Some snippets from a previous post:
We find some of the fruits of the conversations between our Lord Jesus and Saint Catherine in The Divine Doctrine of Jesus Christ. In this post, I include a vignette representing the incisiveness of this doctrine and the wonderful clarity of her own spiritual life. These few words provide the key to understanding what is – it seems for us priests – by far the most difficult passage in the Gospels, a passage found, in one way or another, throughout the Scriptures of both Testaments. One will have to go through quite a purgatory in this life or the next in order to sound out the truth of her words. I once heard her words being mocked by an ecclesiastic who is influential in seminary formation for many Episcopal Conferences, and who for many years now has begged me not to publish the comments in this post, wanting, as he does, to be the first to write on this passage of Catherine, but to mock it instead of explaining it. Such drama! What to do? Publish the post, of course!
In this passage of The Divine Doctrine, Christ’s words are incisive and ironic, and lead us to the seeming paradox of caritas in veritate, of charity in truth
She is relating her report of what our Lord is dictating to her. Jesus is speaking about Saint Paul’s interpretation of the key of knowledge, by which we see what the eye cannot see, hear what the ear cannot hear, and understand in our hearts what otherwise cannot arise in the heart of man. Saint Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2,9, does interpret Isaiah 64,10 – cited in Matthew 13,15, Acts 28,27, et al. – by saying it is by way of the love of God, by way of the crucified Lord of glory, that we see and hear and understand. Paul is accurate, says our Lord – as Saint Catherine relates – so much so that “questo parbe che volesse dire Paulo,” so much so that “this seems to be what Paul wanted to say,” that is, as if it were Paul’s revelation, Paul’s knowledge, Paul’s very own desire. In other words, Paul was so transformed by grace, that it was as if Paul spoke on his own authority. Yet, in this passage, the most erudite of all academic Pharisees himself happily admits that he is speaking by the power of God and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was not conjecturing about what it seems to Him that Paul wanted to say, as if Jesus were Paul’s student: “It seems to me that Paul wanted to say this…” Jesus was rather confirming just how correct Paul’s words were, for they were actualized in Paul’s life with the grace of Jesus, that power of God, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Himself fulfilled the vocation of Isaiah, to blind eyes, stop up ears, harden hearts, and remove all understanding lest people, including us priests, turn to the Lord to be saved. Good! We are not to pretend that we can turn to the Lord under our own power like some Pelagian work-your-own-way-to-God idiot. We must allow ourselves, by God’s grace, to be turned to the Lord, to be brought up into His mercy. We hate any demand to give up control over ourselves, even of our spiritual lives, even to the Lord Himself. This is our fallen human condition. It is a crucifixion of our fallen spirits simply to watch the Lord bringing us to Himself. If people want to have a work to do in the spiritual life, it is this, to be crucified. When we have our eyes fixed on Him, our ears listening in obedience, our hearts able to love whatever the cost of a pierced heart, this will then be our greatest joy, a proof of the resurrection of the Lord in our lives, for we cannot be led by a dead god in this way, but only in friendship with the Living God.
But let’s test this friendship with our Lord, shall we? Let’s take a sentence from the Theologian, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who also makes a comment on Paul’s letters, this time on Ephesians, 5,23 – “The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is also the Head of the Church, Himself Savior of the Body.” The question is, who interprets whom? Does Jesus guess what His Body wants, or does the Body know, because of intimate friendship, what the Head of the Body wants?
O de kefalhn thV EkklhsiaV ton Criston einai maqwn, touto pro pantwn dianoeisqw, oti pasa kefalhn tw upokeimenw swmati omofuhV esti kai omoousioV.
Here’s my translation of that, since the usual one is absolutely pitiful:
But the one learning the Head of the Church to be Christ thoroughly understands this before all things, that the entire Head, in subjection to the Body, is of the same nature and same being.
[Gregorius Nyssenus, De Perfectione et qualem oporteat esse Christianum, ad Olypium Monachum, Patrologia Graeca, XLVI, 1863, ed. J.-P. Migne, 1863, 251-286. If I remember correctly, this quote is spread across columns 274-275.]
This is Gregory’s greatest spiritual work, and he here flies into the heavens. He is at his absolute best, his most sublime. He doesn’t say that Christ is subject to us, but that Christ is teaching us to be subject to Himself, making us capable of learning this by way of Himself taking on our human nature. Christ Jesus doesn’t need to learn from us what we seem to want to express (“questo parbe che volesse dire Paulo” – “this, it seems to me – is what Paul wanted to say”). Instead, as Catherine analogously reports Jesus’ words, It seems as if this is what Paul himself wanted to say, though Paul actually said this by the power of God and the revelation of the Holy Spirit!
So, in this friendship with our Lord, blessed are we priests if we thank our Lord for sending women like Saint Catherine of Siena into our lives in every which way. Thank you, Lord!