While at a local business in early November, the proprietor asked me if I was ready for the holidays. He was clearly referring to Christmas and not Thanksgiving, given that he gestured toward his radio which was playing Christmas music. But upon reflection, I am grateful for his question because it brought into my consciousness, albeit a bit abruptly, a reminder that approaching the holiday season means we are coming to the end of the liturgical year. The end of the liturgical cycle carries a strong message that time is a precious gift which we are to receive and to use carefully. To use our time wisely means having a balanced approach; it is not better to work than to recreate, it is not better to read a book than it is to write one, nor is it better to spend time in prayer than it is to reach out to someone in service (or vice versa); rather all of these things are good if done in a balanced way. It can pose quite a challenge, but if we are working consciously at balancing our activities, leisure, prayer, acts of service, and responsibilities, then perhaps we are making good use of the gift of time. And especially if we offer this gift to others, such as time spent with God in which we listen more than talk, or time with an elderly or homebound friend in which we help them to feel less alone simply by being there, then we have given something quite precious indeed. It is for this reason that at the end of the liturgical year the Church gives us constant reminders that time is short and our attention should be focused not only on the return of Christ the King, but on our own desire to spend eternity with Him, a reality which is priceless beyond imagining.
The liturgical readings and prayers in November encourage us to reflect upon the end of time, whether it is the end of our time on earth or the end of time generally, that is, the Second Coming of Christ. The month began with the Solemnity of All Saints followed by All Souls’ Day. Each of these celebrations is meant for reflection upon those who have gone before us, as well as to turn our attention toward our own spiritual progress. In addition to celebrating the saints, All Saints Day is a reminder that we are all called to holiness; while not many will be canonized, we are nonetheless called to holiness – (and a real humility-builder is to realize that not only will we probably not be canonized, but after the passage of time we may not even be remembered on earth!) Thus, becoming holy is a gift we offer to God; a holy life is a life lived for others, not self. Holiness is about kenosis, that is, a continuous pouring out of self for God through acts of sacrifice, kindness, goodness, justice, mercy, and love.
All Souls’ Day should remind us not only of praying for our beloved dead and of utilizing their intercessory prayers, but it is a day in which we recognize our own mortality. Therefore, these two celebrations are not simply about remembering the holy ones who have gone before us, but they also provide an opportunity to consider how we have lived our lives in the past, how we are currently living, and how we want to live in the future. These solemnities are a gift insofar as they encourage us to look into the light of eternity and consider what is important and what is not, what to build upon and what to let go of (or what needs healing through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.) These days are gifts because they remind us that while time may be short, we still have the opportunity to grow. As the saying goes, there is no time like the present.
While some of the Scriptures we hear in these last weeks can seem rather dire, others are quite hopeful and even joyful. (Again, we are reminded that there is a necessary balance needed to keep us from becoming either overwhelmed or a bit too laissez-faire.) One such uplifting Scripture is Psalm 84, which appears in the Morning Prayer cycle during this time. Its opening lines are a reminder of the home which awaits us at the end of our lives: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.” (Ps 84:2-3) This provides a wonderful entry point for reflection on Heaven, perhaps using the way taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola: we visualize the ‘place,’ in this case Heaven, using our imagination. We can consider the ways in which Heaven is lovely, who we might meet, how we might encounter God there, what we might look like, etc., noting how we feel during this experience. Something to note in verse 4 is the suggestion that although the dwelling place of God is glorious, it is simultaneously humble! It reads, “Even the sparrow finds a home.…” This implies that Heaven is where the humble and the smallest of creatures are welcomed. Finally, the Psalm reminds us that those who enter Heaven will be happy: “Happy are they who dwell in your house…. I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Verse 5, 11) Therefore we can reflect upon this Psalm as a way to a deeper sense of that which awaits those who persevere through even the darkest of times.
At this time of year we hear from prophets such as Isaiah who says: “In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain, and all nations shall stream toward it…. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Isaiah 2:2-4) The world may not be all that peaceful at present, nor for that matter, has it ever been; but Isaiah reminds us that God’s peace will reign and the faithful will all be together as one. Therefore it is important that we receive these passages as invitations to ponder, reflect, make choices, and then to make changes in our lives if necessary. This season, then, is about preparing to prepare; that is, these words remind us that we need to do as Jesus instructed, to live the gospel, and if we need to make changes or to heighten our awareness, we need to prepare for action. Thus, we prepare for Advent which in itself is a time of preparation, with our thoughts directed toward the return of Jesus.
The readings and prayers of the end of the year are meant to help us remain balanced in our approach to time, no matter how long or short its length might be. Sometimes we need a sense of urgency in order to ‘get the picture,’ but the Scriptures presented are not necessarily meant to scare us. Rather, they act as reminders that all is passing. Jesus taught that we are not to store up material riches (on earth) which perish, but instead we should store up spiritual riches (for heaven) which come from a life spent in generosity and love. Therefore, as we end the liturgical year, and as we prepare for the new one which follows, it would be wise to accept the message as a gift to help us place our attention upon eternity, the lovely dwelling place for which we long, and the One with whom we will spend it.
May we receive the gift contained in the message of these weeks and then make a fitting return of that gift to the Lord! May we find inspiration in the lives of the Saints and holy ones! May we find consolation and hope in remembering our beloved dead, and may we ask their intercession for ourselves and for the world! May we persevere in times of struggle, trusting with faith and hope that all is in God’s hands, and that Jesus will come again! And may we find comfort and strength, wisdom and blessing in and through our reflection upon the Scriptures! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1. My photo: Late Autumn foliage, taken while hiking at Lake George, N.Y.
2. Icon, The Second Coming of Christ the King by Fr. William Hart McNichols: This can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-second-coming-of-christ-the-king-149-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. Painting: Old Woman with a Rosary by Paul Cézanne
4. My photo: North Sound, (near Stingray City), Grand Cayman
5. Photo: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati climbing a mountain, one of his favorite sporting activities
6. Painting: The Sheaf-Binder, Vincent van Gogh (1889)
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 the past few years it has become popular to investigate one’s ancestry using means such as DNA testing and various internet sites which are dedicated to this pursuit. While I have not chosen to pursue DNA testing, I do know a bit about my Italian lineage, although the trail quickly runs cold concerning both my paternal and maternal ancestors. For example, my paternal grandmother died quite early in life before anyone thought to look into her forebearers. To complicate it further, I have come to realize that her maiden name was probably misspelled at Ellis Island, rendering all but impossible any efforts to find much beyond where in Sicily she was from. Of my maternal ancestors, we know that my grandfather was from a tiny town in Calabria called Acri, and that my grandmother, though born in Brooklyn, had ancestors also from that area. Therefore, the truth is that my familial ancestry is rather murky beyond my grandparents. However, while I may not have a sense of exactly who my ancestral relatives were, I do feel a connection to humble, little Acri through my discovery of a saint who was born and died in that very place. ‘Saintophile’ that I am, (a term I think I just ‘invented’), I felt compelled to investigate his life so as to have a deeper understanding of the rootedness which counts the most: our connection in the Body of Christ. In this saint I have found “a witness to loving mercy”* and an inspiring new friend who can lead us more deeply into the heart of what it means to be Christian.
With all the effort we put into seeking our ancestral roots for a sense of where we come from and ‘who our people might be,’ we can sometimes take for granted our connections spiritually, that is, to God and to the Body of Christ. But unlike the dead ends we can come to in searching out our human ancestry, spiritually we do know where we come from and we do know our roots all the way back to the source: our roots are in God and we are His sons and daughters, heirs to the Kingdom through the saving acts offered on our behalf through Jesus Christ. Additionally, we are rooted to the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who came before us, the martyrs and holy ones who persevered in their faith and who are now in Heaven. As members of the Body of Christ we are made one in the Sacrament of Baptism through love which unites us with the Communion of Saints; we are eternally connected to all the baptized here on earth and with those already in Heaven. Therefore, our spiritual roots are crystal clear as we turn to the Scriptures and to the lives of the many holy men and women who went before us (including our beloved family and friends). They are our spiritual ancestors, special intercessors, and inspirational figures who teach us how to persevere in the Christian life.
The saint I ‘discovered’ is St. Angelo of Acri, admittedly not a household name, but one who is surprisingly well-known and well-documented in southern Italy. In fact, his body is preserved in a church in Acri and miracles have been attributed to his intercession. St. Angelo was born in Acri, Calabria, (1669-1739, feast day October 30) as Luca Antonio Falcone. He was the son of a baker and a goatherd. Because there was no school in Acri a neighbor taught him to read and write, and he learned about his faith from the local church as well as from an uncle who was a priest. When he was 20 years old, Luca decided to enter the Capuchins (Franciscans), but he struggled greatly with the austerity of the life, leaving twice before he was able to choose to stay. It is this struggle which makes him so compelling in that his life did not consist of instant success and religious heroism, but rather he had real-life difficulties through which he was able to persevere only with great effort. It is said that even after he returned the third time, he continued to struggle with all sorts of temptations, but that what enabled his perseverance was when he realized his call required “the effort which love makes easier.” Taking the religious name Fra Angelo Benedetto at his ordination, he embarked on a ministry of preaching and working for the poor, especially to fight injustices done against them. Thus, his love for God enabled him to literally ‘hang in there’ so that he could offer God’s love and mercy through his vocation.
St. Angelo can still speak to us today because the poor are still struggling to survive, people are still victimized through various injustices, and we are still in great need of mercy, healing, and love. Therefore, he can inspire us to continue these works without fear that our attempts might be accompanied by personal struggle. We are well aware that sometimes simply getting through the ‘stuff’ of our lives is difficult enough: daily we hit snags and roadblocks, little things crop up without any warning, and we can feel overwhelmed by it all. And then there are the bigger burdens of illness, financial challenges, difficult people to deal with, and all manner of suffering which can come to us at any time. But saints like Angelo of Acri serve as beacons of hope because they persevered with the help of God upon whom they fiercely and faithfully relied, reminders that we can do the same. St. Angelo was referred to as a ‘witness of loving mercy,’ helping people to experience the love of God through his good works. This is the call of the gospel preached by Jesus, and thus we are all called to offer love and mercy, though in a way unique to our gifts, personalities, and circumstances.
Perhaps what St. Angelo said about perseverance is something upon which we can reflect: he referred to “the effort which love makes easier.” He understood that at the heart of the message of Jesus is love, giving twofold meaning to this statement. First, God’s love for us is the source of grace, fueling our hearts and enabling all that we do. And second, our love offered to God in return makes all of our labors easier because we do what we do for the One we love. To better understand this, we can think of the martyrs, men like Saints Peter and Paul and women like Saints Perpetua and Felicity, who died cruelly, yet with the joy which had its origin in their immense love for Jesus. Love did make it easier. (Notice that St. Angelo said easier, not easy!) We can also think of the efforts of so many throughout history who fought for the good, the holy, and the just; their passion for these things and for service of God made it easier. And in our own lives there are numerous examples, such as when parents continually make sacrifices for their children, sacrifices made easier because of love. Our passion for what we do and for the people we serve drives the effort and thus it becomes easier.
In choosing to be disciples of Jesus, we have chosen to live as witnesses to His loving mercy. Our world needs people to witness in this way, not only to offer blessing, peace, and healing to one another, but to show people the way to the source of this love, Jesus Christ. It does not require a contrived eloquence, as St. Angelo discovered,** but rather it requires the “effort which love makes easier.” It means that we take the time for prayer in order to better know, love, and serve God; that we experience God’s love firsthand through prayer and the Sacraments; that we offer service to others by visiting the elderly, the sick, and the imprisoned, giving food, drink, and clothing to the poor, by working for justice for the oppressed and marginalized; and that we offer kindness and blessing whenever we can. It does take effort, but Love makes it so much easier. As we continue to ponder our lives as missionaries, perhaps we can carefully read a gospel, look to a particular saint, and then pray for the inspiration and grace to live as Jesus taught, keeping in mind that whatever we do, the effort is made easier through love.
May we turn to the saints and holy ones for inspiration that we may persevere in our call as missionaries of love and mercy! May we find grace through the Holy Spirit to live out our call as disciples of Jesus! May we grow in our understanding of the importance of applying the effort which love makes easier! May the love of God give joy to our hearts, inspiring us to make a return of love by drawing others to Him though our own efforts at love and mercy! May we seek and find through prayer and study a deeper sense of connection to the Body of Christ! And may we always be at home in God, from whom we come and to whom we return at the end of our lives! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* This is how St. Angelo of Acri was described at his canonization. You can find more at the following link. https://www.ofmcap.org/en/notizie/altre-notizie/item/1765-angelo-of-acri-witness-to-loving-mercy-finally-canonized
** One of the stories of St. Angelo is about how his first attempt at preaching went awry: he had memorized a flowery sermon, which was the custom of the day, only to totally forget it as he entered the pulpit. It was a disaster, but he learned from it to simply be himself.... and he became an eloquent, effective, sought-after preacher as a result.
1. My photo, Bisaquino, Sicily, Italy: Of course Acri is in Calabria, in the 'foot of the boot' of Italy, and this photo is of a town in Sicily. But Acri is a small town such as this; I have never been to Acri so this will have to do.
2. Painting, Cloud of Witnesses by Guisto de' Menabuoi: This seemed fitting given that I used the verse from the Letter to the Hebrews which must have been the inspiration for the painting. This painting adorns the Baptistry in Padua, Italy.
3. Painting, St. Angelo of Acri: This painting is of unknown origin, but it gives an idea of what he looked like.
4. My photo, Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico: I chose this photo because it is clearly a very poor community and so it represents the work needed in ministry to the poor.
5. Icon, The Galilean Jesus, by Fr. William Hart McNichols: I think this icon captures the love and mercy of Jesus. It seemed fitting as a reminder of the One whose love makes all things easier. You can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-galilean-jesus-266-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6. Painting, Corporal Works of Mercy: This painting is of unknown origin, but I had come across it a few years ago on a site which was discussing the corporal works of mercy (described in Matthew 25). It seemed fitting to place a painting here which depicted the loving and merciful efforts of those who work with the sick.
7. Icon, Mary Mother of Mercy - Dedicated to Pope Francis in the Year of Mercy, by Fr. William Hart McNichols: It seemed fitting to end this entry with a lovely icon which is about the love and mercy which are the center of Mary's role as both our Mother and intercessor. She is indeed the Mother of Mercy and of Love. And of course, Jesus is the source of All Love as Son of God and Son of Mary. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mary-mother-of-mercy-dedicated-to-pope-francis-in-this-year-of-mercy-289-william-hart-mcnichols.html
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