MYSTICISM: Profitable Teachings From The Life Of The Bride Of Christ Catherine Of Siena
beginning with what our Lord taught her and continuing with what she taught her followers
From The Cell of Self-Knowledge
The first thing our Lord taught her was this:
Daughter, do you not know who you are and who I am? If you know these two things, you are blessed and will continue to be so. You are she that is not, and I am he who is. As long as you keep an awareness of these two facts in your heart, your enemy the devil will never deceive you, and you will be able to slip easily out of all his traps. You will never give way to temptation to do anything against my commandments and teachings, and you will have no difficulty in winning my grace, truth, and love.
The second thing he taught her was this:
As long as you think of me, I shall think of you.
When she told people about this saying of the Lord’s, she used to say:
A soul that is truly united to God is not conscious of itself; it neither sees, nor loves itself, nor anyone else, but keeps its thoughts on God alone, not on any creature.
She would explain these words more fully by saying:
A soul in this state sees that in itself it is nothing, that all its virtue and all its strength belongs to God, its maker, alone. So it abandons itself and all other creatures completely and takes refuge in its creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, to such an extent that it casts all its spiritual and physical actions wholly on to him, in whom it sees that it will find every blessing and the fullness of goodness. This means that it has no desire to look for anything outside this intimate knowledge of him, for any reason whatsoever.
Being united in love in this way – a love which increases day by day – the soul becomes as it were changed into our Lord, so that it can neither think, nor understand, nor love, nor be conscious of anything but God or what belongs to God. It sees itself and all other creatures only in God; it loves itself and all other creatures only in God; it is only conscious of itself and of all other creatures in God, and is conscious only of the presence of its creator. And so, she used to say, there is nothing that should concern us other than to think how to please him to whom we have entrusted everything that we do both in body and soul
The third thing our Lord taught her, about how to acquire virtue and strength of mind, was this:
My daughter, if you want to acquire virtue and strength of mind, you must follow me. It would have been possible for me, thanks to the divine virtue that is in me, to have vanquished the evil one in any number of ways. I chose, however, to do it only by accepting death on a cross, so as to give you an example in my humanity. So if you want to overcome your spiritual enemies, you must learn from this example to take up your cross as I did. If you keep my sufferings on the cross in mind, you will find this a great comfort in times of temptation. The sufferings of the cross might well be called comfort in temptation, since the more sufferings you bear for love of me, the more like me you become. And if you can share in my sufferings, then you can share in my joys.
So, daughter, learn to suffer the harsh things of life with patience, and not only its delights, for the sake of my love. Do not be afraid: you will be strong enough to bear everything patiently.
The first thing Saint Catherine taught was this:
A soul that is truly united to God will hate its own sensuality as much as it loves God. Loving God naturally leads to hating sin, since this is an offence against God. So, seeing that the cause and first stirrings of sin lie in the bodily senses, and that this is where it operates most freely, the soul is moved most powerfully and with all the holy strength God gives it to attack its own sensuality. It will not be able to destroy its sensuality root and branch: this is not possible as long as a soul is attached to a body in this life; there will always be a section of root left in the ground of the soul, consisting of small minor sins. Because it is unable to destroy the root of sin in its sensuality completely, the soul becomes extremely annoyed with its sensuality, and this develops into a holy hatred of this sensuality, and a great contempt for it, which keep the soul well away from its spiritual enemies. There is nothing like this holy hatred for keeping the soul strong and secure against temptation.
This is what Saint Paul meant when he said, “For it is when I am weak that I am strong,” (2 Corinthians 12:10), meaning that when his sensuality has been weakened through hatred of sin, then his soul is stronger and more powerful. This hatred brings forth virtue; this weakness produces strength; this annoyance leads to delight. This holy hatred makes people humble, and makes them think humble thoughts about themselves. It makes them patient in times of trouble, and moderate in using the good things of this world when they have them. It sets them on the honest course of virtue, and causes them to be loved by God and by their fellows.
Without this holy hatred, we are led to inordinate self-love, and this is the polluted source of all sin, and the root cause of all evil desires. And so, she would say, your first concern must be to put aside any such inordinate self-love, to root it out of your heart, and to plant a holy hatred of sin in its place. This is the sure way to perfection and the only way to turn aside from sin.
This is what she used to say to the devils who assaulted her:
I put my trust in my Lord Jesus Christ, and not in myself.
This is a rule she gave for how to behave when we are tempted:
When you feel temptation welling up in you, she advised, never start arguing or querying. That is exactly what the devil most wants you to do – to start questioning him – because he is so confident in the subtlety of his evil powers being able to get the better of you through crafty arguments. So you should never ask the devil questions, nor answer the questions he asks you. Turn to devout prayer instead, and put your trust in the Lord not to let you give way to the devil’s clever demands. Prayer and a firm faith will enable you to overcome any temptation the devil may put in your path, however subtle.
This is a sensible discourse this holy woman gave us on how to avoid the devil’s temptations:
It can happen, she said, that sometimes some fault or some new, cunning temptation of the devil will make a soul that loves our Lord lose its fervor and become turgid and dull-witted, or even down-right frigid. This can be so discouraging for some foolish people that they think they have lost the spiritual comfort they were used to having. So they abandon the spiritual exercises they used to practice – prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, the eucharist and penance – and thereby leave themselves more readily open to succumb to the wiles of the devil. There is nothing the devil wants more than that Christ’s warriors should abandon the weapons with which they used to be able to defeat their enemies. A prudent warrior for Jesus should never do this; instead, whenever he sees, or feels, that he is becoming dull, slow or cold in his devotions, he should not give up his spiritual exercises, but rather redouble them.
This is another of this holy woman’s meditations, something she used to say to herself for the edification of other people:
You miserable, wretched creature, do you deserve any sort of comfort in this life? You poor sinner, what do you think you can do by yourself? Don’t you think it’s enough for you to be freed from everlasting damnation through the great mercy of our Lord? You should consider this reward enough, even though your soul should suffer every sort of torment and desolation every day of your life. So why are you distressed and cast down by these sufferings, when God’s grace has undoubtedly allowed you to escape so many of the sufferings endured by Christ, and will surely bring you eternal reward if you bear these present sufferings patiently? Did you choose to serve our Lord only for the sake of the consolations he could bring you in this life? No, for the sake of the reward he would bring you in the happiness of Heaven. So pull yourself together, don’t give up your spiritual exercises but redouble your efforts in them.
This is how she answered the devil after he had long threatened her with intolerable suffering, and so won a final victory over him:
I have chosen sufferings to be my refreshment, so it is not hard for me to bear them. I can rather rejoice in them for love of my Savior, for as long as he may be pleased I should bear them.”
This is something else she said, about to make the best use of God’s grace:
Anyone who can use God’s grace in this way will soon achieve victory in everything he or she does: what you need to do, she said, is think to yourself, whenever anything new happens to you, whether it brings you good fortune or bad: “There is something I can gain from this.” If you can do this consistently, you will soon be rich in virtue.
And now, finally, here are some noteworthy things she taught her followers the last time she addressed them before her death, which they noted down. The first of them is this:
Whoever you are, from whatever walk of life, if you want to serve God truly and come to full knowledge of him, you must empty your heart of all love belonging to the senses, not only love for certain special people, but love for anyone at all, and make your soul reach up to our Lord and Creator alone, with all its strength and with all your heart’s desire. A heart can only be given completely to God if it is freed from all other loves, so that it has become whole and open, with no hint of deceit left in it.
She said that her main concern from her youth till that moment had been to reach this state of perfection.
She went on to say that this state of perfection, in which the heart is completely given over to God, cannot be reached except through a life-long practice of fervent prayer. This prayer must be rooted in humility, proceeding not from any confidence in oneself and one’s virtues, but from the knowledge that of oneself one is nothing. This, she said, had been her constant endeavor, to give herself up to the practice of prayer, so that it became second nature to her, since she saw that all the virtues are increased and greatly strengthened through prayer, whereas without it, they decline and weaken.
So she encouraged her followers to persevere in prayer, and told them about two sorts of prayer: vocal and mental. Vocal prayers, she told them, should be said at the hours of the day and night laid down by the church in the divine office. Mental prayer, however, must become a constant habit of the soul, so that it is practiced at all times.
She said, too, that her lively faith had enabled her to see that whatever happened to her, or to anyone else, came from God, not through any ill-will he might bear his creatures, but from his overwhelming love. This same faith, she went on, also bred in her a loving willingness to obey the commands of her religious superiors as though they were God’s commandments, accepting them as coming from God, either for her own good or to ensure an increase of virtue in her soul.
Another thing she said was that if people wished to be truly pure in soul, they must take care to refrain from passing any sort of judgment on their neighbors, and from idle gossip about what their neighbors might have done. Instead, they should see nothing but God’s will in everyone. So we should not judge people in any way, not seeking to condemn them or think ill of them even if they openly commit sin. What we should do is feel compassion for them, and pray for them, not feel superior to them and blame them.
Finally, she said she put all her hope and trust in divine providence, since she knew from experience that divine providence was a wonderful thing, and that it would never disappoint those who placed their trust in it.
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