“I reach out my hand.” The past few weeks this phrase keeps repeating itself in my mind, inspired by the people where I live. It is incredibly moving and deeply humbling to see how people who have suffered so much loss continue to reach out to one another. In the past few weeks there have been many natural disasters which have been overwhelming in magnitude to both individuals and entire communities. In all the destruction and in all the loss there is much to reflect upon, even with awe and amazement. I say this because again and again I have witnessed the hands of people reaching out to one another, regardless of whether they personally lost their homes and possessions or not. As one person pointed out, no one is asking the ethnicity, creed, country of origin, age, gender identity, religion, or socio-economic situation of the other. Instead, people are holding out their hands to one another both to give and to receive. It is nothing short of what Jesus taught in the gospels which is to love your neighbor as yourself. Giving means to offer what one has, whether it is monetary, material, spiritual, or simply the solidarity of friendship. No gift is too small and no act of love is without great impact. To reach out to one another is to offer the love which Jesus taught us to share, and it is in reaching out our hand to the other that we also find Him.
There are many who will remain unrecognized either as heroes or simply as caring individuals, but we can find inspiration in the lives of many recognized saints, too. St. (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina, whose feast day is September 23, is one such person. He was born Francesco Forgione on May 25, 1887 in a tiny town in Italy and entered the Franciscans at the age of 15, taking the religious name Pio. He was ordained at 23 after a rather rough period which involved prolonged illness and many sufferings. Padre Pio suffered physically his entire life: he had continual stomach trouble which defied diagnosis and therefore was difficult to treat. However, suffering seemed to be the fertile ground from which sprang the many spiritual gifts he was given by God, and particular among his sufferings was the stigmata, (the five wounds of Christ) which he willingly bore. It seems he felt called to offer himself for others. Not long after his ordination he wrote a letter to his spiritual director, Father Benedetto Nardella, in which he asked permission to offer his life as a victim for sinners.* Padre Pio also suffered from harassment by the devil with whom he literally fought for many years, often during the night.
While his suffering may seem almost unbelievable, Padre Pio accepted all of it as a way of prayer for others, something referred to as redemptive suffering. Let us be clear: suffering is a mystery. God does not send suffering to torment or punish us, and it is something no one can escape, not even Jesus. Therefore, it has no correlation to our goodness or lack thereof. It has value, or God would not have chosen it as the path for Jesus to redeem us. Although suffering often appears to be senseless, and can feel too painful to bear, it can be a way we come to learn deeper compassion and love. It causes us to reach out to one another not only for help, but to see past the externals into the very heart of the other, and teaches us to expand our hearts to both give and receive in ways we would never have thought possible. When we fall to our knees we are given an invitation to place our own bruised and battered hand into the wounded hand of Jesus offered through the outstretched hand of the one who is reaching out to comfort us. Padre Pio did not embrace suffering because he was some sort of masochist, but rather he recognized the suffering in other people and entered into it so that he could offer them the healing power of Jesus: he intimately knew of their intense physical pain and agonizing emotional suffering, but he did not stop there. We, too, can enter into the healing power of Christ by simply reaching out with some small act of love. **
Padre Pio comes to mind presently because he never stopped reaching out to others, and in so doing he teaches us the core message of the gospel, which is to love. Jesus said we are to love our neighbor, clearly indicating that our neighbor is every man and woman regardless of where they come from or who they might be. Every person is a loved sinner, beautiful in God’s eyes, and therefore all have equal dignity. This does not mean that God condones every action of every person, nor does it mean that we should overlook sin and evil, (in fact, we have an obligation to correct those who sin), but what it does mean is that basically we are to love the sinner, even while hating the sin. In other words, God does judge and He does punish the unrepentant, but He is also full of boundless mercy. We are to leave the judging to God because, as in the old adage, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” However, we are to imitate His mercy. This is not easy by any means, but we are called to live this way with the help of God’s grace. In the New Testament the word agapè is used to describe this kind of love. It basically means the love with which God loves us; unconditional love; loving those who are hardest to love. It is the love which forgives transgressions against us and which reaches out its hand to whoever it can.
It is also important to note that throughout the Gospels Jesus was clear that love of God is connected to love of neighbor. When asked to identify the greatest commandment He said to love God with all our heart and soul; but without hesitation He added that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Mark 12:31) Jesus continued this connection when He taught that in giving to our brothers and sisters we are giving to Him, and conversely, whatever we deny our brothers or sisters we are denying Him. In the Gospels we also see that Jesus is emphatic about our need for generosity: it is this form of love on which we will be judged. (See Matthew 25:31-46; also see Luke 16:19-31) Finally, in John's Gospel Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment; love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) We are to love others the way we are loved by Him! If this feels overwhelming, there is good news here. We do not do this by ourselves, but rather, if we ask for our hearts to be opened, Jesus will give us what it takes to stretch so that we might be able to love in the way of agapè.
To love is to be compassionate. The evangelist Matthew used the Hebrew word rachamim in reference to a reaction by Jesus when He was asked to heal someone. In English it is translated to compassion, but rachamim actually means ‘a movement in the womb of God,’ a profoundly intimate experience. The compassion which Jesus has for us, then, is incredibly intimate because He has eternally entered into our woundedness by allowing Himself to suffer and die for us. Our compassion is given life through His insofar as it is an intimate movement deep within our hearts which joins us to the pain of another. Compassion is not merely to identify with the other, it is to fully enter into the pain or sorrow with them. So while someone may not have actually suffered loss in a particular situation they can still reach out and grasp the hand of the other, entering into whatever it is with them. They cannot change the circumstances, but they can be there with the one who suffers, easing their pain by offering themselves and their giftedness.
In this time of suffering and loss for many, it is good to remember that compassion involves reaching out in whatever way we can. It also means being a good receiver. That is, our gratitude is shown in accepting help, even if we are generally quite self-sufficient and would rather give than receive. No one enjoys needing so much help, but part of being a disciple is having the humility and gratitude to receive the outstretched hand of the other. By accepting we are giving them the gift of being able to serve. Let us learn from Padre Pio, who in turn learned from Jesus that the best way to ease suffering is to reach out to our brothers and sisters with compassion, holding out our hands so that we actually touch, and in doing so, letting heart speak to heart.
May we ask for the graces we need to persevere through whatever our present suffering might be! May we have the courage to reach out, offering whatever humble gift we can! May we be inspired by saints such as Padre Pio who encourage us to find Christ in one another and to embrace His presence in love! May we find strength in our own outstretched hands joined to those of others! May we continue to pray for all the victims of natural disasters and also for those who are able to respond with aid! And may we love as Jesus taught us, remembering that even the smallest act of love is huge for the one who receives it! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post will be October 9.
1. This is part of an image by Fr. William Hart McNichols called I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It. See the last note for complete information.
2. This icon is also the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols; it is called Saint Padre Pio Mother Pelican. I chose it because as Fr. Bill depicted him, Padre Pio was like the mother pelican who pierces its own breast in order to feed its young when no food can be found. Pelicans are ungainly birds. They look a bit awkward when they are on the ground, but when they fly they are of the most graceful birds to grace the air. If they find no food, they will use their own blood to feed their young. Padre Pio did just that. He ‘fed’ his spiritual children from the font of the blood he shed in imitation of Jesus; he fed them with the gifts he was given and with the sacraments he celebrated so reverently. If you would like to purchase a copy of this icon, it can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-st-padre-pio-mother-pelican-047-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
3. This is one of my photos, taken in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas. I chose to place it here because the climber's efforts reminded me of how insurmountable suffering can feel at certain times in our lives. She almost seems to be at a loss as to whether to go up or down, but she is held in place by a tether and harness. This image reminds me that we are tethered to Christ in love and that we cannot go it alone. We need help.
4. This is another of my photos, taken at a roadside waterfall and stream in Rocky Mountain National Park, in Estes Park, Colorado. I chose to use it because this image speaks in two ways. First our suffering and the events in our lives can seem like this eddy: we feel the rush of the water and think we might drown. However, the water which is also rushing over us is the water of God's love which is life-giving. It is the mercy and grace given us by God.
5. This is a painting by Vincent van Gogh which is quickly becoming one of my favorites from among his work. It is The Good Samaritan from the parable taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 10:29-36) Some details to note are the suffering etched in the face of the victim, and also that the two figures who did not stop and render aid are depicted as undersized, perhaps symbolic of their small-heartedness. But there is also great tenderness shown on the face of the Samaritan, and even the horse seems to have a look of understanding and gentleness. I chose this because it seems to me that the Parable of The Good Samaritan epitomizes the generosity to which we are called.
6. This is another icon from the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. It is called Jesus Christ Extreme Humility. I chose to use it here because it shows what Jesus underwent in his suffering and death which was the ultimate in humility: the Son of God became a man and then died a horrible, unjustified death, totally rejected. Yet He is Compassion and He is Love. While being fully God, He entered into our humanity fully to give us redemption, hope, and ultimately the ability to enter into His glory. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/jesus-christ-extreme-humility-036-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
7. Finally, I chose to end with the full image of I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I wanted to begin and end with this image because it was partially the inspiration for this entry. What I most love about it is that it shows life coming from death. The wounds seem to be transformed, giving forth new life: perhaps the crown of thorns has turned into a crown of gentle, fragrant flowers. There is more than just hope in this image; there is also joy. When Jesus died 'the story' did not end, because He rose from the dead thereby conquering it. Therefore, when we reach out in love, helping to extend His hand, our wounds will also heal, whether here or in the next life. But they will heal. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this image in any form, go to https://fineartamerica.com/featured/i-hold-out-my-hand-and-my-heart-will-be-in-it-225-william-hart-mcnichols.htmlfineartamerica.com/featured/i-hold-out-my-hand-and-my-heart-will-be-in-it-225-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Ten years ago my husband and I received an invitation from a dear friend to attend an event in Le Mans, France. The invitation was to the beatification of Basile Antoine Marie Moreau, CSC, a man who, I must admit, I knew next to nothing about at the time. I did know he had founded the Congregation of Holy Cross, but that was because of the aforementioned friend, a Holy Cross priest. We were able to attend all the ceremonies surrounding the beatification, beginning with a trip to the town where Moreau was born, attending numerous prayer services, the beatification Mass in Le Mans, and the Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Julien’s, a beautiful cathedral in Le Mans with magnificent stained glass. All of the services were prayerful and joyous, truly glorifying God, attended by people from literally all over the world. By the end of it all, I felt as if I knew Basile Moreau like an old friend. Yes, he has indeed become a friend who I turn to in prayer quite often, asking his intercession when I need the prayer support. Ten years later, reflecting upon those events and also on the life of Blessed Basile Moreau, I am filled with gratitude for being able to attend the beatification, for my Holy Cross friends, and for the witness they give as faithful servants of God. The priests and religious of Holy Cross are men and women who have heard God’s call, and in love for the Gospel of Jesus, bring Him into the world. Moreau and his spiritual followers remind me of the difference that one person can make. Perhaps we are called to be such a person.
A heartfelt response to prayerful inspiration was what motivated Blessed Basile Antoine Marie Moreau, (1799-1873) founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Le Mans, France. He followed the desire of his heart based on love of Jesus, humbly relying on the power of God to help him realize the mission to which he had been called. The result of his response to God’s call is four inter-related religious congregations, countless lives touched, and the attainment of holiness, all of which will be celebrated on September 15, 2017 when the tenth anniversary of the beatification of Basile Moreau is commemorated by the Holy Cross family of congregations.
Bl. Basile Moreau was born the ninth of fourteen children in Laigné-en-Belin in the diocese of Le Mans, France, just as the French Revolution was drawing to a close. He was ordained at the rather young age of 22 and taught in a seminary. Because of the residual effects of the Revolution, the Church was in turmoil, and therefore early in his ministry he organized a group of priests with the purpose of preaching and teaching. His hope was that they could reach out to those in villages that were in need of evangelization and sacraments. Along the way, the local bishop asked him to oversee a group of religious brothers. In 1840, Basile merged his group of priests with the brothers, thereby forming a new congregation which he named, it is said, for the town where they were set up, Sainte Croix, or Holy Cross. The following year he also founded a congregation of Sisters called the Marianites. Though the bishop made the sisters separate from the brothers and priests, the entire ‘family’ of communities were the result of the work of Basile Moreau: the congregations now named Holy Cross took on the work of Christ in evangelization and education, a mission in which they are still engaged today.*
Basile Moreau was an astute, prayerful man filled with zeal, yet patient with the process of fulfilling his mission. In following God’s call he never gave up, nor did he despair no matter what the adversity and no matter how deeply he suffered; he never forgot that the work was ultimately God’s and not his. I think this is because he understood the Cross of Christ and its power. The motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross is Ave Crux, Spes Unica, (Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope). Basile knew that the only hope for his work, and the only hope for our world, is found in the Cross of Christ: indeed, there is no hope in anything that is apart from Christ. This was the power with which he was able to affect so many, coming from humble beginnings to what is now an international family of orders that continue the work of evangelization, helping the poor and offering education to many.
What we learn from Bl. Basile Moreau is that one person can make a huge difference in our world. He felt a call to courageously respond to God at a time when there was great animosity directed toward the Church and its priests and religious. In some ways it is not unlike our own age in which many are either living without a religious faith or who are openly adversarial toward it. Today the world is filled with many evils, especially falsehood, hatred, bigotry, and worse still, apathy and despair. While prayer must always be part of our lives, the underpinning of everything we do, it is not enough to pray and then do nothing. Basile shows us that we do not necessarily have to have money to solve the issues in our communities and in our world, but we do have to trust in the call we have received, ultimately trusting the One who is doing the calling: God. Just as God empowered Blessed Basile, (and many others throughout salvation history), He empowers us. We can respond to the call we have been given: if all we do is authentically live what we have been taught, that is enough, and it is evangelization. If we teach by lending a hand, using our voice, or sharing our faith with just one person every day, imagine the change we could elicit.
To discern our vocational call we need an awareness of what our desires might be: we should pray about it, and also ask ourselves what gives us a sense of purpose in the task of living out the gospel. It could be in doing service work or simply spreading the gospel in the workplace by acting in a manner that is in accordance with our faith. It could be in a more active participation in our parish family, in volunteer work, or through political activism. A way to discern might be to ask yourself for what you would like to be remembered after your death; and if you were to write your own epitaph, what would you hope it to be? Or you might even dream a little, asking yourself for what reason you would hope to be beatified, like Blessed Basile and others? If we can at least attempt to answer these questions, perhaps we would have a clearer sense of the mission we have been given. It does not have to be something huge, but it does need to involve utilizing the gifts of faith, hope, and love in whatever way God has called us to use them.
No matter our vocation, we need to look at what we are called to do today, in this moment, and in this hour. A good question to continually ask of ourselves is: to whom am I called to minister at this moment? What opportunity is opening before me right now? In what way am I called to ask forgiveness or offer it? In what way am I invited to offer mercy, love, compassion, and therefore, assistance? Who am I called to talk with about my faith today or to give glory to God so that they witness my faith? These are all questions which we can bring to prayer; but we must not leave prayer without asking God to give the grace we need to respond when the time arises. We are all called, as baptized Christians, to arise to our unique call, as did Blessed Basile Moreau. Surely he did not start out imagining that he would have religious followers in four congregations who would be ministering to countless others 170+ years later. But he did pray to find ways of responding to the love of God and he did envision a path to spread the word about the love and mercy of God to a people sorely in need of receiving the message. He heard the call, the desire of his heart, and then acted upon it. With a lot of work his mission materialized into something which grew and took root under the banner of our only hope, the Holy Cross of Christ. Perhaps if we pray to put into action the love we have received from God, and trust that our little efforts do make a positive change in the world, our light might shine as brightly as did the light emanating from Bl. Basile Moreau. Let us answer the call as faithfully as he did, looking to the Cross as our one true hope.
May there be an abundance of vocations to the congregations in the Holy Cross family and other religious orders, and may we pray for them as they live their call to service! May we ask for the intercession of Blessed Basile Moreau, especially when we need help persevering in our call! May we have the strength to visibly live our faith in a world which needs such witness! May we have the courage to affect change in the world by small or large acts of love! May we find courage in the Cross of Christ, our source of hope! And may we glorify God with our lives, as we attempt to grow in holiness as followers of Jesus! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L Catanese
* There are four congregations in the Holy Cross Family: the men (Priests and Brothers) - Congregation of Holy Cross; and three women's congregations: Marianites of Holy Cross; Sisters of the Holy Cross; and Sisters of Holy Cross (Soeurs de Sainte-Croix).
Note: Next post will be on Sept. 25.
1. The first painting is of Blessed Basile Moreau, and it was commissioned for his beatification, unveiled as the celebration began. It hung in the form of a banner throughout the ceremonies and services, a sign of joy, hope, and unity.
2. This is the parish church, Notre Dame de Sainte Croix du Mans in Laigné-en-Belin in Le Mans, France, where Bl. Basile Moreau was baptized. This is one of my photographs from our trip to celebrate his beatification, mentioned at the start of the post.
3. This is the plaque which appears outside the church in photo 2.
4. This is a painting called Flower Carrier by Diego Rivera. (1935) I chose it here because it shows the difference one person can make. The man is unable to stand without the help of the woman who is securing his heavy basket. I loved this painting the moment I saw it because it shows how we all truly need one another. It can be found at https://www.diegorivera.org/flowercarrier.jsp.
5. Though this is a totally different style from the previous painting, this one also shows people working together. It is called The Harvesters by Pieter Brugel the Elder. (1565) I chose it because it made me think of the gospel verse about the harvest being plentiful but the workers being few. (Luke 10:2; Matthew 9:37) We need everyone to do what they can, as they are called, in order to build the Kingdom. The painting can be found at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435809.
6. This is a image painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols called The Galilean Jesus. I chose it here because it made me think of Jesus beckoning us to come and follow. You can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-galilean-jesus-266-william-hart-mcnichols.html
7. Last is a photo I took of the medallion struck for the the beatification of Blessed Basile Moreau, given to me by my dear friend, Fr. Hugh Cleary, CSC, who at the time was Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Heart Speaks to Heart