Thursday, April 29, 2021

Catherine of Siena: An "Ever Greater Hunger..."

She was a small woman, not one who would stand out for any visible reason in an ordinary crowd on an ordinary day.

This image is from her tomb in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. To go there felt like visiting a wise and kind friend nearly three decades ago when I was living in Rome. What fire she must have been during her life, drawing so many to a deeper relationship with Christ and counseling (even admonishing, with firmness but also winning affection) popes and princes and the great people of her time. Her time, of course, was the latter part of the 14th century: a time of restlessness and great change, a time full of problems and dangers for the Church and society in Europe. There was much need for admonishment in those days, along with courage, wisdom, clarity, single-heartedness, and witness to the reality of the presence of Jesus amidst a multitude of distractions, lies, and violence. In their basic needs and in their brokenness, those days were not unlike our own.

Above all, what was needed then (as it is so desperately today) was Love. The awakening and the remembrance and the renewal of human persons in their relationship with the God who is Love. 

April 29 is the feast day of the incomparable Saint Catherine of Siena, a daughter of God, and a free woman in the face of all the powers of this world. She was an instrument for conversion and spiritual growth to those around her, and she poured herself out in deep prayer, contemplating God's love and sharing the fruits of her contemplation with others (as her spiritual writings and many letters attest). She sought always to draw people away from the nihilism of sin and toward the infinite reality of a loving and merciful God:

“What heart is so hard and stubborn that it would not melt contemplating the affectionate love divine goodness bears for it? Love, then, love! Ponder the fact that you were loved before ever you loved. For God looked within himself and fell in love with the beauty of his creature and so created us. He was moved by the fire of his ineffable charity to one purpose only: that we should have eternal life and enjoy the infinite good God was enjoying in himself. Oh boundless love, well have you shown that love!”

Catherine knew that the drama of human existence, the boundless desire of the human heart, can only find fulfillment in the embrace of the Mystery who is Infinite Love, who is revealed to us in the heart of Jesus.