Monday, April 29, 2019

Catherine Benincasa

Today is the feast of Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa (1347-1380), better known as St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. From a letter to Queen Giavanna of Naples:

The soul treats itself with great cruelty when of its own accord it puts the knife with which it can be killed in the hands of its foe. For our foes have no weapons with which they can hurt us. They would be very glad to, but they cannot, because will alone can hurt us; and as for the will, neither demon nor creature can move it, nor force it to one least fault more than it chooses. So the perverse will which consents to the malice of our foes is a knife which kills the soul that gives it into the hand of these foes with its own free choice. Which shall we call the more cruel—the foes or the very person who receives the blow? It is we who are more cruel, for we consent to our own death.

We have three chief foes. First, the devil, who is weak if I do not make him strong by consenting to his malice. He loses his strength in the power of the Blood of the humble and spotless Lamb. The world with all its honours and delights, which is our foe, is also weak, save in so far as we strengthen it to hurt us by possessing these things with intemperate love. In the gentleness, humility, poverty, in the shame and disgrace of Christ crucified, this tyrant the world is destroyed. Our third foe, our own frailty, was made weak; but reason strengthens it by the union which God has made with our humanity, arraying the Word with our humanity, and by the death of that sweet and loving Word, Christ crucified. So we are strong, and our foes are weak.

It is very true, then, that we are more cruel to ourselves than our foes are. For without our help they cannot kill nor hurt us, since God has not given them to us that we might be vanquished, but that we might vanquish them. Then our fortitude and constancy are proved. But I do not see that we can avoid such cruelty and become merciful without the light of most holy faith, opening the eye of the mind to behold how displeasing it is to God and harmful to soul and body, and how pleasing to God and useful to our salvation is mercy.

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