Saints are gritty, resilient characters. If you read detailed accounts of their lives, it may seem that being a saint can be quite difficult and that it is reserved for only the select few that tough it out. On the other hand, we are sometimes given an impression that romanticizes them, usually from exposure to pious hagiographies that do them no favors except to make holiness seem unreachable for those of us who were not born with a ‘holy silver spoon’ in our mouths. Yet in one of the documents of Vatican II it states that we all share in the universal call to holiness which means that every baptized person is called to be holy. So let’s be clear as to what holiness really is: it is living authentically who we are made to be by God, responding to His love with love, through sacrificial efforts devoted to making Him better known and loved. The holy one puts God first through their commitment, sacrifice, and deep love. What holiness does not require, however, is that we come up with strength and power on our own. We have been given unique talents and abilities, so it is not necessary that we move the mountains, but that we let God do it through our small acts of cooperating with His love. In short, it means that we unite our heart to that of Jesus, and with that small mustard seed of faith, we grow one moment at a time.
Those who have been canonized teach us that saints must be gritty because they do not want resistance from any outside force to stop them. Quite often it involves some suffering, but the joy of serving Jesus moves them to respond wholeheartedly to their call. An example of such a one is St. (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina, (feast day September 23). Many know him because he received the visible stigmata which included all the wounds received by Jesus during His Passion; indeed that required a lot of grittiness.* But I would like to focus on his experience of a rare mystical phenomenon which God gives for reasons only known to Him: the transverberation of the heart, often described as ‘the wound of love.’ Transverberation is a mystical experience of interior union with the heart of Christ which so fills the heart with His love that the recipient can hardly bear it. St. Teresa of Avila, who famously experienced this, described this mystical experience as causing intense pain along with an equally intense joy, describing it as “the sweetest pain.” It can also leave physical evidence, as in the case of St. Philip Neri whose heart became so enlarged after the experience that it pushed out a couple of ribs, (something discovered only after his death), accompanied by great heat that continuously emanated from him that was so intense he never wore a coat, even in winter.**
In the case of St. Padre Pio, the transverberation of his heart took place while he was hearing confession. Like St. Teresa, he saw a “heavenly being” who threw a fire-tipped spear which pierced his soul; the pain was so acute that he thought he would die from it. He received the stigmata a little over a month later, but the pain in his heart remained as well, accompanied by many spiritual gifts which he always utilized to draw others to Jesus, never to himself; if people followed Padre Pio for his spiritual gifts alone, he scolded them, sometimes seeming a bit harsh, but in truth doing it out of love and humility.*** Additionally, Padre Pio was subject to horrific temptations from the devil who, seeing him as a threat, wanted to derail his efforts at serving Christ. Therefore, it is important for us to learn from him that great gifts can often come at a great price. Jesus said, “The one to whom much is given, much is expected.” (Luke 12:48) While we can romanticize things like stigmata and bilocation, we are never to ask for such gifts, and further, it is not wise to have spiritual envy toward the gifts of others or for the gifts we wished we had. Rather, it is wisdom to gratefully recognize and utilize the ones we do have. We all have them, so it is important to spend time praying about our gifts, especially if we do not yet know what they are or believe that the gifts we have are not all that important. Remember St. Paul’s teaching that the Body of Christ is made up of different gifts, all necessary, and no matter what we have or do not have, we all have these three, that is, the most important ones: “faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 12-13:1) It is important for us to realize that no matter if our gifts are visibly pronounced or somewhat hidden, love is the greatest of all the gifts and that without it, all the other gifts become nothing more than noise! In other words, without love the other gifts are rendered useless in building the kingdom of God.
All of us are capable of doing small things with great love. Therefore, if we are serious about growing in holiness according to our call, we must pray about it, not fretting over outward appearances, but simply responding with love to the little things that arise, thus giving glory to God. As with Padre Pio and other saints, our efforts may occasionally be subject to some pain within our hearts, but if they do, we will also have the sweetness of knowing that we are joined to the heart of Jesus.
May we desire to grow in holiness according to our call! May we be given the courage and ‘grittiness’ of spirit to live our call! May we discover our gifts, especially in our daily call to faith, hope, and love! And may we unite our hearts with that of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Notes: I will be taking a short break, so the next entry will be on October 18. If you want to read something in the meanwhile, or on what would have been the next post date, October 4, I suggest going to my archives, (found at the bottom of each post, so scroll down to see the list). There you can pick something from a previous October or whatever you like. My suggestion is the following entry from last year which highlighted St. Faustina Kowalska and Divine Mercy, (her feast day is October 5.) https://www.catanesesd.com/micheles-blog/do-whatever-he-tells-you
*Padre Pio had wounds in his hands, feet, and side as well as evidence of scourging and a wound on his left shoulder, all consistent with the wounds Jesus received during His Passion.
**St. Teresa of Avila described her experience in the Autobiography. Similar to that of St. Philip Neri, (and later, St. Padre Pio), she also had a physical wound in her heart, discovered after she died. https://aleteia.org/2019/06/25/st-teresa-of-avilas-heart-was-physically-pierced-by-an-arrow-of-gods-love/
***While it can seem a bit gruesome, in the case of St. Pio the experience was actually a purification of his soul so that he could ‘join’ in the Passion of Jesus throughout his life. We must keep in mind that St. Pio voluntarily chose to suffer in this way, having first asked what his spiritual director thought of his desire, and only then offering himself to Jesus in this way. I cannot emphasize this enough: we should never do this, (that is, ask to suffer), without an express calling and an incredible amount of discernment with a spiritual director. For St. Pio it was indeed clear, arising from his self-giving love for Jesus: his desire to suffer was as prayer to alleviate that of others.
1. Stained glass, Sacred Heart of Jesus.
2. Marble sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila, by Bernini. This photo is from a postcard I purchased while visiting the church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, (in the Cornaro Chapel). I did take my own photos, but one has to pay to light the chapel and it only lasts about 30 seconds. It is very difficult to get a good photo, so I bought a postcard.
3. Icon, St. Padre Pio Mother Pelican by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-st-padre-pio-mother-pelican-047-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Painting, First Steps by Vincent van Gogh.
5. Photo, St. Padre Pio at dinner in the refectory at San Giovanni Rotando. See note below.
6. Photo, St. Padre Pio celebrating Mass in the chapel at San Giovanni Rotando. I want to be clear that these last two photos were not taken by me, (I would have been a little girl at the time!) but they are authentic photos that I now possess that were taken by Vera Calandra, a friend of St. Padre Pio and the founder of the St. Padre Pio shrine in Barto, PA. The photos were given by her to one of my friends, who then gave them to me. I have wanted to share them for quite a while.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
In one of the pivotal moments in the Passion narrative in John’s Gospel, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” in response to Jesus’ statement that anyone who belongs to the truth listens to His voice. For Pilate truth was elusive, an enigma; therefore, as one addicted to power, he made it something he could manipulate to suit his needs. He had no real interest in listening to any voice but his own, so when Truth actually stood before him, he was blind and deaf to it. Jesus had made it clear that truth is eternal, and not subject to manipulation or the whims of philosophies or ideologies. Pilate was not concerned with the spiritual, but he was somewhat fascinated, enough so as to initially profess that he found no guilt in Jesus. But no matter how thought-provoking Pilate may have found Jesus to be, he was easily distracted from real truth by his lust for power, evidenced by his capitulation to the crowd that sought the death of Jesus. Today as then, what people accept as truth can be and is just as easily manipulated. Therefore, it is important that we look to the source of truth, the one truth, which permeates the entirety of the Scriptures and comes to culmination in our Lord Jesus Christ. That is truth.
Today, as throughout history, our society seems to have difficulty with recognizing truth. If someone asked “What is truth?” the response might depend on who you asked, as if truth is subjective, based on opinion. We have grown increasingly polarized by what we think is truth in just about every arena imaginable, somehow becoming so ingrained in our beliefs that there is little openness, nor the ability to engage in respectful discourse. Most frightening, however, is the current tendency to believe that we have ‘our own truth’ which can be ‘legitimately’ different from someone else’s truth. This is a fallacy! There is only one Truth from which all other aspects of truth derive, and this truth is eternal: it is God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John connected Jesus with truth throughout his gospel, recording numerous instances in which Jesus stated that He and the Father are One, (John 10:30, for example), emphasizing that to know Him is to know the Father, and thus, His authority is that of the Father. The most dramatic example of this oneness was seen when Jesus was approached by the soldiers who sought to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and He declared “I AM.” That is, Jesus is I AM WHO AM, the Eternal One. * John also addressed our tendency to reject truth when it is difficult, challenging, or does not suit our needs, as seen in his account of the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-71) when just about everyone, including disciples, found Jesus’ teaching too hard and left Him. As disappointing as that was, Jesus continued to preach to the small group that remained faithful to Him, stating at the culmination of His public ministry: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus did not water down the truth to win disciples back because even difficult aspects of truth do not change.
A major theme in the Gospel of John concerns the opposition between belief and unbelief, truth and untruth, light and dark, and life and death. Belief means accepting Jesus’ teaching and acting upon it accordingly. In other words, the truth we profess is deeper than simply accepting Jesus with faith; truth is faith in action doing the work of mercy, compassion, and love. Unbelief is to oppose the work of God; it is not necessarily atheism, but rather it is a lukewarm or ‘go with what is currently accepted’ response to faith. Therefore, all that is made to substitute for the gospel based on worldly teaching is untruth. Belief is connected to life, especially eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Anything which opposes God and His word seeks our harm and can lead to spiritual death. Finally, life is associated with light. To be ‘enlightened’ is about growing in holiness; when we accept Truth we begin to be filled with the light of God which will overcome the darkness. (John 1:5) In short, living in truth is about aligning our mind, heart, and will with the life of God as revealed in Jesus.
No matter how much someone seems to speak with authority, Jesus and the gospel must be the filter through which we discern. If teaching is inconsistent with the gospel, then it cannot be truth. Jesus said to beware of false prophets and that we will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20). Similarly, St. Paul told us to look for the Fruits of the Spirit, (Gal 5:22-23) which are signs that someone or something is aligned with God. And it is essential that when the values of the world are persistent and persuasive, that we do not worry or give in to fear. (Matthew 6:25-34) Remember, Jesus said that the Truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). No matter what anyone else professes to be ‘truth,’ if we align ourselves to the gospel, and thus to Jesus, we will remain safe from all spiritual harm while continuing to grow in holiness. So what is truth? It is nothing less than our Lord Jesus Christ who rose in victory so that we might have eternal life with Him.
May we remember at all times that we belong to the Truth as we seek to live within the world, but not of it! May we continuously pray for the grace of discernment! And may we evangelize by setting an example for others, courageously living in the Truth! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The declaration by Jesus was so powerful that the soldiers involuntarily ‘turned and fell to the ground.’ (John 18:6)
1. My photo, a hummingbird in my backyard. Hummingbirds can be elusive, but if we really look, they are a balance of flitting around and sitting still for relatively long periods of time. But like truth, we have to spend time in order to learn.
2. My photo, the Trinity, found on the arch of a pillar in a church in Ireland. I love this because Jesus is so very obviously one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
3. Icon, San Jose Sombra del Padre by Fr. William Hart McNichols. In this icon the child Jesus resembles both God the Father and Joseph, His foster father. You can find this at fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-sombra-del-padre-161-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Quilt, Pentecost. Yes, this is a quilt! I wish I knew who did this magnificent work. I love it because the light is overcoming the dark.
5. Painting, The Basket of Apples by Paul Cezanne (1895) Let us feast on the Fruits of the Spirit!
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart