Catherine of Siena: Spiritual Development in Her Life and Teaching
I spent the past two weeks reading this wonderful book after having just finished reading Catherine's Dialogue a few weeks ago. McDermott's book is a wonderful spiritual journey through the life of the great St Catherine of Siena. It covers the important spiritual events in her life and then digs deeper to explain them, which allows you to eventually apply her spiritual teachings to your own life. After a biographical account of her life the author covers the spiritual teaching and development that Catherine espouses in her Letters and her Dialogue. Topics such as her fundamental maxim revealed to her by God the Father, 'You are who are not and I am who am!' are explained in great detail allowing the reader to examine their own spiritual life in the mirror of Catherine's teaching. Lastly the book offers an explanation as to how her spiritual teaching and development was experienced in her own life. The book shows clearly how this spiritual teaching applies to all souls.
As Catholics today, we face immense challenges in the world and in the Church. Catherine also faced many similar challenges making her an excellent companion in our lives. In Catherine's time she faced a corrupt Church with corrupt clergy who were misleading souls. Her spiritual approach to these problems is a must needed approach for our time. Without a robust spiritual life bound together with true charity in God's grace, we will not be able to reform today's Church, just as it was not possible to do in her time. How many there are on the Internet complaining about the apostasy in the Church and how few there are who have spent the immense time in prayer to actually affect meaningful change. Catherine teaches how one must start off simply by repenting and ridding one's life of serious sin, then progressing on the Bridge of Christ Crucified further developing in the charity of God. It took Catherine many years to prepare before God called her to go out and teach and serve the public. In fact, she spent four years under the stairs in immense prayer and sacrifice before she even began to go out and do much in charitable works.
Above all, Catherine fit the spirit of her father St Dominic, which was to give oneself to God for the love of neighbor and the salvation of their souls. One of the teachings we miss most today is seeing our neighbor in the image and likeness of God, and treating them as if they were Christ Himself! Yes it is easy to go home, pray, go to church, pray, be around friends and family and then develop a false view of oneself as being pious. It is quite another reality to have formed one's soul in the love of God to where one will sacrifice for their neighbors. God the Father tells Catherine that unless you love your neighbor in a manner that is never self serving, then you don't love Him in a manner that is not self serving. Catherine refers to this type of serving God as being a servile servant. Serving God only for one's own gain. God the Father continues to tell her that how one treats their neighbor is a litmus test as to how much they actually love God. Food for thought!
There are many lessons to be learned if one takes their time to read and meditate on the passages in this book which quotes primarily from Catherine's Dialogue, her Letters and Sacred Scripture. There are also comparisons to the teachings of some of the Church Fathers and Saints as well. The book is well written and thoughtfully laid out. It is repetitious at times but in a pleasant way that keeps reemphasizing the spiritual themes that permeate Catherine's life and her work. This allows you to internalize her thought. For example the three powers of the soul, memory, knowledge and will are shown in several examples throughout the book so that you can properly understand Catherine's teaching in the context of her writings. After reading the 368 pages you become intimately familiar with Catherine and her spiritual thought as well as how to make them your own. I highly recommend picking this book up, and it is a great companion to have alongside as you read her famous Dialogue.
Thomas McDermott’s magisterial book is the first work in English that does full justice to the systematic theological importance of Catherine of Siena’s teaching. Readers will find their thinking freed from the styles and whims of so much writing on ‘spirituality’ and set firmly on the path that Jesus himself trod with his disciples.”
—Benedict M. Ashley, OP, Professor Emeritus
Aquinas Institute of Theology, Saint Louis, MO