Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Virgin of Siena

Today is the feast of St. Catherine Benincasa of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church. She is actually the only one of the formally recognized Doctors of the Church who was a layperson, although she was a Dominican Tertiary. From one of her letters, to Catarina di Scetto:

So thou seest that we conceive virtues through God, and bring them to the birth for our neighbour. Thou knowest well that for the necessity of thy neighbour thou bringest forth the child charity that is within thy soul, and patience in the wrongs which thou receivest from him. Thou givest him prayer, particularly to those who have done thee wrong. And thus we ought to do; if men are untrue to us, we ought to be true to them, and faithfully to seek their salvation; loving them of grace, and not by barter. That is, do thou beware not to love thy neighbour for thine own profit; for that would not be faithful love, and thou wouldst not respond to the love which God bears thee. For as God has loved thee of grace, so He wills that since thou canst not return this love to Him, thou return it to thy neighbour, loving him of grace and not by barter, as I said. Neither if thou art wronged, nor if thou shouldst see love toward thee, or thy joy or profit lessened, must thou lessen or stint love toward thy neighbour; but love him tenderly, bearing and enduring his faults; and beholding with great consolation and reverence the servants of God.

Beware lest thou do like mad and foolish people who want to set themselves to investigate and judge the deeds and habits of the servants of God. He who does this is entirely worthy of severe rebuke. Know that it would not be different from setting a law and rule to the Holy Spirit if we wished to make the servants of God all walk in our own way—a thing which could never be done. Let the soul inclined to this kind of judgment think that the root of pride is not yet out, nor true charity toward the neighbour planted—that is, the loving him by grace and not by barter. Then let us love the servants of God, and not judge them. Nay, it befits us to love in general every rational creature: those who are outside of grace we must love with grief and bitterness over their fault, because they wrong God and their own soul. Thus thou shalt be in accord with that sweet enamoured Paul, who mourns with those who mourn, and joys with those who joy; thus thou shalt mourn with those who are in mournful state, through desire for the honour of God and for their salvation; and thou shalt joy with the servants of God who rejoice, possessing God through loving tenderness.

Salutary advice for today, I think, when we seem often tempted to assume that everyone must "walk in our own way".  One of the values of reflecting on the saints is seeing how utterly different from each other they often are.