Of all the people who have influenced my life, I believe my maternal grandmother was the greatest. It was her faith in God, lived every day, which made the deepest impression. That she was a woman of prayer was evident; she did not hesitate to speak of her faith, though she never preached. While she was in constant pain from arthritis, she laughed a great deal. She had suffered much in her youth, losing her mother in a fire, followed by a cruel stepmother who also died, and then another stepmother, but I do not remember her ever bemoaning those events. I believe that my grandmother was quite holy, though like all people, not perfect. Although she only had a third grade education, the wisdom which flowed from her faith and love of God, habit of prayer, enormous generosity to everyone, and the way she lived the teachings of Jesus, all had profound impact upon my life. She had a heart filled to overflowing with the love which united her to Jesus through Mary. I came to realize that she had immersed herself in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Another great influence upon my life was that of Harvey Bankston, whose name might have been Hardy, but who eventually invited me to call him “Pop.” In short, his father was a freed slave who had lived in Virginia where Pop was born. I was a 25 year old religious Sister when I met Pop; he was 99. That first day he was hand mowing his yard in the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer. As I was visiting with his wife Clementine, (Mum), Pop came in, changed his shirt, poured some homemade whiskey into a small glass and offered me some. I told him no thank you, and his response was: “A gentleman always offers a lady something to drink.” This dialogue became a daily ritual. I was smitten the first time he said it. There is much I could recount, but the two things that stood out most were his faith and his love. Pop taught me more (and more accurately) than any book or history course about what it was like “being black in a white man’s world.” (Pop’s words) There was no rancor; as he said, “it just was.” But when the man prayed, oh my, when he prayed! Pop was always soft spoken and gentle, but his love for God was so evident, it moved my heart tremendously. It was as if he had given me something to drink; not liquid, but rather Love from the Heart of Jesus.*
In June we celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, respectively. They are not holy days of obligation, but we celebrate them for a reason. The Church is not only encouraging us to praise and worship God, and to honor Mary for her role in salvation history, but it is reminding us that we can enter into a deeply loving relationship with God. That is, the love and example of Jesus and Mary should be great influences upon how we live, just as those who stand out in our memories as good and holy people also molded us in some way. And although our hearts cannot be sacred as Jesus’ Heart is sacred (because He is both God and man) and our hearts cannot be immaculate as Mary’s heart is immaculate (because she was conceived without sin), these hearts can and should influence us. In other words, our hearts can be sanctified by inviting the sacred to reside there; similarly our hearts can be purified through prayer and grace. It is because we are not perfect that we need to turn to the hearts of Jesus and Mary and let them be a refuge and a fountain of love from which we can drink. These hearts teach us to reflect or ponder prayerfully, to trust God, to forgive ourselves and others, to be humble, to have mercy, to let go of prejudice and fear, to find courage to live justly, to value all life, to be a peacemaker, and to always point others to God through our word and deed. These hearts also know what it is to suffer, and so they comfort us when we need their help.
It would be good to take time to reflect with gratitude upon the good and holy people who have positively influenced our lives by offering us something spiritual to drink. Perhaps after reflecting upon our experiences of them, we can share these stories with family, especially in the light of faith. But we should also reflect upon how we have let Jesus and Mary influence us, and perhaps grow in how we let their influence shape our lives. Then we can reflect upon the type of influence we have been or want to be upon others. This is a form of evangelization because what we say and do in living the gospel is a way of exposing others to God’s care and love. If we try to do everything with love, there is no doubt we will be affecting others, inspiring them to come to know the Lord, too. Love is a form of evangelization. Even the smallest gesture of care can change a life forever, whether we ever come to know it or not. This is what it means to enter into the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary: it is about becoming a conduit of their love from which others can drink, too.
May we enter into the Hearts of Jesus and Mary! May our words and deeds have a positive effect upon others, signs of love which enrich and bless! May we reflect upon the Scriptures, the lives of the holy ones and of those who led us to drink of Love, that we might emulate them! Let us meet in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*If you want a bit more on Mum and Pop go to my Archives from July 2013 when I first wrote about them. The entry was called “Falling in Love.” My Archives contain everything I have ever posted from 2013 through the present and are always available for reading or re-visiting. You can find the links on the right side of this page arranged by year and month. For now, here is the direct link: https://www.catanesesd.com/micheles-blog/falling-in-love
1. My photo, glowing trees in a vineyard, taken near Schulenburg, TX. This photo represents the glow of holiness, and also that the fruit of the vine becomes the Blood of Christ at Mass, of which we can drink.
2. Painting, Farmhouse by Vincent van Gogh. This seems to depict the simplicity of Mum and Pop's farm house, but also that of their beautiful hearts.
3. My photo: statues of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They belonged to my mother, given to her by a close friend. They were blessed by St. Padre Pio!
4. Painting, Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah by Marc Chagall. This spoke to me of the influence of family and of shared love, too.
5. Icon, Mother of God, Life Giving Spring by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I loved all the images in this icon of water offered to slake thirst, especially for the suffering or ill. Perhaps it is timely to pray with this icon given our struggles with the coronavirus at this time. If you wish to obtain a copy in any medium you can purchase one at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-god-life-giving-spring-179-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