Endow Weekly

St. Catherine of Siena | Setting the World Ablaze – Week 6

Week Six: Ending the Avignon Captivity

“Charity and devotion differ no more, the one from the other,
than the flame from the fire.” –St. Francis de Sales 

A little bit of history

Chapter Six begins, “Ever since the days of Saint Peter, the Church’s popes have called Rome home.” The Pope is not only the universal shepherd but also the bishop of the Diocese of Rome. Contrary to common belief, the Bishop of Rome’s cathedral parish is actually the Basilica of St. John Lateran and not St. Peter’s Basilica. It was gifted to the Pope by Constantine in the early 4th century after he legalized Christianity and ended the persecutions in the Roman Empire. 

But as we discussed earlier, a good portion of St. Catherine’s energy was spent convincing the Pope to leave his residence in Avignon, France and return to his Roman diocese. The Avignon Papacy, also known as the “The Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy,” lasted nearly 70 years! 

Pope Gregory XI was “pious but weak” and although he found in St. Catherine a trusted advisor like no other he continued in his perplexed and paralyzed state of indecision. She continued to encourage him: “I demand you do me this favor: overcome your wickedness with your goodness! You are to do as I advise.” 

On September 13, 1376, with tears in his eyes, Pope Gregory got on a ship and returned to Rome where he belonged. Finally.

A little bit of theology

St. Catherine wrote, “The devil is not cast out by the devil but by virtue.”  She particularly emphasized the cardinal virtue of justice. Justice is the virtue–meaning being in the habit–of rendering another (whether the “other” is God or neighbor) his due. St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “to will the good of the other.” Therefore, as we have discussed before, love is not primarily a feeling but a choice. When I habitually choose what is good for you, which is what you are owed anyway, then I may rightly be called “just.” (To learn more about the cardinal virtues, see Catechism of the Church, see Part III, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 7)

But in terms of building a just society, what is the appropriate role of the Church?

In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI provides some clarity:

The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.

A little bit of spirituality

In order to fight injustice, St. Catherine taught that humility and gratitude are the greatest weapons for the battle. We even find in her Letters a “Hymn to Gratitude.” Without their cultivation, we will always choose ourselves over God. In his profound booklet, When God Says No, Fr. John Hampsch explains that many of our petitionary prayers remain unanswered because we fail to give God the thanksgiving and honor He is owed. As I have mentioned elsewhere, “no friend wants to be objectified and neither does the Lord.” If you don’t already, I recommend keeping a gratitude journal or making a gratitude list during your daily prayer time. It is also a miraculous remedy to idle words, murmuring, and gossip and also a source of renewed faith, hope, and joy! 

Oremus pro invincem, (Let us pray for each other)
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.