On Mercy: Thoughts from the life of Catherine of Siena

As the dust of last night’s elections settles, it seems like a good time to mention a charming biography I’m reading right now, Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life by Don Brophy (BlueRidge Press).

Catherine found herself constantly contending with politics, both temporal and ecclesial. She herself had many detractors — those who despised her for being an uneducated female; those within her own order who protested the fact that she wore the habit of the Dominican tertiary (Mantellata) yet had a public outreach that included the spiritual guidance of men; and those who regularly accused her of all kinds of faults, especially pride and wilfullness.

Her response to her detractors is worth noting. “The sword of divine charity,” she wrote, “must be hidden in the house of our soul of true knowledge of ourselves. For when we know what we are not, and that we are constantly producing nothingness, we at once become humble before God and before everyone else for God’s sake” (p.85).

It is by continually seeking true self-knowledge — of our relative littleness in the eyes of God — that we are able to progress in true charity.  When those we love stumble or fail us personally, it is easier to forebear when we recall our own shortcomings.  When those we find difficult to love cause added pain, or simply win the battle of the day, we can detach from anger and bitterness more readily when we recognize how little it will matter in the end, and that God loves our enemies just as he loves us and continually longs for our reconciliation.

Therefore, we may never be more Christ-like in this life than when we extend mercy, measuring a person not by the humiliation of his (or her) worst moments, nor out of the expectation of their periodic triumphs, but with the understanding of what it is to be human — with all the frailties and graces of our common nature.

Heavenly Father, you are God and we are not. You hold time and space in the palms of your hands. You sent your Son to identify with the human race; from his side flows rivers of mercy, stemming the tide of terrible justice, the natural consequence of our continued rebellion. Help us now, by your Spirit, to carry your divine image out into the world fearlessly, consistently, and with great faith. In your Holy Name, Amen.

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One thought on “On Mercy: Thoughts from the life of Catherine of Siena

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  1. Glad to hear you liked my book. As far as I know, you are the only reviewer to call it “charming.” A compliment indeed!

    Don Brophy

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