instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The deeds and habits of the servants of God

St. Catherine of Siena, Patroness of Lay Dominicans, was a remarkable person. By that, I mean people found it very easy to make remarks about her, not all of them kind or charitable. Even some of those who tried to be kind and charitable found her too much to take.

In a letter she wrote to another mantellata, as the Lay Dominican women of Siena were called in her time, St. Catherine offers this advice, which could be taken as a defense of her own life:
Beware lest thou do like mad and foolish people who want to set themselves to investigate and judge the deeds and habits of the servants of God. He who does this is entirely worthy of severe rebuke.

Know that it would not be different from setting a law and rule to the Holy Spirit if we wished to make the servants of God all walk in our own way -- a thing which could never be done.

Let the soul inclined to this kind of judgment think that the root of pride is not yet out, nor true charity toward the neighbour planted -- that is, the loving him by grace and not by barter. Then let us love the servants of God, and not judge them.
The last sentence is something we hear all the time. What Dr. Benincasa adds in her teaching on the Scriptural injunction is the observation that to judge others by our own preferences amounts to judging the Holy Spirit by our own preferences.

We might answer, "Yes, but the Holy Spirit would never inspire someone to do that!" If we do give that answer, though, we'd better be mighty certain of it. We belong to a Church that has canonized St. Simeon Stylites, St. Philip Neri, and St. Catherine of Siena.

The other point she makes is that wishing to make the servants of God all walk in our own way is, specifically, an act of pride. It's a pride that brooks no competition, lest some other way be thought in some aspect to be better than mine. It claims not only perfection for my way, but total inclusion of everything that is in any way good. It claims God gave me, not just the best gifts, but all the gifts.

To simply state the implications is to refute the claim. Yet the claim is made all the time. I don't think we try very hard these days to dig the root of pride out of our souls.

St. Catherine could tell the Pope to man up because she had uprooted her own pride, and in fact lived a life that could boast of nothing but Christ. If a life that can boast of nothing but Christ doesn't look much like my life, then who's going the wrong way?