I always dreamed of being a mother. As the youngest of nine children (six sisters and two brothers), marriage and family was all around me. I was an aunt at the age of two and a half- before my first memory. Being around children was a huge part of my life. What little girl doesn’t play “house” and carry around a little baby doll at some point in her life? I saw our family grow with each new little baby and it brought joy to my heart. I saw my sisters getting married and having children and knew that that’s exactly what I wanted to do, too. It never occurred to me that one day I would choose a life of celibacy… but that’s exactly what I did.
Earlier this year, I became a Consecrated Virgin living in the world. Most people, including most Catholics, have no idea what that is and to be honest, up until six years ago, neither did I. Consecrated Virginity is a vocation within the Catholic Church where women who have consistently lived a life of virginity, become forever espoused to Christ. The fruitfulness of this spousal relationship with Christ, as with most spousal relationships, is children… in this case, spiritual children.
On my journey toward discerning consecrated life, Jesus gave me the gift of experiencing spiritual motherhood. He brought a young man into my life who needed a mother; he needed a mother to be present in his life, to care for him, to pray for him, to listen, and to open her heart to receive him into her life. Spiritual motherhood is a life-giving receptivity of another. Through God’s grace, I opened my heart to welcome this young man into my life. Not only did this receptivity bring a deep understanding of my call to motherhood, planted in my femininity, but it also brought life to him. He was received and loved as a son.
My spiritual motherhood for him wasn’t something I planned. It was a gift that was given to me from the Lord. The Lord showed me the gift of motherhood He imprinted in my femininity and He desired me to share with others. He brought me closer to Our Lady, His mother, to show me the perfect model of spiritual motherhood. She is the mother of all humanity. She gives her maternal heart to each person and loves us with her feminine, motherly heart. She spiritually takes us into her womb and gives birth to us. She nurtures us. She prays for us. She fiercely defends and protects us. She loves us as her own. Our Lady taught me how to be a spiritual mother, to love someone not born of my womb, but nurtured in my heart.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD (St. Edith Stein) helps women to understand the deep calling, within each of us, to motherhood and Our Lady’s guidance in living it. “The intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul. For an understanding of our unique feminine nature, let us look to the pure love and spiritual maternity of Mary. This spiritual maternity is the core of a woman’s soul. Wherever a woman functions authentically in this spirit of maternal pure love, Mary collaborates with her. This holds true whether the woman is married or single, professional or domestic or both, a Religious in the world or in the convent. Through this love, a woman is God’s special weapon in His fight against evil. Her intrinsic value is that she is able to do so because she has a special susceptibility for the works of God in souls — her own and others. She relates to others in His spirit of love.” (St. Edith Stein, Essays on Woman, 259.)
Our Lady has brought many young men and women into my life upon whom she encourages me to pour out my spiritual motherhood and it is such a gift! I used to believe that spiritual motherhood was “less than” biological motherhood, almost as if it were the “second prize” of motherhood, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Through experiencing the gift of motherhood through my feminine heart, I experience a heart that fiercely loves. Without a doubt, I would give my life for any of my spiritual children. In fact, I give my life to them each day through my intercessory prayer. We all know the gift, beauty, and power of Our Lady’s intercession for us, her children. There is a deep desire in my heart to offer sacrifice and love for my spiritual children each day. Our Lady helps me to offer my pain, suffering, joys, and graces for the conversion and protection of my spiritual children. Living out my spiritual motherhood in this way, helps me to more authentically live out my feminine call to be a gift of self and to receive others into my heart.
The desire I had as a little girl to be a mother was the desire I needed to be a spiritual mother and is fulfilled in each young man or woman I open my feminine heart to love and nourish through my prayer and availability to them. I am forever grateful for these young men and women who have sought my spiritual motherhood and who have opened their hearts to receive me, as well. As women, we are all called to spiritual motherhood, whether we are already biological mothers, or religious, single, or married. Motherhood is beautifully stamped in our feminine hearts and bodies. The more authentically we live out our femininity, the more we are called to live the gift and beauty of motherhood.
Our Lady, Our Spiritual Mother, pray for us.
For more information on the Theology of the Body Institute, visit their website: http://tobinstitute.org/
Resources on Spiritual Motherhood
• “Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization” by Kathleen Beckman (Sophia Institute Press, 2014)
• “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity” by the Congregation for the Clergy (2007)
• “Essays on Woman” by St. Edith Stein
• “Mulieris Dignitatuem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” by Pope Saint John Paul II (1988)
• “Under the Gaze of the Father” by Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Amida and Archbishop Luis M. Martinez (Alba House, 2011)
• “When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer” by Kathleen Beckman, L.H.S. (Sophia Institute Press, 2017).
“Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Complete and utter surrender. In this image, these words seem to describe the attitude of Mary as she receives the gift of Jesus into her life and body. Here is a woman portrayed as so open and receptive, it seems as though there is nothing stopping her from receiving the love of God.
This surrender holds nothing back…what happens? A human being is made flesh within such a woman. And her life is forever changed.
Such surrender has major risks. Mary could be judged as an adulteress. Joseph could leave her. But, in this uncertainty, she knew the One who was confronting her with a decision, and she trusted Him.
When I reflect on my life, often I like to say I surrender to God, only to realize there is always that one thing I feel I can’t surrender to him. I tell him I surrender my vocation, only to find that I tell Him the way I want to find it. I give Him my family life, only to worry about how I can solve their problems.
It is as though I hold onto that one thing to keep control. Yes, I can give God “everything else,” but there has to be one thing, just one, which makes me feel in control.
It is scary to let go of everything. It means that things can happen to us that we did not want or plan. That can be extremely difficult. But, holding onto this false security only is an illusion. It makes us think that we are actually in charge of our lives, when the reality is that everything is a gift. And these gifts come from the hand of a Father who loves us even more than we love ourselves.
This image shows us the beauty of surrender. Yes, it is unbelievably scary. But look at this image: the Son of God became flesh in surrender; joy and peace came from surrender; beauty and love came forth from an act of complete surrender. This can be the same for us.
The plan of the Incarnation was not Mary’s own; but it was more beautiful than anything she could have intended. Yes, it was messy. Yes, it was painful. But, it definitely was beautiful. Death and separation from God became the vehicle for the utmost action of His Love…all through an action of complete surrender.
Pondering this image, ask the Lord, “What is holding me back from complete surrender?” This area shows where you lack trust in God. In this, ask Mary to give you her faith, which knew that her Father would only allow what was truly good for her. In this area of your life, ponder the Incarnation and its beauty. Such an action can lead us to a similar act of surrender.
May we all, like Mary, receive, conceive, and bear forth Christ in the world!
The image, "Our Lady of the Millennium" can be found at http://cardinalsblog.adw.org/2013/08/mary-star-of-evangelization/
Last spring, I found myself back in the United States after a summer spent chaperoning a trip to Poland for World Youth Day, immediately followed by a crazy fall semester studying abroad in Italy. I realized mid-February that for about six or seven months, I hadn’t spent more than three weeks in the same bed. I was constantly on the move, experiencing new things, meeting new people, and living as a local in a foreign country.
Yet through the craziness and busy-iness, and all the moving around, the only word I can use to describe my experience is SIMPLE.
You see posts everywhere about simplicity: “10 Ways to Simplify Your Life," “Simplify Your Home," or “Simplify Your Schedule," the list goes on…everyone seems to be trying to simplify everything. All these posts and articles seem to point to one thing: that simplicity means having everything in place. Everything is perfect, there’s no messy-ness, no clutter, no mess-ups.
But what I learned last year is a different aspect of the simple life: simple life in Christ. Don’t get me wrong, Christ is awesome and mighty and SO BIG we can’t even wrap our brains around Him. Yet, life with Him is simple because as a friend of mine pointed out to me, He is CONSTANT. It’s not that He takes away the messy-ness of our lives, but instead He orders it by becoming a priority in our lives…and then everything else falls into place.
When I look back on the crazy school year I just experienced, I realize there was only One thing, One Person who was the same, no matter what country I was in, or what language I was hearing out loud at Mass. Through all the movement and change, He was Constant, and because He was, life was simple.
When I came home for the spring semester, I realized I needed something radical to make me understand this truth and luckily Christ sent me a bunch of beautiful friends, some old, some very new, who challenged me to radically strive for sanctity through simplicity.
These men and women and I gave up almost as many pleasures as you can think of for 90 days (snacking, sweets, unnecessary shopping, drinking, overeating, social media, TV, secular music, etc.) and dedicated much of our days to times in prayer, not because we are great saints, but because we desire to be and we needed a re-ordering of our lives to set us back on track. It was hard, it was messy, it was time-consuming, overwhelming and sometimes stressful to accomplish everything in one day, and yet, it was simple.
Yes, life was simple because so many distractions were taken away, but it was especially simple because we replaced those distractions with Christ. I guess what I’ve learned most of all is when you put Christ at the upmost center of your life, you’ll want to simplify everything else because all of a sudden nothing else matters except following Him.
When Christ became the center of our lives, life became more beautiful. Our friendships became more beautiful; our ability to live as true women of Christ became more beautiful. I think of Our Lady, and how since Christ was the absolute center of her life, she was able to be authentically feminine because her life was in order. In the same way, we were able to order our priorities and truly live our feminine geniuses because we were simply ourselves: young women striving for holiness.
Radically striving for sanctity is possible for all of us, we just have to jump in and trust the Lord will bring us the means, the support, the strength, and the joy to do so
"Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” -Letter to Women, 2
Authenticity. It is something we admire in others, and yet, it can be so hard to model for ourselves. Sensitivity. It brings people closer together, but it can also be seen as a point of weakness. But, in this line by our late Holy Father, we are actually encouraged as women in our sensitivity and authenticity. Why?
We live in a culture which cultivates anything but a genuine showing of ourselves- of making ourselves truly known. Photo filters remove every flaw in our skin for that profile picture, social media bombards us with what everyone else is doing, and often, our newsfeed tempts us to think of what we lack.
It is not that these things are bad at all…In fact, there is an immense beauty of that we can do with social media and photography. But amidst this, we can see an abuse of such goods. The environment in which we live can convince us that everyone has their lives together and that we are meant for complete happiness in this life. It can convince us that we are lovable only when we are happy, self sufficient, and strong.
I currently am writing this blog post in Belize, in the heart of a village which has spoken the message of authenticity to my heart. For a few weeks, I have been teaching here on mission in a little village called Benque Viejo. The journey has been quite different than expected, as has been a walk on the way of authenticity for me.
Half my life, I dreamed of going on mission. I was inspired by Mother Teresa as a child, and wanted to help others in need. And the reality has been far from what I expected. I came to help people with my own “strength,” only to find that I am very weak. I have found that, while I thought my heart was open, it actually has been full of barriers; I have grasped onto many material possessions in order to try and find my identity in things other than God.
Amidst all this, something has struck me and brought down barriers in my heart. The people here are so genuine and open to receiving the other. They are direct and ask questions that get to the heart. And, many times since being here, I have witnessed a joyous smile, and a moment later heard about a tragedy from the same person. It has been through such people that I have encountered Christ in a tangible way.
Life is not “perfect,” and yet it still holds its joys. By sharing their stories, these people have shared their lives. They have opened their hearts and homes to a visitor like myself, making me feel more welcome than I have felt anywhere else. It seems as though the vulnerability of their lives has propelled them to be more open and welcoming to receiving the gift of the other.
When we think of the deepest outpouring of God's love for us, what comes to mind? The Cross. It is on the cross that Jesus was vulnerable. In such vulnerability, He was exposing himself to others in his weakness, making that a gift of love. He took a risk, knowing He could be rejected, and yet, still made a gift of Himself. It is in such an act of showing our true selves, in both joys and sorrows, that true love is born.
Authenticity. I have found that, yes, it is painful. It is hard to allow yourself to be seen and truly known. Doing so is taking a risk…It is taking a leap of faith that you might be rejected by those around you who do not fully embrace who you are. And yet, it is one of the most beautiful and attractive qualities one can possess. Authenticity - feeling both the joys and sorrows of life to the depths - enables one to embrace life to the fullest. It enables one to be loved as one truly is, and to give back in love to others.
Yes, our sensitivity as women can be seen as a burden in today’s society. And yet, the world needs us and this gift. The world needs the woman who feels things deeply and is there to listen to her best friend. It needs the mother who notices the joy her son finds in art, and encourages the unfolding of his talents. It needs the businesswoman who shares her feelings on how a new company change will affect the employees on a personal level. The gift of our sensitivity can change the world. It can be a gift that, as the Holy Father stated, “makes relationships more honest and authentic.”
By cultivating those authentic and real relationships around us, we can encourage others to see the person. We can encourage genuine love of others as they reveal their true selves, hoping to be seen and loved. And in that, we can love them and be with them with our compassionate hearts. Our sensitivity can encourage love in today’s world. So the real question remains, Where can you gift the world with your sensitivity and authenticity?
“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27)
Darkness, Light. Doubt, Faith. Death, Life. Our faith is full of paradoxes, and where there is a lack, we often see the birth of the opposite.
In this painting called “The Resurrection of Lazarus” by Leon Bonnat, we see faith in an utterly hopeless situation. This faith is exemplified most especially by two women whose feasts we just celebrated. In this image, Mary and Martha are at the feet of Christ, witnessing a miracle before their eyes. Instead of terror and fear, we see serenity in their face. We see a gentleness and awe in their appearance. These women are beholding in physical form the invisible reality of their faith.
In the midst of the two sisters, Jesus stands, firm and unwavering. His power, though not physically seen, is shown by his posture. With outstretched arms, it seems as though the life is coming out from Him. And Lazarus, whose lifeless body was in the darkness of a cave for four days, emerges in hints of light, still covered in his burial cloths. A life which was lost has been found again…All due to the faith of simple women who reached out to Christ in a time of need.
We often hear of Martha as the woman who was filled with worry (Luke 10::38-42). Yet, in this passage of Scripture, we see a woman with her weaknesses placing her entire self at the disposal of the Lord. Her sensitive heart, overwhelmed with grief at the loss of her brother, shows its true strength amidst one of the darkest moments of her life.
While this image doesn’t show us the darkness surrounding Lazarus’ death, we can probably imagine what Martha experienced. For four days, she probably went through the stages of grief and wondered how her life would move on after the loss of a loved one.
But, in this, she had the strength to run to the Lord and to proclaim her faith in Him. In John’s Gospel, we read that when Jesus was approaching the village, Martha did not wait for Jesus to come…She ran up to him. Her act of faith was persistent, as she claimed, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died." and later said, “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22). In this moment, Martha not only believed that Jesus was a healer, but she also proclaimed who He is…She saw with the eyes of faith. She knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and so, would have power to raise her brother from the dead if He willed. She got to the core of Christ’s identity by her faith.
Faith. It is something so powerful that it can bring someone back to life. Often, certain passages of Scripture can be so common to us that we often forget their significance. But, meditate on this image and Scripture passage again…A man, who was dead for four days, and as Scripture mentions, was stinking (John 11:39) was brought back to life! Something utterly impossible happened right before the eyes of numerous witnesses…All due to the faith of two women.
As you ponder this image, place yourself in the position of Martha or Mary. What is your Lazarus, dead in the tomb? What is that one thing which is dead in your heart? Is it a certain decision you made that you regret? A feeling of helplessness as you struggle with spiritual desolation? Or that one sin that you committed which you feel you can never let go of? Like Lazarus, Jesus wants to raise this from the dead. He comes into your life, as he came to the house of Martha and Mary, asking you for a reply.
Like in the situation of Lazarus, Jesus tells you, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it" (John 11:4). He awaits your faith; such an act of faith will bring an even greater glory out of something which seems like an evil to us.
Like Martha and Mary, let us give Jesus those areas of our hearts which seem dead and hopeless. Let us see with the eyes of faith, and place our hope in Him who is more powerful than us. Let us surrender ourselves to Him, knowing that as He raised Lazarus, He will bring glory out of all things.
The image of "The Resurrection of Lazarus" by Leon Bonnat can be found at https://www.wikiart.org/en/leon-bonnat/the-resurrection-of-lazarus
Recently, I came across a book by Alice Von Hildebrand titled, The Privilege of Being a Woman. While I have not read this book, the title carried to me an important reminder: it is a gift to be a woman. So often, our culture tells us that we, as women, are oppressed…But in reality, we are privileged! When viewed at from this lens, one’s entire perspective changes. One of these privileges given to us by God is the ability to be receptive. Women not only have the capacity to receive life within their womb, but also within their heart. Each person we encounter gives us the opportunity to exercise our feminine capacity to receive the other.
Pope Saint John Paul II in his papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, beautifully stated:
"We need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a ‘wonder’ (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death's door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity." (Evangelium Vitae, 83)
In each person, there is a facet of Christ. Every person is a unique and irreplaceable creation of God. If we allow it, we can open ourselves up to recognizing Christ in each person and discovering His qualities in them. There are many things that we can learn from others if we only open ourselves up to them. However, many times we fail to come out of ourselves and our own concerns in order to receive the gift of the other. When we do this, we miss out on receiving the gift God wants to give us through those around us. In addition to this, we miss out on the opportunity to serve others in their needs.
Mother Teresa constantly sought out “Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” She desired that all people recognize the presence of Christ in the poor; for when they serve the poor, they are serving Christ. Mother Teresa embodied this message and is a powerful intercessor for those of us who desire to see the face of Christ in each and every person.
It is so easy in today’s world to go about our busy lives constantly thinking about what I have to do next instead of taking in the gifts of the present. Do I take time to pause and reflect on where God is around me? Am I constantly on my phone while I am walking down the street or am I looking ahead to see whom I can greet? Am I always talking about what I want to talk about or do I listen to what others want to say?
It is not easy to always be open to the gift of the other. In some instances, it is difficult to see a person as a gift. Sometimes, it is much easier to see their faults instead of the gifts and virtues they possess.
This reminds me of an encounter I had with a homeless man and woman. They were sitting outside a store with blankets over their legs trying to keep warm. From the exterior, these individuals looked extremely rough. They both had strange piercings and tattoos. The man even had a profane word tattooed onto his knuckles. At first I felt very hesitant and uncomfortable when speaking with them, but after listening to them tell their stories, I realized that they were human beings with real emotions just like me. Their hard exterior began to melt away as I began to see them for who they really were and empathize with their sufferings. These individuals touched my heart and made me more open to seeing Christ in others.
Let us pray for the eyes of faith so that we may see each individual as Christ sees them. When you cultivate such an attitude of heart, you will be amazed at whom God puts in your life and what these individuals can teach you. May we never forget how privileged we are to be women of God; women who have the beautiful capacity to receive others into our hearts. May we use this gift of our femininity to serve the Church and those around us.
St. John Paul II, pray for us.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.
"The man said, 'The woman whom you gave to be with me,
she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate.'
Then the LORD God said to the woman, 'What is this that you have done?' The woman said, 'The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.'" (Genesis 3: 12-13)
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-50)
Grasping. Receiving. As we read the accounts of Eve and Mary in Scripture and reflect on this image, these two words come to mind.
The reality of grasping and receiving is shown beautifully in this image called Mary and Eve by Sister Grace Remington. Looking to Eve, we see a belief we can all relate to, a belief that “God is withholding something from me.” We have all been there…Whether it is the job you have striven for all your life and just can’t seem to get, the vocation you have wanted for so long, the relationship you want to work out and are trying to manipulate, or even just in areas in which you try to plan out your life.
In this encounter of Eve and Mary, there is a consistent theme: both women were created for love and relationship with Love Himself. Both women had great desires for communion and love. In this desire for love, Eve chose something which was a delight to her for a time, but not intended for her. She did not trust the Giver of Gifts, indeed Gift Himself. In belief that God was withholding something good from her, she felt she needed to be “like God,” and take power into her own hands in order to strive for that good. And in such an action, she was rejecting her Father, who alone could satisfy that longing.
One way led to death for all mankind, and the other lead to life. And in our lives, it is the same. A thing which is “delightful to the eyes,” like the fruit of the tree of knowledge, can be so beautiful and something we want to possess with all our being, and yet, it is not truly what is good for us. The goods which we want to cling to with all our being can be idols in our lives. They are something good and beautiful, and yet, we can put them in the place of God- choosing to forgo God in order to reach that good.
But in this image, there is a hope, joy, and peace. Amidst this fault, the “O happy fault” the Easter Vigil proclaims, The Savior enters in. Amidst the taking of the forbidden fruit, there is another fruit- the fruit of the Mary’s womb.
With the taking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, death entered into the world, but with the receiving of a woman, life came. Mary trusted in God and allowed herself to be who she was called to be. In this receiving of the Father’s gifts, it probably looked completely different than what she planned, and yet, it was in such an act of love that God became man within her. Her trust was the vehicle by which she bore God to the world. And in such trust, Mary’s life turned out even better than she could have imagined.
Reflecting on this image, place yourself in Eve’s place. Ask the Lord, “What is the thing in my life which I am grasping after, like the fruit of the tree, which You do not seem to be giving me?” This is holy ground…This is where He wants to enter, and He has a plan for you in it.
In the areas of our lives in which we feel we cannot let go of what we want, and feel we need to strive to attain a good, let us be like Eve in this image. In this image, Eve is still grasping onto the fruit of the tree. In such an act, she is bound up in the lies of the enemy, and is looking down and blushing with shame. She is real in who she is- she is weak and, yes, still longs for that fruit she is grasping onto. But in this, Mary is reaching out to her daughter, guiding her hand to the fruit of her womb. In those areas of your life where you see such a false idol, Mary will guide you to the fruit of her womb. She will lead you to receive the gift being given to you- God Himself. God will bring redemption and salvation out of the thing that you are clinging to if you let Him.
As we meditate on this image this week, and try to live it out in your own life, let us reflect on these words of St. John Paul II:
“In the Magnificat the Church sees uprooted that sin which is found at the outset of the earthly history of man and woman, the sin of disbelief and of 'little faith' in God. In contrast with the 'suspicion' which the 'father of lies' sowed in the heart of Eve the first woman, Mary, whom tradition is wont to call the 'new Eve' and the true 'Mother of the living,' boldly proclaims the undimmed truth about God: the holy and almighty God, who from the beginning is the source of all gifts, he who 'has done great things' in her, as well as in the whole universe… Mary is the first witness of this marvelous truth, which will be fully accomplished through 'the works and words' (cf. Acts 1:1) of her Son and definitively through his Cross and Resurrection. (Redemptoris Mater, 37)
In May 2016, women all throughout the country attended GIVEN, a forum which was a week-long immersion in faith formation, and a deeper understanding of the unique gift of what it means to be a woman in the Church. And I was blessed to be able to attend such a gathering, with the hopes that God would speak to my own heart. Part of the acceptance into the Forum was that we would implement an “action plan,” or a way to live out our gifts in the Church. And now, Behold, and this reflection in particular, are fruits of that conference.
Celebrating one year since GIVEN, I cannot even express into words what its graces have been in my life and in those around me. Praying in small groups through Visio Divina with other women on a journey to find God and themselves in such prayer has been a gift beyond measure. And I am excited to continue to receive all that God has in store for Behold ! May we all be like Mary, the woman par excellence, who was the most pure model of trust in God, and receive the gifts He is giving us!
For more information on GIVEN, please visit http://www.givenforum.org/
(The image of "Mary and Eve" by Sister Grace Remington can be found at the following website: http://www.monasterycandy.com/Detail?prod=99)
“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter… he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk 22:61-62). A simple look often carries much more power than words. After Peter’s third denial, Christ looks at Peter. Christ’s glance here was enough to break through Peter’s fearful heart. At that moment, Peter recognizes his brokenness and turns back to our Lord. This Gospel passage evokes wonder and awe at the power of a look, particularly the look of Christ. What are the implications of Christ’s gaze upon us?
The image of the Christ Child depicted above offers insight into this question. Blessed Fra Angelico painted this fresco of Our Lady, Christ, and several saints, in the hallway of his Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence. One’s eyes are immediately drawn to the center, to the Christ Child. What distinguishes this fresco from so many paintings of Christ, is the Child’s eyes: His gaze is fixed on us, the bystanders.
In this image, His gaze pierces our hearts and speaks “I love you”. His full attention, of which we have so little in society today, touches the depths of our being. While we converse with another person, there is nothing more assuring than to have that person give us full attention by looking us in the eye while we talk. It reassures us of our dignity; it tells us that they care about us and what we have to say. Christ’s attention to us in this fresco emphasizes our dignity and importance; the only fitting reaction is a response of love. The heart is stirred to leave all behind and enter into His gaze.
The look of Christ echoes his words in the Gospel “Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). The Child lifts his hand to give us his blessing, while holding the world in his other hand. We can rest, knowing that He is in control. However, not only does he offer consolation, but he also further challenges us to rise. His look is both comforting and demanding. He beckons us to follow. Pope Francis reminds us of this challenge as he states “He always looks at us with love. He asks us something, he forgives us and he gives us a mission” (Homily, May 22, 2015). Only the gaze of Christ can pierce the depths of our hearts so deeply as to call us forth on a mission.
After the bystander is drawn to Christ’s loving look, he will quickly notice that Christ is not alone. He rests in Our Lady’s lap; His throne is Mary. Her large blue cloak, a mantle of protection, encompasses him. The dark blue brings to mind a sea of love and mercy to which we are each invited. She places her hand on her chest as a sign of surrender and resignation to the child, to whom we also must yield. Furthermore, Christ confidently looks forward. He knows Mary is there, He does not need to look back at her to check- there is no doubt of her presence. He continues to stare forward, waiting for us. Similarly, we must always trust Mary’s guidance; we can be assured that her motherly protection is always guiding us. We can place ourselves in Mary’s lap too, in her mantle and rest in her embrace. Often we turn around and question her or even Christ’s presence, but she wants us to look forward, like the Child, and welcome others by our loving gaze.
Pope Francis further reflects as he compares Christ’s initial glance at the calling of Peter to be a disciple to the gaze at the time of Peter’s denial. “That gaze changed Peter’s heart more than the first did. The first changed his name and vocation, but the second was a gaze that changed his heart; it was a conversion to love” (Homily, May 22, 2015). Do we allow Christ’s gaze touch the depths of our heart and draw us to love?
Lastly, a wide range of individuals are depicted in this fresco: the evangelists(St. Mark, left, and St. John, right), St. Lawrence (martyr), Sts. Cosmas and Damien (physicians), St. Peter Martyr (religious and martyr), and St. Thomas Aquinas (religious, philosopher, and theologian). All are present with Christ, but even so the Child is not looking at any of these saints. Rather He looks upon us, the bystanders. He wants us to enter into the communion of his friends. We too belong in the picture. The image invites us; we are called into the communion of Christ’s love. During this week, let us enter into this invitation of Christ's gaze and enter into this communion of love.
(The image of "Madonna Della Ombres" can be found at the following website: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_delle_Ombre)
“Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit.” (Acts 2: 18)
In this painting of Pentecost by Jean Restout, the apostles and women seem to express many different emotions. Some seem to be peaceful as they prayerfully receive the Holy Spirit. Others cower in fear and surprise at the event currently happening in their lives.
But even among all this action, one thing is particularly striking. While there is a substantial amount of movement in this painting, one’s gaze is directed towards Mary, who is at the center covered in light. And she looks upward with an expression of peace, as though this action of the Holy Spirit is familiar to her.
Mary is radiant in beauty…In a beauty of receptivity. She is radiant in a gift that we are given innately as women. While surrounded by people who are not necessarily asking for the Spirit, she knows who He is, and welcomes Him without resistance. Her hands are over her heart, as though she is receiving the gift of one whom she loves.
The familiarity of a daughter of God...Often I pray for this grace. Many times I find it hard to see God as a good and providing Father, especially in some of the circumstances of my life where I question His goodness. And yet, this image encourages all of us that God has indeed placed in all of our hearts an authentic desire to know Him personally. Innately in all of us women, we long to be desired, loved, and affirmed in our beauty, especially by our fathers. And God, as your Father, continually does this in your life. He longs for you to know Him and to know of your value in light of Him. He created you out of love, He provides for you, and He longs for you to receive His love.
In Restout’s painting, Mary is imaging to us something we can all strive to achieve - a childlike trust in our Father. It was in such trust that she was open to what God longed to do in her life.
But, in order to trust, she needed to know the One she was receiving from. And this is the journey we are all on. Mary trusted in God as her Father because she knew him, and we should pray for the grace to do the same.
We are continually called on this journey of trust like Mary, and can nurture such openness to God’s gifts by reflecting on the ways we have experienced His goodness to us. One such way can be to journal and pray on times that He has indeed provided in your own life, or when He gave you consolation that He is present to you. Such pondering of God’s goodness in your own heart is similar to what Mary did continually (Luke 2:19). The pondering of God’s actions in our own lives is encouragement for us to trust in Him. And in such trust, we remain open to the gifts He wants to give us.
The trust of Mary in this painting shows that she recognizes this experience of Pentecost. And indeed, she has. Mary had the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation. And at that moment, Christ Himself was brought into the world because of her openness. It was through such a receptive woman that God became man.
And likewise, He can do the same in our lives. During this week, let us pray on and reflect God's goodness and providence to us. And in such reflections, let us strengthen our trust in Him. In the gifts of our receptivity, may we be open to the outpouring of His Love through the Holy Spirit, and go forth sharing the Kingdom of God with the world!
(The Image of "Pentecost" by Jean Restout is found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean_II_Restout_-_Pentecost_-_WGA19318.jpg)
In our culture, we are facing many problems that revolve around a major crisis, which has widely gone unnoticed, the explosion of beauty. We are seeking and sometimes fighting for many important things today, in order to better our lives. Yet, are we going about this search correctly? We seek freedom, but do we take the time to live in it? We want joy but do we go where it is found? I find myself searching for answers to these questions. Yet, I search in vain because I go where the answers are not found.
Sometimes, we do not know we are in need of something until we have experienced that very thing. For instance, someone who only eats junk food is unaware of their need and the great benefits of eating well. Not only weight but mood and energy are greatly affected by what is consumed. When finally being introduced to healthy food, this person realizes what was missing in their lives. This is where we are with beauty today. We need beauty, yet, we do not fully realize it. We do not prioritize it. Worse, we even go as far as to remove it from our communities. Although I am an artist who looks at beauty often, I too didn’t realize how ‘starved’ I was of authentic beauty until I came to Europe. Twisting and winding on my bike through the tiny Italian streets, I often come to a stop at the towering façade of the Cathedral of Santa Maria el Fiore. It never fails at taking my breath away. Everything about it captivates my wandering heart. It’s colors of white, pink, and marbled green harmonizing with the intricate details of sculpted saints and ornaments, leave me in awe. Its’ gigantic doors seem to say: “All are welcome to enter and behold the divine”. If I truly pause within my spirit, I find a sense of peace to behold this glorious structure. My soul is being fed, deeper then I realized it could be or even needed to be.
How are we not aware of such a great need? Our culture offers solutions to overcome struggles that seem helpful but are not the solution. That which is beautiful is easier to come by in Italy, but Italy has also been affected by this crisis. Often, today our world seeks to forget and numb the problems verses striving to be truly liberated from or transformed through them. Yet, a consistent encounter with authentic beauty has the power of freeing us from all that weighs us down. Dietrich Von Hildebrand explains it best in his book titled Aesthetics. He says: “ People have grown accustomed to the elimination of poetry of the world, to the mechanization of life, to the expulsion of beauty; [...] but this does not mean that our nerves escape unscathed from all this cacophony. It is easy to see the greater decrease in human happiness today, and the great increase in the number of psychopaths, suicides, crimes, disorders, revolutions, protests, etc. Are these not unambiguous symptoms of unhappiness, of an unfulfilled hunger for happiness? ” He goes on to say that “Beauty is not only a central source of joy it also possesses a great significance for the development of personality, especially in a moral sense. Genuine beauty liberates us in many ways from the force of gravity, drawing us out of the dull captivity of daily life...There are people who flee from the boredom and dullness of the prosaic into the sensational. Sports games, films, and night outings are all means of escape to the everyday humdrum of life. But are they able to pull us out of where we are? They give us a sensational high and help us forget for just a little while, yet they don’t give us wings like beauty can.” (220-221) When I first read this quote by Dietrich Von Hildebrand, I was taken aback. So many times I do ‘busy’ things to distract myself from the angst inside but it is so true that they have yet to offer freedom. With rich resources here in Florence, I challenge myself to soak up authentic beauty but still struggle with the dint of life and the common push to numb issues verses being truly renewed.
“[Beauty is an] intermediary realm between eternity and earthly life.” Hildebrand describes sharing why Beauty is so powerful. It is because it gives us a taste of the heavenly! Hiking on the edge of the sea from village to village in Cinque Terre, I was brought into this transcendental reality. The sky lay gently across the teal sea. The cliffs cut securely into the depths of the water as colorful flowers delicately adorned their sides. The towns, which were skillfully built within the mountains, framed this intermediate realm between heaven and earth. Harmony, harmony, harmony, seemed to be what creation was singing. The journey wasn’t effortless as the climb was steep, yet, each turn and twist brought a further uncovering of the enchanted and somewhat magical beauty that lay within the simple and the natural. Joy rose and joy sung out, emerging within me as a newfound strength to face that which lay ahead. The poetic and the beautiful shine the majesty and the mystery of God and gives us strength. Furthermore, even more so, the encounter with metaphysical rather than mere physical beauty offers us an unending joy. For instance, When we adore Christ in adoration, we are in the presence of true beauty Himself and are being offered the most real response to our desire for joy.
I challenge you to choose beauty first when we find ourselves in a spiral of sadness or troubles. let us turn to this divine gift. Let us find ways to sit in contemplation of the wonder before us. You need not venture to Europe to find this escape. Beauty is in every crevice of the world, if only we take the time to see it and be still in front of it. Furthermore, let us strive to cultivate a life of beauty in our homes and communities. Invest in real art, our walls are not simply spaces to fill but when adorned with love can feed the souls of all who are surrounded by them. The music we listen to shouldn’t be just sounds to erase the silence, may they be truly enriching. Instead of hours on Netflix, choose to go to an opera, a ballet, watch the sunset, or gaze at the stars. Let us no longer starve ourselves from these small tastes of heaven that have the ability to give us wings and remind us that this life is taking us to our Home with God where joy and freedom abounds.
Reference: Aesthetics by Dietrich Von Hildebrand