White shores and beyond
In the third film of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, (The Return of the King), the filmmaker transplants some dialogue from what was actually the first book of the trilogy to a battle scene in the third book.* In the movie scene, a frightened and battle-weary hobbit, Pippin, is with Gandalf, a wizard, who consoles him by telling him what it was like to have sacrificed his life and gone to the Undying Lands, a place that is like heaven. (Earlier in the trilogy Gandalf transforms after a death-like experience.) Gandalf describes it like this: "The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass...and then you see it. White shores. And beyond...a far green country under a swift sunrise." He is telling Pippin not to fear death should it come during the battle that is about to take place. In the film the actor who portrayed Gandalf played the scene with such wonder and awe, one could really believe he had been in heaven and had seen the beauty of the face of God. This scene interrupts a horrendous battle taking place as if to remind the viewer that God has already won the victory and therefore we have nothing to fear.
The author of the trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, was devoutly Catholic so there is nothing about this image that should surprise us. And as such, he touched upon the subject of death as a gift and not a curse many times in his writings. In his creation myth, The Silmarillion, it was the evil one who perverted death into something we fear. Tolkien indicated that death is a way back to Paradise to be with God forever, a gift which heals our exile from God. In that book it was the evil one, Morgoth, who made mortals fear death so as to create distance from their Maker. Death then took on an image which was terrifying to creatures that would therefore not want to face it or even talk about it. Tolkien wanted his readers to understand that there is nothing to fear since death opens heaven to us. Even though he set the Lord of the Rings to be ‘after the fall of humanity and before Christ,’ he could not put aside the belief of his own heart, (even if it came through somewhat unintentionally), that Jesus conquered death by dying and rising for us. Therefore as St. Paul writes, "Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55-56)
We are heading toward the end of the liturgical year at which time the themes of the readings at Mass suggest that we be prepared for the return of Christ the King when the world as we know it comes to an end and the New Heaven and Earth are fully established. This coming weekend the shift begins in an obvious way with the celebration of two major feasts which remind us that life is finite, yet there is nothing to fear. These feasts are the Solemnity of All Saints and All Souls Day, respectively. On All Saints Day we remember the holy ones, canonized or not, who are with God in heaven. And on All Souls Day and we remember all the holy souls who are not yet in the fullness of the Kingdom and who are in the process of gaining heaven, (in Purgatory.) All those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith pray for us and we should also remember them in prayer, especially those who are in Purgatory.
As Catholics we believe in the communion of saints. That means we believe that all those who are in Heaven, or who are on the way to Heaven in Purgatory, are still very much connected to us. By merit of baptism we are one Body of Christ, forever bonded to one another in love. Death does not break that bond because Christ has conquered death by dying and rising. In fact, the dead are closer to us now than when they were on earth because they are no longer limited by space and time. When a loved one passes away we mourn them because we miss their tangible presence in our lives. We miss seeing them, interacting with them, the sound of their voices, and the touch of their hugs. But we are consoled by the joy of knowing that they are still with us, though not bodily, and that one day we will indeed see them face to face, just as we will see God face to face.
The ancient Celts had a tradition of celebrating the dead when the night and day were of near equal length, near what we now refer to as the equinox. At that time they celebrated the feast of all hallows (all the holy ones), believing it to be the ‘thinnest’ time of the year. They thought that the veil between time and eternity was at its thinnest point on this feast, which meant that this was the time of year when those who had died were closest to us. The belief should not surprise us. It is grounded in the same reality as many experience when a loved one is passing from death to new life. At this time they often see and hear things the rest of us do not. They are passing from this world to the next, and the passage allows the barrier to become quite thin, until they are ready to cross completely over to be with the Lord. They will speak of seeing long dead relatives or will actually speak to them as if they are as visible to them as we are. And indeed they are.
Therefore it is important for us to keep in mind that our faith teaches us that death is but a bodily separation. Our beloved dead are no further from us than the Lord. Just as He is present to us in an unseen way and we rely on faith to know this, our loved ones are also silently close at hand. The holy souls and the saints have a very important role in praying for the world which is in sore need of grace in many areas. It is important to ask them to intercede for us and it is important for us to pray for those in Purgatory to be fully cleansed so that they may enter into heavenly glory with the rest of the holy ones.
If we are believers in Jesus Christ and all that He taught us we have no reason to fear death. Fear is not from God. It comes from the evil one who means to shake our faith. He wants us to doubt and to be frightened of the unknown. He enjoys deceiving us into believing that God wants to punish us rather than in the truth of God’s mercy and compassion. Certainly it is important for us to use the power of the sacraments to counter this deception. It is also to remember that just as Tolkien has reminded us in his trilogy, things are never so bleak that we are to despair. The Book of Revelation is a good example of this, too. In it, every time there are scenes of war, woe, and destruction, it is followed by a scene of God victorious in Heaven surrounded by hosts of angels and the holy ones who have gone before us. All is joy and peace, especially as the book comes to an end with the glorious scene of the New Jerusalem, a place where “every tear shall be wiped away” and there is no more suffering or pain.
In the end, all those who persevere in faith will be with God in Heaven forever. Jesus has come to assure us of that which awaits us. We need to do our part, however, and be ready. We do this by doing good works, loving deeds for the poor, marginalized, outcast, the suffering, and the stranger in our midst; that is, for all our brothers and sisters. We also must remember to ask for forgiveness of our sins. The feasts we celebrate this coming weekend remind us that we are all capable of being holy. They also remind us that we have many, many holy friends who have gone before us who are working hard to help us to find our way home to God; they pray for us to remain steadfast in our own journey. Not only do we celebrate their lives, but we celebrate the reality that one day we will be in Heaven at the banquet table of the Lord with them, singing praise to God. Let us rejoice that we have such a merciful, loving God who wants nothing more than for us to be with Him forever.
May we celebrate with gratitude all the holy ones who have gone before us! May we have a sense of our companionship with our beloved dead! May we ask for the intercession of all the holy souls and saints that they may pray for us as we work to grow in holiness during our lives! May we ask the intercession of the holy ones for our world! And may we have gratitude for the compassion and mercy of our God, asking for the grace to share these gifts with those around us! Let us meet in the Heart of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*Peter Jackson omitted the entire section from his film The Fellowship of the Ring in which Frodo and his hobbit companions met Tom Bombadil. In the book, in the very first paragraph of chapter 8, Frodo had a dream while at the house of Bombadil in which the lines appeared that were attributed to Gandalf in the third film instead.
The photos are mine. The first was taken near Dingle Penisula in Ireland. The second is of the mosaic of Christ Almighty which is inside the Cathedral in Monreale, Sicily. The third photo was taken just outside of Noto, Sicily.
Next is the icon Jesus Christ Holy Forgiveness by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/41-jesus-christ-holy-forgiveness. You can obtain a copy of this or any other icon by Fr. Bill at www.fatherbill.org.
The last is All Saints by Fra Angelico, painted in the 15th century.
Seasons of change
I have always loved the season of autumn. When I was growing up I loved the smell that was unique to that time of year which mostly originated from the crisp air and the falling leaves. Though the autumn signaled cooler weather and the loss of summer activities, I loved how the briskness of the air made me feel more awake and alive. I always thought of it as football weather. But since I no longer live in the north where this was how I remember autumn, I long for it now. So while most other people talk about getting 'Spring fever' in the early months of the year, the months that I get an urge to be outdoors are in the autumn. Therefore one could say I get 'Fall fever,' (which is not to be confused with seasonal allergies, though I get those, too.)
The change of seasons reminds us that all of life is about change. Things rarely stay the same. We have all heard the dictum that the only things in life that stay the same are taxes and change. There is truth to that. This week's Sunday gospel reminded us that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's. Even Jesus had to pay his taxes! The point there is that we need to do what it takes to be a good citizen, so long as the gospel is our guide. However, even our taxes change. All things are in motion and we either learn how to go with the flow or we fight it, going kicking and screaming into the future, but going nonetheless.
The very same gospel I just referred to makes it clear that we have responsibilities to live according to the teaching of Jesus, so we are right to fight some change. However, we have to discern carefully what we are called to fight, inform our fight with the Gospel, that is, to do what we do with love, and stay the course in that attempt. But there are other things which we do not have the ability to change, such as the march of time and the changes which come with that. These are the areas in which we need to pray for the grace to let go of that which needs letting go, and for the ability to embrace that which is new, though it might possibly be scary or challenging at first.
One thing that never changes, and which can help us with everything else, is the love of the Lord for us. God is unchanging, and that He is with His people is everlasting. He has made covenants with us since He created humankind; the final one was sending His Son, Jesus, to bring us redemption and the gift of everlasting life. Jesus has opened Heaven to us and has given us what we need in order to guide us there. And as if that is not enough, Jesus promised to remain with us until the end of time, and has sent His Holy Spirit to do just that. He is with us and so therefore we can say with the Psalmist: "How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, God of hosts." (Psalm 84) This refers not only to what is to come, but to what is here. His dwelling place is within the hearts of all the baptized. He makes a home within us, and the love He has for us will never change.
This is not really new. In the Book of Exodus we read how God led His people to freedom. They were being led from cruel slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, yet they grumbled continually as they faced the uncertainty of the journey. They had to trust Moses, who was God's spokesman, which ultimately meant they had to trust God. Even though they saw God's miracles in how He fed them and gave them to drink, and even though they saw His presence in the column of cloud by day and the column of fire by night, they still wavered in their faith. They lacked all the details about when and how they would get to the land they sought; they did not have any sense of the future. But God told them to trust and that He would make good His promise. The faithful ones did hold fast, but many of the people lost that trust and strayed through the fashioning of a home-made god. This disappointed God and there were consequences, not because God loves to punish, but because they needed to see that He was indeed their God. In the end God held up His end of the promise, even though the people broke their end of it over and over.
Many of the biblical stories involved the same sort of situations we face today. We have no more ability to know the future then they did, so we have to rely on faith, hope, and love and the promises made by God which we can see are always fulfilled. Though things will seem to change just as we have gotten used to them, the constant is that we have God with us. When we become too comfortable, we find ourselves challenged by change. This is true of all things from how we pray to dealing with shifting relationships, shifting social norms, the speed of technological growth, and most especially the process of aging.
In our prayer lives, God will call us to something deeper if we are faithful to it. At first this can be disconcerting because what used to work is no longer satisfying. Prayer can seem tedious and boring, even ‘dry as the desert.’ But when this happens it may be that God is offering us something in which He is more in control than we are. We need to use our faith and remember that in His love He may be giving us the gift of deeper prayer. People are often tempted to quit praying when this shift happens, so a good spiritual director can help us to discern what is really going on.
We face the greatest challenges with day-to-day change. One minute we are young and the next we realize a number of decades have gone by and we can no longer do what we used to do; or we can, but it requires more effort (or more pain reliever.) Despite what the commercial, anti-aging industry tells us, there is nothing we can do except the best we can to go with the natural flow. We should take care of ourselves and be good stewards of the gift of our bodies, but we also need to accept that there is a process to everything over which we have no real control. We will get older. The one promise He has made, the most important promise, is that we are not alone. The Lord is with us through our friends and families, He has given us a guardian angel, and He is by our side every step of the way.
We will never have that proverbial crystal ball we want: 100% certainty is simply not ours to have. And thank God for that. To always know what is to come would mean we would have the insight to see all things, so we would never need to rely on the One who loves us. It would tempt us to a power far too great for us to wield, given our brokenness. Rather, God in His wisdom asks us to trust Him that even when things look bleak and even when we are suffering, He is with us. Jesus never promised us that our lives would be easier than His. Rather, He promised that He would never leave our sides and that He would help us to weather the storms with His grace. He promised us unending love which comes to us as comfort, tenderness, forgiveness, guidance, joy, and faithfulness. The journey of life is the journey to Heaven, so going with the flow, knowing that through it all He is with us, is the only way to go. In both the Old and New Testaments He frequently says, “Do not be afraid.” If we trust this and cast all our worries upon the Lord we have nothing to fear. (1 Peter 5:7) Let us trust in His promises, acknowledge that we are in His presence and say with the Psalmist: “But I, though the greatness of your love, have access to your house.” (Psalm 5:8) Thanks be to God!
May we trust in the promises of God, remembering that He has never let His people down and always does as He has said! May we pray for the needs of our brothers and sisters in the world! May we trust that the Lord is with us, especially in times of trouble! May we accept the gift of peace offered to us by the Holy Spirit! May we utilize the gifts of faith, hope, and love! And may we learn to recognize the presence of God who loves us beyond what we can imagine! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are all mine. The first was taken at Lost Maples State Park in Texas. The second was taken in Sicily, near Contessa Entellina. The third is Michelangelo's Moses which is found in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) in Rome.
The two images were painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is called The Name of God Shekinah. It is the tetragrammaton, that is, the I AM WHO AM, spoken by God to Moses. It is represented in the cloud which is a symbol for the protective presence of God leading the people. If you would like to obtain a copy it can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/30-the-name-of-god-shekinah.
The second is The Name of God Yahweh which is another representation of the tetragrammaton. In this one the letters are superimposed with the symbol of fire, which is God's presence also. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/31-the-name-of-god-yahweh.
Give Me Jesus
Just as in my last entry it is a song which inspired me to reflect upon the saints we are celebrating this week. While driving I heard a song on the Christian radio station which took me back to my days in high school choir. The song is called “Give Me Jesus” and is a somewhat modernized version of an old spiritual of the same name. In school we sang the traditional words which begin: “In the morning when I rise… give me Jesus.” There are three verses, all of which culminate with the line, “You may have all the rest. Give me Jesus.”* As I enjoyed the simplicity of the melody, I also thought about the lyrics and the persistence of the prayer to simply have (or be with) Jesus. If we have a relationship with Him we do not need to fear or worry because He will be there through everything. And in reflecting upon the lyrics I thought that when we sing such a song Jesus is probably simultaneously singing, replacing His name with ours. He wants us to be His, too. This is because everything He has done is out of His deep love for us. He loves us as we are, even with our imperfections. The saints responded to this love, as does anyone who is growing in relationship with Jesus. The more we fall in love with Him the more we allow Him to make us like Himself. All we need to do is seek Him and we will find that we are never alone.
This week we celebrate the feast days of many well-known saints, beginning with one of my favorites, St. Teresa of Avila, or Teresa of Jesus as she was known in her religious community. St. Teresa was a woman who knew about love, growing from self-centeredness (too much love of self) to selflessness, (total love of the other) during the course of her life. Teresa began her religious life as a young woman of around 19 years of age. She entered the Carmelites simply because she did not feel like she wanted to be married and felt that this was the easiest choice for her. In 16th century Spain Teresa knew she could enter the convent and live a relatively easy life given that there would always be a roof over her head and a family around her. She was the ‘life of the party’ insofar as she was rather popular with outside visitors and was quite often in the parlor entertaining them. However, she also had rather lax prayer habits for one in religious life.
After a series of mysterious illnesses, the most serious of which almost resulted in death, she began to rethink her attitude, which led to a very deep interior conversion. She realized through this process that she had lived in religious life for nearly 20 years and had done nothing to show her love and gratitude for all that Jesus had done for her and for the world. She was so horrified at this that she began to do penance and to change her prayer habits. The result of her experience is that she began to truly fall in love with Jesus, recognizing that His love was so great that she could only respond in love to Him. She grew in holiness and in prayer, such that she became a mystic and wrote many books for her sisters on the practice of prayer. She reformed the Carmelites, bringing about more depth in their prayer and community living. Interestingly, in religious life she was known as Sr. Teresa of Jesus; the name she chose when she entered truly became her identity. Indeed for her, the emphasis was on the latter part of her name. She was Teresa of Jesus, for Jesus, and in love with Jesus.
Another saint we celebrate this week is St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who was the one to whom Jesus revealed His Sacred Heart in the 17th century. Like St. Teresa, when she was a young woman Margaret Mary also had a lengthy illness during which she developed deeper devotion to Jesus. Through her experience she grew to dearly love Jesus' presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Shortly after she returned to health she entered the convent. It was there that she had visions of Jesus over the space of about one and a half years in which He asked her to spread devotion to His Sacred Heart, and hence to the love which He has for all of us. St. Margaret Mary had much adversity to overcome in order to get her superiors to believe that she really had the visions, but with help from her spiritual director she was able to get affirmation of the validity of what she experienced. Most important, however, is that for her it was all about Jesus. All she really wanted was to share His love, because as those in love usually do, she wanted others to enjoy the same deep love she felt for Him and from Him.
We also celebrate St. Luke the Evangelist this week. Luke was a convert from Greek paganism who came to devote his life to spreading the gospel. He was converted to the faith by none other than St. Paul, with whom he traveled until Paul's martyrdom. The love of Jesus was so important to Luke that love and its effects, especially joy and peace, are major themes of the gospel. He began by telling the love story of Mary and God, how God chose her from among all women and filled her womb with love beyond all telling. The love story continues as Luke told of the joy and peace that came to her, and which comes to all who allow the love of Jesus to transform their lives. Everything Luke wrote about in his gospel is centered on God's love which has burst into our lives through the giving of Jesus, who left us His love in the form of the Holy Spirit after He ascended to Heaven. Jesus was the center of Luke's life, just as He is the center of the life of every saint or holy one. For Luke, as for the others, it is not as important that we know of their love for Jesus, but that we know of His for us, and that we develop a close relationship with Him, too.
This week the Sunday readings are about God's magnificent love for us. The reading from Isaiah is about the abundance with which God wants to shower us. On His holy mountain, Isaiah says, God will give us a banquet consisting of the abundance of His love. He will wipe away every tear and He will destroy death forever. (Isaiah 25:6-10) The Gospel contains a parable told by Jesus that is about the banquet to which we are invited in Heaven. All of the gifts we are given are because of God's overwhelming love for us; His love is so great He cannot contain it. He invites many into the feast, but some are not properly prepared and so they are not allowed to stay. They did not take His love seriously and did not live the gospel. Therefore they were not ready for the feast. That is, they did not learn how to love and did not love Jesus in the least of their brothers and sisters, so they were not able to receive the gift of coming to the banquet feast in Heaven. Jesus always made it clear that what we will be judged on is the quality of our love, and not on living the letter of the law or doing all the pious practices without caring for those around us, especially the least ones, (those in any way poor.) Luke pointed out in his gospel that Jesus had a special place in his heart for all the outcasts, knowing that His love was healing for them. Therefore if we are to be like Jesus, and if we want to be with Jesus, we need to find Him in ‘His most distressing disguise’ (as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to say) and love Him by loving them. St. Teresa of Avila reminds us in similar words that we are the only hands and feet that Jesus has now, so we need to be His love to His people.
Let us seek and find Jesus when we arise, when we are alone, when we are with our brothers and sisters, and then when we come to die, as the hymn says. If we seek Jesus in our daily life we will indeed find Him everywhere. He promised to be with us until the end of time and He makes good on the promise each and every moment. Let us take to heart the words of the hymn: “You may have all the rest. Give me Jesus.”
May we be inspired to seek Jesus in everything we do! May we call upon the Holy Spirit for an increase in faith, hope, and love! May we see Jesus in our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most in need! May we have hearts for greater love of Jesus so that we may grow in holiness! And may we know of the presence of Jesus in our own hearts so that we may come to know ever more clearly how much He loves us! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Here is a link to the lyrics and also to a link to the version of the song Give Me Jesus by Jeremy Camp. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/jeremycamp/givemejesus.html
The first photo is mine. It is a rock formation in an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota called the Needles. If you look closely you will see the heart shaped opening in the cleft of the rock.
The icon is St. Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Church by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/80-st-teresa-of-avila-doctor-of-the-church
The next painting is of Jesus revealing His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque found at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/pictures/10_16_margaret_mary5.jpg
The final two photos are also mine. The first was taken on Copper Mountain in Colorado and the last was taken at Sylvan Lake in South Dakota.
The Brightness of God
This weekend at Mass we sang my favorite hymn, I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light.* It evoked many joyous memories of when I first learned this song. I was in high school at the time and had joined a prayer group made up of people with whom I had come to enjoy spending time. I love the hymn not just for the good memories, but also because it has a lovely melody and the lyrics express the desire of my heart, to one day be face to face with Jesus and to see Him as He is. This time the beginning of the second verse was what really grabbed me: "I want to see the brightness of God." I think at the deepest level every one of us desires to see the light of God, that which is His real essence and being. One day we shall see this and when that day comes we will be in the joy of Heaven.
Last week I wrote about the mystics who have had mysterious intimacy with God such that they are so deeply in His presence that it almost goes beyond words to even begin to describe the experience. For them, as Adrienne von Speyr put it, heaven opens and they have an experience of union with God. There are also those who have had a vision or have seen an apparition, such as St. Bernadette who had a series of visitations by the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes and was given messages for all the faithful. Those experiences are public revelations meant for the entire world because God is trying to get a message across to us; the authentic ones are always consistent with the Scriptures and our faith. Private revelations are those meant for an individual to help that one on his or her faith journey. Why God gives some people the gift of mystical experience or deep prayer experiences and seems not to give that to others is a mystery.
I believe that all of us are not only capable of having such personal experience of the presence of God, (many of the great saints attest to this, I might add), but I also think we do have them. The issue is that we do not recognize the experience. Not all experience of God is so momentous that it rocks us to our core, or is utterly life changing or is something like seeing a vision. Therefore we miss the gentle hand of God when He is very deeply present to us in the ordinary. We also think we are not worthy of any kind of revelation, (though we may secretly desire it), and so we discount that it could ever happen to us. It just seems too special for us to have something like that take place.
God does break through to all of us and so I would like to suggest that we can experience the presence of God in our daily lives if we trust that it is there and open ourselves to see it. The first thing we need is the gift of faith, which is given to us in Baptism. Rather than looking for heaven to open in a radical way, we need to trust that heaven opens in the little things that happen around us. When we experience something that touches our heart, an unexpected touch of love for example, heaven is opening. We simply need to recognize it as such. If we have a chance encounter on the street in which we are moved by kindness, heaven is opening in a new way. Or if we observe something very beautiful, heaven is opening to us. These encounters are brief, but our hearts are moved.
One such way of experiencing heaven opening is to pray with an icon. If mysticism is the opened heaven then I believe icons are mystical in nature since they pull us into God’s gaze. Praying with an icon is not simply standing in awe of great artwork. Rather it is an attitude of silent prayer which we enter into as we gaze upon the image in front of us. We allow the symbols of the icon to speak to us just as we do when we pray with a crucifix or any other holy item. We know that the icon acts as a conduit for our prayer and we enter into it as a way of entering into the presence of the holy. Remember, the subjects in an icon are “standing” in the mystery of God. They are not meant to be realistic in the sense of a portrait. Icons are filled with symbolism and mystery because they are calling us into an encounter with God through the images on the wood. We are meant to gaze upon them and let them draw us in.
God is also present in creation, in all that is around us, which is an icon insofar as creation reflects the image of God. God says through the prophet Jeremiah: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). God is indicating that His presence and His glory are everywhere. It is important for us to ask God for the ability to have a sense of His presence in our daily lives. He seeks us more than we seek Him, and therefore He will be happy to let us know He is there. He assures us that if we seek Him we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) The key is to expect Him and to seek Him, and then to be open to God’s creativity in showing us His presence. Often the holy comes in surprising ways.
Heaven opens through the love of another person. When we give love and share love we experience a bit of the presence of God who is Love. This is heaven opening because love transforms us. Mutual love fills us with joy and fills our heart. Love also allows us to face that which is most difficult because we know we are not alone. We most often seek God’s presence when we are in suffering or in some sort of dire strait. We do not always get what we ask for when we seek a preferred outcome in such circumstances. But that does not mean that God was not present. Suffering is a mystery and so is the plan of God. But that does not mean that God is not present to us when we are in the midst of pain. Just as He was present to His own Son, Jesus, when He went through His Passion and death, and just as there was a plan in all of that, so, too, He is present with us. What is important is to trust that He is there and to accept whatever grace He gives us to persevere, as well as the comfort of His love. This is the most challenging experience we can have because when we are in pain it is difficult to be open to His presence.
If we have ever had the smallest of consolations, even the most brief sense that God was with us, we need to commit it to memory so that we can remember it in times of trouble. It is important to learn to see signs of heaven around us so that we always remember that we are not alone. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21) which means that it is not off in some faraway place up in the sky. It is within us and all around us. The forces of sin and evil want us to forget that. They want us to fail to notice God’s presence so that we feel abandoned. Therefore we need to cry out to the Holy Spirit and ask for the graces we need so that we do not lose sight of the Kingdom within and around us.
Therefore we need to look for the brightness of God all around us. We do not have to wait to be in Heaven to get a glimpse of the beauty and wonder of God. All we need to do is ask for the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Every time we have an encounter with love we are seeing the brightness of God. That does not mean God is not present in the dark. Oh yes, He is there also, waiting to meet us in mystery and to bring His light to that which is without it. But in the light of day we can also encounter heaven opening to us. “I want to see the brightness of God. I want to look at Jesus.”*
Let us ask for the grace to have awareness of the presence of God! May we have the eyes to see the brightness of God in our world and in our prayer! May we have the courage to bring the brightness of God to one another! May we have the faith to know we are in the presence of God when we least feel it! May the brightness of God bring us joy and peace! And may the presence of God be our desire and our goal! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light by Kathleen Thomerson
The photos are mine. Both were taken in South Dakota. The first is a sunset over the Badlands and the photo at the end of the entry is an aspen by a stream. The second photo made me think of the burning bush, an example of the brightness of God.
All of the icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is Mother of God Light in All Darkness and it can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/174-mother-of-god-light-in-all-darkness
The second is Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/168-mary-most-holy-mother-of-all-nations
The third is Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge and can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/299-holy-passion-bearer-mychal-judge
You can purchase plaques, cards, and giclee prints, as well as other icons and images from the many, many works of Fr. Bill McNichols. With Christmas coming in two months it is a good time to think about getting a special gift for someone, or maybe for yourself. You can access his webpage through any of the above links or simply go to www.fatherbill.org.
Remember, I do not get any remuneration or any other benefit from promoting the work of Fr. Bill. I simply get the joy of sharing the treasure that is his work.
Heart Speaks to Heart