Endow Weekly

St. Catherine of Siena | Setting the World Ablaze – Week 8

Week Eight: The End of Days

“To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.”
–Exodus 24:17

A little bit of history

Chapter Eight begins, “In the early spring of 1378, rumors began circulating that Pope Gregory XI, like Urban V before him, planned to return to Avignon.”

But then Gregory died. 

The Romans were adamant that the new Pope would not be a French Cardinal who would be tempted to resume papal residence in France. The Archbishop of Bari, an Italian, was crowned Pope Urban VI. All was finally well. 

Sadly, not. Persecution is the natural state of the Church. And one aspect of that persecution is persecution “from within” the Church herself. As soon as the Avignon Papacy scandal was seemingly over, the Church suffered from what history has come to call “The Great Western Schism.” In short, the new Pope passionately sought to reform the clergy, which justice demanded he do. Unfortunately, he lacked the virtue of prudence on how to enact those reforms. The insults and humiliation he directed at the hierarchy led to an illegitimate election of an “anti-Pope.”  40 years of schism ensued within the Church with many people (including saints!) confused over who was the real Pope. The Council of Constance finally ended the schism in 1417.

A little bit of theology… 

St. Catherine was certainly a woman who embodied the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. These four virtues are the perfection of the four human powers of the soul. All men and women are born with: the intellect, the will, the concupiscible (makes you hungry!) and irascible appetites (makes you angry!).  This is what it means to be human! Our human nature consists of these four powers or capacities. But to be a good human, to have perfected our humanity on a natural level, is to be virtuous. Which means that these four powers don’t remain just powers but become habits of being. Each power corresponds with one of the virtues. In earlier newsletters, we discussed the virtues of Prudence and Justice (the perfection of the powers of the intellect and the will, respectively). The concupiscible and irascible appetites perfected are the virtues of Temperance and Fortitude, respectively. These four are called “Cardinal” (from the Latin word “Cardo” meaning “hinge”) because all other virtues stem from them. Click here to learn more about Temperance and Fortitude. 

These virtues are the perfection of our nature. It is perfection on a natural, human level. But God has destined us for a supernatural destiny. Participation in this “super-nature” is why we need the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity “by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (Catechism of the Church, Par. 1822)

A little bit of spirituality

During one of their “dialogues” Jesus told St. Catherine, “You must see my affectionate charity, how unspeakably much I love you.”

So often our relationship with God is reduced in two ways. The first reduction is expressed in the otherwise pious phrase, “God, whatever you want!” The problem is that this is often uttered prematurely. Without a deep interior life and close intimacy with God, it’s a way of saying, “I don’t want to do the work; or “I don’t matter.” The second reduction is expressed in prayers which expect God to do whatever we want, “Just do this for me, God!” The problem with this is it’s a way of saying, “God, you don’t matter.” But prayer is a two-way street. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that prayer is always an encounter between “two freedoms.” 

We don’t see these reductions in St. Catherine. What we see is authentic dialogue. Real intimacy and conversations between her and Jesus. Many times He acquiesced to her requests to suffer more on behalf of the Church. Other times He leaves His answers shrouded in mystery. But they were really talking and listening to each other.

St. Catherine was a game-changer because she was a saint. In a culture which values the “power” of wealth, pleasure, power, and honor, becoming a saint as a way to transform culture sounds like the weaker position. However, history has demonstrated that the saints–including the numerous hidden saints–are the ones who set the world on fire. As St. Augustine once wrote, “Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.” 

It is much easier to point the finger at all those causing scandal in the Church today. It is much harder to suffer for her sake. In short, it is much harder to love. 

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