instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Starting over

Let me return to the first paragraph of St. Catherine of Siena's letter to Ristoro Canigiani (the one I've been quoting in the last few posts). It opens with these words:
In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest son in Christ sweet Jesus:

I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you free from every particle of self-love, so that you may not lose the light and knowledge which come from seeing the unspeakable love which God has for you. And because it is light which makes us know this, and false love is what takes light from us, therefore I have very great desire to see it quenched in you. Oh, how dangerous this self-love is to our salvation! It deprives the soul of grace, for it takes from it the love of God and of its neighbour, which makes us live in grace. It deprives us of light, as we said, because it darkens the eye of the mind, and when the light is taken away we walk in darkness, and do not know what we need.
All very Catherinian, just the sort of thing a Fourteenth Century Italian mystic would write, nothing we didn't already know.

But that doesn't mean we can't learn from it.

For example, I've been thinking of one particular way self-love takes from the soul the love of God and of neighbor: How, when we speak in the service of others, we use language in order to please ourselves even though it interferes with our service.

I personally find it very difficult to instruct the ignorant without at the same time entertaining myself at their expense. I mean, lighting a lamp in darkness is all well and good, but a real zinger shot into tender parts adds some real zest to life, especially when others are watching appreciatively.

And I suspect the reason I feel that way is because I love my self -- or not even my self, but my self-image -- more than I love God and neighbor. To make the extrication that much harder, I'm pleased that I actually do [usually] [try to] love my neighbors enough to rarely weigh in with "you're an idiot"-type comments, even though an "oh isn't that charming" is just as certain to shut down conversation.

Now, before anyone tells me it's entirely possible to tell someone in charity that they're an idiot: It's entirely possible to tell someone in charity that they're an idiot. But it has to be done in charity, which is to say in friendship, not merely done without ill will.

And for myself, my best bet for speaking in charity to someone I don't already know and love well just may be to love my self less.

Maybe the goal of being free from every particle of self-love has a practical payoff long before its perfectly achieved.