Today, April 29th, we celebrate the obligatory memorial of St. Catherine of Siena. The memorial is obligatory because the Church in her wisdom recognizes in Catherine an important beacon of light for the People of God. I did not become familiar with St. Catherine until Bishop Jackels arrived as the ordinary for our Diocese some years back. Bishop Jackels wrote his doctoral thesis on poverty in the writings of St. Catherine of Siena. Although I didn't read his thesis (not enough pictures!!) I did begin reading from Catherine's major work, The Dialogues of St. Catherine of Siena (Dialogues).
In the Dialogues, Catherine speaks a great deal about the "cell of self-knowledge". Catherine states that we remain "in the cell of self-knowledge, in order to know better the goodness of God towards her". Self-knowledge is a sine non qua in the spiritual writing of St. Catherine. In fact, humility, which is the foundation of all virtues, can only be found in the "cell of self-knowledge". In this cell the person learns who he/she is and who God it. As Bishop Jackels so often quoted from St. Catherine, one learns, "There is a God and I am not he".
This self-knowledge is much different from psychological theories and approaches that can be forever "navel gazing" without establishing a reference point. Self-examination without a reference point is like trying to run in quicksand. The more you run and struggle, the more you sink. And, the sinking is into misery and nothingness.
For St. Catherine, when God is the reference point of our self-knowledge, we come to know of our lack, our sin, our weakness, but we also come to know the "goodness of God". This goodness of God is fully manifested in Jesus and, as St. Catherine states, true virtue grows "by the sweet and intimate love acquired in the knowledge of My goodness, and in the bitterness and contrition of heart acquired by knowledge of one's self and one's thoughts."
Ad majorem Dei gloriam,
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