Archive for the ‘St. Catherine of Siena’ Category

Why Did Jesus Go Incognito?

April 30, 2017

There are three episodes in the Gospels where the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples but initially goes unrecognized: at the tomb, to Mary Magdalene; in the appearance we hear about today, to a pair of travelers on the road to Emmaus; and lastly, to seven of his disciples fishing the Sea of Galilee.

Let us briefly review each encounter:

First, on Easter morning, Mary is weeping outside the tomb. She turns around and sees Jesus there, but she does not know it’s Jesus. He says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thinks he’s the gardener and says to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus says to her, “Mary!” She turns, and says to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Perhaps Mary Magdalene’s tear-filled eyes and anguished mind simply could not make out Jesus’ face in morning’s early light, but after one more word she recognizes him. (John 20)

Today, Jesus draws near to Cleopas and another unnamed disciple as they walk to Emmaus, but their eyes are prevented from recognizing him, for he appears to them in another form. Later, when all three of them are dining together, Jesus takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them. With that their eyes are opened and they recognize him. He is revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, but then vanishes from their sight. (Luke 24, Mark 16:12)

Third and finally, after a night of completely unsuccessful fishing, Jesus appears to the Apostles Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, and John, and two other unnamed disciples. They’re in a boat and he’s on the shore, but they do not immediately realize it’s Jesus. He says to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answer, “No.” So he says, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” And they proceed to miraculously catch 153 large fish without tearing their nets. (The Biny fish, which is common to the Sea of Galilee today, has a weight at maturity of 13 to 15 pounds. A catch of 153 of these fish would weigh more than a ton.) Jesus then invites them, “Come, have breakfast.” And, St. John’s Gospel notes, none of the disciples dares to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realize it is the Lord. (John 21)

One might argue that Jesus’ looks were not in any way disguised on the shore, that the disciples simply failed to recognize him at first because he was about a hundred yards away and the light of dawn was still dim. But if that were the case, there would be no thought of asking him “Who are you” over breakfast around that charcoal fire; this question only arises if his identity remains somewhat concealed. Some have suggested that Jesus appeared elderly to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, for he says, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” On the other hand, Jesus had previously referred to the Apostles as his children at the Last Supper, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”

Jesus has no difficulty being immediately recognizable when he wants to be. On Divine Mercy Sunday, when Jesus appears before St. Thomas for the first time, we perceive no hesitation in the former doubter’s declaration, “My Lord and my God!” So why then did Jesus allow himself to go unrecognized, at times even becoming physically unrecognizable to his disciples? Perhaps Jesus had thousands of good reasons for this, but I would offer these four:

Reason #1: To add proof that these resurrection accounts are true

Imagine if Jesus’ bodily resurrection were a lie and you were making up stories to bolster others’ belief in it. Would you invent and insert the odd detail that Jesus’ closest disciples couldn’t always recognize him when they saw him? What reason would there be to weave such a confounding wrinkle into your resurrection accounts — unless it were the truth?

Reason #2: To demonstrate how people can believe in Jesus without directly seeing him 

The disciples in Emmaus said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” They came to faith in the resurrection by recognizing the fulfillment of prophesy, even before Jesus had opened their eyes to see himself. At the Sea of Galilee, when the Beloved Disciple saw the incredible catch of fish, he said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” The miraculous sign revealed to them the truth about a person they could not see. We today may not see Jesus’ unveiled presence among us, but he provides sufficient evidence to point to himself in every generation.

Reason #3: To show how Jesus would continue to be with us

In the forty days between Easter and his Ascension, Jesus was not visibly present to his Apostles twenty-four hours a day. Yet at the Great Commission, Jesus reassures, “[B]ehold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” What he’s saying is, ‘Even when you are alone, I will always be at your side.’ By revealing his resurrected self to his disciples “in a different form,” Jesus prepares them for how they will regularly encounter him through the Sacraments until he comes again; truly present, but veiled.

Reason #4: To reveal how Jesus is presented to us through others

Who is the manual laborer we bump into, like Mary Magdalene saw on Easter morning and addressed respectfully as “Sir” (even though she was having a horrible day and thought he might be a body snatcher)? Who is the traveler we pass on the road, like the Emmaus duo met, dialogued with, and invited to stay with them? Who is the older person that greets us, like the Galilean fishermen encountered and with whom they shared their food? Jesus would have us see himself in all of them and everyone. At the Last Judgment, Jesus will declare to both the saved sheep and the guilty goats, “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”

Jesus once asked St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century Italian mystic, “My beloved, do you know why I love you?” In response to Catherine’s negative reply, Jesus said, “I will tell you. If I cease to love you, you will be nothing; you will be incapable of anything good. Now you see why I have to love you.” Catherine replied, “It is true,” and suddenly added, “I would like to love you like that.” But as soon as she had spoken, she realized what she had said was misplaced. Jesus smiled. Then, she complained, “But this is not fair. You can love me with great love, and I can only love you with small love.” At that moment, Jesus interrupted and said, “I have made it possible for you to love me with great love.” Surprised, she immediately asked him how. “I have placed your neighbor at your side. Whatever you do to him, I will consider it as being done to me.” St. Catherine went running to care for the sick in the hospital, rejoicing: “Now I can love Jesus with great love!”

After the resurrection, Jesus was sometimes unrecognized by his disciples, but he allowed this so that we might better recognize him; as the Savior truly risen, as the Christ evidenced by signs, as the Lord truly present in the Sacraments, and as the one concealed in our neighbor.

The Dying Words of Jesus & His Saints

November 14, 2014

Each November, when the dark nights lengthen and trees become bare skeletons, we especially pray for the souls of those who have gone before us in death. This is also a fitting time of year to remember and consider the certainty of our own mortality. How did Jesus and his holy ones face the end of their lives? Their dying words can both instruct and inspire us:

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

—Our Lord Jesus Christ, c. 33 AD

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

—St. Stephen, martyr, c. 34 AD

“Glory to God for all things!”

—St. John Chrysostom, 407 AD

“Your will be done. Come, Lord Jesus!”

—St. Augustine, 430 AD

“May God forgive you, brother.”

—St. Wenceslaus, martyr, 935 AD

“I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile.”

—Pope St. Gregory VII, 1085 AD

“If all the swords in England were pointed against my head, your threats would not move me. I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.”

—St. Thomas Becket, martyr, 1170 AD

“When you see that I am brought to my last moments, place me naked upon the ground just as you saw me the day before yesterday; and let me lie there after I am dead for the length of time it takes one to walk a mile unhurriedly.”

—St. Francis of Assisi, 1226 AD

“Be assured that he who shall always walk faithfully in God’s presence, always ready to give him an account of all his actions, shall never be separated from him by consenting to sin.”

—St. Thomas Aquinas, 1274 AD

“Leave the doors open, so that everyone may enter and see how a pope dies.”

—Bl. Pope Urban V, 1370 AD

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

—St. Bridget of Sweden, 1373 AD

“Blood! Blood! Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

—St. Catherine of Siena, 1380 AD

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

—St. Joan of Arc, martyr, 1431 AD

“I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

—St. Thomas More, martyr, 1535 AD

“O, my God!”

—St. Ignatius of Loyola, 1556 AD

“After all I die as a child of the Church. My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time for us to meet one another.”

—St. Teresa of Avila, 1582 AD

“Jesus, I love you.”

—St. Kateri Tekakwitha, 1680 AD

“In all things I adore the will of God in my regard.”

—St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, 1719 AD

“Be children of the Church.”

—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, 1821 AD

“My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”

—St. Andrew Kim Taegon, martyr, 1846 AD

“Holy Mary, pray for me, a poor sinner.”

—St. Bernadette Soubirous, 1879 AD

“I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me. My God, I love you.”

—St. Therese of Lisieux, 1897 AD

“To restore all things in Christ.”

—Pope St. Pius X, 1914 AD

“Long live Christ the King!”

—Bl. Miguel Pro, S.J., martyr, 1927 AD

“Jesus. Maria.”

—St. Pio of Pietrelcina, 1968 AD

“Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.”

—Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 1997 AD

“Let me go to the house of the Father.”

—St. John Paul the Great, 2005 AD

What do you want to be your dying words?

The Wisdom of the Saints

July 25, 2013

“You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint
or no saint at all.”

-St. Therese of Lisieux

“If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!”

St. Catherine of Sienna

“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by  working, and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.”

-St. Francis de Sales

“Let us go forward in peace, our eyes upon heaven,
the only one goal of our labors.”

-St. Therese of Lisieux

“Love God, serve God; everything is in that.”

-St. Clare of Assisi

“Pray as though everything depended on God.
Work as though everything depended on you.”

-St. Augustine

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry”

-St. Pio of Pietrelcino

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

October 18, 2009

The Three Crosses by Rembrandt. 1653

Today, the Apostles James and John make their big pitch in order to move up the ladder in Jesus’ organization. “[Jesus,] grant that in your glory we may sit, one at your right, and the other at your left.” Jesus says to them, “You do not know what you are asking.”

They jump at the chance to drink of Jesus’ cup and to be baptized in His baptism, whatever that means, because they have no idea that these are allusions to Christ’s suffering. Jesus tells them, ‘You will drink my cup and experience my baptism, but to sit at my right and my left is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ Where are the seats beside Christ in His glory?  The Gospel of Mark later tells us: “With [Jesus] they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.” Indeed, James and John don’t know what they’re really asking.

They want spots beside Jesus’ throne because they think this will put their lives on Easy Street. They think that being enthroned at Christ’s side in glory means they will be served by everyone, and that they will never have to serve anyone else, ever again, besides Jesus of course. James and John want to live like as princes, like the billionaires, the bosses, and the big shots in the world. But true greatness is very different.

Whoever wishes to be great, Jesus says, must be a servant.  And whoever wishes to be the greatest of all, must be the servant to everyone. But we might ask why anyone would want this sort of greatness? Who wants to be a slave or to be crucified with Christ? And yet, Jesus offers such self-offering as the only greatness truly worth seeking? Why? Because true love equals self-gift, and in heaven love lasts forever.

In the world out there, there is a hierarchy according to wealth and power. For the Church on earth, Christ establishes a hierarchy according to orders. But for the Church in heaven, the hierarchy is established according to love. There is no money to be had in heaven. Greatness there is measured according to the love you can give and the love you receive from others.

Consider, who is more beloved on earth, Blessed Mother Teresa or the richest person in the world? And who is more likely to have a higher in heaven? When Mother Teresa died a million people turned out for her funeral. She, like all the saints, is rich in love.

If you desire true and lasting greatness, imitate Christ on earth, who became a slave for us. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. And through His trials and self-sacrifice, He offered his life as a ransom for us and won our hearts for Himself.

Though it is worthwhile, it isn’t easy to follow Christ. If we serve Him, we should expect temptations, trials and sufferings, too, just like Him.  Trials are normal for the Christian life and we should expect them.

As Saint Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

Temptations are normal for the Christian life, too.  Jesus Himself was tempted in the desert and in the garden. As the second reading says, “…We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Understand and remember that human weakness and temptations are not the same thing as sin. It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was weak and tempted like us, but he never sinned. We only sin when we give in to temptation, when heart says “yes” to them.

Catherine of Siena by Giovanni[1]

Believe it or not, the saints know more about fierce temptation than unrepentant sinners do. The saints do battle against strong temptations, with the sacraments and prayer, with penance and self-disciple.  Many hardened sinners, on the other hand, don’t even know they are being tempted. One time, St. Catherine of Sienna, after she had made great progress in holiness, was subjected to the most violent temptations. Impure images filled her imagination and darkness attacked her heart. She called on God but He seemed to be absent. After these temptations had ceased, Jesus visited her, filling her with heavenly consolation. “Ah, my Divine Spouse,” she cried out, “where were you when I laid in such an abandoned and frightful condition?” “I was in your heart,” he replied, “fortifying you by grace.” “What, in the midst of the filthy abominations with which my soul was filled?” “Yes,” Jesus said, “for these temptations were most displeasing and painful to you. By fighting against them, you have gained immense merit, and the victory was because of my presence.”

When Jesus asked James and John if they could drink His cup and be baptized in His baptism, they eagerly responded, “We can!” Did they entirely know what this meant? No. Do we entirely know what it will mean for us to give our yes to Christ and to follow in His footsteps? No.  But with that little seed from James and John, Jesus was able to grow them into great saints.

Jesus Christ is the greatest person who has ever lived.  No one has been greater and no one has done greater things.  No one has loved better and no one is better loved. Let’s follow in his footsteps, even if that means the cross, for to be remade in His image means sharing in His greatness, His glory and His joy.