instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Mystery of Suffering

 In one of her letters, St. Catherine of Siena said -- well, she said basically the same thing in more than one letter, but I'm quoting Letter T5/G225 to Francesco da Montalcino:

And whatever [God] gives or permits us, whether pain or illness, in whatever way, he gives and permits it with great mystery, to make us holy and to give us what we need to be saved.

The translator, Suzanne Noffke, OP, adds this note after the word "mystery":

This is the concept of "mystery" (mistero) which is so dear to Catherine, always carrying a sense of the sacramental, of the intimate interaction of God with humanity.

Of course "mystery" and "sacrament" are two different terms for the same thing:

The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mysterium and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation which was indicated by the term mysterium. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: "For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ." The saving work of his holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church's sacraments (which the Eastern Churches also call "the holy mysteries"). The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a "sacrament." - CCC 774

 I don't think there's a sense analogical enough for me call pain or illness a "sacrament." But if pain or illness is something physical in which I find God present, and in that experience He gives me what I need to be saved....


A Very Certain Pharisee

A certain Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.

Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Isn't that last bit strange? A sinful woman crashes a Pharisee's party, then cries, wipes, kisses, and anoints all over the feet of his out-of-town guest, and what does the Pharisee say to himself?

"Now here's something you don't see every day."? No.

"Note to self: In future, prevent guests from being assaulted by notorious sinners."? No.

"What the heck is she doing?"? No.

All he manages is, "She's a sinner, so he's no prophet."

That's heavy duty interpretive bias. That's some kind of certainty about what's happening, even though what's happening is surely nothing he has ever seen before.

In Simon the Pharisee's mind, this sinful woman is securely categorized as "sinner," and nothing and nobody is going to earn her a reconsideration. He looks at her and sees nothing but SINNER. He doesn't see her penitence. He doesn't see her adoration. In fact, that SINNER is so strong it blinds him to everything it touches, including Simon's guest. (Though apparently Simon's house, to say nothing of himself, remains pure.)

St. Luke doesn't tell us how Simon responded to Jesus' rebuke, so we might hope that he himself wound up penitent and adoring. As we might hope for ourselves, if and when we happen to be too certain of our own righteousness and the sinfulness of another.