Friday, August 12, 2005

Spiritual voice (17): from "Life and Teachings" by Catherine of Genoa

[St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) was born into a prominent religious family; her father was the viceroy of Naples and two of his family had been popes. In 1463 she married Guiliano Adorno, a wealthy but worldly man with whom she had little in common. After ten years of living a life of worldly vanity, she converted to the contemplative life. And when Guiliano lost most of his fortune, they had to live among the poor of Genoa. Guiliano then became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis and both he and Catherine worked among the poor and the sick. Catherine was a woman whose spirituality ran deep. Her love for God was matched only by her love for others. Though her writings are full of life and fervor, she is best remembered for her acts of charity. Her main work, "Life and Teachings," shows her keen insight into the pure love of God and the human struggle of accepting that love.]

The creature is incapable of knowing anything except what God gives to it from day to day. If it knew beforehand what God intends for it, it would never be at peace. At times I have thought that my love was complete, but later, as my sight grew cleaner, I became aware that I had many imperfections. I did not recognize them at first because God’s love for me has it planned that I will achieve it little by little for the sake of preserving me and keeping me humble so as to be tolerable to myself and others!

Every day I feel the motes in my eyes being removed as God’s pure love casts them out. We cannot see these imperfections because if we saw them, we could not bear the sight. Thus, God lets us imagine that we are complete. But never does God cease to remove them. From time to time I feel that I am growing only to see that I still have a long way to go. They become visible to me in the mirror of God’s Truth, of his Pure Love where everything I thought was straight appears crooked.

Our self-will is so subtle and so deeply rooted within our own selves and defends itself with so many reasons, that when we try to fight against it, we manage to lose in the end. We end up doing our own will under many covers–of charity, of necessity, or of justice. But God’s love wills to stand naked and without any cover since it has nothing to hide.

I have seen this love. Indeed, every day I feel myself more occupied with him, and I feel a greater fire within. It is as if I have given the keys of my house to Love with permission to do all that is necessary. I became so consumed with this love that as I stood contemplating this work within me, I felt that even if I were cast into hell, hell itself would have appeared to me all love and consolation.

I find my mind more restricted upon God every day. It is like a man who at first is free to roam the city, and then is confined to a house, and then to a room, then to a smaller room, then to the cellar, and finally bound and blindfolded until there is no way of escape. With no comfort except in God who was doing this all along through love and great mercy, I came to a place of great contentment.

God and sin cannot live peaceably side by side. After considering things as they truly are, I felt a desire to live without self-will. When God gives light to the soul, it no longer desires to live with that part of it that continues to block the light. The soul desires to offer itself entirely to God so that it can no longer live except in the manner willed by his tender love. In this manner, it will begin to produce works that are pure, full, and sincere. These are the works that are pleasing to God.

Since I am determined to join myself to God, I find that I am also bound to be the enemy of his enemies. And since I find nothing that is more his enemy than the self that is in me, I am constrained to hate this part of me more than any other. Indeed, because of the war that exists between it and the Spirit, I am determined to separate it from myself and treat it as nothing.

I then saw others who were fighting against their evil inclinations and forcing themselves to resist them. But I saw that the more they struggled against them, the more the committed them. So I said to them, “You are right in lamenting your sins and imperfections, and I would be lamenting with you if it were not for the fact that God is holding me. You cannot defend yourself and I cannot defend myself. The thing we must do is renounce the care of ourselves unto God who can defend our true self. Only then can God do for us what we cannot do ourselves.”

As to the renouncing of ourselves, I told them, “Take a piece of bread and eat it. When you have eaten it, its substance goes into you to nourish the body and the rest is eliminated because your body no longer needs it. For the body is more important than the bread; it was created as a means, but it is not to remain forever with us. Likewise, we must remove all evil inclinations from our bodies; they cannot live on within us, lest we die.”

God gives us his light in an instant, allowing us to know all that we need to know. No more is given to us than is necessary in his plan to lead us to perfection. We cannot seek this light; it is given to us from God only as he chooses. Neither do we know how it comes, or how we even know that it is! If we try to know more than we have been made to know, we will accomplish nothing. We simply wait like a stone, with no capacity until he brings us life.

Therefore I will not weary myself with seeking beyond what God wants me to know. Instead I will abide in peace with the understanding God has given me, and I will let this occupy my mind. If we are to see properly, we must pluck out of our eyes our own presumption. If we gaze too long at the sun, we go blind; in this manner, I think, does pride blind many of us who want to know too much.

When God finds a soul that rests in him and is not easily moved, he operates within it in his own manner. That soul allows God to do great things within it. He gives to such a soul the key to the treasures he has prepared for it so that it might enjoy them. And to this same soul he gives the joy of his presence which entirely absorbs such a soul.

The selfishness that is within us, however, is so contrary to God that God cannot induce us to do his will except by a clever strategy: promising us greater things than what the world can give—even in this life—and promising a kind of consolation that the world does not know. God does this, I think, because he know how much we are attached to pleasure. He knows that we are the kind who will not leave our one little toy unless we are offered four!

If we could see what we will receive in the life to come (as a reward for what we have done here), we would cease to occupy ourselves with anything but the things of heaven. But God, who desires that we see by faith and who desires that we not do good because of selfish motives, gives us this vision little by little, sufficient to the level of faith of which we are capable. In this manner, God leads us into a greater vision of that which is to come until faith is no longer needed.

On the other hand, if we were somehow informed that we were about to die, and that the life that awaits us will be miserable because of our sins, and that we would have to suffer eternally, I feel sure that we—for fear of it—would rather let ourselves be killed than commit one single sin! But God—as unwilling as he is that we avoid sin out of the motive of fear and therefore never lets us see it—will show it in part to souls who are clothed and occupied with him.

May this be our prayer: “I do not want to turn my eyes from you, O God. There I want them to stay and not move no matter what happens to me, within or without.” For those who trust in God need not worry about themselves. As I think about you, my spiritual children, I see that God’s pure love is attentive to all of your needs. It is because of this tender love that I need not ask anything of God for you. All I need to do is lift you up before his face.

[Questions to think about:

*Catherine notes our limitations concerning our self-awareness. As you look back at your own life, were there times when you thought you had attained some level of wisdom only to realize later that you were not as wise as you thought? Reflect on it.

*Catherine compares us with children who are attached to one toy and cannot let it go unless offered the prospect of having four. Which “toy” is preventing you from receiving more from God?

*”When God finds a soul that rests in him and is not easily moved, he operates within it in his own manner. That soul allows God to do great things within it,” Catherine writes. In what ways are you learning to rest in God and not be easily moved? In what ways are you preventing God from doing great things within you?]

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