Friday, April 29, 2016

Catherine Benincasa

Today is the feast of St. Catherine Benincasa of Siena, Doctor of the Church. The following is from a letter to Daniella of Orvieto. Sr. Daniella had fallen ill and thus was unable to complete her usual penitential practices and fell into a depression because of it, suspecting that she was damned; so St. Catherine counsels her to keep her sense of proportion. This is in line with her usual custom of advising contemplatives to avoid excess in penitential practices; she usually advises those in active life to engage in more penitential practices.

Penance to be sure must be used as a tool, in due times and places, as need may be. If the flesh, being too strong, kicks against the spirit, penance takes the rod of discipline, and fast, and the cilice of many buds, and mighty vigils; and places burdens enough on the flesh, that it may be more subdued. But if the body is weak, fallen into illness, the rule of discretion does not approve of such a method. Nay, not only should fasting be abandoned, but flesh be eaten; if once a day is not enough, then four times. If one cannot stand up, let him stay on his bed; if he cannot kneel, let him sit or lie down, as he needs. This discretion demands. Therefore it insists that penance be treated as a means and not as a chief desire.

Dost thou know why it must not be chief? That the soul may not serve God with a thing that can be taken from it and that is finite: but with holy desire, which is infinite, through its union with the infinite desire of God; and with the virtues which neither devil nor fellow-creature nor weakness can take from us, unless we choose. Herein must we make our foundation, and not in penance. Nay, in weakness the virtue of patience may be tested; in vexing conflicts with devils, fortitude and long perseverance; and in adversities suffered from our fellow-beings, humility, patience, and charity. So as to all other virtues—God lets them be tested by many contraries, but never taken from us, unless we choose. Herein must we make our foundation, and not in penance.

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