Posts Tagged ‘St. Catherine of Siena’
With the Parish Mission at Holy Family parish in St. Petersburg now complete, I would like to share some of the insights I gained. First, I’m reminded once again of Jesus’ teaching that every time we take the opportunity to give of ourselves, whether in ministry or in relationships, we always receive in return more than we give. This is primarily the truth of Psalm 126 when it teaches: “They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing: they come back, they come back, full of song, carrying their sheaves.”
These past three nights we focused on God’s love and how we experience this love through the Holy Spirit in the person of Jesus Christ. We further examined how Christ came into the world to reveal the love of God through His teaching, ministry, passion, death and resurrection. After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to continue the same mission through the Church and by the power of their own witness of faith in Jesus Christ.
One person asked at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s mission: “What advice do you have for families to better live their faith?” Many asked other questions along similar lines regarding the parish as a whole or what to do in one’s individual life.
I am even more convinced today of the need for each individual, for every family to renew the trajectory of life to its true purpose. This (earthly) life is fundamentally a journey of faith, a pilgrimage. We are therefore to understand that a truly human life is oriented to God. Thus, a truly human journey is one that follow’s the way of truth, goodness, beauty, in short, holiness.
Just as all things which are bearers of truth, goodness, and beauty ‘transcend’ or ‘go beyond’ themselves and point to something else, so to the human person is ultimately to ‘go beyond’ him or herself and point to the Creator. So, the true trajectory of every human life is God.
Lent is therefore a time to renew one’s practice of prayer. Life with God also requires simplicity, (in the sense that we shed our worldliness) humility, (seeing that we are nothing and that God is everything) and community, particularly the community of faith, the Church.
To succeed in such ‘conversion,’ we need discernment, we need wisdom. Today’s Gospel (Luke 11:14-23) recounts a moment when Jesus expels a demon, only to be accused by some that “it is by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Obviously, that was not the case, as Jesus goes on to instruct, that it is by the “finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Jesus is our “strong man” who guards and arms the city of our soul. Thus, the need for us to renew the course of our life to Him. But, we also know that there are many distractions in our life, and many demons that wish to take over our inner life, values and practices. We need to be wise in the ways of the LORD, and have the perseverance to remain on the straight and narrow path.
I wish to close by sharing some simple rules for discernment which the LORD shared with St. Catherine of Siena. These passages came from a book written by her spiritual director and companion, Blessed Raymond of Capua:
“Daughter, if you wish to acquire the virtue of fortitude you must imitate me. Though I have divine power and could have annihilated all the powers of evil in quite a different way if I had willed to do so, nevertheless, wishing my actions to be taken as a model, I willed to act by way of the cross, so that I could teach you by words based on actions. If you want to have the strength to overcome all the enemy’s powers, take the cross as your refreshment as I did. For indeed I, as the Apostle says, ran to such a hard and shameful cross because I had been offered joy, so that you would patiently choose pains and afflictions and embrace them indeed as consolations. And indeed they are consolations, for the more you suffer such things for My sake the more you make yourself like Me. If you conform yourself to Me in suffering, truly, as My Apostle says, you will become like Me in grace and glory. Therefore, O daughter, for My sake regard sweet things as bitter and bitter things as sweet and then have no fear, for undoubtedly you will be stong in all things.” (Catherine of Siena, pp.89-90)
“When she talked to us about this, she always told us as a general rule never to descend to the level of argument with the Enemy in times of temptation. Getting people to discuss the matter was exactly what he wanted, … so a soul chastely united to Christ should refuse to discuss the Enemy’s temptations but turn to its Bridegroom in prayer, relying on Him with absolute trust and faithfulness. All temptations, she said, could be overcome by the virtue of faith.” (Catherine of Siena, p. 91)
So, my friends, let us continue to follow Christ this Lenten season. Let us be “shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Almost everyday, we encounter some form of road block or difficulty related to our work, or state in life and or vocation. Our Christian tradition tells us such will be the case for one who follows Jesus. Our ‘language’ for this is typically: “Take up your cross” or “Offer it up.”
When we speak about the cross and its role in the Christian life we immediately think of suffering. Suffering is seldom something we desire to embrace. The topic itself can often be treated with a deaf ear. Recently, a particular grace was offered to help me better understand this spiritual reality.
As I awoke early one morning, I was very aware of a difficult task that lay ahead in the day’s demands. In light of this, the simple phrase came to mind: “Touch the Wounds of Jesus.” Strangely enough, this was a comforting thought. I explored it more prayerfully. As I looked to this challenge in light of the phrase “Touch the Wounds of Jesus” I was immediately aware that only the power that flows from Jesus’ Wounds would bring about a good outcome for this difficulty that could not be avoided. I realized that my efforts in this regard in the past had been insufficient.
As I began working on the task at hand, I faced more challenges, and the phrase was repeated “Touch the Wounds of Jesus.” Now, other thoughts came with it: “Do not become frustrated.” “Do not become impatient.” I pressed on, at peace. I then began to come to deeper understanding that all such frustrations in our daily life, particularly as they relate to our being disciples of Jesus are not just opportunities to Touch the Wounds of Jesus, but are actual experiences, meant to allow that power of His mercy and love flow into us.
Touching the Wounds of Jesus is a meditation on the love of God, the mercy of God, the healing, redeeming power of God. A part of the experience of the Incarnation for us also entails a faith-filled encounter with the Wounds of Jesus. Think of the power that flows from these Wounds – the power of God to forgive the sins of the world. It is precisely this power, this mercy and love of God that we need at work in our life and in all that we do in the Name of Jesus.
For greater context, we can look to today’s Gospel from St. Luke (10:21-22):
“All things have been handed over to me by the Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
The Wounds of Jesus are an important part of the Son revealing the Father to the world. When we suffer in living out our vocation, Jesus is inviting us to touch His Wounds, and in the process, revealing to us the power of God, the mystery of God, the love and mercy of God. This is precisely why the power of God’s weakness is far greater than human strength.
May each of us be willing to allow Jesus to lead us in each moment of our day. May we have the grace to find Jesus in our sufferings, great and small. May we allow the ‘weakness of God’ to be our strength!
I field a fairly regular question these days, and it goes something like this: “Bishop, what are the bishops going to do about…the HHS Mandate, or the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act, or religious liberty, or about the growing support for same sex marriage?” Obviously, there is no simple or immediate answer to such questions, but it begs a broader base of responsibility than the bishops alone.
First, it is important to know that the Bishop’s Conference has taken a very strong, public stance on a number of fronts, especially in promoting our right as a church and as individual people of faith to freely exercise our religion, privately and publicly. Second, there is a clear legal strategy making its way through the court system challenging the legality of the HHS mandate. A simple visit to the USCCB website will reveal the host of other ways in which your Catholic Conference of Bishops is leading on these many fronts.
There are a great many cultural issues being discussed, debated, and promoted today that fly in the face of our faith and Catholic teachings. The problem is not that people do not know or understand what the Church teaches. (Therefore, the solutions rest beyond the simple thought that the bishops alone can solve this problem.) I think the primary concern is that so many people want the voice of the Church silenced in these very public discussions. If people can convince themselves (or be left to their illusion) that there is no God, then there is no ultimate truth, no overarching moral law, and then everyone is free to do whatever they choose, as long as it does not hurt someone else.
For example, marriage is one of the longest standing institutions of human history. Why is it at this point in history we now need to broaden the definition of marriage? It is because so many people today reject the Truth. “Their senseless minds have been darkened.” (Romans 1:21) Marriage does not need to be redefined. Marriage simply needs to be respected. All of us are called to recognize God’s creation, the natural law inherent in creation, and the moral law given by God.
We are facing a serious cultural shift in our nation, indeed, in many parts of the world today. More and more people seem to favor the philosophy that allows everyone to do what they wish without any judgment. This is a false understanding of human freedom. Our Catholic, Christian belief tells us that we are created by God and for God, and our true freedom is found in our relationship with God and living in a manner that respects this relationship above all else. Human freedom is the pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful. The Author and Origin of Life, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is God.
My primary role as bishop in the midst of these cultural issues is to continue to preach the Gospel and to teach the faith. Our common goal as a people of faith is to live our faith. Granted, it is difficult to live faith in a time that it finds less and less respect. However, Jesus promised that if we follow Him, we will need to take up our cross. As a people of faith, I challenge all of us to spend a little more time on our knees in prayer. I challenge all of us to greater fidelity in regular attendance at Sunday Mass and reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. I challenge all of us to devote more time to studying and learning our faith.
If we are going to change our culture, we must begin by changing the present culture of our faith-practice, because fundamentally, the crisis of culture today is a crisis of faith. To a large extent, the liberal philosophy of the day is doing a good job of painting Christ and His Church as irrelevant. Does our faith-practice mirror that depiction?
How are each of us called to deeper conversion of life? Are you active in your parish? Are your children enrolled in a Catholic School or religious education program? Do you go to Mass every weekend as a family? Does your life revolve around faith or something else? Are you doing your best to know and live what the Church teaches? In the words of the Gospel, are we growing rich in what matters to God? (Luke 12:13-21)
St. Catherine of Siena teaches that worldly people fall into wickedness because they have left God. (Dialogue, #100) That seems to be the reality still today. So, changing our present worldly reality, begins with our remaining close to God.
St. Catherine also teaches that we are to leave judgment up to God. She writes of God speaking to her:
When you cannot see clearly and openly whether the sin is deadly, you must not pass judgment in your mind, but be concerned only about my will for that person. And if you do see it, you must respond not with judgment but with holy compassion. For you cast contempt on your neighbors when you pay attention to their ill will toward you rather than my will for them. Such contempt and scandal alienates the soul from me, blocks her perfection, and to some extent deprives her of grace… (Dialogue #100)
Even though we as a people of faith disagree strongly with some of the current cultural trends and shifts of our day, let us first be strong in our own belief and practice of faith. Called to love and respect our neighbor, we are also called to do whatever is in our power to help our culture recover a moral foundation. We can lead only when we ourselves are firmly rooted in Christ.
I will close with the encouraging words of Psalm 37:
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not envy those who do evil: If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure. Be still before the Lord and wait in patience. The patient shall inherit the land. The sword of the wicked is drawn, his bow is bent to slaughter the upright. Their sword shall pierce their own hearts and their bows shall be broken to pieces.
The Lord will support the just.
Today is the Feast of one of my favorite saints, Saint Catherine of Siena. There is a statue near Castle San Angelo in Rome that beautifully represents St. Catherine’s ‘urgency’ to accomplish God’s will; God’s work for the ‘salvation of souls.’ (see picture to the left)
There are many things I admire about this great saint of the 14th century. First and foremost is her love for God and her great desire to live passionately her love for Christ. She had several names for Jesus, perhaps the one she used most in her writings was “Gentle First Truth.” Her life was spent prayerfully discovering the depths of this Truth and preaching it to all who would listen, and quite often to those who would not.
A close second to her love of God and Christ was her love for the Church, most especially demonstrated in her devotion to the Holy Father. St. Catherine was deeply concerned for the state of the Church of her days, and spent countless hours in prayer and fasting and made many journeys working on behalf of the unity of the Church.
St. Catherine put her deep spirituality to practical use in many ways. Along with her love for the Church she wrote many letters of encouragement, even reprimand to people of all walks of life, encouraging greater fidelity to Christ and His Church. So steeped in the Paschal Mystery herself, many of her letters begin with an expressed desire that individuals be bathed in the blood of Christ so as to be washed clean of all selfishness to walk boldly in the life of Christ.
St. Catherine is a great model and intercessor in this Year of Faith and the work of the New Evangelization. Through her intercession, may each of us this day be drawn deeper in love with Christ, grow deeper in love for our Holy Church, and practically express our love caring for those who are struggling in faith.
St. Catherine, Pray for us.
In her Dialogue, God speaks to St. Catherine: “In so knowing me the soul catches fire with unspeakable love, which in turn brings continual pain.” These words appear in the opening section of St. Catherine of Siena’s The Dialogue. They seem a good starting point for our Lenten journey.
In so knowing me… As the title of the book indicates, The Dialogue is a description of the mystical experiences of St. Catherine in her relationship with God. Thus, the first phrase of our meditation is about coming to know God. Yes, it is possible to know God. We may not have mystical experiences, but God is longing to reveal his love for us.
From the beginning, God created all things in love. He so fell in love with us that he drew us forth from himself, and created us in his image and likeness. (he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 3:4) Even despite the original sin of our first parents and the many sins that followed down through the ages, God continues to love us. He chose in love the people of Israel to be his special people. He sent the Patriarchs, Moses, great Kings and prophets to continually renew his covenant with us. After all of this, he sent his only begotten Son that we might gaze upon the face of God and live. In Jesus, we have the fullness of the new and eternal covenant; the fullness of the law and the prophets. Yes, God longs to reveal himself to us. He has done all things that we may come to know him and love him. He awaits our response, each one individually.
The soul catches fire… For something (someone) to catch fire, it must be brought into contact with the fire or a very powerful source of heat. Likewise, the human heart (soul) must be prepared to receive the fire of God’s love. We do not put green wood on a fire (unless it is all we have to burn.) Wood needs to season in order to be a proper fuel. Lent is like that period of seasoning for our souls. We allow time for silence, which may also include less time exposed to the media and messages of the world around us. We spend time in prayer. We give additional attention to the reception of the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and Eucharist. We take on additional practices of charity to ease the pain and suffering of others. We identify sinful behaviors that have crept into our lives and devote careful attention to better understand these practices that we might remove them from our life by the grace of God. We identify virtues that need our attention and effort.
But even if we are like the green wood, if the fire is hot enough, (as is Divine Love) it will boil out any moisture present (selfishness) and consume the fuel that is offered (self-gift.) But we must first freely and willingly offer ourselves to God, and allow the Fire of His Love to transform us. Lent is a time for such conversion.
With unspeakable love… “We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) For our love to grow, we must draw near the source of love, God. “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) We come to know God through his Son, Jesus. Our Lenten journey is to be a journey with Christ.
Which in turn brings continual pain. St. Catherine teaches that when one falls in love with God, pain is experienced on two levels; for one’s own sins and the awareness of the sins of those around her (such as the blindness and indifference people show towards God.) God further speaks to St. Catherine “She suffers because she loves me…” The truth of this statement is revealed in the final moments of Christ’s life and ministry upon the cross. Christ loved the Father. In love with the Father, he sought only and always to accomplish the Father’s will. The will of the Father is to redeem humanity and all creation from sin. Thus, in his great love for the Father and for us, Jesus suffered. Jesus suffered the humiliation and pain of the cross to reveal to the world the fullness of God’s mercy, compassion and love.
Jesus speaks to us from the cross: “See how great, how infinite my love is for you.” Finite suffering of a single person could not suffice to make amends for the offenses our sins are to the infinite love of God. Therefore, only the infinite love of Christ can suffice for our redemption. This is why we believe that Christ’s offering on the cross is the new and eternal covenant. Our celebration of the Eucharist is a participation in this one and eternal offering of Christ for the salvation of the world.
And how do we enter into this offering; by interior desire and intention. The beautiful Morning Offering prayer has a great theology that explains this communion with Christ in the Paschal Mystery:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, For the intentions of your Sacred Heart, In union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, In reparation for my sins and for those of my associates, And in particular for the intentions recommended this month by the Holy Father.
The ‘center’ of this prayer is the Mass, the Eucharist, The Paschal Mystery, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Each day, particularly during each Mass, we seek to join our interior disposition and intention to Jesus’ intention, which is to accomplish the will of the Father, which is the Redemptive Mission of the Church.
Jesus suffered on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. His suffering was a result of his love for the Father and his love for us. Likewise, our love for God and neighbor is exercised in each and every moment of our day. This point came clearly to mind for me recently regarding the manner in which I fulfill my duties as your bishop. There is a big difference between fulfilling my obligations as a bishop, and fulfilling my duties with love. I can endure the sacrifices entailed in ‘my work’ as a bishop, or I can offer my sufferings through love with Christ as the fulfillment of ‘my ministry’ as the Chief Shepherd of this local portion of the family of God.
The same is true for all of us. As we grow in love with Christ and in our awareness of his infinite love for us, we are then called by the same Christ and sent by him to carry out our unique vocation with great love. The love we are speaking of here is not just any love, but the love we experience from Christ; a “love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)
When the love of Christ so fills us and so compels us in all things, then we can say with St. Paul:
“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:19b-20)
This Lent invites us to stand at the foot of the cross with our Blessed Mother and St. John, where Jesus speaks to us of his love. His wounds are openings into the infinite love of God. His open side reveals the infinite love that flows from his Sacred Heart. From his mouth flows not only wisdom and instruction for life, but the Eternal Word of Life.
This Lent, spend time in the school of the cross. Sit at the feet of the Master Teacher. Allow Jesus teach you a love that ‘endures all things.’ Allow Jesus to draw you into the ‘love that never fails.’
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians teaches: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world…” This is perhaps one of the clearest Scriptural teachings that the Author of life is God, through the Word, Jesus Christ.
St. Catherine of Siena must have been profoundly aware of this text when she teaches about the generative Love of God. In her Dialogue, St. Catherine reveals this prolific love of God in these words: “Why did you so dignify us? With unimaginable love you looked upon your creatures within your very self, and you fell in love with us. So it was love that made you create us and give us being just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good.” (Dialogue #13)
These days leading up to the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision which made abortion legal upon demand in our country, many people will march, attend Mass, offer prayers, visit their state capitols, and probably many other things. Best estimates are that in the last 40 years, in this country alone, some 55 million lives have been legally ended in the womb.
With St. Paul’s teaching, reflected in the teaching of St. Catherine, it is pretty clear that life in the womb is a life generated from ‘the womb of God.’ Each of us is a ‘creature’, whose origin is the loving gaze of God, who looks upon us ‘within His very self’ and draws us forth from this Love. This is the love that is the very being of God; the love of the Father for the Son, the love of the Son for the Father, the Holy Spirit that is love.
This is what being created in the image and likeness of God means: to be drawn forth from love; created for love. Thus, every human life conceived in the womb is conceived with a spark of divinity! No wonder we cherish all life as sacred and worthy of the dignity of the children of God. No wonder we believe that all life conceived in the womb is worth all our effort to protect so that the child may come forth from the Light of God into the light of the world.
As the March for Life in Washington D.C. approaches again this year, please join the many voices crying out to God in prayer for the protection of all life and the protection of all those witnessing to the dignity and sanctity of life. Please keep this great prayer as one of your intentions as you attend Mass this weekend. Try to attend a daily Mass in the coming week for this important national intercession.
You are invited as well to join the Novena which begins today, Saturday, January 19. Our Blessed Mother asks us to join our prayers and sacrifices together under her Maternal care, that she may take them to her Son. Let us join all our prayers and sacrifices to the redemptive mission of Jesus. Let us together with Jesus seek the Divine Will of the Father. Through our faith, hope and love, God can and will do great things!
Yesterday was the first day in Rome. After arriving at the North American College, I spent some time in the Blessed Sacrament chapel where many hours were spent as a seminarian, prayerfully discerning and listening to the voice of the Lord as He lead me to His altar of Priesthood. There is a beautiful image of the Good Shepherd on the door of the tabernacle in this chapel, and it is aptly named, the “Good Shepherd Chapel.” It was nice to be praying in the chapel again on Good Shepherd Sunday.
I then joined our two seminarians, Dan Poelma and Bob Rodgers, and the entire NAC community for Sunday Brunch. Following lunch we were able to arrive in St. Peter’s Square to join thousands of other pilgrims for the Noon Angelus with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. St. Peter’s Square was packed. I suspect a good many pilgrims have returned this week to mark the first anniversary of the Beatification of Blessed John Paul II.
Following a little ‘jet lag nap’, I celebrated Mass with some of the other bishops who were just arriving. We then made a nice viist to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where St. Catherine of Siena is buried, as 29 April marks her feast day. St. Catherine is one of my favorites, and she once again provided a few spiritual gifts to mark the occasion.
Before leaving the College, I breifly met and visited with Archbishop Peter Sartain, who is the delegate for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith to work with the Leadership Conference of Religious Women. During my visit to the tomb of St. Catherine, I sought her intercession for the LCWR Leadership and Archbishop Sartain. She has always proven to be a great intercessor, and I’m confident the dialouge between Archbishop Sartain and the LCWR leadership will be fruitful. I also prayed for all our many, good sisters and all their good work.
Today, a new day begins. As each day here in Rome for this ad limina visit, I remember all the people, institutions and ministries of the Diocese of Cheyenne in my prayers. Today, I especially include all my classmates. It will be a true grace to celebrate Mass this evening in the Immaculate Conception Chapel here at the Pontifical North American College.
May all of you have a blessed day!
The Church pertains to all people, because Christ pertains to all people. (See De Lubac, Catholicism, pp. 48-55) This statement is about something fundamental to the human person, all people, of all times. This ‘truth’ is expressed in simple statements found in Mark”s Gospel: Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them… and he preached the Word to them. Mark uses a similar statement in the first chapter of his Gospel: When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. Numerous other times in the Gospels we hear of the great crowds that followed Jesus.
The reality of the great human interest in Jesus is no doubt partially about his capacity to perform miracles, or his great oratory skills, or his tremendous insight into the human person. But this great human interest in Jesus expresses a far greater truth about Who Jesus is as the Son of God, and about the fundamental truth of how the entirety of humanity is born by and in the person of Jesus Christ.
Christ is indeed God. Christ is one with the Father, as our Creed states; Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages….begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, through him all things were made.
Christ is the image of the Father. We know this, because in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells Philip: Whoever sees me sees the Father. We also know from the Book of Genesis that we are created in the image and likeness of God. This necessarily implies that from the beginning, all humanity is created in the image of Christ. Henri De Lubac in his work Catholicism; Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, reflects upon these scriptural statements together with the teachings of the early Church Fathers.
For instance, we know that in the Incarnation, the WORD became flesh. This is how De Lubac views the Incarnation: Christ virtually takes all humanity to himself, from the very beginning of his existence, and bears all humanity within himself. He comes to this understanding through writings such as St. Cyril of Alexandria who said: “Every man was in Christ Jesus.” Or St. Hilary’s statement: “Christ became the flesh of our universal humanity.”
In other words, we are all in Christ. As He is in the image of the Father, we are in His image. All of humanity finds its unity in Christ, because he bore the entirety of humanity in his flesh. He took the entirety of humanity and the sins of humanity to the cross. Upon the cross, Jesus worked out the redemption of humanity.
This is why Christ is so naturally appealing, so wonderfully attractive. Every person sees in Christ his or her self. Every person sees in Christ what he or she longs for, namely, renewal, a fresh start, completion, fulfillment, healing, wholeness, in short, redemption and salvation!
St. Catherine of Sienam’mirrors’ this thinking and theology. For example, in a Letter to Raymond of Capua (1376) she writes:
So, think, my dearest sons, there is no other way we can see either our dignity or the faults that mar our soul’s beauty, except by going to look into the quiet sea of the divine Being. There, in that Being, we see our reflection. Why? Because we came forth from there when God’s wisdom created us in God’s image and likeness. There we discover the union of the Word engrafted into our humanity; we discover and see and experience the blazing furnace of his charity, the means by which God gave us to ourselves and later united the Word with us and us with the Word when he took on our human nature. (Letters, Noffke, Vol. II)
As another Lenten season quickly approaches, may we spend more time prayerfully gazing into the Divine, so as to discover the ‘truth’ of my own self, and a deeper understanding of the human person. The human person does not define his or her self. To do so leads to a distorted view of person and personal freedom. A true understanding of the human person can only be found in proper relationship with God, in the person of Jesus Christ. Such knowledge of God and knowledge of self are always greatly needed, and our ‘time’ is proving to be no different.
On the Feast of All Souls, we are reminded to pray for the faithful who have gone to their rest with a belief in the resurrection and the hope of eternal life. Just as yesterday’s feast of All Saints instructs us of the hope we have in the powerful intercession of the Saints on our behalf, today, we practice our belief in the power our prayers carry on behalf of the faithful departed.
It is good for us in this life to ponder the various realities of the Kingdom of Heaven. It helps us clearly keep in mind our ultimate end, so as to keep our priorities straight in this life. It helps us also be generous in praying not only for our own needs, but for those who may still need our assistance in this life as well as those who are now beyond the grave and totally dependent on our prayers.
I am mindful of a common thought of St. Catherine of Siena to “hunger for the salvation of souls.” Here is one such line from one of her letters: Realize my sons, that it is impossible for us either to learn about or to have the good life, or to be hungry for God’s honor and the salvation of souls, unless we go to the school of the Word, the lamb slain and abandoned on the cross, because it is there that the true teaching is found. This is what He said: “I am way and truth and life.” (The Letters of Catherine of Siena, Volume II, edited by Noffke, p. 5)
We do not tend to use much these days this language of “souls”, or “salvation of souls”, but it still accurately speaks to one of the primary purposes of the Church, and its members.
The other thought today always raises for me is why some “souls” after dying are still in need of our prayers. It has to do with free will. Free will is only for this life. Here we “choose” to believe in God or not. Here we “choose” to love, or not. God forces neither of these realities upon us. However, once we draw our last breath, and come face to face with God, there will no longer be such “freedom”, because the reality of the Truth of God and God’s love will be overwhelming and complete, and the only reality then is “Yes”.
For those who now need our prayers to enter into the fullness of God, the Church provides a beautiful celebration such as today. The complimentary reality is that it reminds us, the living, to continue to use our free will wisely in preparation for the moment we are brought face to face with the Living God!
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena. Those who know me know that she is a favorite of mine, for many reasons. She was a woman of great faith, whose love for the Lord was intense, mystical, persevering, and shown in practical and fruitful ways in her love for the Church, the Holy Father “Christ on earth”, and for the People of God.
She worked tirelessly for the unity of the Church. I think this is one of the more inspiring aspects of her personal charism for my own life and ministry. In her honor and memory today, I share with you a brief selection from one of her prayers. In this prayer, St. Catherine prays for a “vicar”, most certainly the Holy Father. Not a bad example for us today to remember to pray for our Holy Father, and all those who serve in union with him, especially his closest advisers.
in yourself you show us the world’s need,
and even more the Church’s need
because she is founded in your Son’s blood
and in her that blood is preserved.
You show us, too, the love you have for your vicar,
because you have made him the minister of this blood.
So I shall contemplate myself in you so that I may become pure,
and thus purified I shall cry out in the presence of your mercy
so that you may turn the eye of your compassion
toward the need of your bride, and enlighten and strengthen your vicar.
Enlighten also, most perfectly, your servants,
so that they may counsel him rightly and sincerely.
And make him willing to follow the light you pour into them.
Prayer 12: The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, edited by Suzanne Noffke, O.P.
St. Catherine, Pray for us.