Advent has begun, propelling us into a new liturgical year. It both readies us for our celebration of Jesus’ coming into the world, and it reminds us that we need to be prepared for His return. Advent is literally pregnant with mysteries which can be contemplated at great length, and of which I never tire. Every year we are at a different place in life, so no two Advent experiences are the same. Whether it is a time of difficulty or a time of calm in our lives, plumbing the depths of these mysteries reveals something new every year. Not only are we different, but the readings for the Sundays of Advent are different from one year to the next, rotating on a three year cycle. Therefore every year brings something different for us as we prepare.
This Sunday the readings once again emphasize that we must be ready for the coming of the Lord. Jesus can come at any moment so we must stand firm against the evils in the world by doing acts of love and relying on our faith. Interestingly, the readings from the prophet Isaiah which follow in the weekday Masses begin by reassuring us that God will help us to come to His Kingdom of peace. We are invited to go to the mountain of the Lord to be instructed by God. We always have access to God, but if we cannot make it to His holy mountain, He will send messengers to speak His word to us. Even if we cannot find our way to Him, we know that He will come to us. Advent is about anticipating that coming.
There are many people in the world who do not know the way to the “mountain of the Lord,” which is to say they have not been exposed to the truth of the faith we hold dear. Many do not know the message of Jesus or that God is inviting them to come into the Body of Christ to be part of the Kingdom forever. There are people all over the world who have never heard the message or who have had poor teaching. Therefore we need to take the message to them. Pope Francis has declared this to be the Year of Consecrated Life (those who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience). This is why I feel it is important to begin the liturgical year by highlighting one of the most famous of all missionaries, St. Francis Xavier, whose feast day is December 3. Missionaries are those who, in imitation and service of Jesus, bring the mountain of the Lord to the people.
St. Francis Xavier was born into a noble family in northern Spain in 1506. At the age of 19 he went to Paris to study at the University. Soon, he met St. Ignatius of Loyola who worked hard to get him to see that there was more to life than worldly ambition and that the Lord was calling him to something greater. During the process of praying about what Ignatius was teaching him, Francis decided that God was indeed calling him to join with Ignatius. Along with a small group of men, he became one of the first Jesuits.
With Ignatius as their leader, the group hoped to go to the Holy Land to preach, but when that did not materialize they instead went to different cities to work with the poor. Francis Xavier went to Venice and toiled so intensely at a hospital there that he almost worked himself to death. He returned to Rome where he regained his health. Soon afterwards, the King of Portugal begged Ignatius to send two Jesuits to a Portuguese colony in India to minister to the people. At this point, there were only 10 Jesuits, as the order was in its first days, and so there were not many people available for him to send. He chose Nicholas Bobadilla and Simon Rodrigues. Immediately before they were to leave Nicholas became very ill. With little time to spare, Ignatius asked Francis Xavier if he would go instead, knowing that if he agreed they would never see each other again. Given that they were very dear friends, this was quite a sacrifice. Francis Xavier had no previous desire to be a missionary, but he said yes without hesitation. When all was said and done, his greatest desire was to serve God.
For the next ten years Francis Xavier traveled all over India, then to the East Indies and Japan, bringing the message of the gospel to the people. What made him so successful was that he adopted the dress, culture, language, and customs of the people in these lands in order to become one with them and therefore to better understand them. Once he became part of the culture he was able to present the gospels in a way that the people could comprehend. He converted many to Christianity, also helping them to better lives through education without forcing a foreign culture upon them. He understood that the best way to teach them about Jesus was to meet them where they were, which is a hallmark of Jesuit spirituality and education.
St. Francis Xavier was said to live very simply; he ate little and only thought of those to whom he ministered. This took a toll on his health. In 1552 he attempted to go to China, but never made it there, dying on an island off the coast. Though he died in his mid-40’s and had a relatively short ministry as a missionary, he founded many churches and formed men in the religious life. Francis Xavier had not begun his own religious life hoping to be a missionary, but went where the Lord led him, bringing the gospel to the people simply by living it, offering it to those who were attracted to what he lived.
Another saint we celebrate this week is St. Nicholas of Myra, (died ≈345 AD), a bishop who was known for anonymous giving and who in many ways was also a missionary. The main story told about him is that he helped a father with three daughters who could not afford their dowries for marriage by throwing bags of money through their window at night. Other stories indicate that he helped needy townspeople by putting money in the shoes they left outside their doors. While we do not know if those stories are true, we do know that St. Nicholas traveled all over the region fighting heresy and paganism. He was subjected to torture at the hands of enemies and was tireless in his work for justice. He worked to help the poor and he helped those unjustly imprisoned. He was known for mercy and compassion, but there is far more to this man than the quaint stories which morphed him into Santa Claus. It can be said that St. Nicholas was a missionary even though he did not travel as far as St. Francis Xavier. He brought the gospel to many, making their lives better.
In many ways Advent is about being a missionary. It is a time to prepare for the return of Jesus by reflecting on what he taught and by living it. We are to bring the mountain of the Lord to others by loving them through acts of generosity and kindness. This season is about forming a habit of giving to others, bringing joy (and even peace) to them. It is about coming to understand that it is in giving that we most imitate Jesus, who came into the world as one of the poor among the poor. All of us are called to be missionaries of a sort by imitating Jesus. He was the first real missionary leaving His home in Heaven to come to a new place, our world, to minister to us.
It does not matter how much we have or what we give, so long as we give love and care to those who are in need. We do not have to travel far, but rather we come as a missionary of Christ to every person whom we encounter in our daily life. Let us think of ourselves as missionaries, getting in the missionary spirit this Advent as we prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus at Christmas. Let us think outside our circle of comfort and give more than just a bit of change in the kettles in front of stores. Let us bring love to the lonely and homebound, to those ill and marginalized. Let us give to those around us by being more patient and kind. Let us think of the hungry and needy who live from day to day, hand to mouth. This is what St. Francis Xavier and St. Nicholas did for those to whom they ministered, which is to say, everyone they encountered. We, too, can be missionaries of Advent, living the true reason for the season.
May we be inspired by missionaries and those in consecrated life who bring the gospel to those who might not otherwise be exposed to it! May we become missionaries in our own cities and in our own homes, bringing kindness, mercy, and generosity to those we encounter! May we be generous and cheerful givers! May we be grateful for that which we have received! And may we find much blessing and insight as we quiet our hearts this Advent, preparing for the coming of Jesus! Marana tha! Peace!
© Michele L. Catanese
The first icon is called The Burning Passion of St. Francis Xavier, SJ by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/144-the-burning-passion-of-st-francis-xavier-sj
The second icon is a traditional Russian icon which depicts St. Nicholas throwing a bag of coins through the window, as mentioned above. This icon and others of St. Nicholas can be found at http://russianicons.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/all-about-nicholas-well-not-quite-all/
The photo of the mountain at the end is one of mine. It was taken in Colorado, near Copper Mountain.
Like many others I have been attracted to the trend of finding our ancestral roots. It is important to have a sense of "from whence we have come" and from whom we have descended. Therefore I love to hear stories of my ancestors since it gives me a sense of how my own family evolved, which in turn lends itself to a fuller sense of identity. Last year my husband and I took a trip to Sicily not only to learn a bit about some family roots, but also to have a sense of the land that formed the relatives whose traditions were passed down to us. As much as I enjoyed that, I find it more important to have a deeper sense of our spiritual ancestry; that is, to know of the lives of the saints who came before us who lived the Gospels and handed down the truths of our faith.
Many of our ancestors made sacrifices such that we have a richness of the stories of love that held our families together. But not all families are held together with love, and some have sufferings and deprivations which formed pain rather than a bond of love. This is why it is important to recognize that we are part of a larger family, the communion of saints which comprises the Body of Christ, in which love really is the ‘glue’ which holds us together. This is not just because we are offered love, though we are indeed. It is because Love is at the center of this family; it is its very heart and soul. This Love, who is Jesus Christ, is where we find healing of all the inadequacies and brokenness in our families, and consequently, in ourselves.
Many sacrifices have also gone into this holy family to which we belong by nature of our Baptism. This week we remember two such sacrifices. The first is on the Feast of Christ the King which is also the feast day of Bl. Miguel Pro, a martyr who died crying: "Viva Cristo Rey!" He poured his life out so that those in Mexico at the time (the 1920's) could have free access to their faith and that they could celebrate it the open rather than in hiding. He was accused of partaking in a plot to kill the president, and even though others who were guilty said he had nothing to do with it, Miguel was given no trial, but was taken out and killed by a firing squad.
Miguel Pro gave his life because Catholicism was illegal in Mexico at that time. He persisted in celebrating Mass for the people, an act which was incredibly heroic. Yet what really struck me was his sense of gratitude. Miguel was ordained a priest on August 31, 1925 (in Belgium) where he was ministering to poor miners. On that day he wrote: "How can I explain to you the sweet grace of the Holy Spirit, which invades my poor miner's soul with such heavenly joys? I could not keep back tears on the day of my ordination, above all at the moment when I pronounced, together with the bishop, the words of the consecration. After the ceremony the new priests gave their first blessing to their parents. I went to my room, laid out all the photographs of my family on the table, and then blessed them from the bottom of my heart." * Miguel Pro was overwhelmed with joy and with gratitude for those who went before him. He had a sense of connection with both the poor to whom he ministered and to his family in Mexico. Gratitude to God for his family of birth and the family of the Body of Christ was the deepest reaction he had that day. It was gratitude that powered the love he had which motivated him to follow Christ so completely.
This week we also celebrate St. Catherine of Alexandria. It is said that she was born of a noble family around the year 287, and was converted to Christianity as a young woman. Though we do not have a lot of details about her life as a Christian, one story has it that the emperor tried to bring in the best pagan philosophers to debate with her to convince her that she was wrong in believing in Jesus. It seems that she was so persuasive that many of them converted. Soon after this the emperor, Maxentius, tried to convince her to denounce Jesus first by torturing her and then by proposing marriage. (One could jump to some interesting conclusions here!) But when she refused, he tried to kill her on a spiked wheel. It broke and so he had her beheaded instead. Catherine’s gratitude for the gift of faith was what drove her to share her beliefs even at the cost of her own life. We know she continues to give her support to the communion of saints because in the 15th century she was one of the heavenly visitors who spoke to St. Joan of Arc about the mission she was to undertake.
When a person chooses to sacrifice and make decisions in which they risk much, there has to be a profound sense of knowledge that all they have is gift. Just as Bl. Miguel Pro and St. Catherine of Alexandria were able to receive the gift of faith which propelled them to do heroic things, each of us should also take stock of the gifts we have been given and realize that we were given them for a reason. God wants us to use the gifts not only to better the world we live in, but to also know the joy of being loved by Him. In a world that does not often show love, but rather struggles with brokenness and sin, knowing that we are loved by God is important in no matter what circumstances we find ourselves. He did not promise us an easy life, but He did promise to be with us.
As the liturgical year comes to an end and we are anticipating the Advent season, let us reflect upon the gifts we have been given, especially as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The Gospel this Sunday challenged us to let our gratitude move us to action. If we have been given much or little, we can still offer our gratitude to God by sharing something with others. We are one Body headed by one Lord to whom we owe everything.
Ironically, the day after Thanksgiving Day our secular society encourages us to forget that which we have, and are thankful for, and move toward obtaining more things. Perhaps instead of ushering in Advent with a buying frenzy, we can usher it in by sharing with those who do not have. Perhaps we can spend time with others over a meal rather than fighting over things at the Mall. The upcoming season for which we are preparing is about Christ who comes tiny and poor. He comes to thwart the rich and proud and to uplift the lowly. He comes to bring justice to the world. Perhaps in our gratitude we can hear that message more clearly this year, so that when we are buying and preparing for Christmas through the Advent season, we will already begin to make room for Him in our hearts. If we think of the real gifts of Advent we can keep our priorities in line with the Gospel and share in the joy of giving because it is what our Christian lives are about, rather than being caught up in a whirlwind of obligations. In other words, we can still participate, but we can do it with the intention of simplicity and sharing, rather than to be under pressure, forgetting the reason for the season. When we give to the least of our brothers and sisters, we come to see what we have, and we come to value it more. It helps us keep our priorities straight, to set aside greed, and to be filled with gratitude.
Let us keep our eyes on that which really matters: the gifts of family and friends, those who have gone before us and those who are with us today. Let us be grateful for our ancestors who sacrificed for us to be here in this wondrous land, and let us be grateful to the saints and holy ones who are our family in the Body of Christ who continue to pray for us and our world. Let us be most thankful for the gift of our loving God who gives us every good gift.
May we be blessed with the gift of gratitude! May we share that which we have with those who have less than we do, whether it is material, emotional or spiritual! May we have the courage of those who, like Miguel Pro and Catherine of Alexandria, made the sacrifice of their lives so that we might have faith! May we keep our eyes fixed on the true gifts of the upcoming Advent season so that we do not succumb to the demands of the secular world! And may we come to know how loved and blessed we are by our good and gracious God! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace! Happy Thanksgiving!
©Michele L. Catanese
* For more information on Bl. Miguel Pro you can go to this website. It is where the quote is found: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=86.
The photo at the top is one of mine. It shows the region and city of Palermo, Sicily.
The icon is the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols and it is called Holy New Martyr Padre Miguel Pro. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/92-holy-new-martyr-padre-miguel-pro.
The painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria is by Bernardino Luini (16th century). It is in the National Art Museum of Azerbaijan.
The last picture is a cornucopia and it came from http://www.freeinternetpictures.com/happy-thanksgiving-cornucopia.html
There is a song that I have come to really enjoy that asks the question, “How many kings stepped down from their thrones...[and became] the least for me?”* The response at the end of the song is that only one king did that, and that one is Jesus. The song, sung by a Christian pop group, has only been around for a few years, but it really is a good reminder that Jesus is, in fact, a king. We culminate the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King to remember who it is we serve: the one who gave up His throne in order to come down to earth to serve us and to live as we do in a broken world. The King of Heaven humbled Himself in order to save us, that we may have life with Him forever. It is quite an amazing concept, and yet, it is our reality.
This last week of the liturgical calendar has a couple of other feasts that also give us a sense of true royalty. The first is the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was a woman of royal birth who was born in 1207 and died 24 short years later in 1231. She married a king, bore him three children, and then was widowed, all by the age of 20. However, she was always known as having a heart for the poor, doing charitable works as she could. This angered many of the members of the court, but it did not deter Elizabeth. After her husband died she was greatly affected by a group of Franciscans who had come to Hungary and she founded a hospital in which she served the sick and dying. Her family was so outraged that one of royal birth would live so ascetically that they drove her from the family castle and even took her children from her. This caused her great pain, but she continued to do works of charity until she died. Not long after her death miracles were attributed to her intercession, especially healing miracles at the hospital at which she labored. Her example is much the same as that of Jesus. The royal one was the servant of all, especially those most in need. He came to serve and not to be served, and Elizabeth followed in His footsteps at great cost to herself.
The next feast of note this week is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is celebrated on Friday. This feast is about the time when Mary was presented at the Temple as a young girl. While it is not based on Scripture, it is based on the Protoevangelium of James in which her parents, Joachim and Anne, brought Mary to the Temple at the age of three in order to fulfill a promise made by Anne when she was still childless. It reminds us that Mary was fully dedicated to service of the Lord her entire life. She was conceived immaculately, (having no sin), lived dedicated to the Lord as a young girl, and then said a complete ‘yes’ to the Lord when the angel appeared to her at the Annunciation. Her life was always directed to service. After her death, she was made Queen of Heaven by Jesus. This does not mean she is equal to God or that she is to be worshiped. On the contrary, it is a different type of queen-ship. She served God as no other person ever has. She said ‘yes’ all her life, trusting so totally that she was able to risk it all, suffer interiorly as her Son suffered, and continually let go of everything. She is queen because she was the one chosen to bring Christ into the world and yet she lived her earthly life as a servant, not as royalty. Even in Heaven she continues to serve, interceding for us as we pray to her for help. She is queen not in the temporal sense, but in the spiritual sense. This concept is a bit foreign to us, but the Eastern Church has always revered her as such. If we realize that it is not about power, but rather about service, the mystery becomes easier for us to understand. She serves in a unique way, honored for all she did from the moment she was presented in the Temple, living a life totally dedicated to the Lord and serving His people.
Finally, the liturgical year culminates this Sunday with the Feast of Christ the King, which is a relatively new feast. It was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI as a way to fight secularism. He wanted to remind the Church of who it is we serve: Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, who has always been the King of Creation since He is one with the Father and the Spirit. He is also the Redeemer, giving His life for us. The only crown He wore in life was a crown of thorns, ironically substituted for His real crown in Heaven. When Pontius Pilate questioned Him during the Passion, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Upon further questioning, He said: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Therefore, Jesus came with a mission and a message. The king came to serve that we would learn how to serve also. This is what a true king does: He so loves His people that He gives everything for their well-being. As God His reign is about power, indeed, but not a cruel power; it is not the kind that is a “because I can do it” power. Rather, it is about the power of love. It is about a love so great that He gives up His throne, lives in a broken human body, is rejected and killed by His own people in order to give them salvation from sin and death, and undergoes every kind of emotional, spiritual, and physical suffering just to get His message of love to us. And if that is not enough, He offers us His help throughout our lives in order for us to find our way home to Him.
Christ, our King, has taught us that to be a follower of Him we need to imitate Him. We are a royal people because we are His, but this has deeper meaning than it first appears. Through His ministry, Jesus taught His followers that the greatest is the least. The true disciple is the one who serves the rest, just as He, the King, had done. The true disciple does works of charity, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, welcoming the stranger, outcast, and marginalized. This is what many saints did, including people of wealth like St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and people who were of more humble social status, such as St. Francis of Assisi who Elizabeth chose to imitate in her works. All of us are called to follow this example if we desire to be His disciples.
The most wonderful part of our celebration of Christ the King is that it ushers in Advent. We are reminded of who it is that we are awaiting in the weeks which follow. The feast ties in the themes of November, which are about being prepared for the second coming of Christ by doing the works which He has given us to do as our responsibility in order to build His Kingdom here. In Advent we are also directed toward the Second Coming. We celebrate His birth, but because He has already been born, we are reminded that we need to be ready for His return. In the Scriptures that precede His birth, we are shown the mysteries of Mary’s ‘yes’, her service, her sacrifices, and her continual posture of reflection and prayer. And we will eventually celebrate His recognition as a king by other kings. So in many ways, one could say that liturgically the end of November is an 'advent before Advent.' It is a time of seeing how seamless our liturgical life really is and just how much our celebrations are connected to one another. The mysteries reflected in our celebrations are many, but they are a cause for joy. We have a great King, who loves us beyond understanding, who has taught us how we are to live by demonstrating it Himself, and who wants nothing other than for all of us to be around His banquet table in joy and peace forever. This is Christ, our King.
May we grow in understanding of what it means that we are a royal people! May we live as true disciples, imitating our King in works of mercy, compassion, and charity! May we be inspired to do the work of caring for others, as we have been taught! May we see how gifted we are, so that we may be filled with gratitude, and also be moved to share! And may we give glory to our King by our lives of love! Let us meet in the Heart of our King, Jesus Christ! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*The song to which I referred is How Many Kings by Marc A. Martel, Jason Ronald William Germain, performed by the group Downhere. The song and lyrics can be found at http://www.metrolyrics.com/how-many-kings-lyrics-downhere.html
For more information on the feasts you can go to the following sites:
St. Elizabeth of Hungary: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05389a.htm
The Presentation of Mary: http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1206
For more on the Feast of Christ the King: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2013-11-24
Icons and images:
The first icon is Christ the King, the Bridegroom by Fr. William Hart McNichols.
The second is She Who Reigns, also by Fr. William Hart McNichols and it can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/she-who-reigns-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Next is a painting by Giotto. It is part of the Stefaneschi Triptych, Christ Enthroned c. 1330.
The final photograph is one I took a few years ago in Natchidoches, TX during Advent.
When I was in college I began the habit of going to Mass every day. I was at a secular college, so the chapel was a worship space shared with those of other faiths. Daily Mass was usually at 5:00 PM, which was perfect for me, given that by then my classes were over. Often there was a small crowd there, but on a few rare occasions it was just the priest and me. Those times were some of the most memorable Masses I have ever attended. It was an incredibly intimate experience of God. The priest would sit in a chair facing me and I would read the first reading and responsorial Psalm, then hand him the Lectionary so he could read the Gospel. Then we would go stand at the altar, he on one side and I on the other. It was very quiet and reverent, and I daresay, profound. Because there was 'nowhere to hide' the first time this happened I felt really strange, and even a bit uncomfortable. I was afraid I would go blank on a response or a prayer, which would be really embarrassing. But I soon realized that it was not about saying the correct words; it was about the sincerity of the prayer and meeting the Lord in Word and Sacrament. It was about sharing in prayer not just with the priest, but with everyone else in the world and in Heaven who was at the banquet table also. It was then that I realized what a privilege it was to be at a seemingly private Mass that in reality was not at all private.
I have been blessed with a schedule that has allowed me to attend weekday Mass very frequently. Most of the time weekday Mass has had an intimate feel for me, given that there are fewer people who attend than at Sunday liturgies. But one thing that has stayed with me over the years is how much I enjoy the time to be at prayer not just for myself, but for others. And not just by myself, but with others...countless others: those visible as well as hosts of unseen worshipers who have gone before me. I have also come to realize that going to Mass at any time is a gift. One of my favorite Psalm verses expresses it beautifully: "But I through the greatness of your love have access to your house. I bow down before your holy temple filled with awe." (Psalm 5:8)
Being able to come before the Lord is indeed a gift. There is no other place of which I can think in which nothing is being asked of me. I can go there and be myself completely, unencumbered by fears, because everyone gathered is about the same thing: worship and prayer. We go to Mass to adore and praise God, and we go to put our cares on the altar so that He can be the one in charge of them. Nothing is expected of us. All is being given for us. That is, Jesus gave His life for us so that we might have His Body and Blood as our nourishment for the journey. He gave His all for us, and all I have to do is enter into His temple, so to speak, and receive His word and His presence. It was, and is, freely given for each one of us. It is a place where healing and mercy are present, and it is our home.
Having access to the house of the Lord is indeed a gift of His love. If not for the greatness of this love we would not dare approach Him. The death and resurrection of Jesus was atonement for all the sins of the world, and so He continually gives us access to that. Because of the saving action of Jesus' death and resurrection we have baptism which connects us with the entire Body of Christ and grants us access to the rest of the sacraments. We can come for forgiveness when we need it, and we can come before Him to be spiritually fed by His Body and Blood. We are given all of these graces as gifts. And so we come before him not only praying for our needs and the needs of the world, but we come to give thanks and praise. What goes on in a church during Mass is a most incredible miracle of love: Jesus becomes fully present to us and we can receive Him fully: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
But it is also a privilege to have access to the house of the Lord. While it is freely given, it is something we are given not because it is our right, but because God wants us to have the grace we need in order to live in a difficult world with all the advantage we can have to fight off temptation and sin. Our world is a difficult place to live, let's be honest. There is evil and there is strife: there is sickness, poverty, injustice, inequality, war, famine, and every manner of suffering, both inflicted by others and by things beyond our control, too far beyond our ability to understand. There are many beautiful things in the world also, but because of our weakness and our tendency to sin we can attempt to horde those things, misuse them or simply take them for granted; we can misuse our power and treat others poorly. Therefore God offers us every advantage He can, that which we call grace, in order to help us to have power over temptation, to have reconciliation when we do sin, and many graces to help us to grow in sanctity so we may enter into Heaven one day.
Therefore we are privileged with the grace we are freely given. It is offered to all, but not all accept it. We are also privileged to be able to be instruments of His grace and love to others. We are privileged to know how to serve Jesus. He left us instructions through His teaching, both in word and deed which are recorded in the Gospels. He taught us how to love everyone as our brothers and sisters, especially those in most need. He taught us to find His presence in the least of our brothers and sisters; the sick, lonely, naked, impoverished, imprisoned, marginalized, displaced, outcast, alien and stranger. And we are privileged to be able to respond.
To be given all the grace God gives us is not a right we have, but rather it is a privilege God has given out of love for us. He chose us, we did not choose Him. In John 15:16 Jesus said: "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you." We were chosen and appointed, which means we have a responsibility to bring the Gospel to others. How? The next verse in the passage says: "For this I command you: love one another." (John 15:17) We are not sent out with empty hands. Rather, He gives us all the graces we need to do good works. We are given power from God to bring love to others. We are never alone in doing these works. Where we bring love, there Jesus is in the midst of it. (Matt. 18:20; 1 John 4:16)
Being a servant of God, being one who tries to spread the love of God in a world sorely in need, is a gift and a privilege. It means having access to the love of God without end, which we are trying to extend to others. We do not have to be perfect, but we do need to recognize that we have been given many gifts. That should move us to gratitude for the immensity of his love and care for each of us, that He would go to such great lengths to bring us the joy of everlasting life with Him. We have access to His love and access to His house every moment of every day. Through the greatness of His love we can come before Him and worship, be blessed with the graces of His presence in Word and Sacrament, be blessed with the joy of community, be blessed with prayer for ourselves and for our world, and mostly to be awed by it all. What goes on in God's house is truly stunning. God is present in His church: in the Word, in the action of the priest, in the sacraments, and in our gathering as one people united by the bond of love.
Lord, we give you thanks that through the greatness of your love we have access to your house. We bow down before your holy temple filled with awe.
May we be filled with awe and wonder every time we enter into worship in God’s house! May we be inspired to realize the gifts and the privilege we have been given that we may serve the Lord as instruments of His love! May we be filled with gratitude for the gifts we have been given! May we have the faith to trust in His love and grace! And may we be filled with amazement at the love with which the Lord loves each of us! Let us continue to meet in the temple of the Lord, filled with awe! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are all mine. The first was taken in the town of Laigne-En-Belin, France. The second was taken of the towering arches inside Saint Julien Cathedral in Le Mans, France. Third is the famous rose window inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Next is the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols, called The Galilean Jesus. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/293-the-galilean-jesus. If you are interested in obtaining a copy in card or plaque follow the links on the page.
The last photo is mine, as noted above, and was taken in the shrine church where the tomb of Bl. Basile Moreau is located in Le Mans, France. The window represents the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.
Many years ago I spent a summer doing volunteer work in a small town in southern Louisiana. I was a novice in religious life and was being sent to work in a social service center as a way to both work at something I had never done before, and to immerse myself in service. The last part of the trip involved taking a bus from New Orleans to Lafayette. After buying the bus ticket, I only had one dollar and change left in my pocket. Imagine my shock when the bus arrived in Lafayette and I discovered that the sister who was supposed to pick me up was not there. I called the house and the social service center where I was to work, each time getting the answering machine, hence using up just about all my money in the process. Bus stations are not fun places, especially when one is alone, and so my anxiety level continued to rise. (This incident took place before people had cell phones, so all I could do was hope someone would get my messages.) I felt very much forgotten and alone. After what felt like an eternity, one of the sisters finally arrived. It turned out that the sister who was my sponsor had hurt her back and had to go to the hospital. In all the to-do about that, I had been momentarily forgotten.
The first few days in this new place were not all that much more comfortable. However I finally realized that my discomfort was not from the fact that the people around me were different than I. It was that I was different from them: I was the one from somewhere else and they were all at home in this community. But that sense of being an outsider faded very quickly because those very materially poor people were very rich in hospitality. I was only an outsider as long as I felt that way. Once I relaxed and was simply myself, I allowed them to teach me not only about how to become one with people very different than myself, but that if I wanted to grow in true service I needed to recognize that I was not there to ‘save’ them. Rather we were on a journey together with the Lord leading us. It became one of the best experiences of my life as I fell in love with the people and the place.
This month we celebrate two important saints, both named Martin, who teach a similar lesson: St. Martin de Porres and St. Martin of Tours. Both of these men spent a good deal of their lives working for the poor, being dissimilar in some way from the people to whom people they ministered. They lived in very different times, in very different situations, and yet both of them had an incredible love for serving others.
St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639), lived in Lima, Peru. He was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave who was of African descent. His father abandoned their family and so they lived in poverty. Martin apprenticed as a barber/surgeon in order to learn the art of medicine. He wanted to become a Dominican, but could only work as a volunteer because in those days one who was of mixed race was not allowed to enter a religious order. He wanted to serve and so he worked his way up from doing menial tasks to becoming the almoner (distributing money to the poor.) He became so well known for his works of compassion and care that he was invited to enter as a fully professed Dominican Brother. He devoted the rest of his life to using his medical skills both within and outside the community, helping many poor people, performing miracles and working tirelessly to be as Christ for others.
In contrast, St. Martin of Tours (4th century) came from a wealthy family in Pannonia, a Roman province that included modern Hungary. His parents were pagans, but he learned about Jesus and became a catechumen at the age of ten, though was not baptized for many years. He had no choice but to enter the military because his father had been a Roman officer and therefore by law he also had to serve. He became an officer in Gaul, (modern France) and was known for switching places with his servant from time to time simply because he wanted to serve and not be served. He is most known for the famous story about cutting his cloak in half on a bitterly cold night, in order to give half to a beggar. This made Martin the object of derision because an officer’s cloak was a sign of rank. That night Jesus appeared to Martin in a dream wearing the half cloak. Martin was so moved by this experience that he had himself baptized immediately.
Martin (of Tours) was known for giving his money to other soldiers and doing many works of charity. Finally he refused to serve as a soldier any longer and was imprisoned for a short period. When he was released he left the military to become a hermit, so great was his love for God. He was eventually made a bishop by the people of Tours, at first against his will, after they observed his holiness, including a miracle that was attributed to his intercession. Even though he was the bishop, Martin continued to live very simply, spending his life doing works of charity, teaching others about the Lord, fighting heresy, and doing the works of compassion for which he was renowned. When he died, he was buried in the cemetery for the poor, as he had requested.
What we can learn from both these saints named Martin is that having a heart for the poor is having a heart like Jesus. Regardless of whether we come from a simple or wealthy background, we always can find a way to give to others, whether it is in time, talent, or treasure. If one were to only look at the externals, both of these men did not really fit into the communities in which they found themselves. But both men teach us that doing good works comes from our hearts, not our surroundings. Just as Jesus did good works whether he was in gentile territory or Jewish territory, so also we should look to do good works wherever we may be. Our love and service should be for everyone, not only when we are with people with whom we feel comfortable. Jesus challenges us to love our neighbors as ourselves: this includes our enemies, those very different from ourselves, and the ‘least’ of our brothers and sisters.
We also learn from these saints that we can only be at home with others if we are at home within ourselves. We bring our strengths and our weaknesses with us no matter where we are. Often we hear people say things like “if only I was ‘there’, I would do so many good things.” Or we think we can escape our personal shortcomings by escaping to another place. If we find that we are called to go to another place, that’s fine; there is a need for that, too. But the truth is that the first place we are called to serve is right where we are. There is no time like the present to do good works. The smallest act of kindness can change a person’s life. If we wait to be in the ‘right place’ we will never get there. If we wait to be somehow perfected to do good works, it will never happen. In fact, it is in doing the good works that we become perfected, not the other way around.
Therefore, let us learn from the two Martins who devoted themselves to loving Jesus by loving those in need. Let us have the courage to be who we are, to use our unique personalities and the talents given to us by God in order to help bring the Kingdom into the lives of others. Let us embrace our own selves knowing that wherever we are, we are at home with God, no matter what others may say or do to indicate the contrary. Jesus came to His own people: He was accepted by some, and was rejected by many, yet He continued His work so that we might have eternal life. Both Martins imitated Christ, taking His light and His love into places where they might not have been welcomed at first. They found that love for serving Christ overcame resistance from those who then came to be grateful for who they were and what they offered simply by being themselves, sanctified by Love.
May we have the courage to be who we are among all those to whom we bring the love of Christ! May we imitate the work of both St. Martin de Porres and St. Martin of Tours, reaching out to the poor among us, be they poor in spirit or poor materially! May we pray for the intercession of these two saints that we may persevere both in our own communities and with all those to whom God sends us! And may our love of Christ grow each day, as we see Him in all those we meet! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are mine. The top picture is of Grand Coteau, Louisiana. The bottom photo was taken in Nova Scotia, Canada.
The icons are both the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is San Martin de Porres. If you are interested in obtaining a copy it can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/121-san-martin-de-porres.
The second one is St. Martin of Tours The Shepherd which can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/140-st-martin-of-tours-the-shepherd. This and all of the work of Fr. Bill can be found at his website at www.fatherbill.org.
Heart Speaks to Heart