I’m going to be sort of boring this week. I have been immersed in the writings and life of Catherine of Siena, so I thought I would share some interesting quotes.
Catherine is one of those saints about whom we hear a snippet and think we’ve got. “Single woman – 14th century Italy – encouraged the Pope to return to Rome – hardly ate anything – died young.”
Well, of course there is more, and it is not difficult to find. Hundreds of her letters have come down to us, and we have her Dialogue – her mystical treatise that she dictated/wrote – as well as the witness of those who knew her.
Studying Catherine the past week has been a bit of a revelation to me. The papal politics in which she involved herself went deeper than just “Pope should go back to Rome” into issues related to the relations between city-states and the Papal States. It was all very practical and messy, and Catherine herself sometimes wondered if she had always done the right thing in her activism – not about getting the Pope back to Rome, but about other particular political issues related to Florence and Siena.
Also, she was..intense.
These are truly random quotes.
This is the sign that people’s trust is in Me rather than in themselves: that they have no slavish fear. Those who trust in themselves are afraid of their own shadow; they expect both heaven and earth to let them down. This fear makes them so concerned about acquiring and holding on to temporal things that they seem to toss the spiritual behind their backs.
They forget that I am the One who provides for everything that may be needed for soul or body. In the measure that you put your trust in Me, in that measure will My Providence be meted out to you. So consider it useless to wear yourself out guarding you city unless it is guarded by Me. Every effort is useless for those who think they can guard their city by their own toil or concern, for I alone am the Guardian.
The only ones who are afraid are those who think they are alone, who trust in themselves and have no loving charity. They are afraid of every little thing because they are alone, deprived of Me. For it is I who give complete security to the soul who possesses me in love. My glorious loved ones experienced well that nothing could harm their souls because I responded to the love and faith and trust they had put in Me. (119)
I ask you to love me with same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I love you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me–that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me. So your love should be sincere. You should love your neighbors with the same love with which you love me. Do you know how you can tell when your spiritual love is not perfect? If you are distressed when it seems that those you love are not returning your love or not loving you as much as you think you love them. Or if you are distressed when it seems to you that you are being deprived of their company or comfort, or that they love someone else more than you.
From these and from many other things you should be able to tell if your love for me and for your neighbors is still imperfect and that you have been drinking from your vessel outside of the fountain, even though your love was drawn from me. But it is because your love for me is imperfect that you show it so imperfectly to those you love with a spiritual love. (64)
These are the virtues, with innumerable others, that are brought to birth in love of neighbor. But why have I established such differences? Why do I give this person one virtue and that person another, rather than giving them all to one person? It is true that all the virtues are bound together, and it is impossible to have one without having them all. But I give them in different ways so that one virtue might be, as it were, the source of all the others. So to one person I give charity as the primary virtue, to another justice, to another humility, to another a lively faith or prudence or temperance or patience, and to still another courage.
The same is true of many of my gifts and graces, virtues and other spiritual gifts, and those things necessary for the body and human life. I have distributed them all in such a way that no one has all of them. Thus have I given you reason – necessity, in fact – to practice mutual charity. For I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me. So whether you will it or not, you cannot escape the exercise of charity! Yet, unless you do it for love of me, it is worth nothing to you in the realm of grace. (7)
When love grows, so does sorrow. (5)
All mystics express themselves in metaphor. In trying to relate profound spiritual intimacy, what else can one do?
Catherine’s writings – in the Dialogue, her expression of her mystical encounters with God – explode with metaphors, often wildly mixed. Her most well-known metaphor – Christ as the Bridge – can’t be depicted visually as, say, can Theresa’s castle. It’s just so all over the place – the Bridge stretches between heaven and earth, it stretches across the wild river of worldly sin, it is composed of three steps, the steps are the feet, side and mouth of Christ…etc…etc.
I love this excerpt in which she communicates what God is revealing to her about the human soul and evangelization via images of both fishing and music, intricately, improbably, yet oddly comfortably mixed:
So one’s catch will be as perfect as one’s cast. But those who are perfect catch plenty and with great perfection…..The soul’s movements, then, make a jubilant sound, its chords tempered and harmonized with prudence and light, all of them melting into one sound, the glorification and praise of my name.
Into this same sound where the great chords of the soul’s powers are harmonized, the small chords of the body’s senses and organs are blended. Just as I told you, when I was speaking to you about the wiccked, that they all give a dead sound when they let in their enemies, so those who welcome as friends true and solid virtues give a sound of life, every instrument playing in good holy actions. Every member does the work given it to do, each one perfect in its own way the eye in seeing, the ear n hearing, the nose in smelling, the taste in tasting, the tongue in speaking, the hands in touching and working, the feet in walking . All are harmonized in one sound to serve their neighbors for the glory and praise of my name to serve the soul with good, holy, virtuous actions, obediently responding to the soul as its organs. They are pleasing to me, pleasing to the angels, pleasing to those who are truly joyful who wait with great joy and gladness for the day they will share each others’ happiness, and pleasing to the world. Whether the world is willing or not, the wicked cannot but feel the pleasantness of this sound. And many, many continue to be caught on this instrumental hook /they leave death behind and come to life.
All the saints have gone fishing with this organ. The first to sound forth the sound of life was the gentle loving Word when he took on your humanity. On the cross he made a sweet sound with this humanity united with the Godhead, and he caught the children of the human race. He also caught the devil, for he took away from him the lordship he had had for so long because of his sin
All the rest of you sound forth when you learn from this maestro. The apostles learned from him and sowed his word throughout the world. The martyrs and confessors, the doctors and virgins, all caught souls with their sound. Consider the glorious virgin Ursula She played her instrument so sweetly that she caught eleven thousand from the virgins alone and from all sorts of folk she caught more with this same sound. And so with all the others, one in this way, another in that. What is the reason? My infinite providence, which gave them these instruments and taught them how and what to play. And everything I give and permit them in this life is a way for them to improve their instruments if they choose to discern it and do not choose to cast off the light and see by the cloud of their own self-centeredness, self-complacency, and self-opinionatedness. (147)
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