Saturday, June 06, 2020

Asking for Love, Light, and, Knowledge of the Truth

How very pleasing to God is the willing desire to suffer for Him
"Very pleasing to Me, dearest daughter, is the willing desire to bear every pain and fatigue, even unto death, for the salvation of souls, for the more the soul endures,the more she [the soul] shows that she loves Me; loving Me she comes to know more of My truth, and the more she knows, the more pain and intolerable grief she feels at the offenses committed against Me. You asked Me to sustain you, and to punish the faults of others in you, and you did not remark that you were really asking for love, light, and knowledge of the truth, since I have already told you that, by the increase of love, grows grief and pain, wherefore he that grows in love grows in grief.  Therefore, I say to you all, that you should ask, and it will be given you, for I deny nothing to him who asks of Me in truth. Consider that the love of divine charity is so closely joined in the soul with perfect patience, that neither can leave the soul without the other.  For this reason (if the soul elect to love Me) she should elect to endure pains for Me in whatever mode or circumstance I may send them to her.  Patience cannot be proved in any other way than by suffering, and patience is united with love as has been said. Therefore bear yourselves with manly courage, for, unless you do so, you will not prove yourselves to be spouses of My Truth, and faithful children, nor of the company of those who relish the taste of My honor, and the salvation of souls.
The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena, Section 5, 1370 (translated by Algar Thorold, 1907)

Saint Catherine was born one year before the Black Death struck Siena in 1347 (on the feast of the Annuciation!).  She had a twin who died at birth; half of her 22 siblings died as children.  It is estimated that between 30 to 50 percent of the population died between 1348 to 1350.  The city had been as prosperous before the plague as Milan and Florence and never recovered from its effects.  She grew up in a world so different from mine that her life seems incomprehensible.

I've posted this section of her Dialogue because it relates to suffering redemptively.  So, was she masochistic, was she looking for pain to punish herself for whatever?  It is easy through post-Freudian eyes to view her that way, as compensating for the great pain in her family.  A close reading of her writings does not show a desire for pain but a desire for Love.  She lived intensely and attracted many "followers" and yet she spoke often of suffering as well.  Why?  Yes, fundamentally, coming to know the "truth" of Jesus is painful since the fire of Love burns.

I think there is more to her life, though.  Jesus tells her that while she is asking to suffer for the "salvation of others", she did not "remark" that she is really asking for "love, light, and knowledge of the truth".  This is her true desire and it is a desire for good, not for punishment.  I think, rather, that she is seeking to love others by suffering a grief that will help their receiving salvation.  I think this exposes a common misapprehension, that "offering up" my suffering and pain for others somehow magically fixes them. I think that such egocentric suffering is masochistic, in the end, because my suffering does nothing for them if I am not growing in Love and Patience ("a virtue which helps us, for the love of God, to calmly bear our tribulations and preserve serenity amid the sufferings of life. Patience tempers sorrow and staves off excessive anger and complaining"). 

I think hers is the larger frame of suffering with Jesus in the groaning of the birth pangs of the new creation, the kaine ktisis.  It is in my relationship with Jesus, with His Body, the Church, and with Him mystically, that my suffering affects others, that my suffering is redemptive.  The increase in love, light, and knowledge of the truth also brings grieving and sorrowing, not unexpectedly, as I perceive how my and others' acting without love hurts and causes suffering and pain.  So much grieving, so much sorrowing, not as ends in themself, just companions on the way to the new creation.