Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Letters to Pope Gregory XI: St Catherine of Siena

Read these two letters that St Catherine of Siena wrote to Pope Gregory XI carefully and see how they may apply today in the Church. The Church in her time also had a serious problem with the hierarchy, including the pope. Food for thought.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

To you, most reverend and beloved father in Christ Jesus, your unworthy, poor, miserable daughter Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, writes in His precious Blood; with desire to see you a fruitful tree, full of sweet and mellow fruits, and planted in fruitful earth--for if it were out of the earth the tree would dry up and bear no fruit--that is, in the earth of true knowledge of yourself. For the soul that knows itself humbles itself, because it sees nothing to be proud of; and ripens the sweet fruit of very ardent charity, recognizing in itself the unmeasured goodness of God; and aware that it is not, it attributes all its being to Him who Is. Whence, then, it seems that the soul is constrained to love what God loves and to hate what He hates.

Oh, sweet and true knowledge, which dost carry with thee the knife of hate, and dost stretch out the hand of holy desire, to draw forth and kill with this hate the worm of self-love--a worm that spoils and gnaws the root of our tree so that it cannot bear any fruit of life, but dries up, and its verdure lasts not! For if a man loves himself, perverse pride, head and source of every ill, lives in him, whatever his rank may be, prelate or subject. If he is lover of himself alone--that is, if he loves himself for his own sake and not for God--he cannot do other than ill, and all virtue is dead in him. Such a one is like a woman who brings forth her sons dead. And so it really is; for he has not had the life of charity in himself, and has cared only for praise and self-glory, and not for the name of God. I say, then: if he is a prelate, he does ill, because to avoid falling into disfavour with his fellow-creatures--that is, through self-love--in which he is bound by self-indulgence--holy justice dies in him. For he sees his subjects commit faults and sins, and pretends not to see them and fails to correct them; or if he does correct them, he does it with such coldness and lukewarmness that he does not accomplish anything, but plasters vice over; and he is always afraid of giving displeasure or of getting into a quarrel. All this is because he loves himself. Sometimes men like this want to get along with purely peaceful means. I say that this is the very worst cruelty which can be shown. If a wound when necessary is not cauterized or cut out with steel, but simply covered with ointment, not only does it fail to heal, but it infects everything, and many a time death follows from it.

Oh me, oh me, sweetest "Babbo" mine! This is the reason that all the subjects are corrupted by impurity and iniquity. Oh me, weeping I say it! How dangerous is that worm we spoke of! For not only does it give death to the shepherd, but all the rest fall into sickness and death through it. Why does that shepherd go on using so much ointment? Because he does not suffer in consequence! For no displeasure visits one and no ill will, from spreading ointment over the sick; since one does nothing contrary to their will; they wanted ointment, and so ointment is given them. Oh, human wretchedness! Blind is the sick man who does not know his own need, and blind the shepherd-physician, who has regard to nothing but pleasing, and his own advantage--since, not to forfeit it, he refrains from using the knife of justice or the fire of ardent charity! But such men do as Christ says: for if one blind man guide the other, both fall into the ditch. Sick man and physician fall into hell. Such a man is a right hireling shepherd, for, far from dragging his sheep from the hands of the wolf, he devours them himself. The cause of all this is, that he loves himself apart from God: so he does not follow sweet Jesus, the true Shepherd, who has given His life for His sheep. Truly, then, this perverse love is perilous for one's self and for others, and truly to be shunned, since it works too much harm to every generation of people. I hope by the goodness of God, venerable father mine, that you will quench this in yourself, and will not love yourself for yourself, nor your neighbour for yourself, nor God; but will love Him because He is highest and eternal Goodness, and worthy of being loved; and yourself and your neighbour you will love to the honour and glory of the sweet Name of Jesus. I will, then, that you be so true and good a shepherd that if you had a hundred thousand lives you would be ready to give them all for the honour of God and the salvation of His creatures. O "Babbo" mine, sweet Christ on earth, follow that sweet Gregory (the Great)! For all will be possible to you as to him; for he was not of other flesh than you; and that God is now who was then: we lack nothing save virtue, and hunger for the salvation of souls. But there is a remedy for this, father: that we flee the love spoken of above, for ourselves and every creature apart from God. Let no more note be given to friends or parents or one's temporal needs, but only to virtue and the exaltation of things spiritual. For temporal things are failing you from no other cause than from your neglect of the spiritual.

Now, then, do we wish to have that glorious hunger which these holy and true shepherds of the past have felt, and to quench in ourselves that fire of self-love? Let us do as they, who with fire quenched fire; for so great was the fire of inestimable and ardent charity that burned in their hearts and souls, that they were an-hungered and famished for the savour of souls. Oh, sweet and glorious fire, which is of such power that it quenches fire, and every inordinate delight and pleasure and all love of self; and this love is like a drop of water, which is swiftly consumed in the furnace! Should one ask me how men attained that sweet fire and hunger--inasmuch as we are surely in ourselves unfruitful trees--I say that those men grafted themselves into the fruitful tree of the most holy and sweet Cross, where they found the Lamb, slain with such fire of love for our salvation as seems insatiable. Still He cries that He is athirst, as if saying: "I have greater ardour and desire and thirst for your salvation than I show you with My finished Passion." O sweet and good Jesus! Let pontiffs shame them, and shepherds, and every other creature, for our ignorance and pride and self-indulgence, in the presence of so great largess and goodness and ineffable love on the part of our Creator! He has revealed Himself to us in our humanity, a Tree full of sweet and mellow fruits, in order that we, wild trees, might graft ourselves in Him. Now in this wise wrought that enamoured Gregory, and those other good shepherds: knowing that they had no virtue in themselves, and gazing upon the Word, our Tree, they grafted themselves in Him, bound and chained by the bands of love. For in that which the eye sees does it delight, when the thing is fair and good. They saw, then, and seeing they so bound them that they saw not themselves, but saw and tasted everything in God. And there was neither wind nor hail nor demons nor creatures that could keep them from bearing cultivated fruits: since they were grafted in the substance of our Tree, Jesus. They brought forth their fruits, then, from the substance of sweet charity, in which they were united. And there is no other way.

This is what I wish to see in you. And if up to this time, we have not stood very firm, I wish and pray in truth that the moment of time which remains be dealt with manfully, following Christ, whose vicar you are, like a strong man. And fear not, father, for anything that may result from those tempestuous winds that are now beating against you, those decaying members which have rebelled against you. Fear not; for divine aid is near. Have a care for spiritual things alone, for good shepherds, good rulers, in your cities--since on account of bad shepherds and rulers you have encountered rebellion. Give us, then, a remedy; and comfort you in Christ Jesus, and fear not. Press on, and fulfill with true zeal and holy what you have begun with a holy resolve, concerning your return, and the holy and sweet crusade. And delay no longer, for many difficulties have occurred through delay, and the devil has risen up to prevent these things being done, because he perceives his own loss. Up, then, father, and no more negligence! Raise the gonfalon of the most holy Cross, for with the fragrance of the Cross you shall win peace. I beg you to summon those who have rebelled against you to a holy peace, so that all warfare may be turned against the infidels. I hope by the infinite goodness of God that He will swiftly send His aid. Comfort you, comfort you, and come, come, to console the poor, the servants of God, your sons! We await you with eager and loving desire. Pardon me, father, that I have said so many words to you. You know that through the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. I am certain that if you shall be the kind of tree I wish to see you, nothing will hinder you.

I beg you to send to Lucca and to Pisa with fatherly proposals, as God shall instruct you, supporting them so far as can be, and summoning them to remain firm and persevering. I have been at Pisa and at Lucca, up to now, influencing them as much as I can not to make a league with the decaying members that are rebelling against you: but they are in great perplexity, because they have no comfort from you, and are constantly urged to make it and threatened from the contrary side. However, up to the present time, they have not wholly consented. I beg you also to write emphatically to Messer Piero: and do it zealously, and do not delay. I say no more.

I have heard here that you have appointed the cardinals. I believe that it would honour God and profit us more if you would take heed always to appoint virtuous men. If the contrary is done, it will be a great insult to God, and disaster to Holy Church. Let us not wonder later if God sends us His disciplines and scourges; for the thing is just. I beg you to do what you have to do manfully and in the fear of God.

I have heard that you are to promote the Master of our Order to another benefice. Therefore I beg you, by the love of Christ crucified, that if this is so you will take pains to give us a good and virtuous Vicar. The Order has need of it, for it has run altogether too wild. You can talk of this with Messer Niccola da Osimo and the Archbishop of Tronto; and I will write them about it.

Remain in the sweet and holy grace of God. I ask you humbly for your blessing. Pardon my presumption, that I presume to write to you. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Most holy and dear and sweet father in Christ sweet Jesus: I your unworthy daughter Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood. With desire have I desired to see in you the fullness of divine grace, in such wise that you may be the means, through divine grace, of pacifying all the universal world. Therefore, I beg you, sweet my father, to use the instrument of your power and virtue, with zeal, and hungry desire for the peace and honour of God and the salvation of souls. And should you say to me, father--"The world is so ravaged! How shall I attain peace?" I tell you, on behalf of Christ crucified, it befits you to achieve three chief things through your power. Do you uproot in the garden of Holy Church the malodorous flowers, full of impurity and avarice, swollen with pride: that is, the bad priests and rulers who poison and rot that garden. Ah me, you our Governor, do you use your power to pluck out those flowers! Throw them away, that they may have no rule! Insist that they study to rule themselves in holy and good life. Plant in this garden fragrant flowers, priests and rulers who are true servants of Jesus Christ, and care for nothing but the honour of God and the salvation of souls, and are fathers of the poor. Alas, what confusion is this, to see those who ought to be a mirror of voluntary poverty, meek as lambs, distributing the possessions of Holy Church to the poor: and they appear in such luxury and state and pomp and worldly vanity, more than if they had turned them to the world a thousand times! Nay, many seculars put them to shame who live a good and holy life. But it seems that Highest and Eternal Goodness is having that done by force which is not done by love; it seems that He is permitting dignities and luxuries to be taken away from His Bride, as if He would show that Holy Church should return to her first condition, poor, humble, and meek as she was in that holy time when men took note of nothing but the honour of God and the salvation of souls, caring for spiritual things and not for temporal. For ever since she has aimed more at temporal than at spiritual, things have gone from bad to worse. See therefore that God, in judgment, has allowed much persecution and tribulation to befall her. But comfort you, father, and fear not for anything that could happen, which God does to make her state perfect once more, in order that lambs may feed in that garden, and not wolves who devour the honour that should belong to God, which they steal and give to themselves. Comfort you in Christ sweet Jesus; for I hope that His aid will be near you, plenitude of divine grace, aid and support divine in the way that I said before. Out of war you will attain greatest peace; out of persecution, greatest unity; not by human power, but by holy virtue, you will discomfit those visible demons, wicked men, and those invisible demons who never sleep around us.

But reflect, sweet father, that you could not do this easily unless you accomplished the other two things which precede the completion of the other: that is, your return to Rome and uplifting of the standard of the most holy Cross. Let not your holy desire fail on account of any scandal or rebellion of cities which you might see or hear; nay, let the flame of holy desire be more kindled to wish to do swiftly. Do not delay, then, your coming. Do not believe the devil, who perceives his own loss, and so exerts himself to rob you of your possessions in order that you may lose your love and charity and our coming be hindered. I tell you, father in Christ Jesus, come swiftly like a gentle lamb. Respond to the Holy Spirit who calls you. I tell you, Come, come, come, and do not wait for time, since time does not wait for you. Then you will do like the Lamb Slain whose place you hold, who without weapons in His hand slew our foes, coming in gentleness, using only the weapons of the strength of love, aiming only at care of spiritual things, and restoring grace to man who had lost it through sin.

Alas, sweet my father, with this sweet hand I pray you, and tell you to come to discomfit our enemies. On behalf of Christ crucified I tell it you: refuse to believe the counsels of the devil, who would hinder your holy and good resolution. Be manly in my sight, and not timorous. Answer God, who calls you to hold and possess the seat of the glorious Shepherd St. Peter, whose vicar you have been. And raise the standard of the holy Cross; for as we were freed by the Cross--so Paul says--thus raising this standard, which seems to me the refreshment of Christians, we shall be freed--we from our wars and divisions and many sins, the infidel people from their infidelity. In this way you will come and attain the reformation, giving good priests to Holy Church. Fill her heart with the ardent love that she has lost; for she has been so drained of blood by the iniquitous men who have devoured her that she is wholly wan. But comfort you, and come, father, and no longer make to wait the servants of God, who afflict themselves in desire. And I, poor, miserable woman, can wait no more; living, I seem to die in my pain, seeing God thus reviled. Do not, then, hold off from peace because of the circumstance which has occurred at Bologna, but come; for I tell you that the fierce wolves will put their heads in your bosom like gentle lambs, and will ask mercy from you, father. I say no more. I beg you, father, to hear and hark that which Fra Raimondo will say to you, and the other sons with him, who come in the Name of Christ crucified and of me; for they are true servants of God and sons of Holy Church. Pardon, father, my ignorance, and may the love and grief which make me speak excuse me to your benignity. Give me your benediction. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.

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