St. Catherine of Siena

 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)