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St. Caterina of Siena and Following God's Will: Part 2
St. Catherine of Siena is the ultimate guide who shows us how we can accomplish the impossible, as long as we follow God's will.
Following up on last week’s post, this week I’ll talk about one of Caterina’s most powerful, if misunderstood, sayings.
Many of Caterina teachings are difficult to digest in today’s world, not because her theology is hard to understand but because her images and metaphors are, to our modern ears, harsh—and quite bloody. Even so, these teachings have never lost their urgent validity. God is still trying to get through to His people.
In Letter T139 to her first spiritual director Tommaso della Fonte, written in December 1375, Caterina says, “How I long to see you massacred on the tree of the sweet beloved cross—but not without me!”1
That image, along with the word massacred, is a jolt to the senses, yet when we dive into the teaching we realize how beautiful it truly is. To be crucified with Christ is to give our all, our everything, our very lives to Divine Will—no matter what God may ask of us. Jesus’ death is the ultimate sacrifice of self-will, something we’re all called to imitate on a spiritual level, not once but each and every moment of our lives.
Jesus had to undergo the most radical transformation, the most extreme example of Divine Will, so that us regular folks could get it through our rock-hard brains, so we could begin to understand how we’re meant to live our lives. Even so, we continually deny the Christ-like beauty within ourselves by failing to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
We tend to sacrifice only what feels comfortable to us. We’re often terrified of going too far, which blocks us from continuing on the path that leads to a mystical death on the cross, which is true unity with God.
To be “nailed fast to the cross,” as Caterina so often says, is to completely surrender, to release ourselves to Divine Will and to place our complete trust in the blessings that are sure to follow. It’s to realize on the deepest, most intuitive level that the spiritual path is far from easy, yet always of the utmost reward: the fruits always profoundly outweigh the sacrifice, as we see in the Resurrection. Had Jesus not been willing to give everything to His Father’s will, we never would have seen the mystery of the Resurrection nor been offered ultimate salvation. His mission of unconditional love would have been neglected. Although the impact of organized religion has been far from positive in many ways, when we eliminate the power-hungry struggles of human frailty and get to the true core of Jesus’ life and teachings, we realize the world would be a dreary place without the power of His redemptive love.
Jesus’ sacrifice was God’s will because of the fruits. The crucifixion, as horrendous as it was, shows us that we need to give our all—no matter what that “all” turns out to be—and fully trust in the momentum of the Holy Spirit. Whatever God asks of us, no matter how difficult or strenuous it may initially seem, is always for the best, most powerful, and highest good. It will always produce the most fruits, and those fruits will always be lush and juicy. This is a Spirit-given guarantee.
Yet truly believing in the power of Divine Will may be a challenge. It’s not difficult tell God, “Not my will, but Yours be done” as we sit in our comfortable homes with a full belly and a steaming cup of coffee. It’s a far different matter to lose our job and our spouse in the same week, and not panic but rather feel at peace while repeating, “God’s will be done.” When we can’t see that a better job is waiting for us around the corner or our spouse had been cheating for years before the final breakup, depression or desperation tends to set in. One of our primary lessons in life is to stop questioning, to release in faith, and to let God work fully in our lives.
Caterina taught that to be crucified with Christ means to allow Jesus to dwell in us at all times, in every circumstance, particularly the ones in which we feel as if we’re being massacred; to annihilate our self-will to such a degree that fear and doubt have no place in our lives. It’s to trust God fully, absolutely, and without reservation even when life throws us the toughest curve-balls. It’s to surrender to Divine Will, to release ourselves so we may be filled with resurrected Light.
When we break the word massacred down, that blessed Light suddenly emerges. We realize that by giving up the surface-self, by allowing God’s will to envelope us, we emerge from feeling massacred to being sacred. We are resurrected, in body and soul.
St. Catherine of Siena, The Letters of Catherine of Siena, Volume I, trans. Suzanne Noffke, 194-196.