I want to apologize to everyone for not posting in some time. Things have been quite busy here in Rome and I honestly have not had the chance to write.
I want to share two experiences I have had thus far. And oddly enough they dovetail quite nicely, since they both have to do with saintly women.
The first experience happened while I was in Siena, the home of St. Catherine, who is famous for convincing the Pope to come back to Rome from Avignon, France. In the western part of the city very near the Basilica of St. Dominic where St. Catherine’s head lies is the house where St. Catherine grew up. In what used to be her room, there is a series of beautiful frescos depicting many of the miraculous events of her young life. One portrays her literally floating up the stars in prayer with her mom grazing in awe. Another depicts her cutting her beautiful blonde locks of hair so as to not tempt the young boy’s hearts. Progressing through her life onto the other side of the room is a depiction of her receiving mystically a ring in betrothal to Jesus, her spouse, with Mary looking on.
As I sat there meditating on these beautiful images from her life, I began to imagine her in the room praying, playing, learning to sow, etc…I was taken back by her beauty and innocence. That such beauty could be given completely to the Lord, I could hardly believe. I remembered at that moment how taken aback I was by these images just two years before, when I came to Siena on a whim in order to accompany two friends of mine. In fact as I remembered this, I could almost see myself sitting across the room looking at these same images. I thought to myself, “Who was that guy two years ago who, awestruck at the beauty that was the lives of the saints, heard a call to enter the seminary and follow after the heart of Jesus Christ?” How much I had changed. How much I had remained the same.
I was overwhelmed with the impossibility of coming back to this place to see those same images, which moved me before, and to experience the love of Jesus Christ again through the intercession and inspiration of the saints, in this case St. Catherine. It was then that I began to image that sitting across the room beside my younger self was St. Catherine and next to me now, Jesus Christ. The room burst with laughter and joy. How happy the Lord was to unite two of His friends.
Later that day when I reflected on what had happened, I realized that the joy that we experience when two of our friends meet, especially two really good friends of ours that have not met before, is the same joy (albeit infinitely greater) that our Lord Jesus Christ feels when we encounter one of the saints. In a very real way, the saints are the best friends of our Savior Jesus Christ. They knew Him so incredibly well. And when we get to know them, the saints, we get to know Christ. But imagine the grace and delight that the Father sheds down on His beloved Children (that’s us) when we meet for the first time one of these best friends. If we receive this love, the delight of the Father on such an occasion, how intimate might our relationship become with the heavenly host of angels and saints? Indeed, if we merely realized that such a love might occur through such avenues, then how great would our devotions to the saints be?
The second experience was just this past weekend in Assisi praying in front of the tomb of St. Clare. After having been drawn into such an intense relationship with St. Catherine, I was drawn to spend time with St. Clare. I guess I saw a parallel between St. Catherine and St. Clare as many have seen with St. Dominic and St. Francis. I knelt down to pray for those on my list and just as I concluded I began to pray what is called a colloquy with St. Clare. Now, a colloquy in prayer is an imagined conversation with someone like Jesus, God the Father, Mary, or a saint. In this prayer, one relates the fruits and happenings of the previous prayer or meditation asking and receiving through this conversation a greater understanding of the movements that have occurred in one’s heart.
As I began conversing with St. Clare, I realized just how joyful she was in receiving the prayers I had made for others and also for myself. In many ways, this was part of her purpose in heaven to intercede for those on earth. The Church has after all deemed her such. In addition, I began to realize just how much joy I had received, just how much fulfillment I had experienced when I prayed for my family and friends. Again, as with St. Catherine, I realize that the joy and fulfillment I feel here on earth when I pray for others is (in an imperfect way) the same joy and fulfillment that those in heaven experience interceding for us. How much joy St. Clare must experience with literally millions coming before her in prayer ever year!
It also came to me that while we often find ourselves seeking out the saints for help, it can in some cases be that the saints track us down, knowing perhaps from God that we need their prayers without our realizing it. I have found this to be the case with both of these great saints, for I had no intention visiting either of these two saints nor any real knowledge of their lives before coming to pray before them. It seems all to clear that the Lord moved both of these saints to pray for me in a particular way, drawing me to themselves so as to show me the joy of giving oneself to others in prayer. Yet again how great our fidelity to prayer might be if we knew of such a joy? If only we let ourselves experience the joy of praying for others, how we might enter into that company of saints in heaven with their prayers rising up like incense before the altar of the Lord.