Monday, April 27, 2015

Novena to St Catherine - Day 8

In the preparation of this reflection I focused on the ‘Prayers’ of Catherine, in the hope of acquiring some tips regarding the improvement of my own prayer. Sr. Mary O’Driscoll O.P. of the Cabra Congregation, who is an authority on the teaching of Catherine, having chosen her as the subject of her doctoral theses, has supplied me with most of the facts on Catherine’s Prayers.

Only twenty six of her Prayers have been preserved for us. These are not Prayers that she herself wrote or even dictated to others. Rather, they were transcribed by one or other of her followers who were present as she prayed aloud. All of these Prayers belong to the last four years of her life and so expound a certain maturity of her thought.

They impress us by their simplicity, their intense concentration on God who is repeatedly praised and thanked, and their constant desire for the salvation of others. This echoes the motto of the Order: to praise, to bless, to preach, always with the salvation of people uppermost in mind.

It is interesting to note how the themes that run through the Dialogue and Letters are taken up in the Prayers. In them, Catherine’s  theology becomes her doxology.

Catherine was a great and powerful intercessor. In her Prayers, we find her pleading with God passionately and urgently for mercy for all: for the world, the Church, the pope, her friends and followers, all those in need. Knowing this challenges me as I reflect on how I pray: do I focus intensely on God, in praising and thanking him and do I pray with passion and urgency for others – do I pray from the depths of my heart and with my whole heart? Catherine encourages us to do so.

In Catherine’s own life the importance and intensity of her intercession increased according as her union with God increased and as her concern for others increased. This observation teaches us something very significant about the prayer of intercession in the Christian life, namely, that it is not, as is sometimes thought, a type of prayer beyond which one passes on the way to the heights of mystical prayer, as though  intercession were for beginners and mysticism for those who are advanced in the spiritual life, but it is rather a type of prayer, which belongs most particularly to the life of  contemplative union with God and all of us, every human being is called to union with God and communion with the Blessed Trinity. This is the goal of all our lives and this is God’s greatest desire for each one of us.

I will conclude with one of Catherine’s Prayers, entitled: ‘I Plead with You for the World’, which is as relevant today as it was in Catherine’s time, if not more so. Today we have so many countries at war: Iraq; Syria: the Ukraine; the Holy Land; and large scale persecution of Christians in many of these countries and others like India and Pakistan. Perhaps we could make this prayer our own for the world in which we live, and pray it with the same passion and urgency with which Catherine prayed it. May she also intercede for us, our world and particularly for a revival of the faith in our Irish people.  I Plead with You for the World

She prays:

Power of the eternal Father,
Help me !
Wisdom of the Son,
enlighten the eye of my understanding!
Tender clemency of the Holy Spirit,
enflame my heart and unite it to yourself!
I proclaim, eternal God, that your power is powerful and strong enough to free your Church and your
people, to snatch us from the Devil’s hand,
to stop the persecution of holy Church,
and to give me strength and victory  over my own enemies.
I proclaim that the wisdom of your son, who is one with you, can enlighten the eye of my understanding and that of your people,
and can relieve the darkness of your sweet bride. (the Church)
And I proclaim, eternal gentle goodness of God, that the clemency of the Holy Spirit,
your blazing charity,
wants to enflame my heart and everyone’s and unite them with yourself.
Power of you eternal Father;
wisdom of your only-begotten Son in his precious blood;
clemency of the Holy Spirit,
fire and deep well of charity
that held this Son of yours
fixed and nailed to the cross-
you know how to
and you can
and you want to,
so I plead with you:
have mercy on the world
and restore the warmth of charity
and peace
and unity
to the Church.
O me!
I wish you would not delay any longer!
I beg you,
let your infinite goodness force you
not to close the eye of your mercy!
Gentle Jesus!
Jesus love!

St. Catherine: teach us how to pray.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Novena to St Catherine - Day 7

Celebrating the Year for Consecrated Life with the local religious on World Day of Prayer for Vocations  during the novena to St Catherine.
On Sunday the 26th April, Good Shepherd Sunday, we were joined by local religious for the celebration of Vespers followed by a get together.


In his message for today’s world day of prayer for vocations, Pope Francis reflects on the Exodus experience for he says "to offer one's life in mission is possible only if we are able to leave ourselves behind” and he continues: “At the root of every Christian vocation we find this basic movement, which is part of the experience of faith - transcending ourselves, leaving behind our comfort and the inflexibility of our ego in order to centre our life in Jesus Christ. The Christian vocation is first and foremost a call to love, a love which attracts us and draws us out of ourselves, “decentring” us and triggering ‘an on-going exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God’ (Deus Caritas Est, 6).”

But this going out of ourselves, leaving all behind in order to put our lives and our whole existence at the service of the Kingdom of God is only made possible when we have come to know and experience the God who is Love – the LOVE of which our Mass Readings for this fourth Sunday of Easter speak.  St John invites us to “think of the love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children” (1Jn 3:1) and in the Gospel we hear Jesus telling us that He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep…. the good Shepherd who knows his own and his own know him. (cf Jn 10:11f)

St Catherine of Siena understood God’s infinite love for the human race in a unique way and it was this experience of God’s love which enabled her to respond with her whole being to spend herself totally in the service of the Church.  In the Dialogue Catherine, speaking to the Father, says: “With unimaginable love you looked upon your creatures within your very self and you fell in love with us.  So it was love that made you create us and give us being, just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good….O depth of love!.....  You, God, became human and we have been made divine! ” (D13).  The knowledge of this love emboldens Catherine in her intercessory prayer for the whole world when she says: “in the name of this unspeakable love, then, I beg you – I would force you even! – to have mercy on your creatures.”

Flowing from her deep understanding of God’s infinite love, her biographer Raymond of Capua tells us that Catherine’s short life was governed by two fundamental maxims. The first was her understanding that she was she who is not and God is HE WHO IS (L 95/6).  And the second maxim follows from the first and is contained in it: “Daughter, think of me; if you do I will think of you.” (L 97).  Raymond explains that Catherine understood this instruction as follows: “once the soul admits that of itself it is nothing and that its all is of God, it must of necessity go on to place its whole reliance not on what it does itself but on what God does.  It leaves it to the Lord to take care of it.  When a soul puts all its trust in the Lord it is not thereby absolved from doing at the same time all that lies in its own power.  Its trust in him springs from love of Him, and it is of the nature of love to kindle in the lover a longing to be with the absent loved-one.  This, however, cannot be unless the loving soul does its utmost to bring it about.  The more it loves. The more it exerts itself, while yet continuing to put its trust not in its own exertions but in the workings of its Creator.  This way of acting it learns through being firmly persuaded of its own nothingness, and of the fullness of being and of truth which exists in its Creator.” (cf L99). 

Perhaps Catherine’s wisdom offers us an answer to the question which Pope Francis posed in his message to us religious at the opening of the year for consecrated life: “Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows?  Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy,   every person who crosses our path.  For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love.  We will be able to love because we have his own heart.” 

As we are gathered here in prayer this evening let us ask for the grace to respond to Pope’s Francis’ invitation to “wake up the world” remembering that if we are what we should be we would set the whole world on fire.”  (cf St Catherine)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Novena to St Catherine - Day 6

St Catherine lived a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus; an intimacy that is frequently expressed in such pictures as Catherine and Jesus walking along with their heads together talking, or their exchange of hearts. Catherine was also fully aware that such intimacy was utterly vital for the Christian life. In her “Dialogue” we hear God the Father saying:

(Chap. 23) I am the gardener, then, who planted the vine of my only-begotten Son in the earth of your humanity so that you, the branches, could be joined to the vine and bear fruit. … joined and engrafted to this vine … you will produce much fruit, because you share the vital sap of the vine. And being in the Word, my Son, you will be in me, for I am one with him and he with me. If you are in him you will follow his teaching, and if you follow his teaching you will share in the very being of this Word – that is, you will share in the eternal Godhead made one with humanity, whence you will draw that divine love which inebriates the soul. All this I mean when I say that you will share in the very substance of the vine.

This intimacy grows through Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture) – spending time with the Lord, listening to His words and watching Him in action in the text of the Gospels. As this passage from the dialogue says, Christ lives more fully in us to the extent that we follow His teaching; but we will not follow His teaching unless we are familiar with it, unless we allow His words to “abide” in us (Jn 15:7). It seems very appropriate that we should remind ourselves of this necessity to become intimate with Christ through the Scriptures today, being the Feast Day of St Mark the Evangelist (something I hadn’t registered when I initially prepared this reflection).

This building of intimacy with Christ and familiarity with His words is particularly important at the present time, with people claiming that the Church’s teaching about ‘X’ or ‘Y’ is wrong and that ‘Jesus would not (or did not) teach that ‘X’ or ‘Y’ is a sin’ – such claims can often be people turning “their own ideals and indignations into an image that they call Christ,”[1] rather than Christ’s own teaching, and only familiarity with His Word equips us to recognise that.

[1] Sheed, F. Christ in Eclipse. (London: Sheed & Ward, 1978), p. 25.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Novena to St Catherine - Day 5

St Catherine of Siena as a woman exercised an apostolate that perhaps no other woman has done before or since. She counselled popes and cardinals and people in very walk of life. Like our Lord Himself she had a great following of people wherever she went. These were called the “Caterinati”, that is the followers of Catherine, who called her and loved her as a mother. Still, anyone who knows anything of St Catherine’s spirituality will realise that it is a very vigorous and virile one. She constantly speaks of such themes as: “living in the light of holy faith”, “the love of Christ crucified”, courage and patience, to mention but a few – in short the narrow way of the Gospel. The extract from “The Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena” that I have chosen illustrates this point:
(Chapter 5 – the Eternal Father is speaking) “Very pleasing to Me, dearest daughter, is the willing desire to bear every pain and fatigue, even unto death, for the salvation of souls, for the more the soul endures, the more she shows that she loves Me; loving Me she comes to know more of My truth, and the more she knows, the more pain and intolerable grief she feels at the offences committed against Me. Thou didst ask Me to sustain thee, and to punish the faults of others in thee, and thou didst not remark that thou wast really asking for love, light, and the knowledge of the truth, since I have already told thee that, by the increase of love, grows grief and pain, wherefore he that grows in love grows in grief. Therefore, I say to you all, that you should ask, and it will be given you, for I deny nothing to him who asks of Me in truth. Consider that the love of divine charity is so closely joined in the soul with prefect patience, that neither can leave the soul without the other. For this reason (if the soul chooses to love Me) she should chose to endure pains for Me in whatever mode or circumstance I may send them to her. Patience cannot be proved in any other way than by suffering, and patience is united with love as has been said. Therefore bear yourselves with manly courage, for, unless you do so, you will not prove yourselves to be spouses of My Truth, and faithful children, nor of the company of those who relish the taste of My honour, and the salvation of souls.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Novena to St Catherine of Siena 2015


When reflecting on the life of St. Catherine of Siena, one is forcibly struck by the depth of her contemplative prayer united with her life of unbelievable apostolic zeal amid all her own personal spiritual and physical suffering.

Having lived a solitary life of contemplation for some years, the Holy Spirit led Catherine to understand that the love of God cannot be separated from the service of his people.

In the ‘Dialogue’ God says to Catherine: ‘when you see yourself so ineffably loved by me, you should understand that you are to love as you are loved – that you are bound to love everyone of my creatures with the same love with which you see yourself loved by me’.

Leaving the solitary life, she laboured in the streets and around the sick beds and the prisons  of the city.  In addition she laboured relentlessly and tirelessly until her dying breath for the dire needs of the Church and the Papacy of her time, but at no time did she leave the interior cell  or her life of contemplation and union with God.  This was the secret of the extra-ordinary fruitfulness of her life given for the salvation of souls.

‘I give you all my creatures’ God says to her ‘whether distant or close, minister to them with the same pure love with which I have loved you’.

God surely makes the same plea to each one of  us, each day, whatever our calling or circumstances in life may be.

In this context, I quote the following profound words of  Fr.Walter Ciszek who in the midst of years of excruciating suffering in solitary confinement and in concentration camps in Russia during the war, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to grasp the truth which surely echo the spirit of St. Catherine in all its depth - he tells us: ‘The thought that actions otherwise worthless in themselves could somehow be redemptive, could serve the growth of God’s Kingdom on earth because they were undertaken in loving obedience to His Will, and that such actions could be a source of Grace for others – that Grace sustained me in joy and drove me on to work ever harder to achieve a more perfect communion with God and His Will.  That simple truth, that the sole purpose of our life on earth is to do the Will of God contains enough inspiration for a lifetime’. 

Surely these are true sentiments of St. Catherine’s own deep spirit too..

I conclude with St. Paul’s enthusiastic outburst in his second letter to the Corinthians : ‘With us Christ’s love is a compelling motive’.  (cf.2 Cor.5:1)