Many years ago when I was in high school I struggled with a class, partly because we had a terrible teacher and partly because of the resulting mental block I formed concerning the subject. The teacher was a brilliant woman, but she was not cut out to be an educator. She was fired after one semester, and while the new teacher was really good, by then I felt like the material was impossible to understand. My older brother tried to help me, but at that point all I wanted was an easy way to learn without doing the hard work of really applying myself. I lacked the patience to accept that the only way to get the subject under control was to spend some time being tutored and to study, study, study. Thankfully I began to see that I had to put in the effort if I wanted to improve. There was no easy road: I had to do the work which required some ‘blood, sweat, and tears’ - (a lot of the latter, unfortunately) - in order to grow in mastery of the subject.
While we all try to find shortcuts from time to time, the truth is that there is no easy road if we really want to grow. This is especially true about our faith. The Scriptures teach us that the road is not easy, but that if we put in the effort and trust in God, we will prevail and spend eternity in Heaven with Him. That was the entire purpose of Jesus' coming: that we would be redeemed and that we would spread the Good News to others so they, too, can enjoy Heaven. However, the way to attain this is to work at keeping up our relationship with God even though eternal life has already been promised to us. Baptism is not a one way ticket that ensures an end: we have to use the graces we have been given and not let them grow cold. We need to walk the narrow path that leads to Heaven, which means living as authentically as we can. We are to live the values Jesus has taught us which include compassion, mercy, generosity, kindness, trust in God, and over all of these, love. To do this, that is, to live our lives with as much love as we can, is downright heroic. It is nothing less than the road to sanctity to which we are all called.
For each one of us this will be a bit different since each is called in different circumstances. No matter what vocation we choose, or in what situation we find ourselves, we all have the call to do everything we do in word and deed with as much love as possible. Even if we are in what seems to be an insignificant job, the call is to do what we do with love. This is because every person we meet is sacred in God’s eyes, which means that we are to love them as best we can whether they love us back or not. Remember that love does not necessarily mean 'like' or warm, fuzzy feelings. It means doing what Jesus would have us do, going the extra mile, forgiving the one or ones who have wronged us, working for justice by doing the right thing, praying for peace in the world, and making choices that are appropriate for those of us who follow Jesus.
For most of us the difficulty will lie in doing the day-to-day tasks of our lives with love. But there are also those among us who have the more dire choices to make. These are the ones who are called to martyrdom such as James Foley, the journalist who was recently killed in Syria. While he did not die overtly for his faith, his Christianity seemed to be what drove him to risk his life in order to discover and make known to the world the truth of what was happening in that region. And his faith is what sustained him in his last days, a message that has not been lost on many who have followed his story.
Giving one’s life for a cause is not new, of course. In the Acts of the Apostles we see that persecution began soon after the birth of the Church at Pentecost. Some apostles were arrested for healing a man (Acts 4) and shortly thereafter a deacon named Stephen gave his life for professing the faith. Not long after St. Stephen's death it became 'de rigueur' to arrest and punish anyone who simply believed whether they were actively evangelizing or simply living as Christians. None of the martyrs took the easy road. These were people who could have simply eaten a morsel of meat which has been sacrificed to a false god, said a few words in denunciation of Jesus, and then walked away to live a full life. Instead they chose to remain faithful and witness to the power of love over death. That is, they chose life eternal while glorifying God over preserving their earthly lives. It is not an easy choice, but for them it was a clear one.
Most of us will not have to make such a choice as did St. Stephen or even James Foley, but history is filled with people who chose to do the right thing in the most challenging of circumstances. Many, such as Holy New Martyr John Karastamatis, died unjustly simply for being who they were, living and dying obscurely because their very existence bothered some regime or those with evil intentions. Others are names that we know, such as St. Maximilian Kolbe. That evil is trying to eradicate good is not news to us. But neither is it news to those who believe that good will prevail because the Lord will completely triumph in the end. Jesus has already triumphed over sin and death, but the battle is not going to be over until the end of time when He returns. This is why the martyrs are important to us. Not only do they give their lives as witness and as the ultimate prayer for those of us left behind, but they continue to intercede for us to be strong in the battle.
For those of us not called to give our lives in some gruesome and obviously heroic way, I contend that we are all called to give our lives for Christ. If we have been baptized and are members of His Body, then we are indeed called to both live our lives for Christ and give our lives for Christ. Is not dedicating our lives to live faith, hope, and love a giving of our lives for Christ? Is not standing up for what is right in any particular circumstance giving our lives for Christ? Is not reaching out to someone who is poor, lonely, marginalized, ostracized, alien, widowed, ill, or orphaned giving our lives for Christ? Is not tending to our children as they grow giving our lives for Christ? We could all be doing other things which are selfish and self-serving, neglecting our duties and responsibilities. Or we could do those seemingly unnoticed acts of love which mean that instead of doing what we would rather be doing, we roll up our sleeves and do what we are called to do, often forgoing pleasure for a time so that we can care for the other. This is called ‘dying to self;’ it is a type of martyrdom which is freely chosen. That is what love does.
The point of all this is that there is no easy road to sanctity in life. Any task we undertake requires work. That is not to say there are no rewards. In fact, the beauty of it all is that doing what we do brings joy. We may or may not feel that joy while we are in the midst of the struggle and pain of our hard work and sacrifice. But if we really do what we do in love, there is joy. There is the joy of knowing we made someone's life better even if only for an instant. There is the joy of knowing that we are building the Kingdom and that God is with us, loving us into holiness. And there is the joy of seeing the fruits of our labor, hearing the voice of Jesus within our hearts saying: "Well done, good and faithful servant." No one suffers for the sake of suffering, not even Jesus. We suffer the tasks and challenges of life, offering it as prayer, because of the joy of knowing we ‘placed even one brick in the foundation of the Kingdom,’ knowing that in the end God will triumph and all shall live in joy with Him forever.
Many great saints said that we should do everything, no matter how insignificant, with great love. It is not the size of our gesture that is important; it is the love with which we do it. It is the love of the parent up in the night, it is the love of the person who gives a few dollars to the one ahead of them in line who cannot pay for their groceries, and it is the love of people who give their lives to reveal truth, like James Foley, that builds the Kingdom and which bolsters those of us who really need the help. This is not the easy road, but it is the road to Heaven.
May we follow the road that leads to Heaven through our trust in the Lord who leads the way! May we be willing to make the sacrifices it takes to live Gospel values! May we find the witness of the martyrs to be an inspiration when we are tempted to take the easy road! May we find joy in knowing that we are guiding others by the small and large sacrifices we make! And may we cling to Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos at the beginning and end of the entry are mine. The first was taken on Copper Mountain in Colorado. The other one was taken in Biloxi, Mississippi. I chose the pelican because it is said that a mother pelican will strike its own breast and feed its chicks with her own blood, thus choosing a type of martyrdom.
The icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is Holy Protomartyr Deacon St. Stephen and is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/110-holy-protomartyr-deacon-st-stephen.
The second icon is New Martyr John Karastamatis of Santa Cruz which can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/300-holy-new-martyr-john-karastamatis-of-santa-cruz. If you want more information about him, go to http://orthodoxwiki.org/John_Karastamatis_of_Santa_Cruz.
Ours is not a nation that is steeped in royalty, but many of us seem to love it when the royals in other nations have something going on in their lives, such as getting married or having babies. I admit that I was one of those people who watched with delight the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, a few years ago. I do not think it was because I have dreams of being like a royal, nor is it because I like fairytale type stories, but I think it is because it was a witness to love. Still, it is difficult to relate to lives such as theirs when we do not live like royalty in our own experience. Maybe that is why we watch so carefully: it is not going to be our experience, so we are trying to understand what such lives might be like. Whatever it is, we do have a fascination with royalty.
However, for those of us who are Christian the concept of royalty should not be foreign because it is part of our spirituality. We speak of God as our King in many passages of our Scriptures. The Old Testament abounds with examples, such as in Psalm 47 in which God is depicted as the Ruler of all the Nations. ("For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, the great king over all the earth...." And "sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.") And as His children we, too, are royal. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9) It makes complete sense: as children of our God and King, we are indeed royals!
I believe that our own royalty is something we do not spend enough time reflecting upon. Not that we are to get haughty about it, but if we are to be true children of our King, then knowing we are royal needs to be part of our identity. Actually, knowing who we are should make us humble, as He is humble. For most of us, the issue when we do not identify ourselves as royalty is that we think we are unworthy of the kind of love He wants to give us. We sell ourselves short, so we sell our reception of His love short, too. That is not humility. Rather, it is a lie. Instead of identifying ourselves with being too low and depraved to be loved, we need to embrace the truth of who we are meant to be. While we are sinners, this does not take away our identity as royal sons and daughters of God.
We were created by God as sacred, in His image and likeness. That means we were meant to be able to experience His love without any barriers. Unfortunately our earthly parents, Adam and Eve, accepted the temptation of the evil one and so the barriers arose. God has spent the rest of salvation history (so far) trying to convince us once again that we are royal and holy. We seem to refuse to believe it and so as a result we are always looking for answers to the mysteries of life outside of ourselves. We look to power, money, lovers, ambition, strange gods of all sorts, and all of it "out there" somewhere. Sadly, we are running all over the place trying to find God, and all along He is within us trying to tell us how much He loves us because we are His royal children whom He loves more than anything. If we really want to be just like Him, we need to stop, look, and listen. That is, stop all the running around, look inside our own hearts, and listen to what God is saying to us. He will say it to each of us uniquely and differently, but the message is the same: “You are my beautiful child and I love you."
The one person who understood this message from the start of her life was the mother of Jesus. Mary of Nazareth heard the voice of God from the first moment she could recognize an interior voice at all and she said yes to that voice. The Gospel of Luke tells us that she often pondered things in her heart. What that means is that she allowed herself to be quiet, she looked into her own heart in prayer, and she listened to the voice of God which she learned to recognize. It is no wonder God chose her in the same way that she was used to communicating with Him: He sent an angel when she was at a quiet moment, she looked within herself to understand His request, and she said yes in complete humility.
Last week we celebrated Mary's Assumption into Heaven. When she breathed her last breath, God prevented her body from seeing corruption and took her, body and soul, into Heaven. He did this because of her humility and her service of Jesus, His Son and hers. Mary continued to listen to God's word through God's Word, (Jesus). She continued to ponder it, and then responded to it throughout her entire life. She accepted who she was, a creature, beautifully made, by loving God back. So is it no wonder then, that God crowned her as Queen of Heaven, (a feast we celebrate this week)? She accepted her royalty during her life and lived like a royal, a Christian royal, which means she lived in humility. This is what is distinct about our notion of royalty: to be greatest means to be the least one, the servant of all, and to do it with love. No one, except Jesus from whom she learned it, ever lived Christian royalty as well as Mary did.
Mary is Queen of Heaven and will reign as such forever. Mary is not God and so she still serves God as she did when she was in her life on earth. If we hear she is Queen of Heaven and we think that means she sits on a cloud with the angels waiting on her hand and foot, that is a mistaken notion. Her reign is to serve, and so she intercedes for us who have such great needs. When we approach her for help we know that she goes to her Son for us, begging on our behalf. There is no one closer to Jesus than His mother, so she is an excellent intercessor for us. An excellent prayer to ask her intercession is the Memorare which begins like this: "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided..."* We know she will plead the case for us to the Most High God, her King.
Mary is also an excellent role model for us. We can learn from Mary how to be a royal child of God. It means we learn to see, listen, and act with compassion. Therefore we become sensitive to the cries of the world. We become aware of the poor in our own cities and in places afar; we become alert to the horrors in war torn nations where people cannot worship freely, get medical help or the food they need to survive; we do not turn a blind eye to those who are in pain, lonely, ill, afraid, marginalized, abused, or neglected by the people in their lives. We cannot take away the suffering of others; the problems of the world are bigger than we are, but if we live as royal children of God and treat those around us with the same dignity, our love will touch them and begin to affect some change, even if it seems nearly invisible to us. When the Body of Christ is wounded by sin, we all suffer, and when the Body of Christ is healed by a loving act, the entire Body heals.
Mary is our Queen and we, too, will have crowns in Heaven. We will have the crown of the elect of God, the holy ones who are described in the Book of Revelation as wearing white robes. The crowns which are elusive now will be given us when we reach the end of our journey. We need to persevere, which we can do with the help of God and with the example of Mary who imitated her Son, Jesus, as His disciple so perfectly. If you begin to lose sight of your own dignity as a royal child of God, cry out to Him to show you the way. Do not be surprised if He sends you His mother to love you back into seeing yourself the way He does, as a beautiful, royal child.
May we learn our true identity as royal children of God! May we turn to our Mother Mary, the Queen of Heaven, to guide us to her Son! May we ask Mary to intercede for peace in our world and in our hearts! With Mary as our model, may we also intercede for the world through prayer for the reparation of sins and through acts of love and kindness! Let us continue to meet with all the royal children and Mary, Queen of Heaven in the Heart of Jesus Our King! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The Memorare is one of my favorite prayers, so here it is in its entirety:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
The icons are all the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols:
The first is very fitting for this entry, I believe. It is Mother of God Asking For Humility. It can be found on Fr. Bill's website at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/172-mother-of-god-asking-for-humility.
The second icon is The Dormition of the Mother of God and is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/246-the-dormition-of-the-mother-of-god.
The next is at the end of the entry, Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations. This is my personal favorite among all Fr. Bill's icons. It is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/168-mary-most-holy-mother-of-all-nations. Fr. Bill has many icons of Mary, so do check out his webpage if you are interested in getting a reproduction: http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/category/12-mother-of-god-gallery
The bas relief which is the third image from the top of the entry, in gold, is Queen of Heaven by Gentile da Fabriano, c. 1423.
I love a good party. These past few weeks there have been so many feasts to celebrate that I have not been able to find a day without one. It can make one’s head spin. If you think I am referring to a busy social life, I am not. What I am referring to are the many celebrations of the Saints in our Church calendar. If one looks closely, it is clear that we love to celebrate those who have imitated Jesus so greatly that they serve to inspire us to live our lives more closely allied to theirs. Catholics love to honor the Saints and those on the road to canonization, the beatified (or Blesseds.) We celebrate them because of their heroic virtues, their love for the poor, their service to their neighbors, and their excellent teaching. These are people with the same baptismal call as we have been given, but they have stood out by living love quite obviously because of their devotion to Jesus, our Lord.
Our calendar is full of Saints whom we celebrate. In the past two weeks we have celebrated Saints Ignatius Loyola, Alphonsus Liguori, John Vianney, Dominic, and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, (Edith Stein), just to name a few. Next week we are celebrating Saints Clare, Jane Frances Chantal, Maximilian Kolbe, and Stephen of Hungary, not to mention a major feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary! We love our Saints, and as a Church we enjoy celebrating them. But what is most interesting is how varied these people are; they are not "cookie cutter" people. Rather, they are as different from one another as can be. For example, of those named above, one started out as a college professor who was also Jewish, one had trouble with his studies and could not pass Latin class, one was a lawyer before entering religious life, one was a king, and another was a former soldier who may have killed someone during his courtly career! There are no two alike, though some may have similar stories. And this is one reason I love the Saints: there is a Saint (or two or three) for everyone.
The best part about the Saints, however, is that they teach us that we can become Saints no matter what our lot in life may be. Some Saints, like Martin de Porres, were from families that lived in abject poverty. But rather than bemoan his circumstances, (and in his case there was some serious prejudice he had to overcome since he was of mixed racial heritage), he became more compassionate towards both the poor and rich alike. Others, like Pier Giorgio Frassati, came from rich homes, yet always had a heart for the poor and worked tirelessly to help them. Some struggled with illness their entire lives, such as Padre Pio who could keep little food in his stomach. Others were quite healthy but gave their lives as martyrs, such as Perpetua or Franz Jaggerstatter. Some were brilliant, such as Edith Stein or Thomas Aquinas. Others struggled with studies or were never taught in schools, such as John Vianney or Bernadette Soubirous. Some were artists, such as Fra Angelico, Andre Rublev, or a defender of icons named Lazarus Zographos, (which means ‘the painter’). They were all as individual as could be.
What the Saints do have in common is that they never took the easy road. They allowed themselves to grow on the path which God led them. Each one became the person that they were called to be no matter what their circumstances. They let neither riches nor poverty influence them. They knew that growing in relationship with God requires work; they knew they needed to put in time and effort to grow through prayer, study, and reflection. Whether it is the time spent in study or in honing a craft, if one wants to get better at anything there is no easy road to take. Even the most endowed among us have to work at the gifts they have been given if they want to grow and most especially if they want to grow in holiness.
If we want to grow in holiness we must realize that if we have something which we cling to that comes between us and God, (not necessarily material) we need to let go of it. It means being emptied in order to be filled. The Saints are the ones who have learned that if they want to be filled with God, they need to create a space for Him. One cannot be filled with wisdom and grace if one provides no room. They learn through the hard work of prayer and interior struggle to let go of all that is not God. They do this because they learned to love God so greatly that they do not want anything to hinder their relationship, and not because God forces them to let go. When they let go of that which they were attached to and attach themselves wholly to God they find true riches.
Therefore the Saints spend time in prayer learning from the Lord, worshiping and being so filled with love, they freely surrender to their Beloved so that they may serve Him in serving His people. They learn to love with His heart because they have been loved by that very same heart. While we are all loved by God equally, we learn to love better if we pay attention to how He loves us so that we may be so aware of the gift that we cannot contain it, and thus we share it. To share love is to know love. To be so loved by God, it is impossible to be unaffected; our hearts seek to share the joy of such love, therefore we give it away by serving and find that instead of coming away empty, we come away with fullness.
For many, being inspired by a Saint was how they came to become Christ-like and therefore, holy, themselves. They simply grew in love of the Lord and therefore they lead us to God as they reflect God to us. The Saints live the Gospel and they can be a gateway to God for others through the love they share. All of us should aspire to such holiness. By nature of our baptism we each share in a universal call to holiness. Even if we are never noticed in a global way, and most of us will not be, we can make a difference in the lives of the people we touch.
There is no corner on the market for sanctity. While we do imitate certain Saints for a particular virtue that we find inspirational, we are not called to be exactly like someone else. We are called to be the unique person that we were created to be, using the unique set of gifts, talents, experiences, and circumstances we have been given. We need to realize that our diversity as a people is what makes us so beautiful. Every person, no matter who they are, no matter how small it seems, has something to offer the Kingdom. The beauty of our call is that we do not have to worry what situation we encounter: God is the one who gives us the graces we need to serve Him as we are called.
I love our celebration of the Saints because in truth what we are celebrating is how much God loves us to have given us people like them so that we know He is with us and to inspire us to be like them. We do not have to perfect, just as none of them were perfect. But we can try to love with the same love with which we are loved. Our call is to persevere, to hold onto faith and trust in our God, to love the best we can, given that we are human and fallible. Ours is to trust that He forgives us our sin and to trust in the power of forgiveness He can cultivate in us to free others. Ours is to be a presence in a world that does not always welcome goodness and justice. Even if it is silent witness, ours is to pray for the reparation of sins, to love as we can, and to simply be who God calls us to be. We do this because we are loved and want to love Jesus back.
The Saints are good role models whose influence we seek as well as their intercession for us and our world. By celebrating them we are celebrating both who they were and that holiness is attainable. We can have the heroic virtue they had if we let God help us to build upon our own virtues. And ultimately we can have the joy of being filled with His grace and love, savoring it more deeply and intimately, as we share that love others. The evil in the world may seem to be overpowering, but we must remember that ultimately God is in control. In the end He will be victorious. And it is with our perseverance, guided by the Saints, that we can make a difference.
May we be inspired by the variety of Saints to give our own unique gifts such as they did! May we look to the Saints to understand how to love greatly in all the little things we do! May we learn from the holy ones how to persevere in trust in the Lord! May we celebrate the lives and the feasts of the Saints through imitating their virtues! And may we accept the gift of holiness that the Lord is offering to us! Let us continue to meet in the heart of our Lord Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are mine, taken in Colorado on Copper Mountain.
The icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first one is Edith Stein: Patroness of Europe and it is found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/holy-women-and-girls-gallery/product/70-st-edith-stein-patroness-of-europe
The second is St. Andrei Rublev Patron of Iconographers and is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/component/hikashop/product/123-st-andrei-rublev-patron-of-iconographers
The third is Santa Clara y San Ignacio and it is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/holy-women-and-girls-gallery/product/66-santa-clara-y-san-ignacio
When I was growing up one of my favorite things to do was to go to the beach. We lived on an island, so the sea was never far away. I loved the water and often my mother would joke that I must have somehow become part fish. But as I got older I came to appreciate the beach more in the off-season than during the summer. This was because there were fewer people at that time and it was easier to have a sense of reflection upon nature while walking the shore. I have always felt the presence of God near a body of water and have learned to notice much about creation. One can see variations of shells, even those that are no longer intact, which tell a story about sea life. If you really look, even the rocks speak of the varying strata of the earth, some of which has been raised over millions of years by the workings of the seas and forces almost unimaginable.
On a recent trip we stopped at the shore of a lake in Colorado. The rocks there were incredibly eye-catching because of the hues of red that were interspersed with rocks of other colors. Many of the rocks were blood red, and one looked like a slice of red velvet cake, perfectly cut as if for a party. That particular rock made me smile because I had never seen anything like it. What was most amazing to me was that with all the beauty of the shore and the mountains across the lake, the rocks under my feet were the most captivating. I wondered what the origin of these rocks might have been; what mountain had they come from? How long had they been there? Though inanimate, I wondered what story they could tell. In all this, it seemed to me that each one was giving glory to God in its own way, especially the one that resembled a slice of cake.
The Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated this week. What has struck me most when reflecting upon it this year is how Jesus was giving glory to the Father in revealing Himself to His three closest friends. This was really nothing new: God's glory was revealed throughout the Old Testament especially when Moses went up the mountain and entered into the shekinah, the cloud that came over the mountain and is God's protective presence. It was so intense that the face of Moses radiated and had to be covered after each encounter. There are many other examples, including those in the writings of the prophets, many of whom had visions of God in some way. For example, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had intense experiences which they attempted to convey. They had to use highly symbolic language to ‘express the inexpressible’ of their encounters with God.
At the Transfiguration Jesus sought to reveal the glory of God as well as His identity as God’s Son. He brought His three closest friends/apostles up Mt. Tabor to do so. After they witnessed the glory of God in Him, as He shone with such light that they were amazed at the brightness, the Father then revealed Himself and the Spirit so that the apostles could not only witness a manifestation of the Trinity, but also would know Jesus was indeed God's Son, the second Person of the Trinity. But it is the glory of God that is the most remarkable part of this manifestation. To see Jesus transfigured was so overwhelming and beautiful that Peter exclaimed something about building three tents on the mountain, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. (Matthew 17) This is odd: Moses and Elijah are not Jesus' equals. But Peter said it before the Trinity was manifested. No sooner did the words leave his mouth then the cloud (shekinah) descended and the voice of the Father was heard. Truly Peter did not yet understand what he had just experienced. He had seen the glory of God in Jesus, and he had seen the glory of Jesus in God as part of the Trinity.
The apostles were so overwhelmed by being in the presence of the glory of God that they became speechless; it was probably because they were so overwhelmed by the mystery and the glory of God that they became ‘verklempt.’ But these three did not need to say a word. The very rocks were crying out of the glory of God which had appeared amongst them. Mount Tabor was never the same, nor would the world be: the Son of God had been revealed and was now headed to Jerusalem to further glorify the Father. However, we discover that the silence of the apostles was only when they were completely awed by the Transfiguration event. They began to ask questions on the way down the mountain in an attempt to understand. Surely such an encounter made a deep impression and changed them, even if they could not yet understand it.
It seems as if the lack in the three apostle’s ability to speak was made up for by their witness to the others after they returned from the mountain. In Luke's gospel when Jesus entered into Jerusalem shortly after the Transfiguration, the authorities demanded that He rebuke His disciples for their zealous welcome. Jesus replied: "I tell you, if they keep silent the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:40) This is what it means to be witness to the glory of God. We cannot remain silent. We should reflect on the mystery and wonder of God, and like the apostles, we will realize we cannot understand it. To be in awe and wonder does not imply we should understand. It means we stand in the presence of the inexpressible and we acknowledge the mystery. It is like standing in front of a remarkable icon: we stand in Taboric light* and allow the mystery to penetrate and draw us, but to attempt words is to override the icon, thus missing the point, so to speak. The point is to enter in, not to analyze. We do the reflection when we are finished with the experience and not before. But the experience does change us somehow and that change is expressed through our words and deeds.
God's glory is also found in the places least expected. When we do meet a broken child of God we can witness it in our own healing love for them. Even the ugliest creature can reveal God's glory, but we have to work at that, whether it is our own ability to see it, or in helping the person to heal enough for it to be revealed. There is no force that can overcome the love, and hence the glory, of God. In Romans 8 St. Paul puts it beautifully: there is no power above, below, or here on earth greater than the love of God. Wherever love is found, the glory of God is found. Often there are great challenges to that love, and as we all know, there are evils which seek to confound that love, some of which are very large and ominous. But we also know that in the end, the glory of God will triumph no matter what the travail before that may be.
Therefore let us be as the stones which cry out to the glory of God through our witness of love. If we are steadfast in our faith and the assurance Jesus has given us that He is always with us even until the end of time, we have nothing to fear. All we need to do is look past the seemingly mundane and into the intricacy of what is really around us. If we can do that with nature, we can also learn to do it with people, especially those unlike ourselves. Let us learn to listen and hear the very stones cry out to the glory of God! But then we must speak, to cry out of God's glory through the practice of justice to work for peace, in forgiving, and in simply telling another person of the beauty and glory of God we see in them. That is what disciples do. We do not remain silent. We let our words and actions give glory to God who comes in immense beauty not just in nature, but in us. We are the ones who like the stones, cry out of His glory every time we love another human being.
May we draw strength and courage from the immeasurable light of the love of God! May we bring that light into our world through our good works, our patience, our perseverance, our kindness, our trust, and our prayer! May we do what we can to take the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the glory of God when we are in places which reflect His beauty in nature, which often is right in our own backyard! And may we give praise to our God who reveals Himself in the glory of His love! Let us continue to meet in His heart! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*I have to give credit for this description to Fr. William Hart McNichols who taught me this (in quoting Paul Evdokimov in his book Orthodoxy) while helping me to grow in my understanding of iconography. The icon just below the quote is one of Fr. Bill's works, Hagia Hesychia Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/283-hagia-hesychia-jesus-christ-redeemer-holy-silence. By the way, some reproductions of Fr. Bill's icons can be found on a new medium, glass, and are ready for purchase, just as the giclees and plaques are available. See http://www.fatherbill.org/glass-art-prints for more details. These are truly beautiful so do check it out. (Remember by promoting his work I get no remuneration. I do get the pleasure of sharing the wealth of his work, however.)
The photos are mine, all taken in Colorado.
The first painting is The Transfiguration by Bl. Fra Angelico, and is located in St. Mark's in Florence, Italy. This image was found at http://www.joyfulheart.com/easter/images/fra_angelico_entry425x620.jpg
The second painting, The Entry into Jerusalem was pointed by Giotto and can be found at https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Entry-into-Jerusalem-Giotto-di-Bondone. The original is found at the Arena Chapel (Cappella Scrovegni) in Padua, Italy.
Heart Speaks to Heart