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A Spiritual Retreat with St. Catherine of Siena

I am currently reading The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena. In this post and in others I will be placing several of my favorite quotes with brief commentaries on each of them.  Before reading them I would highly suggest reading the biography of St. Catherine (To read her bio click here or here.) to gain a broader perspective of her teachings.

My goal through these quotes is to create a mini retreat, where we encounter St. Catherine in the midst of
Giovanni di Paolo, St. Catherine of Siena 1475
our normal day to day activity.

So with St. Catherine as our guide lets begin:

"...I wish that you should know, that not all the pains that are given to men in this life are given as punishments, but as corrections, in order to chastise a son when he offends."

It is comforting to know that God doesn't punish because he is bored and needs some entertainment. God punishes, rather corrects to give us the chance to become better. I know that this concept can seem antiseptic when viewed from the surface. But if viewed through the lens of a father child relationship one will see that a loving father punishes his child not for personal enjoyment, but rather to teach a lesson.  God, who is "Abba" is the ultimate father who loves through correcting us.

"I wish also that you should know that every virtue is obtained by means of thy neighbor, and likewise every defect."

The holy life is not the solitary life.  God's will is that we interact with one another.  I can attest to this at my job where I literally deal with hundreds of people each week.  Most of the interactions are pleasant but there are many which aren't. At those moments I am very aware of my weaknesses and my need for God.  Or take for example a typical family. Not every family member will get along. The trick is to realize that God has put that person/s into your life for a reason.  Some of life's greatest teachers are the ones we like the least.  It is through human relationships where we draw nearer to Christ. St. Catherine illustrates her point further when she reflects,
"And it can not be otherwise, because love of Me and of her neighbor are one and the same thing, so far the loves Me, she loves her neighbor, because love towards him issues from me."
"Discretion is the only child of self knowledge, and wedding with charity has indeed many other descendants, as a tree which has many branches;  but that which gives life to the tree, to its branches, and its root, is the ground of humility...because otherwise the tree would not produce the virtue of discretion, or any fruit of life, if it were not planted in the virtue of humility, because humility proceeds from self-knowledge."

One of the definitions of discretion is the ability to make good decisions. According to St. Catherine one becomes discreet through self knowledge which is attained through humility. I love the emphasis on self knowledge.  So many times spirituality is viewed as something other worldly, where a person needs to contact some guru, or "spiritual" person. St. Catherine refutes this by saying that true spirituality comes through self knowledge.  So the better a person knows them self the holier they will become.  Self knowledge viewed from this end is not selfish since it is grounded in humility, which is the ability to see the truth as it is.  

In my next post we will continue our retreat with St. Catherine of Siena

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