A love story
Like many people, I have had a fascination with the lives of the saints. When I was a child they absolutely drew me in. I loved to read about the diversity of their lives and the things they said and did. Truthfully, I think they were intriguing to me mostly because these holy men and women seemed so amazingly perfect. I wondered how anyone could be that holy. I imagined that their every act was one of faultlessness and virtue. However, trying to imagine how it must have been to love Jesus so much that one would aspire to heroic virtue was not only a challenge, but also a point of vexation. As much as I desired it, I knew there was no way on earth that I could ever be… well… perfect. But that did not dissuade me from wanting to be like them, far off as attaining that goal might have seemed.
As I grew older I realized that wanting to be a saint should be the goal of every Christian. But what I also learned is that the saints were (and are) not perfect. In fact, what makes them so attractive to me now is that they all had feet of clay. In other words, being holy is not about being perfect, it is about responding to God’s love with love. Therefore the goal is more attractive because it is attainable by all. There are no perfect people, but there are people who strive to imitate Christ for the sole reason that they love Him first and foremost in their lives. These are people who have so responded to God's love that they have allowed themselves to be transformed by it. They are madly in love with God, as He is with them. Given that God is madly in love with all of us, we all have the ability to respond as did the saints and holy ones. There is hope for us that we, too, can grow in sanctity; but like them, we have to do the work.
Some of us give up on our desire to become holy because we often read glorified biographies (or badly written hagiographies) which lead us to believe that saints were born with a halo around their heads. The great saints all struggled, most of them for their entire lives. There are many I could mention, but I would like to highlight two such holy women: St. Hildegard of Bingen and Adrienne von Speyr. Both women were physicians and mystics, and both died on the same day, though hundreds of years apart. Both were very holy women, and both had human weaknesses which were part of their struggle to live the spiritual life. Both had a difficult road to holiness, battling numerous obstacles along the way.
Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967) was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. At 6 years of age she had a vision of St. Ignatius Loyola, of whom she had never even heard, but which set the course of her spiritual life. Nine years later she also had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While Adrienne had poor health as a girl, battling tuberculosis, she eventually went to medical school in Basel and became a doctor with a successful practice. Her first marriage was short, ending when her husband died suddenly. It was not until 1940 that she was baptized and became a Catholic, this after she began spiritual direction with one of the most prominent theologians of the day, the Jesuit Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar. Between her continual health problems, including a major heart attack, diabetes, severe arthritis, and blindness, losing a husband to death, and her very distinctive mystical experiences which often involved intense suffering, she was a woman who truly struggled through life. Yet Adrienne dictated an incredible volume of mystical experiences to von Balthasar, similar to many great mystics who came before her, and she was said to have a cheerful, positive attitude, which no doubt came from her faith and her love for God.
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) had a similar struggle in her life. As a little girl she also had mystical experiences, reportedly beginning at the age of three. She was subsequently sent off to live with a spiritual mentor in a religious community at a very young age. Separated from her family she had to learn the ways of religious life, growing into leadership in the community. During a clash with the abbot of a nearby monastery who wanted things his way, she suffered a mysterious illness in which she was paralyzed for a time. Though she was a strong leader known for her holiness, she also struggled with a relationship that ended in a separation which was very painful for her. In both cases, the conflict with the abbot and with the relationship, the issue was that she would not let go. Though both were painful lessons, she learned from both of these situations, growing into the freedom to truly lead. She was remarkably talented as a physician, an inventor, an ecologist, a poet, a musician, an artist, and in leadership. Like Adrienne, she had visions and mystical experiences throughout her life, many of which are recorded in her many writings, especially Scivias. The most notable spiritual similarity between Hildegard and Adrienne is that they both had visions of the Trinity.
Of her vision of the Trinity, St. Hildegard said that she saw a bright light and described the Father, Son, and Spirit in terms of this light. (1) Adrienne also had some very vivid experiences of the Trinity which involved light. She perceived the Trinity as a union of three lights, such that there were "three interacting lights that are at the same time one light." (2) She essentially experienced the Trinity as an exchange of love and felt that everything the Son and Holy Spirit did on earth was to reveal the Trinity. Adrienne dictated her visions to von Balthasar who observed her while she was having these mystical experiences, resulting in many books on a huge range of spiritual topics. She did all this while suffering many debilitating physical ailments, including her eventual blindness.
Lest we think that these experiences somehow put the mystic above the rest of us or that these women were in some way perfect, that is not true. What I have learned from my study of the saints and mystics is that the saints had many weaknesses and their lives were filled with the challenges we all face. They do not cease to be human, they did make mistakes and they did have their times of darkness. For example, St. Hildegard wrote in her first visionary work, Scivias, "My self-doubt makes me miserable. I feel oppressed by all things. I grow desperate. Then I hear the devil's voice and my problems worsen." She then continues, "But when God helps me remember that He created me, then--even in the middle of my depression--I tell the devil, 'I won't give in to my fragile clay. I'll fight you.' How? When my inner self decides to rebel against God, I'll walk with wise patience over the marrow and blood of my body." (3) Reading of the difficulties and the type of brokenness with which they wrestled helps me to see that being a mystic or a holy person does not make one impervious to the rest of the human condition. If anything, it intensifies it.
In reflecting on Adrienne’s life I realized that what makes the difference in the saint’s attainment of holiness is their sense of faith and love. God invited Adrienne to a deep relationship with Him at an early age and she accepted the invitation, though she had to learn how to do so in the midst of an ordinary life. She allowed herself the courage to follow the path and to let her love of God lead her closer to Him. She did not choose to be a mystic, but she did choose to say yes to the call to do so. From her I have learned that the saint sees the path and desires God so much so that it affects everything they do. Saints see their path as illumined differently, (4) but they continue to struggle with uncertainty, decision making, and discernment. They wrestle with suffering, issues of justice, health, and all the circumstances of human life no differently than anyone else. But what makes them different is that faith and love informs all their decisions such that they respond differently. That is, they have let God's love so infuse their lives that they are able to stay on the path, living their lives transformed by that love such that all is done in joy. They learn how to put self aside and focus on the Lord in a heroic way. They reflect God, even in the midst of their imperfections, not because they are born that way, but because their love for God has transformed them into someone who shines by the power of the grace they receive from Him. It is really a love story.
May we ask for the intercession of Adrienne von Speyr and St. Hildegard of Bingen that we might respond to God’s invitation with love! May we imitate the holy men and women who we celebrate in the coming weeks for their inspiration to holiness! May we recognize that in our brokenness is our path to holiness! And may we accept the gifts of grace from our Triune God who calls us into deeper relationship with Him! Let us continue to meet in the heart of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
(1) "Then I saw a bright light, and in this light the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which was all blazing with a gentle glowing fire. And that bright light bathed the whole of the glowing fire, and the glowing fire bathed the bright light, and the glowing fire poured over the whole human figure, so that the three were one light in one power of potential." (Hart & Bishop, trans. Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias. NY: Paulist Press, 1990, p. 161)
(2) For more on this read Heaven Opens:The Transforming Mysticism of Adrienne von Speyr, by Matthew Lewis Sutton, Fortress Press, 2014.
(3) St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church: A Spiritual Reader by Carmen Butcher, Paraclete Press, 2007, 2013) p. 58-59
(4) Heaven Opens - as above
The first painting is The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, by Fra Angelico, also a saint.
The next two works are both by Fr. William Hart McNichols:
St. Hildegard of Bingen, which can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/holy-women-and-girls-gallery/product/58-st-hildegaard-of-bingen
Servant of God Adrienne von Speyr, which can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/holy-women-and-girls-gallery/product/85-the-servant-of-god-adrienne-von-speyr
The last is a drawing by St. Hildegard of her vision of the Trinity.
God's Mysterious Generosity
Last week I was on a trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. It was quite a beautiful spot, replete with lush forest, hidden lakes, and intriguing rock formations. We encountered a record breaking early snow storm (5-6 inches) with 30 degree temperatures at the beginning of our stay and ended the trip with a sunny, 90 degree day. Even with those extremes - or maybe I should say, because of those extremes - it made for a unique and wonderful experience. But what struck me most of all was the beauty of the land and how much people seemed to respect it. Everywhere we went the people could not have been nicer; and all the places we saw, from National Parks to small towns that one could miss if one blinked, were well kept and seemed pristine. The land is obviously viewed as sacred by many, especially the Native Americans who reside there.
In reflecting on our trip in light of the Gospel for this weekend, I remembered a sight that was surprisingly moving. For years I had heard about the Crazy Horse Monument and had feared it was a tourist trap. Happily, it was not at all like that. The carving on the mountain, while far from complete, is gigantic and its scope is daring. The artist’s original model is on display at the visitor center and it is what the mountain monument should eventually look like, albeit years from now. I had done some research before our trip in order to get a better understanding of Crazy Horse so that I could understand why his likeness is being carved in such a massive way. It seems he was someone that despite all the lore, we know little about. He spoke little, he more or less did as he pleased, and he was murdered through the betrayal of his own people. But more than anything else, he is remembered as never having kept much for himself and always caring for the poor. That's right: the warrior is most remembered for his generosity to the poor of whatever people he was with. It could be that his leadership in generosity is why he is remembered by his people as a great man.
Apparently Crazy Horse went on a vision quest when he was sixteen, and although he defied tradition to do so, he did have a dream which affected the rest of his life. In the dream, he was told to never hold on to anything he acquired and to always take care of the poor. Crazy Horse kept to that wisdom his entire life, such that everyone respected him for that quality no matter what else he did or did not do. Whatever the truth of his endeavors and tribal politics may be, we do know that his most important and revered trait was that he was generous and caring toward the least of his brothers and sisters. Crazy Horse was not a Christian, of course, but certainly his simplicity and generosity are traits which we who are Christian ought to have.
The gospel story this weekend (Matthew 20:1-16) is about the mystery of our generous God. It is about generosity on His terms, not ours. In the passage, Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard who are hired at different hours, all told that they will receive the usual daily wage. At the end of the day, all receive that same exact wage: those who worked one hour got the same amount as those who worked all day. Those who worked all day grumbled that they should have gotten more than those who came late, to which the owner replied that he was not cheating anyone; they all got what was agreed upon at the start. He pointed out that the complainers were envious of his generosity and that he was free to do with his money as he wished. But instead of focusing on the gift they received, they were focusing on what they perceived they did not get. Their focus was in the wrong place, therefore they felt slighted.
This parable can seem like the all-day workers were cheated somehow. It can seem like God shows partiality and that some people are loved more than others. This could not be farther from the truth. The trouble is that we look at it with legalistic eyes, seeing the disparity in the work versus the pay, rather than by looking at the reward given. God gives all of us the gifts that are needed for our spiritual well-being. All receive the same gifts at Baptism, which includes the promise of eternal life. Some people may seem to have a rougher road than others, and indeed they do. Others may seem to have a last minute conversion and only do the work of living the Christian life for a minimum of time, yet they get into the Kingdom the same as those who worked at it their entire lives. But appearances may be deceiving and none can really judge except God. Those who seem to have the rougher life and those who seem to have it easier will both receive the same reward if they stay faithful to God. The paths may be different, but all are paths to the same end and all are potential paths to holiness. No matter how it looks, all paths have their pitfalls, temptations, and sufferings, as well as moments of triumph and joy.
What is most important is that we remember that all are welcome to the house of the Lord. All are offered the same salvation and all are offered the same love. During His ministry Jesus went to all the known sinners. He reached out to tax gatherers (who were reviled), to prostitutes, the poor, the sick, aliens, and outcasts. But He also reached out to the rest of the people, too. He did not exclude the well for the sick or the rich for the poor. He seemed especially interested in the Pharisees and Sadducees. If Jesus did not care about them He would not have spent so much time arguing with them. Jesus offered salvation to all because He so very much wanted all to accept the gift. And Jesus taught us to have the same generosity toward others. We, too, must reach out to the poorest among us, whether they are materially poor or spiritually poor. Jesus taught us to treat the least among us as if we were caring for Him, not judging who is worthy of more or less.
The other lesson of the parable of the workers in the field is also important: gratitude is essential to our sense of generosity. Grateful people see the value of what they have. They are more readily attuned to those who may be in need because they see that everything is a gift and therefore they are willing to share those gifts. Gratitude supplies us with joy. We see things in their proper perspective. That is, we are to use them, but not to possess them. What we have is to be enjoyed for a time, but then we must let go. When we leave this life we take nothing with us, so learning to let go and to share with others is a key to both wisdom and happiness.
In Isaiah 55 the prophet declares that we should seek the Lord while He may be found. It is gift enough to have a God we can seek and find. But the passage also reminds us that His ways are not our ways. "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts about your thoughts." (Is.55:9) Therefore we need to trust that He sees in ways we do not. We need to have faith in Him as we travel whatever path we are on. No matter what we have, each and every one of us always has something to share, that is, His love. God's generosity knows no bounds, and so even if we live humbly or are struggling to make ends meet, we all have something that we can share. We can share our time, talent, and/or treasure without judging the recipient or whether someone else received more or less than we did. In doing so, we become more Christ-like. And in doing so, we find the key to wisdom and happiness. The generous ways of God are mysterious, but the teaching is clear: His love is for all of us and we all can share that gift with one another. In this is the joy of Heaven.
May we have an attitude of appreciation for the gifts we have been given! May we come to see the beauty and wonders of the land and its riches! May we be inspired by the Gospel to share that which we have with those who are in need! May we come to trust in the generosity of God even when the path is difficult! And may we imitate the Gospel in the joy of sharing what we have, knowing that in the end we will all be gathered around the table of the Lord in the Kingdom! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of our Generous Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
All the photos are my own photography. The top one is Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, South Dakota. The next series is from the Crazy Horse Monument, including the model of what it should look like, (right panel). Third is a photo of some young Big Horned sheep taken in the Badlands of North Dakota. The fourth is a photo of the cupola in the Palatine Chapel in Sicily (taken on a trip in 2013.) The fifth photo is from the South Dakota Badlands while on a trail into a valley. The last photo is in the Black Hills, South Dakota at a place called Roughlock Falls.
Nativity of Mary
As a little girl I was fascinated by my grandmother’s “prayer corner.” She had a spot in her kitchen with a vigil light always burning near a small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which I came to understand was like a continuous silent prayer asking Mary to intercede for her intentions. My grandmother was often at prayer, though it was never obtrusive or obvious. She always had Rosary beads in the pocket of her dress, and so the Virgin Mary was never far from her thoughts. Grandma was a humble, loving woman who always shared what she had and was always cheerful, even though she suffered from terrible arthritis. It was she who taught me of the importance of a relationship with Mary.
In my mind, therefore, celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of Mary seems like a natural thing to do. In celebrating the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus, we celebrate her life, not just the day on which she was born. She was chosen from among all women to be the bearer of the Son of God, something which should give us all great joy. God chose Mary to be a fitting tabernacle in which He resided during her pregnancy, but also she was the fitting mother of such a Son.
Mary is very important to salvation history, yet the Old Testament reading for today’s Mass (in the Latin Rite) from the prophet Micah emphasizes humble beginnings: "The Lord says: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:1) The Messiah would come forth from a town and a family too small to be taken seriously. His mother would be the humblest of all, deeply rooted in humility from her own birth through widowhood in much of her adult life. Today in celebrating her birth we celebrate both the greatness and humility of Mary: her holiness lies in her understanding that in God is extreme humility, which in fact, is part of His glory. Her greatness, and therefore her holiness, lies in her embracing of His will which meant she would be lowly, as the Son made Himself lowly.
It was an act of the most extreme humility for the Holy One of Israel to send His own glorious Son from Heaven into our world of brokenness. There is no greater act of humility than this, save the one which allowed the glorious Son of God, (who chose to live in hiddenness most of His life), to be killed on a cross as a derided criminal. The entire life of Jesus was part of that extreme humility. Therefore it is fitting that His mother, Mary, would be chosen by God since she was humble from the day of her own birth. She was indeed a fitting vessel, humility bearing Humility.
Actually, the feast of the Nativity of Mary is bit of an unusual celebration. Rarely does the church celebrate the birth of a saint; the celebrations are usually of their entrance into Heaven which begins on the date of the saint's death. But Mary is so important to our salvation history that we celebrate many feasts in her honor: her Immaculate Conception (December 8), her birth (September 8), her entrance into Heaven (August 15), and her enthronement as Queen of Heaven (August 22), to name a few. Many do not understand why she is so celebrated, but to be clear, we honor her, we do not worship her. We honor her because without her assent to God's request that she be the mother of His Son, salvation would not have entered into the world. Her 'fiat' (‘Let it be done’) was the one word that changed the world forever. Her word enabled The Word to enter into the world to conquer sin and death.
Mary deserves acclaim, having suffered so much for her role in salvation history. She bore the Son of God within her womb and she then raised Him from infancy into manhood. I can imagine no more difficult task. In addition, throughout her life she had to let go of Him continually, especially as a widow with no other children. Just as all mothers have to let their children move from one stage to another, so too did Mary. But many of the times she had to do this were very difficult. Indeed, it was Mary who told Him at Cana it was time to begin His ministry when she urged Him to perform His first miracle. It was about much more than water into wine; it was a preview of His death, that He would pour out His humanity and humble His divinity through water and blood on the cross. By asking Jesus to perform that miracle she knew she was urging Him to enter into His ministry, but because she was a woman of prayer she knew that this was what the Father wanted.
Mary also let go of Jesus at the foot of the cross when she could have begged Him to come down and miraculously conquer those who wished Him death. Instead she observed, weeping, but not clinging, so that He could finish the mission for which He was born. The apostles so revered her that she was at the center of the group when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. This indicates her importance: she is considered mother of the Church, since without giving birth to Jesus there would be no Church. While it is not in Scripture, tradition has it that she accompanied John the apostle until her own death. During all that time she did what she always did: she prayed for God's work to be carried out through His followers. In other words, she prayed for the Church, for individual members for the entire Body of Christ.
We celebrate Mary’s birth because it was the beginning of a life so worthy of the Son she bore: her entire life was directed toward that moment. Mary spent her life in service of God, and so she is one whom we should imitate. We can turn to her to let her teach us what we need to do in order to be of service to the Lord. In celebrating her birth are also reminded of all that she continues to do. At this time in history there are many evils in the world such as those in Syria, Iraq, Libya, (and other oppressive regimes), as well as the ravages of poverty and disease. We have moral decline and we have self-centered attitudes running rampant. Therefore we need Mary more than ever. She has always been the protector of nations. (She is the patron of the United States.) We need the example of a humble mother who is the one closest to Jesus. She does not have the power of God, but rather she has the power of love which she offers when she intercedes on our behalf. That is all that she needs. She knows what pleases God and what disappoints or angers God, and because of her great love, she tries to warn us so that we can fight off evil through prayer and repentance. She is a wonderful friend to have, as a mother to us, especially in times of trouble.
I have read a lot about the saints and I have never found one, not one, who was not devoted to Mary or who was even the slightest bit tepid about Mary. All of them were absolutely devoted with the greatest love for her. Imitating her is a path to holiness, given the holy life which she lived. Therefore if we want to grow in holiness it makes sense to travel the journey with her. To be a follower of Jesus we can look to her since she was the first disciple, though in the background during His ministry. Her qualities are the ones we need if we, too, want to be disciples. And asking her intercession for our world is something we can do no matter what our status in life may be. She reminds us to fast, pray for the reparation of sin, and to do works of charity. All these are acts of love and they are critical for our world today.
We are so blessed to have a mother such as the Blessed Virgin Mary. We should celebrate her birth and therefore her entire life by imitating her and honoring her. When we ask her to lead us to her Son it is her greatest joy. She asks nothing for herself, but rather she asks everything for her Son. Let us remember Mary in a special way in order to glorify the Lord who gave her to us in order to bring Jesus into the world. There is no greater gift than this.
In celebrating the birth of Mary may we find the joy of Heaven! May we imitate the virtues of Mary, letting her draw us closer to Jesus! May we learn from Mary's humility, asking her to help us grow in this gift! May we pray to Mary for intercession for our world and for each of us to live the Gospels! And may we recognize that Mary points us to her Son above all else; may we also point others to Jesus! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus and with Him, celebrate the birth of His mother! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
All the icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is called Mater Domini and is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/169-mater-domini.
Second is Mother of God of Vatopedi which is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/224-mother-of-god-vatopedi.
Third is Mother of God, Light in All Darkness and is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/174-mother-of-god-light-in-all-darkness.
The last is a brand new icon, Fr. Bill's latest, called She Who Reigns. For an explanation of this stunning icon, click here for a link to his blog: http://www.fatherbill.org/father-bills-blog.
You can purchase a print or card of any of Fr. Bill's icons by accessing his website or the links I have provided. As I have said previously, I get no remuneration from presenting his icons or publicizing his work. What I do get is the great joy of sharing the beauty of his iconography in the hope it will touch your heart as much as it does mine.
Be thou our vision
Many years ago I had the occasion to be near the shore of the Atlantic Ocean for a number of days. The weather had been dreadful most of the time I was there until the last night when the rain stopped and the clouds parted, revealing a beautiful full moon. Realizing that the rain had passed, I dashed out to the beach and took a walk along the shoreline. I remember being struck so deeply by the beauty of the moonlight reflected on the water that I had to stop and simply stand in awe of it. The water had begun to shimmer with silvery light when the clouds floated away in the sky overhead. It was so captivating that I simply stood there in silence for quite a while, drinking it all in. I distinctly remember the sound of the waves lapping the shore and the incredible silver of the reflected moonlight, outlined by the dark blue of the surrounding water. The beauty of that night became imprinted in my memory especially because it was a very spiritual moment. My heart was moved by the presence of God.
As I reflected on this, I thought of one of my favorite hymns, Be Thou My Vision. The words of the hymn reminded me of something quite simple: if we want to see beauty and desire to know that we are in God’s presence, we should ask Him for this gift. To see with God’s eyes would radically change how we see the world and the people in it who we encounter. It would help us see beauty as that which is charged with His presence. It would heighten our gift of faith and expand our sense of wisdom in our decision making. And if we saw ourselves through God’s eyes it would transform our own perception of who we are made to be. In short, it would change our world.
We often lose the sense of wonder and awe found in simple things if we become jaded by the ordinariness of life. What is really happening is a process of beginning to lose a sense of appreciation for the gifts of each day. This means we fail to see the beauty in the people with whom we are in contact because we fail to see the beauty that we possess. The more we fail to see God’s hand within ourselves, and the more we then fail to see it in others, the more distanced we are in seeing the beauty of the world around us.
No matter where we are we need to be open to finding beauty, and hence, the presence of God. Of course, being human we cannot live with heightened awareness of every little thing all the time, but we can return to having the eyes such as children possess in order to see with more than just a fleeting glance. Some of us may learn to see the world anew after a difficult experience, such as when we survive something that we ought not to have survived, like a near death experience or a brush with something truly dangerous. When we are faced with something dire we often come away with a new appreciation for the gift of life, but also for the gift of seeing beauty in the simplest of things. It is as if blinders were removed from our eyes and we are seeing for the first time. It is not the world that has changed in such an experience; rather it is our vision which has changed.
We do not need to wait for a near disaster to have our vision changed. It is something we can do now, as we desire to be the person God made us to be. This is not a negation of our sinfulness; rather it is an acknowledgement that with God’s help we can grow in holiness. Nor is it a denial that there is evil in the world. Rather, it is having faith in the power of God that He will prevail in the end. We simply need to ask for the gift of vision for ourselves and for our world, because if we begin to see beauty within and without, it will affect our responses and our choices.
God sees us with the eyes of beauty because God is beauty. He sees us as we are, and He longs for us to see ourselves as He sees us. It is a shame that we allow sin, including the sinful belief that we are not worth much, to begin to tarnish the reflection of who we truly are. Yes, we are sinners. But that does not change the love with which God loves us nor the beauty with which we were begotten. The problem is that we begin to believe only the bad about ourselves and then it negatively affects how we see others, such that we forget that we are all loved by God. This leads us to lose appreciation for the gifts we have and for the gifts possessed by others, too.
As I have said, when we begin to see our own beauty we will begin to see the beauty in the world around us. This is what it will take to change the world into a place of greater peace. The evil that is beyond us which causes so much pain and suffering is part of the effect of a lack of love which begins at home, so to speak. Every time one of us submits to selfishness and a lack of respect and love for ourselves and therefore for others, we have a cheapened sense of the world and of the people around ourselves. We begin to lose the beauty and wonder of how people and things were created, an attitude which spreads like a cancer. But conversely when we see with eyes healed by God's loving kindness, we can affect others with His love by our very presence. By our own example, we have to teach others to see themselves as God sees them if we want our world to change. But we have to be willing to let God show us who we are and affect the change in ourselves that allows the process to begin, before this will happen. While we may not be able to stop the horrors taking place in Iraq and Syria, for example, if we begin to share our love here at home, it will inform our decisions, it will allow others (and ourselves) to trust that God is with us in our sufferings, and to see that in the end the beauty of this world pales when compared to the beauty of the world that is to come. Seeing with God’s eyes is the key to loving. Indeed I pray for Him to be our vision, so that we may learn to love as He does.
The point is this: if we desire to have new vision for that which is beautiful, if we want to get in touch with love, especially the love with which we were made, if we want to see with His eyes and love with His heart, we need to spend time with God asking Him for the grace. That is to say, the Holy Spirit will give us these graces if we spend the time both asking for them and expecting to receive them. We will not be changed all at once, but little by little our stony hearts will be changed into hearts of flesh and our weakened eyes will have the veils removed so that we see with the clarity with which we so long to see. If we seek, we shall find; this is what He has promised. In Jeremiah 29:13 God said: "When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you will find me." And then later Jesus said: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7) He addresses this to all people, especially those of us who are in most need of grace. His greatest desire for us is that we know who we are: we are His beloved children, beautiful in His eyes.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us the eyes with which He sees the world! May we grow in having God’s vision such that His presence is our light! May we have the faith to know that we are deeply loved by God and therefore that He is with us always! May the Lord be our best thought through night and through day! And may we have the trust in God’s goodness to stay strong as we try to bring His love to others! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The following is the first verse of the hymn Be Thou My Vision:
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.
The remainder of the verses can be found at http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/b/b021.html
The photos are all mine. The seascape was taken on a cloudy day while at the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and the last photo was taken while hiking on Copper Mountain in Colorado.
Heart Speaks to Heart