I remember a time when taking a long trip by car meant obtaining a large, somewhat unwieldy foldout map. But if you had a particular ‘auto club’ membership – (you know the one) –you could request a series of maps in a spiral folder which outlined how to get to the desired destination, step by step. Without these aids there was no way of knowing what the best route might be. It was cumbersome, but did the trick. Today, of course, things have changed; we have access to GPS through various devices, including those built into the dashboard of our cars. But what has not changed is that we still need assistance to efficiently and safely travel to places we have never been. As important as it is to get guidance for trips, however, it is even more important that we recognize the need for guidance in our spiritual life: we need direction so that we are always moving toward God rather than going in circles, or worse still, inadvertently moving away from Him. We do not want to get lost along the way, especially when we encounter the many unexpected twists and turns which will arise. To that end we need to identify the available spiritual road maps and then utilize them as best we can. The most obvious guide is Scripture, especially the gospels, followed by other spiritual reading, solid teaching, and the example of the holy ones. The assistance of a good spiritual director also helps with the prayerful discernment that is needed to ensure we are making wise spiritual choices. But whether or not we have access to a spiritual director (who should be a person devoted to prayer), I suggest that we also look to the Virgin Mary, our mother, to find one who not only intercedes for us, but is an excellent spiritual role model. Mary always leads us to Jesus: always toward God, and never in any other direction. As such, she is the perfect role model for everyone on the spiritual path who seeks guidance for the journey.
It is important for us to realize that choosing what leads toward God is not always clear since the evil one is so deceptive. The devil is the father of lies, the deceiver, and the consummate belittler. That is, he loves to insert ‘ideas’ into our heads and hearts which tell us what poor, inept Christians we are, that we can never become holy, and a host of other self-degrading thoughts, (all lies), in an attempt to gain more power over us. Anything that gives us a negative image of ourselves, or which enhances a false image, pulls us inward toward self, or distracts us from the truth of our goodness and giftedness so that we become ineffective, should raise a ‘red flag’ because these are never from God. If there is something within that is in need of change and it really is coming from God, it would be in an area of sin or weakness that needs improvement; dealing with it would lead to holiness, resulting in peace after we go through the process of changing the behavior. Ultimately, God builds us up, while the evil one tears us down.
A saint who was in constant warfare with the devil was St. Padre Pio. (His feast day is September 23.) He was well known for having a great love for Mary, utilizing her intercession to fight temptation while encouraging others to do the same.* He once said, "Some people are so foolish that they think they can go through life without the help of the Blessed Mother. Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today. All graces given by God pass through the Blessed Mother." Padre Pio lived what he taught; he was described as always having his left hand in his pocket, fingering his Rosary beads as a constant prayer and reminder of her protection and presence. From him we can learn to turn to Mary for guidance and intercession.
Padre Pio no doubt understood that Mary was espoused to the Holy Spirit. At the Annunciation after she said, “Be it done unto me,” Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, resulting in the conception of Jesus within her womb. Thus, the Spirit became her true Spouse, enabling the Son of God to be fully human while remaining fully God. (This is not to trivialize or forget St. Joseph whose role was essential and impactful, obscure as he remains.) Furthermore, since Mary had such great intimacy with God, Satan fears her more than any other creature. This is because he knows she is mother of Jesus, spouse of the Holy Spirit, full of grace: Mary is the Immaculate One in whom there is no sin. In other words, the devil has no power over her and can never prevail over her. Everything she does leads to her Son, and the devil can never win that battle, try as he might. Perhaps this is why the evil one is so hell-bent on getting at us. Unlike Mary, we are vulnerable and therefore we need guidance and protection. She offers these to us through her prayerful intercession and also though her example.
To cast light on why Mary is a model spiritual guide, let us look to the wedding at Cana which reveals the gifts of wisdom and discernment which she possessed. (John 2:1-11) During the celebration Mary observed that the wine had run out, and stated this fact to Jesus, saying, “They have no wine.” While it was not an obvious request for Jesus to act, Mary wisely knew that this was the time for Jesus to reveal that He had the power of God. When she turned to the headwaiter with the instruction to do whatever Jesus told them, (despite Jesus asking her how her concern affected Him), it is clear that Jesus understood the deeper meaning of what she was actually indicating. Both of them knew that His actions would set Him on a road from which there was no turning back, and both knew that this was indeed the time for Him to begin. But Mary also understood that His compliance would cost each of them dearly as she had just encouraged Jesus to begin a ministry that would take Him from her. (Two notes here: First, we must remember that she was a widow with no other children and so she had just rendered herself completely vulnerable and lowly. Second, while she may have anticipated that His ministry could cause Him to suffer, she could not have known Jesus would end up on the cross; discernment is not about knowing things with certainty like a type of clairvoyance. Rather, it is about trusting God that what we are doing will head us in the direction He intends for us and for the greater good.)
Therefore, because Mary was able to guide Jesus as His mother, a gift developed through years of pondering many things within her heart, we see that she is someone to whom we, too, can turn for spiritual guidance. With her connection to both the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Mary’s intercession can be of assistance in making good choices. We can ask specifically for the gifts of wisdom and discernment, followed by the gift of trusting in God more completely. However, we also need to look to how she lived her daily life as one completely devoted to God, that is, how she lived as a true disciple of Jesus. Though there are few details, we can look to what is written of her in the gospels to see that she lived in a way that should inspire our growth in prayerfulness, patience, perseverance, generosity, humility, and acceptance of God’s desires for us. And perhaps she can also teach us to live as she did, in peace with the lack of certainty, even when it proved ‘costly’ to her. In other words, we can look to her example to inspire greater trust in God, completely and without reserve.
Our ultimate goal is to move closer to God as we journey through life, serving Him the best we can, and trying to do everything with love. While we have many resources to aid us on this journey, the best is always the Gospels which contain all that Jesus taught and demonstrated. But given that the journey is complicated and filled with potential traps, looking to saints such as Padre Pio is also important since they can teach us how to put the gospel into action as they did during their own lives. But the greatest of the saints is Mary and since no one is closer to Jesus than she is, her guidance should not be overlooked. Her motherly heart is full of grace, compassionate and loving, and yet she is also a formidable foe to the evil one. Therefore, with gratitude to God for so great a mother and spiritual guide, we should listen to her prompting when she says as at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”
May we have the courage to live the call to holiness, looking to the saints as our spiritual guides! May we seek the intercession of Mary, our Mother, letting her be our guide in wisdom and discernment! May we follow the example of St. Padre Pio in seeking Mary’s protection and intercession! May we spend time in prayer, reflecting upon the gospel message and how to apply it in our daily life! And may we grow in wisdom, discernment, grace, and love, trusting in the love of Jesus, following where He leads!
©Michele L. Catanese
Next post: October 7
* If you want to read more about St. Padre Pio, you can go to an earlier entry which highlighted him. It can be found at the following link: https://www.catanesesd.com/micheles-blog/i-reach-out-my-hand
1. My photo, Paris, France: I took this photo from the window of a hotel at which I was staying a number of years ago. Watching the traffic zoom in and out of the traffic circle from above was a fascinating experience. There seemed to be no rules and everyone seemed to be doing his or her own thing. I chose this for the opening image because it truly drove home (no pun intended) the importance of a map and of knowing what one is doing when trying to navigate a place one has never been before.
2. My photo, taken in Ireland, somewhere on the Dingle Peninsula: I like signs that have a humorous twist to them when taken out of context. In context this one was quite important, but it still struck me a bit funny at the time. It seemed a perfect image to convey what can happen if we follow the prompting of the evil one instead of using the road map of Scripture and our prayerful discernment.
3. This is a photo of St. Padre Pio that is widely circulated. I like it because he has a faint smile on his face, which seems to show compassion and love. It is one of my favorite photos of him, although I have no idea who the photographer may have been.
4. My photo, cropped and blurred, taken at an ordination: I chose this photo because of the action of the deacon pouring wine into the chalice as the gifts were being prepared during a Mass. The photo contains an optical illusion unless you look very closely. Look at the acolyte seen on the left: his folded hands are obscuring the wine in the decanter. If you do not look closely at his hands, it looks like water is being poured into the chalice, as if water is becoming wine. I assure you, it was wine going into that chalice. This photo seemed perfect as a symbol for the wedding at Cana referred to in the paragraph.
5. Icon, Our Lady of Grace Vladimir, by Fr. William Hart McNichols: I chose this icon because St. Padre Pio lived in a monastery in San Giovanni Rotando called Our Lady of Grace. As mentioned, he had a strong devotion to Mary. You can obtain a copy of this icon at the artist's website in one of many mediums. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/our-lady-of-grace-vladimir-002-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6.Oil painting, White Sails in Collioure by Achille Lauge (1928): I chose this painting because of the lighthouse. It seemed appropriate since lighthouses are beacons used to help ships either safely navigate dangerous waters or keep them from crashing into reef or shoreline. They are excellent symbols of the guidance we need to keep our spiritual life our off the rocks. You can find this painting at https://www.paintingstar.com/item-voiles-blanches-a-collioure-1928-s183838.html
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Heart Speaks to Heart