Wednesday, April 29, 2020

S. Catherine of Siena on living the life of grace

“All the way to Heaven is heaven, 
because He said, ‘I am the Way.’" 

- S. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Today is the heavenly birthday of S. Catherine of Siena. Born in 1347, the 24th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, she was very sensitive to spiritual realities from childhood. From the age of six she could see guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. S. Catherine became a Dominican tertiary when she was sixteen, and continued to have visions of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She could also discern the presence of demons. Although she had no formal education - being more or less illiterate - she was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, and she sent letters to many major public figures. She also carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI.

In fact, at this very difficult time in the Church’s history, S. Catherine persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377. In 1375 she received the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Catherine’s spiritual director was Raymond of Capua. Her letters, and a treatise called “A Dialogue” are considered among the most brilliant writings of the saints.

S. Catherine died on 29th April, 1380, when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430. Her tomb is under the altar in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome.

'She burned with the love of God and her neighbour. As an ambassador she brought peace and harmony between cities. She fought hard to defend the liberty and rights of the Popes and did much for the renewal of religious life. She also dictated books full of sound doctrine and spiritual inspiration. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared S. Catherine a Doctor of the Church.' (Universalis)

God created us a second time 
in giving us the life of grace

From a Letter of S, Catherine of Siena to Blessed Raymond of Capua

This is the divine truth: we were created for the glory and praise of God’s name, to enable us to participate in God’s eternal beauty and to sanctify us in God. And the proof that this is the truth? The blood of the spotless Lamb. How are we to know this Blood? By self-knowledge.’

I know of no means of savoring the Truth and living with it, without self-knowledge. It is this knowledge which makes us really understand that we are nothing, that our being came from God when we were created in God’s image and likeness; and also that God created us a second time in giving us the life of grace through the blood of the only Son, blood which has shown us the truth of God the Father.

We were the earth where the standard of the cross was planted. We were the vessel that received the blood of the Lamb as it streamed from the cross. Why did we become that earth? Because the earth would not hold the cross upright; it would have refused such a great injustice. The nails could not have held the Lord fixed and nailed had not his love for our salvation held him there. It was love on fire with the glory of his Father and with desire for our salvation which fixed him to the cross. So we are the earth which held the cross upright and the vessel which received the blood.

We who can recognize this and live as the spouse of this Truth will find grace in his blood, and all the richness of the life of grace; our nakedness will be the nuptial garment; we will be invested with the fire of love, because the blood and fire mingle and penetrate one another; it is love which has united the blood with the divinity and poured it out.

We must live in simplicity, with neither pretensions nor mannerisms nor servile fear. We must walk in the light of a living faith that shines in more than mere words—and always so, in adversity as well as in prosperity, in times of persecution as well as in times of consolation. Nothing will be able to change the strength or the radiance of our faith if Christ who is the Truth has given us knowledge of truth not just in desire but in living experience.

S. Catherine's Prayer to the Trinity

Eternal God, eternal Trinity,
you have made the blood of Christ so precious 
through his sharing in your divine nature. 
You are a mystery as deep as the sea; 
the more I search, the more I find, 
and the more I find the more I search for you. 
But I can never be satisfied; 
what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. 
When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, 
and I grow more famished for your light. 
I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery 
and the beauty of your creation 
with the light of my understanding. 
I have clothed myself with your likeness 
and have seen what I shall be. 
Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power 
and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, 
and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. 
You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. 
You have made of me a new creation 
in the blood of your Son, 
and I know that you are moved with love 
at the beauty of your creation,
for you have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, 
you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. 
For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, 
which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. 
Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness,
 illuminates the mind with its light 
and causes me to know your truth. 
By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, 
I recognise that you are the highest good, 
one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. 
And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. 
The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, 
and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, 
for you are sweetness 
and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!


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