The readings for this post can be found by clicking here.
Today is the Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, a great Dominican saint and mystic. Since the goal of this podcast series is to deepen personal prayer life with Jesus, I thought it helpful to suggest what she said about prayer.
First, though, if you know little about Saint Catherine of Siena, it might be helpful to read a brief introduction by my fellow Dominican, Thomas McDermott. She was not merely someone who prayed, but someone who had profound and lengthy experiences of Jesus himself in her prayer. These encounters were written down and are preserved for us today. In a word, Catherine was a mystic. Simply put, a mystic has profound spiritual experiences, which can be expressed, as they were for Catherine by relating them to familiar symbolic imagery.
Perhaps most important for our purposes here to understand is what is a powerful image that I think helps us to understand Easter better, and the gift that Jesus gives to us in his crucifixion. Again from Fr. McDermott.
“Catherine’s most important image on which she hangs many of her most important teachings is the crucified Christ as a bridge stretching from heaven to earth. The sin of Adam had destroyed the road to heaven, so out of love the eternal Father made of his Son a bridge so that we could approach him and become like him by sharing in his life, joy and beauty. Catherine frequently reminds us that humanity is made in God’s image and likeness, and that God’s plan is for the divine likeness in us to increase through grace to the point of ultimate resemblance.”
This quote serves as a reminder that for Catherine of Siena, the most important and significant way to describe any human is that a human is made in the image and likeness of God, the imago Dei. Since we sin, and sin condemns us, we need a Savior if we are ever to go to heaven. The profound love of God creates a “bridge” the crucified Christ, which allows us to cross over the gap from earth and heaven created by our sin. As we grow in our prayer life, we are able to cross more and more of the bridge to heaven.
An apt description of the experience of prayer for Catherine is that of being drawn by the love of God to Him. That is the goal of all prayer, of course, but the important point is that we do not draw ourselves. Rather, we place ourselves in the presence of God, who with the gift of grace, draws us more and more towards Him.
It is this reliance on the Grace of God that makes prayer a challenge for some. It is not the case that we simply need to work harder at prayer, or recite more devotional prayers in order to grow in our faith. Rather, prayer serves as the way in which God opens our soul more and more so that sin is forgiven (and removed) and we become more and more clearly the Imago Dei we were made to be.
The value of a saint like Catherine of Siena for us is not that we will all end up like her, a great mystic, which led her to become a great teacher of Theology, but rather that with God’s grace we can be like Catherine of Siena. But prayer is not a competitive race where we are trying to win. Rather, it is our desire to seek to commit more and more to the grace Jesus gives us to deepen our relationship with Him.
My Nature is Fire
Prayer 12 (XXII)
In your nature,
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire,
because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind
a share in this nature,
for by the fire of love
you created us.
And so with all other people
and every created thing;
you made them out of love.
O ungrateful people!
What nature has your God given you?
His very own nature!
Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing
through the guilt of deadly sin?
O eternal Trinity,
my sweet love!
give us light.
give us wisdom.
You, supreme strength,
Today, eternal God,
let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth
with a free and simple heart.
God, come to our assistance!
Lord, make haste to help us!