Saints of the Americas, Monastery Icons.
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:17.
What struck me first in that icon above of the Saints of the Americas was the presence only of three secular people (that is to say, not priests or nuns) St. Kateri, and indigenous American native of the Algonquin tribe from New York State and Canada, St. Juan Diego, another indigenous native of what is now Mexico, and St. Rose of Lima, Peru, (though she belonged to the secular Third Order of Saint Dominic) a child from a mixed marriage, indigenous and Spanish. The others were all members of religious orders, but Elizabeth Seton was a laywoman for much of her life before establishing a sisterhood and taking vows a few years before her death. All of them died natural deaths, some young, some old, but they all met enormous challenges to a holy life which they all confronted and conquered. Interestingly, there was an almost total contrast in backgrounds here, from the millionaire background of St. Katherine Drexel to the almost-certain illiteracy of St. Juan Diego. Yet in the eyes of God, they were all saints. Today’s readings support our efforts to emulate them as we strive to live up to our vocation to be Christ to the world, just as those saints emulated our Savior themselves (not forgetting the other North American martyrs, such as St. Isaac Jogues and his companions).
In a way, the three readings today suggest a pattern of growth in the faith. The first reading talks of the original followers of Jesus going to the upper room and staying there. There is no talk of preaching or in any way spreading the word. They simply prayed. In fact, they were almost certainly terrified that the fate Jesus had met might well be theirs too. Even the risen Lord had vanished from their sight at his Ascension. Although he had promised something would happen, they had no idea what it could be, or how they would ever emerge from the mess they were in. All they knew for sure was that they seemed to be alone. Their situation was just like a winter scene, a field, plowed, seeded and still, apparently devoid of life. The gospel has Jesus praying for them: “Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.” That seems to be a powerful validation of the sacred knowledge they now have, all locked into that upper room in Jerusalem. Trouble is, they were the only ones who had that knowledge, and no-one else had any idea about it. Jesus even said, “And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.” The second reading seems to offer a rather threatening future for them should they ever emerge from their room, “But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” Unfortunately they didn’t have the courage to risk that suffering. They preferred whatever protection their locked doors offered them, keeping the world out. It was the perfect setting for the arrival of God’s Holy Spirit to change everything.
I wonder if that situation described the situation of any of us. We have that exact same knowledge Jesus talks of in his prayer. We have the faith that leads to eternal life and happiness. We know how to overcome those same challenges and hurdles our eight saints above confronted and defeated. In other words, we too are called to be Christ’s disciples at all times and in all places. But do we? There have been several moments in my life when I was clearly called by God to give witness to forgiveness, courage, protection, simple Christian virtue, and I failed. Remorse is the result, a bleak, almost hopeless aftershock. Nothing can be done about it, and even forgiveness of self is a challenge. But God’s Holy Spirit remains with us, with me. Courage is what I lacked, as it was with those locked up in the upper room. Praying to God’s Holy Spirit and asking for her (see last week’s reflection) guidance and strength is clearly the answer, and demands a suitable response. We all need a Pentecost moment.
Pentecost Moments, The Marfam Programme.
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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