Difficult as it is to imagine, Holy Week is beginning to come into view. But lest we be tempted to rush things, we need to remember that we are still in the midst of the journey and that there is value in the process. But five weeks into this, we might be tiring a little. Perhaps to avoid losing our bearing and focus we can find a way to keep our efforts in proper context. To do this, let us recall that we began Lent by hearing it referred to as a joyful season. We know it is joyful because of the graces offered to us and because the events we reflect upon do not end in death, but rather in Jesus overcoming death through His resurrection. We are hoping to grow in understanding of His great gift to us, and in how we might become better in our discipleship, which is another way of saying we hope to grow in holiness. If we can remember to keep our focus in this context, then we will not be overwhelmed by the process, nor will we fall to the other end of the spectrum and become lax in our attempts at penance, prayer, and works. If we can strike a balance in remembering where we are going and why we are doing it, our eyes will remain clear, so that perhaps along the way we may see the most wonderful things.
In these weeks we have had many opportunities to reflect upon the actions and teachings of Jesus revealed through the Scriptures, that we might grow in understanding of the great gifts we are being continually offered. If we really enter into these passages, particularly the gospels, we will open our spiritual eyes to the most wonderful acts of God’s mercy and love. Knowing what Jesus offers through the witness of these gospels we have been encouraged to participate in Reconciliation, the process of having the sorrow caused by our sin changed to freedom, joy, and renewed life. This, too, is a wonderful opportunity to open our eyes in new vision. All of these things enable us to step back and see what beauty there is in the gentle mercy of God which has been extended to us, and which continues to be extended as we move into this latter part of Lent. Therefore, we have the vantage point to reflect back upon our experience of these past 5 weeks to see the hand of God which we may not have noticed so far, so that we may look forward to the last weeks of the season with eyes more acclimated to the path. Grace allows us to see wonderful things.
The inspiration for this viewpoint comes from a saint, Dominic Savio, who had a feast day recently. Though I have been to his tomb in Turin, he never grabbed my attention as much as during this past week. Dominic is one of those saints who died very young, at the age of 14. But his contribution to those with whom he lived, his sincere caring about the welfare of others, and his deep devotion to Jesus and Mary are quite obvious when one looks closely at his short life. He was gifted with the ability to see things in a unique way, but in his innocence he thought that everyone had the type of vision and experience which he had, leading him to a bit of suffering through the misunderstanding that arose because of it. Despite the occasional misunderstanding of his peers, he managed to see truth and mercy in the midst of their youthful conflicts, helping to be a peacemaker with the intention of keeping them from offending God. Because he had the eyes to see, he had the compassion to help other boys who were suffering; he always gave attention to those who he observed to be the most neglected.
St. Dominic Savio was born in 1842 in a small town in northern Italy. Having always possessed the gift of piety, at age 12 he was sent to the Oratory, a school for boys in Turin run by another great saint, John Bosco. While there, in addition to his talent for peacemaking, Dominic was known for great devotion to God and intense prayer that sometimes included ecstasies which he tried to hide from the other boys for fear they would laugh at him. (Remember, he was in many ways an ordinary teenager.) Because they perceived Dominic to be ‘different’, the other boys sometimes did not understand when he would have what he called a distraction, a vision which came during prayer. Once, when accused of something done by another student, he remained silent and took the blame until eventually the truth was made known. Though he sometimes corrected the other young men, at the risk of coming across as being self-righteous, his aim was to change the ways of those engaged in bullying so that they would not offend God, and also to protect their victims. His desire to grow in holiness was so powerful that he took on some mortifications and penances. But when this came to the attention of St. John Bosco, he made Dominic stop because he saw that these were not healthy spiritual behaviors. Dominic was obedient and immediately ceased. St. John apparently was a wonderful mentor: according to one source he showed Dominic “the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense.” * Dominic must have been a good pupil, because eventually the other boys came to respect his leadership. Unfortunately, he came down with tuberculosis and was sent home with the intention that he would recover better there. Due to some truly misguided, but well intentioned treatments, he weakened instead of healing, and died in 1857 just before his 15th birthday. Said in the presence of his father, his last words were, “I am seeing the most wonderful things!”
Dominic’s struggle with being misunderstood did not end when he died, however. When talk of canonizing him arose, many felt that his life had been too short to consider him worthy of being named a saint. Obviously that argument did not hold up, because after a number of years he was indeed canonized. But it is this point which is most compelling about the life of St. Dominic: it does not matter how short or long our lives are, we all have the potential to grow in sanctity and in fact, each person is called to it. It does not matter if we are poor or rich, old or young, practicing Christians all our lives or converts to the faith. Every one of us should be as Dominic, living “the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense.”
It is not necessary to have ecstatic visions like Dominic, but we can have the eyes to see. That he saw “the most wonderful things” at his death is because he was able to see them while alive. What this means for us is that we need to allow our eyes to be opened that we might see the wonders which God has done and is doing all around us. That is what the journey of Lent offers us. Every prayer we utter, turning our attention to God, is an opportunity to see the wonderful things God does. Every time we are forgiven, forgive others, recognize a grace received, or fall short and realize that we can try again, is an opportunity to see the wonders of God’s love. Every act of love, every time we feel lonely and then realize we are not alone, or when we reach out to a person to heal our loneliness and theirs; every time we see beauty in nature or within ourselves, are moved by a Scripture, are moved by the love of a friend: all of these are an invitation into new vision. Even in the midst of suffering or the depths of near despair when we feel the presence of Jesus the least, the faith, hope, and love we have received can be enough to help us to take one more breath, one more step, and feel one more beat of our heart in tune with His. This is why Jesus died and rose for us. Therefore, let us not forget to keep our Lenten practices in the context of Easter, so that like St. Dominic Savio, we keep our eyes on that which is most important. Let us ask God to help us to see what might not be immediately obvious, so we might experience joy on our Lenten journey, and that we might say along with Dominic: “I am seeing the most wonderful things!”
May we ask God for the eyes to see that which is not immediately obvious in the hopes of gaining a new sense of His presence! May we begin to see the potential beauty all around us, that we may see wonderful things! May we have the perseverance to be where we are rather than to become distracted by what is ahead! May we ask for the intercession of St. Dominic Savio that all who are bullies may become peacemakers instead! May we seek out the gifts of ‘the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense’! And may we continue to find Jesus Christ on the journey to Jerusalem with us that we may be prepared for Holy Week when it arrives! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* I got this quote from a very informative site on St. Dominic Savio, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominic_Savio, (note 57, from EWTN)
I also used two other sources: The One Year Book of Saints by Rev. Clifford Stevens, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1989, 2002; and http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1318
The first photo is one of mine. It is the close up of some bluebonnet flowers. I chose this because bluebonnet season is almost upon us in Texas and while we are quite proud of the natural beauty of the fields of bluebonnets which will be in bloom soon, this photo challenges us to look more closely at what actually makes up the sea of blue visible from afar.
Next is an icon called St. Dominic Savio Patron of Juvenile Delinquents, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-dominic-savio-patron-of-juvenile-delinquents-130-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The remaining photos are also mine. The one appearing after the icon is of the tomb of St. Dominic Savio in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians, in Turin, Italy.
Next is a scene I took in while walking in the woods behind the Cenacle Retreat House in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY. It speaks of finding God unexpectedly in the midst of an ordinary snowy day. God is in the midst of beauty always.
The final photo was taken in Biloxi, Mississippi. I chose this picture because as before, it fit with finding something not immediately obvious upon first glance: it seems like multiple suns are setting, but the reality is there is one sun, refracted because I was taking this photo through a plate glass window. If we are patient and attentive we can see beyond what we assume is there, only to find a deeper reality.
Heart Speaks to Heart