Lessons on God’s Love from Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Catholic Church and Patroness of Europe.  She has long been among my favorites of the mystics of the Catholic Church.  Catherine was a laywoman associated with the Dominican order who lived during the 14th century.

Catherine had a deep and intimate friendship with God and she was open to hearing God’s voice.  When she spoke about prayer, she said that the humble soul waits patiently for the flame of love.  When asked how the soul waited, Catherine said, “not lazily, but in watching and constant humble prayer.”

She also compared prayer to filling our cup at the fountain of love.  She writes:

Even simple folk know this…If you have received God’s love sincerely without self-interest, you will drink your neighbor’s love sincerely.  It is just like a vessel that you fill at the fountain.  If you take it out of the fountain to drink, the vessel is soon empty.  But if you hold your vessel in the fountain while you drink, it will not get empty: Indeed it will always be full.

Most of what we know about the fruits of Catherine’s prayer life comes from a work titled The Dialogue (or The Dialogue of Divine Providence), which Catherine started writing two years before her death, and which is now hailed as a classic of Western spirituality.

One of the recurring themes of The Dialogue is God’s deep love for humanity.  In words reminiscent of the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, God tells Catherine, “I loved you before you came into being.”  Here is how God expounded on tht love to Catherine:

It was with providence that I created you, and when I contemplated my creature in myself I fell in love with the beauty of my creation.  It pleased me to create you in my image and likeness with great providence.  I provided you with the gift of memory so that you might hold fast my benefit and be made a sharer in my own, the eternal Father’s power.  I gave you understanding so that in the wisdom of my only-begotten Son you might comprehend and know what I the eternal Father want, I who gave you graces with such burning love.  I gave you a will to love, making you a sharer in the Holy Spirit’s mercy, so that you might love what your understanding sees and knows.  All this my gentle providence did, only that you might be capable of understanding and enjoying me and rejoicing in my goodness by seeing me eternally.

All of us are made to rejoice in God’s love forever.  And so these words are written to each us.  Today, let us hear them as Catherine did.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!


“If Someone Is Glad You Were Born”

I just finished reading Danielle Vella’s Dying to Live: Stories from Refugees on the Road to Freedom.  It is a powerful, albeit heartbreaking read, as Vella gives voice to refugees to tell their harrowing stories.  The refugees whose stories Vella shares left homes for varied reasons; some were targeted by terrorists because they had done work for the US military, others to avoid being forced to take up arms, others physically and otherwise abused because of their minority status.  Many have watched friends and family die, and many languish for years in refugee camps.

I was touched by many things in the book (and I highly recommend you read it), but what prompted this post was something one of the refugees said.

Nabeel was a member of the Hazara minority in Pakistan, forced by terrorists to confine themselves to two neighborhoods in the city in which he lived.  Not permitted to leave the ghetto meant people could not go to work, to school, or anywhere else.  So Nabeel decided to leave.  He was more fortunate than most whose stories we hear in Vella’s book.  He was granted asylum in Sri Lanka and got the benefit of a resettlement program there that helps young refugees complete high school.  Afger four years, he has managed to achieve economic self-sufficiency.

But Nabeel is clear that being self-sufficient is not enough, that he did not become a refugee merely to survive, but rather to be fully alive.  Here is what that means for him.

Truly living means living in the hearts of people, not just doing your thing – everyone does that.  I can’t describe it very well but what I’m trying to say is, if someone is glad you were born, because you help them, that’s when you are truly alive…I want to work hard, to be in a position not just to help myself, but to help the people around me.  What others did for me, I want to do for someone else.

There are many ways we can describe what it means to truly live.   But one way is certainly Nabeel’s.    Truly living is not just living for oneself.  But rather to be an instrument for making positive changes in the life of others.  I love the way he puts it: to make someone glad you were born because you helped them.



What Blinds Us To the Presence of Christ?

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke is one of my favorite of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.

After Jesus’ death, two of his disciples are walking to Emmaus.  Although Luke doesn’t talk about the state they are in, we can imagine that they are sad, dejected, confused, scared.  All of their hopes that Jesus would be one to redeem Israel were dashed when He was arrested and put to death.  We know from what they later tell the man who “drew near and walked with them” that they’ve heard some tale about some women finding an empty tomb and a message from an angelic vision, but it is not clear they believe a word of it.

They converse with the man, not recognizing him and he explains the Scriptures to them.  When they get where they are going, they invite him to stay and eat with them, still not recognizing him.  But then, he takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks the bread and gives it to them.  “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  You can almost feel their joy and consolation when they recognize Jesus.  And they excitedly run off (the Gospel says they “set off”, but you know they went running) to find their friends, recounting “what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

The question that obviously comes to mind is: why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus?  Luke says that when Jesus walked up to them “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”  What prevented them?  As I watch the scene unfold in my imagination, I imagine that they were so focused on their own grief and confusion that they don’t really see the man they are speaking to.

Perhaps the more useful question for us is: what prevents us from seeing Christ when he appears to us?  What blinds us to His presence?  What are we so focused on that we do not recognize Christ, even when He is standing right there in from of us?

All Praise Be Yours For All on This Earth (or Happy Earth Day)

Today is Earth Day!  In honor, consider praying the canticle attributed to St. Francis.

All praise be yours, My Lord
through all that you have made.

And first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day…
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us…and produces various fruits
With colored flowers and herbs…

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

You may also enjoy a song we listened to multiple (many multiple) times when Elena was young: Tom Chapin’s Happy Earth Day.

Everything in Common

Every Easter season, we read from the Acts of the Apostles during our Masses, and in doing so, learn much about the early Christian community.

Today’s Mass reading from Acts tells us that

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

Imagine that!  Making sure each person had what they needed.  Sharing everything, viewing all as for the benefit of all.

It is a vision we should take to heart.  It is a vision we have always needed, but one that is particularly important now as we live through this pandemic.

Are we making sure our health care professionals have what they need?

Are we making sure school children, who would have been receiving meals in school, are being fed?

Are we checking up on our elderly who live alone?

The early Christian community presents a powerful vision….particularly looked at from a world in which nearly 16 million children die every year from preventable and treatable causes and where millions live in hunger or without shelter.

Today’s reading does invite us to reflect on our attitudes about what we have and toward those who lack.  Do we view our property as our own, to do with as we will, or do we appreciate that our possessions are a gift from God that we hold (in Aquinas’ words) for the purpose of “perfecting [our] own nature and [using] them for the benefit of others”?  Do we view it as a fundamental part of who we are as Christians to care for those with less?

And as we reflect on such questions, let us pray this day in a special way for the hungry, the homeless, and those who lack access to basic health care.   As well, we pray for those on the front line of this pandemic.  May they be held in God’s loving embrace.

Go Into the Whole World

In each of the three synoptic Gospels, Jesus commissions the disciples before he departs from them. In Matthew, Jesus says, “go and make disciples of all nations.” In Luke He tells them it is written in the law of Moses that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations.”  In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus tells his disciples to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.

What Jesus commands of his disciples, he also commands of us: Go out into the whole world and preach my Gospel. In his Apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II wrote:

The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization. Through the winding passages of history the Church has made her way under the grace and the command of Jesus Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” …and “lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age”…. “To evangelize,” writes Paul VI, “is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her most profound identity.”

This can be something of a challenge. We have all heard the expression “preach to the choir.” It is quite easy, isn’t it, to preach to the choir, to go out among the already converted. But our task is much more difficult. We are asked – no, charged – to go outside of our own small circles into the whole world and to preach Jesus, to go out and preach the Good News to all peoples. And that is an entirely different matter from preaching comfortably within our own prayer or church groups.

Wherever we are and whatever we do, our speech and our actions signify who we are.   That makes it worthwhile for us to consider:

What do my speech and actions in public signify?

Am I really doing all I can to be Christ for the world – for all the world?

How am I preaching the Gospel to all creatures?

Living as Easter People

Yesterday was Easter Sunday.  Although our celebrations were different this year from our usual large family gatherings, still we celebrated resurrection.

Easter, however, is not a single day, but continues.  And I don’t only mean for the forty days of the Easter Season on the Church’s liturgical calendar.  Rather we live always as Easter people.

So I share with you today some questions for reflection, that I have kept in one of my journals. My suggestion is that you take some prayer time today sitting with one or more of these.

What difference does the Resurrection make for my life?

What would my view of life be, if Jesus had not risen? Of what that is now important to me would I have been deprived if Jesus had not risen?

For what am I grateful because of the Resurrection?

It is so important for us to think hard about what the truths of our faith mean to us individually. Our faith has to be more than simply a set of propositions that we affirm and feast days that we celebrate with pomp and circumstances (followed by large meals). That means that we need to spend time, not simply singing Alleluia that Jesus has risen, but considering what His rising means to us and to how we live our lives.

Holy Saturday and the Tomb Day Experience

Our lead up to Easter this year has been very different than in most years.  No gatherings to participate in foot washing or veneration of the cross.  Lots of sitting in front of our computers or ipads trying our best to participate in online services.  Now, here we are on Holy Saturday.

But however we are doing so, yesterday, Good Friday, we commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus, and tomorrow we will celebrate the Resurrection.

What about today?

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius encourages us to take time in the space between Jesus’ death and His Resurrection, believing it is necessary for us to truly experience Jesus’ death and absence before we can fully appreciate the significance of His rising for us. The “tomb day” experience of the Spiritual Exercises is thus an invitation to envision a world without Jesus.

This is a lot more difficult for us than it was for Jesus’ disciples. For us, the progression from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is almost seamless. We live in a world infused with resurrection, so we never question it. The Resurrection is a given.

Do we really appreciate what we have? Do we have a sense of what life would be if Jesus did not rise on the third day?

The disciples did have a very real sense of this. For them, the death of Jesus was the end. Three years of following Jesus and it was all over. Imagine what they experienced! Fear – that everything Jesus had said and done ended at his death. Powerlessness – believing they had been abandoned by God. The finality of loss – as the stone was put in front of the tomb. Confusion – what would they do now?

Tomb day in the Spiritual Exercises invites us to get in touch with that sense of loss, to try to understand what it would mean to live in a world without Jesus.  Ignatius’ instruction for prayer during this day is to be with the disciples and with Mary in their grief over losing Jesus. To be with them as they take Jesus’ body off the cross, wash and anoint it, place it in the tomb, and watch the rock being rolled across the tomb’s entrance. To be with the other disciples afterwards, cowering in the upper room. One instruction for the tomb day experience says, “Let the effect of Jesus’ death permeate your whole being and the world around you for the whole day.”

I encourage you, amidst the preparation for your Easter celebrations, to take some time today to do exactly that: let Jesus’ death permeate your being; experience, as much as you are able, a world without Jesus.

For a different and wonderful Holy Saturday reflection, check out David Haas’ morning sharing for today.  (I have been benefitting tremendously from his morning and evening Facebook livestreams.)

A Good Friday Reflection

Here is Jan Richardson’s Still (For Good Friday).  Blessings to all on this holy day.

This day
let all stand still
in silence,
in sorrow.

Sun and moon
be still.

be still.

the waters.

the wind.

Let the ground
gape in stunned

Let it weep
as it receives
what it thinks
it will not
give up.

Let it groan
as it gathers
the One
who was thought
forever stilled.

be still.

and wait.


—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, ©Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.