (his greatest gift), and was banned from saying Mass publicly for a number of years. In all this, he acquiesced obediently, even though he suffered greatly. Though he was eventually reinstated to all his ministries, none of this ever stopped him from continuing to do good works or living a holy life.
Some of the behaviors of the Saints might be difficult to understand, but then again, Jesus suffered from that same problem: His followers were challenged to comprehend what He was teaching and modeling. The truth is that it takes prayer and discernment, study and practice, to begin to see and hear the things of God for what they are. Most often we need to allow our faith to guide us, because frankly, the ways of God are far above our ways. To understand the holy we need to immerse ourselves in it, and to do that we must go beyond reading about holy people; we must try to become odd in our own right. That means that we need to seek holiness by committing ourselves to the process of coming to know Jesus intimately. To be holy, we need to stand against the culture which values self and grabbing for pleasure and goods rather than reaching out to others and sharing the wealth. To be holy, we need to put God first in all we do. We must allow God to reveal to us who we are and where our deficiencies lie; we need to let Him teach us humility, how to use our gifts, and that to be a loved sinner, (which is who we are), is the greatest gift in Heaven or on Earth. It means accepting that which we do not understand and it requires accepting that we may suffer for choosing to be different. Jesus said "no servant is greater than his master" (John 13:16) and therefore if people did not understand Him, we can also expect to be misunderstood.
The world needs more odd people; that is, the world needs holiness to transform it. We are continually being invited by Jesus to follow Him more closely and to continue the work needed to that end. The good news is that the Saints were (are) very diverse people, able to meet the needs of their particular time and circumstances, particular to their individual call. Therefore, we do not have to display supernatural gifts to be a Saint. We do not have to change who we are, but rather we need to change how we love. To be holy, is indeed to be different. While holiness is our universal call given us at Baptism, and it is something attainable by all, few seem to accept the challenge. But if we want to know joy, and if we want to know Jesus better and to truly fall in love with Him, we need to embrace His invitation to bring holiness into a world which is in need of generosity, mercy, forgiveness, justice, truth, and heroic love. How we do it will be unique to each of us, as each will respond with different gifts on different paths. Let us celebrate and embrace holy oddness, responding to the need by responding to Jesus.
May we embrace the challenge to be different, which means to live the gospel to the fullest! May we not fear being seen as odd or different, but rather may we allow God to form us into the holy men and women He has created us to be! May we persevere through the challenges that will come with trying to live a holy life! May the Holy Spirit and the gifts He has given shine through to those whom we meet! May the Saints and holy ones inspire us to discover our own holiness and put it into action! May the Saints intercede for us, guiding us toward Jesus! And may we follow the Lord Jesus Christ with ever perfected love! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post will be July 31.
* The Odd Thomas series was written by Dean Koontz who also happens to be Catholic. There are many Catholic overtones in the series, but one must remember that the books are a work of fiction and were not meant as a theological statement. Koontz said that he wanted to delve into what it would like for someone to be truly pure of heart and innocent when he wrote this character. Odd Thomas was not perfect and this is what made him realistic and rather appealing to me.
1. The first painting is called Landscape from Saint-Rémy by Vincent van Gogh. (1889) I chose this because the perspective seems slightly askew, and it is therefore an odd (different) point of view for the scene. Simultaneously it is quite beautiful and gives an air of peacefulness through the billowy clouds and the soothing, subtle hues of blues, greens, and a bit of gold in the landscape. Unfortunately the genius of van Gogh was not well understood during his lifetime either; he suffered from mental illness and therefore as a person, he was thought to be strange. I think that he saw things most of us do not see; that is, he saw beauty in his own way, and thank God, he left much of what he saw through his own 'lens' for us on canvas. A little information on this painting can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Landscape_from_Saint-R%C3%A9my_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
2. This is one of my photos, a closeup of a great blue heron, taken on the coast of Texas in Rockport. I chose it for this part of the entry because the way he is sitting with his neck craned looks a bit comical. It gave this magnificent bird an odd sort of look, an angle not usually seen, with his neck feathers a bit ruffled. It is a unique photo of a unique bird.
3. This is one of the photos of St. Bernadette taken during her lifetime. She is wearing the peasant clothing which was typical of people from the Pyrenees of France in the 19th century. She looks rather somber, but she did not like having her photograph taken. Remember, at that time one had to sit perfectly still for a number of minutes while the film was being exposed. This photo was taken when she entered the convent; her family could never have afforded, nor desired, photographs.
4. This icon is called St. Padre Pio Mother Pelican by Fr. William Hart McNichols. As mentioned in my previous entry, the pelican is a traditional Christian symbol for Christ who sacrificed Himself for our salvation and also feeds us with His body and blood, the Eucharist, which He left for us. In this icon we can see how Padre Pio allowed himself to suffer so that he could use the many gifts he was given; he freely chose to accept the ministry to which Jesus invited him. I chose this icon not only because I have a devotion to St. Padre Pio, but because we can see that even in his suffering there is a hint of joy on his face. To truly love Christ is to know joy. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this icon you can find it in many formats at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-st-padre-pio-mother-pelican-047-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
5. I took this photo while hiking around Devil's Tower in Wyoming. The aforementioned rock formation was behind me and this was the vista away from it. I chose this photo because there is no clear path. One would have to discern the path to the road.
6. This is a mosaic of Jesus healing the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:25-34) and it is found on the ceiling of the Cathedral in Monreale, Sicily. I chose it here because it shows how Jesus loved: He was walking with His disciples on a crowded street and yet when He felt the power go out of Him, He would not go on until He was able to address the woman, commending her for her faith. He did not want to leave the scene without letting her know how much He loved her. Rather than being put out when we are asked to help someone, our way of loving needs to be different, like Jesus, who offered love in everything He did.
7. This is also one of my photos, taken in Bar Harbor, Maine. The reeds standing in the water of this pond seemed to stand out, 'daring' to stand apart in small clusters. Even the people hiking in the background seem to be alone on the path. The photo spoke to me of being willing to go where few others go in being true to our call to holiness, following Jesus in our own unique way, even if it seems odd to others.
In late June we observed the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is one of those liturgical celebrations which can be a bit confusing if we are not clear on its purpose. To some, it might seem archaic or even silly to point out the Heart of Jesus, as if we are focusing on nothing but sentimentality. But this Solemnity is not about that at all. Rather it is about the whole person of Jesus, especially His mercy, compassion, and self-giving; it also sums up the gospel He taught with the intention that we might learn to love as He does. His heart is the representation of the depths of His love which He extends to us. We describe His Heart as sacred because indeed His love is the most sacred manifestation of God. I have written about how the Trinity is the shared love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit extended out to us. God is love, and therefore to depict the Heart of Jesus in representation of that love is not too much of a stretch. Those who want to grow in holiness therefore, are those who want to enter into that love in such a way as to participate in extending it outward to those who may not be aware of the vast, unending love of God. The holy ones, the Saints, are those who have entered deeply into the love of Jesus and are so filled with it that they cannot contain it. They are loved sinners, no different than you or me. But what sets them apart is that they have so fallen in love with God that their response of love transforms them to the point that the Heart of Jesus is visible in their acts of love.
Holy people are not all the same ‘type’ and there is not a one-size-fits-all criterion or description. The details of their lives vary, but what they all possess is living Christian values heroically and attempting to bring God’s love into places where it is not. While some died as martyrs and imitated Christ literally unto death, not every saint is a martyr. Some suffered greatly even if they did not die at the hands of those who consider themselves enemies of God; in fact, how they handled their various sufferings is what led many into sanctity. Thankfully, suffering is not a criterion for becoming holy, but since there is no such thing as a life without some suffering, it is a road that all of us will have to navigate in some way. Regardless of the details of our lives, what does help us to grow in holiness is falling deeply in love with God and responding to that love in some way.
To respond to God’s love with love is a habit which we can grow into as we spend time in prayer; additionally we can foster this growth by immersing ourselves in the gospels and other New Testament writings. It is also vital that we remember that the Saints were holy within the parameters of their unique personalities and the situations of their lives, be that a certain era in which they lived, the political climate, their socio-economic circumstances, or their family situations. In other words, we are called to be most deeply who we are in our attempts to love like Jesus and not to produce a ‘self’ that is false or which is contrary to who we are called to be. In other words, holy people are authentic in presenting themselves as they are.
A way of loving, and an often overlooked quality possessed by many of the saints, is to have a sense of humor. Indeed a sense of humor is a gift from God. Lest we forget, God has a sense of humor, something evident in numerous biblical stories that we sometimes read with far too much seriousness. We must not miss the story in 1 Samuel 5-6 in which God ‘has a bit of fun with’ the Philistines (after they had captured the Ark of the Covenant) by choosing to knock over their statues and smite them with hemorrhoids when He could have killed them just as easily. (I do not intend to say that hemorrhoids are funny, but the story itself is actually hilarious.) And who can forget when Peter got out of a boat to walk on water toward Jesus only to remember where he was and therefore began sinking into the sea? (Matthew 14:22-33) If we read that story carefully we will see that Jesus ‘rebuked’ Peter for having little faith, but in my imagination I have always pictured Jesus’ tone as lighthearted and His remark made with His head thrown back while laughing uproariously. He was definitely not berating Peter for being human, but was caught up in the humor that entered into a moment previously quite serious. (For the record, I also visualize Peter laughing as well, once he regained his composure.) Indeed it is a funny scene if we allow ourselves to realize that Jesus liked to laugh, too. That He was invited to so many dinners and parties indicates that this must have been so.
There are many stories of holy ones with quick wit, such as St. Lawrence who quipped about “being done on this side,” requesting to be turned over while he was being tortured on a gridiron. Whether he really said that is not the point: his remark in the midst of a very ‘un-humorous’ situation shows us that rather than spewing invective at our enemies, we can show strength even in the midst of weakness. To be holy means loving without being dour, as demonstrated by St. Teresa of Avila who often made humorous remarks in order to get a point across. And of course humor does not always have to involve laughter, but can be a way to keep serious situations from becoming overwhelming so as not to become debilitated by them. An example of this is in the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who truly had to struggle through continual hardships and setbacks. Being human, as all Saints are, she obviously had her limits. She is purported to have said at one such challenging moment: “If it isn’t one damn thing, it’s another!” Though she was clearly frustrated, it shows that she was able to blow off steam in a way that, in the end, is rather humorous. Her remark shows that humor can put things into better perspective when we seem to have lost our focus. This is not to say that we are to laugh when others suffer, or that we should be able to laugh at our own suffering. That is not realistic, and in fact it would be cruel. Rather, what the holy ones teach us is that compassion truly means to enter into the situation of another: to suffer with the suffering and to cry with those who weep, but also to laugh and share joy with the jubilating as well.
Other holy people known for having a sense of humor are St. Padre Pio, who loved a good joke and was said to tell them frequently; Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati who was famous among his friends for being a prankster to such an extent that he and his like-minded friends formed a group nicknamed "Tipi Loschi," (the Sinister Ones); or St. King Louis IX who was the father of 11 children and was described as funny. (One would have to have a good sense of humor with 11 children!) The most famous of the saints who loved to laugh is St. Philip Neri who is remembered not only for his joking, but for exuding so much joy that it was contagious. Finally, there was St. Francis of Assisi who was known for not taking himself all that seriously, embracing poverty to the point that he was derided, but continuing to imitate Jesus as he felt called.
It is clear that our world is sorely in need of the touch of holiness. There are many who are broken, suffering, forgotten or imperiled and there are many dire situations which are in need of justice, healing, mercy, and compassion. These are serious situations and we should never attempt to laugh them away. However, we can bring light into the darkness of these areas by entering in with a heart filled with love and the joy of knowing Jesus, so that we are not brought down by the heaviness of sin or the temptation to fall into despair. If we use discernment, we can know when it is appropriate to raise the spirits of those around us with the gentleness of humor, or how to alleviate a sense of hopelessness by bringing a joyful spirit into our labors by being exactly who we are. We are not called to fake happiness or to put on a false smile; rather we are invited to find our joy in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, putting our trust in His love and then responding by extending His love outward to others. What renders one holy is not one’s gifts, but how one uses them. If we truly want to be a light in the darkness and a sign of love to those in need no matter who they are, we can turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus where we will find enough life, mercy, and joy to share with others.
May we learn from the saints that to find the extraordinary love of God, we must immerse our hearts in the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is where all suffering is understood and all comfort is found! May we use the gift of humor wisely in our efforts to love, using it to heal and comfort, rather than to divide and cause pain! May we find hope in the midst of suffering, and joy in the midst of challenge, knowing we are never separated from the love of Jesus! And may we grow in holiness as we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit who is always present to guide us! Let us meet in the Sacred Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post on July 17.
1. This painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one I grew up with, so unfortunately I have no idea who the artist was. I remember this image being framed and sitting on top of my bookshelf. I loved it because no matter where in the room I went, His eyes followed me. Some people may find that thought rather disconcerting, but for me it was incredibly comforting. This is because the photo seemed to say what I already knew: Jesus is always watching over me, sending me blessing. His right hand is raised in blessing and His left is pointing to His Sacred Heart as if to say, "I have a home for you right here. Do not be afraid, I have you covered!" I loved that our eyes always seemed to meet.
2. This is a painting by Bl. Fra Angelico called All Saints. I chose it here because it shows Saints in all sorts of shapes, sizes, genders, age, etc. It fits my description that each Saint is incredibly unique. Thank God for that!
3. This photo of a rough sea is one of mine, though I admit it is not the Sea of Galilee. Rather it is the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. I chose it for two reasons, one practical and one aesthetic: first, my Sea of Galilee photos all show a calm sea and so that would not have worked well here, and second, this one really shows the sea roiling the way it might have as Peter attempted to get out of the boat and join Jesus on the water. While we were in Galilee last year, we were told that the Sea does get like this and that it can happen in an instant. Therefore my substitution does work.
4. This painting of St. (Mother) Elizabeth Ann Seton hangs at the National Shrine dedicated to her in Maryland. You can find information on the Shrine at https://setonshrine.org/. Also here is a link to a brief description of her life with a link to a longer biography which you can download if you desire. https://setonshrine.org/elizabeth-ann-seton/.
5. This is an icon of called Saint Louis IX with His Son Philip III written by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose it because it not only shows St. (King) Louis, but also one of his eleven children. It is actually a very tender depiction of St. Louis with his arm around the shoulder of his son. It is not an icon that one might see often, and I thought it would be good to let readers see someone they may not be familiar with. St. Louis is one of a number of saints who were royalty. If you are interested in a copy of this icon in one of a variety of mediums, you can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-louis-ix-with-his-son-philip-iil-046-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
6. This is one of my photos, taken in Rockport, Texas. It may seem odd to have a pelican end a post about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but the pelican is actually a Christian symbol, used by many communities in the early Church! The pelican is a symbol for the sacrifice and love of Jesus who let His blood be poured out in love for us. The mother pelican does the same for her children if she cannot find food: she pierces her own breast and feeds the children with her blood so they will not die. While pelicans might be amusing to watch, their heroic love is truly amazing.
Heart Speaks to Heart