Many of us have a fascination with the saints and holy ones of the Church. And well we should, since these are people who have imitated Christ in a way which is considered heroic. We can learn from them how to grow in holiness so that we, too, can imitate Christ more fully. The official canon abounds with saints and the beatified that are known, but there are also many who will never be known except by those whose lives they touched, and of course, by God. Additionally there are those who are called venerable who may or may not ever be canonized due to lack of exposure, and therefore no one asking for their intercession. I have to admit, it is to these that I am attracted right now, the ‘holy obscure,’ (my term for them) because they are like most of us, though perhaps a bit more sanctified. There is something about the holy obscure that helps me to see even more clearly that we do not have to be known to be holy.
A good example is a woman who is probably unknown to many: Venerable Margaret Sinclair. She was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1900 and died in West London in 1925. At a casual glance her life was totally unremarkable. Her family lived in a tenement and she worked in a factory. But she tried to go to Mass as often as possible. Once her sister Bella said they were not holy enough to go to Mass so often, to which Margaret replied, "We're not going because we are good, but because we want to be good." Although she was engaged to be married at one point, she realized she had a call to religious life. In 1923 she entered a community of Poor Clare nuns. She begged for alms and worked diligently to help the poor. She eventually contracted tuberculosis of the throat to which she succumbed on April 9, 1925.
Margaret was declared venerable because of her simplicity and the love with which she lived. What seems to attract people to her today is her ordinariness: she had the struggles of ordinary people and therefore she helps us to see that we do not have to be particularly gifted in some obvious way in order to grow in holiness. However, she was extraordinary in her love for those to whom she ministered and also in her love for God. She persisted in following the call which she received without a thought of being in any way different than anyone else. And that is why she is so attractive: she lived in obscurity, but she loved greatly. She may not be that well known to us, but she is very well known to God. *
Given that we embark upon Holy Week starting this Sunday, Venerable Margaret Sinclair and those like her help us to see that there is not a one of us who is unknown to God in our every intention, action, and desire. It was for all of us that Jesus entered into His Passion and death. He not only carried our sins with Him, but He carried each one of us in every way. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to cries of ‘Hosanna’ from the crowd, He carried each one of us into the city with Him. When Jesus was sharing in the Last Supper with the apostles He made it clear that He already had each one of us in mind. After the meal, Jesus gave a long discourse to the startled and disconcerted apostles. At the conclusion of the discourse He prayed that His Father might be glorified by what was about to transpire. He prayed for the gathered apostles, that they would stay the course. But then Jesus did something astonishing: He prayed for us. He said: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21) On the night that the worst of the Passion was about to begin Jesus made sure to let us know that each follower who was there and each follower who was to come was already in His mind and heart. He took all of humanity to the cross with Him, but He wanted us to know that He is intimately aware of each of us.
Therefore we know that Jesus took us into the Garden with Him. He took us to the scourging, crowning with thorns, humiliation by the crowds and soldiers, the carrying of the cross with His many falls on the Via Dolorosa, up the hill, and to the gruesome crucifixion. He took each one of us on the cross with Him and He rose for each one of us. There is not a one of us who is obscure to Him, not then, not now, not ever. When we experience humiliation, betrayal, the deep pains of suffering like a scourging and crowning with thorns, when we carry our own crosses in the course of our lives, we are not forgotten then either. We need to be reminded that Jesus did not simply carry our sins on the cross, He carried everything about us. That is why the burden was so crushing. As if carrying the sin of the world was not enough, Jesus carried our pain and suffering, too. That means He carried our hearts within His. He suffered, bled, was broken, and died with every aspect of our being in His heart. We can never know the weight of that burden, and we can never know the depth of the love with which He bore it. But we can know that He never forgets a one of us. There is no such thing as obscurity with God.
This is why Holy Week is such a celebration and it is why the thought of His suffering is so unbearable for us, too. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the gifts Jesus gave us in the Eucharist and in the priesthood He initiated that night. With every Eucharist each one of us in known to Him, and like Margaret Sinclair, we go not because we are good but because we need it to become better, holier. The gift of the priests who are empowered to bring the real presence of Jesus to us is indescribable. Without them, we would not be able to immerse sacramentally in the One who carries us with Him at all times. (Therefore, we must pray for vocations and pray for those who are already ordained!)
On Good Friday we weep for ourselves that our sin has contributed to the pain and sorrow of the Lord who we love so dearly; we weep for His mother who watched Him suffer so horrendously; we weep for Jesus who bore it all with love beyond all telling. But within all that weeping, like St. Peter, we know without a doubt that He had all of us, not just our sin but also our beauty, with Him on the cross. That which was marred and disfigured within us by our sinfulness, was made beautiful again by His forgiveness, mercy, and love. This is what He died for: that our wounds would be healed, our sin forgiven, and our beauty would be evident to us as it is to Him.
On Holy Saturday we sit in stunned silence waiting for Him to burst forth from the tomb, with the tarnish wiped off our hearts. The silence is nearly deafening. All we can do is sit, ponder what we have experienced, and pray. We reflect upon what we just did during Lent so that it has impact which we can carry forth as the fruit of our spiritual labor. In the silence we listen to our own hearts, waiting to hear His voice again, a voice which says to us “I love you” over and over and over again. It is the voice which tells us that He brought us to the grave and that we are forever carved into His hands and feet and most especially His heart. He knows us, He loves knowing us, and He loves that we desire to be holy. He never forgets a one of us. There are no obscure people to God.
Therefore let us live in the hope of things to come, but not without truly experiencing every step of the way of the Cross with Jesus. Let us remember that to Jesus we are indeed well-known. Let us be reminded that He died for us, yes, but not just for our sins. He died because He loves us. He died to take away our guilt and to replace it with glory. In light of this, there is no way anyone could ever be obscure to God.
May we enter into Holy Week knowing that in His great love Jesus carries us with Him! May our hearts be filled with sorrow born of love as we accompany Him! May we find hope in the midst of suffering in the knowledge that every hair of our heads is counted and every beat of our heart is known to Him! Through the gift of His Passion and Cross may we make room in our hearts for others! And may the gift of His death on the Cross inspire us to share His love with all those whom we meet, that we might inspire them to come and follow also! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Crucified Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*For more information on Venerable Margaret Sinclair you can go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sinclair_%28nun%29
The first two paintings are the work of Bl. Fra Angelico. The first is All Saints and the second is The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
The next two works are those of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first one is a drawing of Jesus in the garden being comforted by an angel as He undergoes the agony. It is a particular favorite of mine because of the tenderness of the angel. It also says to me that while we are never obscure to God, neither was Jesus ever out of the Father's sight. The second of Fr. Bill's works is the icon called Weep Not For Me Mother. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/all-categories/product/291-weep-not-for-me-mother
Finally the photo is one of mine. It is a reminder that after the death of Jesus a stone was rolled in front of the tomb which held His body. It is meant to be a Holy Saturday image.
Heart Speaks to Heart