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A History of the Church to 1500 A.D.
Theology for the Laity Series

Life and Significance of St. Catherine of Siena

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

What I want to do today is to cover as much as we can about the life, writings and significance of St. Catherine of Siena. One reason is because St. Catherine lived in a time when the Church was in, I would say, the gravest crisis of her history because there were more than one claimant to the Papacy and we know, of course, that the strength of the Catholic Church depends, of course, on the Papacy.

I've given you a short biography. What I'd like to do first is to go over a longer biography from a standard source, make comments as I go along and then draw on some of her teaching.

Catherine of Siena, whose family name was Catherine Benincasa, was born in Siena in 1347, the youngest of a very large family. Her father, Jacopo, was a prosperous wool dealer. We get some idea of how wealthy the family was from the home, which still exists in Siena after six hundred years. Catherine spent a normal, contented infancy during which one thing stood out, what people called her excessive gaiety. However, in adolescence, she became attracted to prayer and solitude. Her mother, Monna Lapa, did not approve of her daughter's behavior; in fact, a problem teenager, who rebelled against her mother's direction, in such matters as dress and amusements, resisted any suggestion of marriage and refused just as positively to become a nun, she never then, expressly became either a nun or married. She was a very self-willed individual. In their disagreement as the parents, when Catherine at the age of sixteen, was allowed to enter the order of St. Dominic as a tertiary.

It is well to know that some outstanding people over the centuries have been Dominican tertiaries. She was one of them. The rules of this group of tertiaries allowed her to dress in the black and white of a Dominican nun while remaining in her own home. Then for three years she never left her room, and then only to go to Mass and go to confession, and as far as we know, she spoke to no one but her confessor. The priest confessor later on admitted that he never felt quite competent in directing Catherine, so much so that she survived for years on a spoonful of herbs a day and a few hours of sleep every night. All we know is that during these years she did experience some mystical phenomena that served her in good stead later on. She was told by Our Lord, in one of her revelations, to do her share of the housework, which her mother of course kept complaining, "You mystic, would you please do some work around the house?" She then began to do her share of the work in the house, to nurse the sick and to help the poor.

About the same time it became known that she had unusual discernment of souls and people came to her in crowds seeking her counsel and there were some very strange characters. There were men and women of all ages and all ranks. They formed what people called a club and because of the district where she lived, it was called the club of the Fontebranda. Among the members of this club were leaders of the nobility in that district: men of fashion, priests, religious, soldiers, artists, merchants, lawyers and politicians. She lived a most unusual life to put it mildly. Needless to say, not everybody appreciated what she was doing. The plain people especially were very critical. "Here," the neighbors said, "is a young woman, a kind of nun. People say she's holy. Well, we're not so sure. She goes about freely with young men, who are in and out of her house at all hours of the day. Who ever heard of such a thing?" They nicknamed her the "Queen of the Fontebranda" and they called her friends, who they said must be bewitched, the "Catarinati", the "Catherinized", the "bewitched by Catherine". But the unique club, or the "Bella Brigata", as they called themselves, the "Beautiful Brigade", was not to be disbursed by jeers. The disapproval did not even cloud their happiness. They persevered. Over the centuries, that group of people has come to be called the school of mystics. They were attracted to Catherine by, on the one hand, her remarkable gaiety and joyousness of life coupled with austere asceticism. So much for the background.

There was, however, at this time, a severe crisis in the Church and the immediate cause of the crisis was that the Popes decided to leave Rome and move to Avignon in France. So the Bishops of Rome did not live in Rome. They lived in the palatial residence of the French nobility in Avignon. This particularly had bad effects on the Italian people, who were always in conflict with the French papal legates. When the city of Florence in Italy declared war on the Papal States in protest against the legate's rule, eighty towns joined them in ten days. Let's get the picture. We are talking about the fourteenth century. That would be about a hundred and fifty years before the major break in Catholic unity caused by Martin Luther's defecting from Rome. As we know, for some six hundred years, by then already, the Popes were civil rulers of what were called by then the Papal States. In other words, the Popes, while being the spiritual heads of the Church, were also the temporal heads of a large part of modern Italy called the Papal States. And that meant that the Popes, themselves, and those who worked for the Papacy engaged not only in ecclesiastical matters but in political affairs and, indeed, in military affairs. And this, I repeat, went on for centuries and it was not finally broken until the nineteenth century. As a result of the temporal rule of the Popes people became disenchanted by the kind of temporal authority the Popes and their assistants were administering and as a consequence there was opposition to the Papacy originally on political grounds but then that went over also into the ecclesiastical and spiritual spheres.

While Catherine was in Pisa (this was not her home town), working on the cause of peace, (she had a reputation for being an arbitrator), she received the stigmata on the fourth Sunday of Lent 1375, although we're told the marks remained invisible until after her death. At a certain stage in this war between the people of Florence and the Papal States, the city of Florence asked Catherine to go to Avignon and there, plead with Pope Gregory XI on behalf of their embassy. She agreed and reached Avignon in the third week of May 1376 accompanied by twenty-three members of her, call it brigade, including four priests. And at least we've got to hear and realize we're talking about a most unusual person. No doubt a mystic and remember she was still a young woman. And she then went to Avignon to plead with the Pope.

The next three months are among the most fateful in the whole history of the Church and this is one reason why Catherine of Siena has both been canonized and her writings highly regarded and most important she, along with St. Teresa of Avila, has been declared a Doctor of the universal Church. So there are two women Doctors of the Church, Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena. [At the time this talk was given, St. Theresa, the Little Flower, had not as yet been declared a Doctor of the Church] And the reason, the immediate reason, is because she then went to plead with the Pope that he should leave France and return to Rome where he belonged. And the one thing we better know about the Papacy is that over the now almost two thousand years of Papal history the Popes have been and some have been very, comma, very human, human beings.

Only God knows where the present situation will end including, by the way, those altar servers, whether indeed the Holy Father has approved, whether he did so under duress, whether even under duress he did so officially and I'm getting an average of two fax messages from Rome every week. This will be my twenty-fourth year in working for the Holy See. This I can tell you, not everybody working for the Vatican is on the side of the Vicar of Christ. I don't believe I've ever said this publicly, but I do now. If ever we've prayed, in God's name let's pray now. There are several thousand who work at the Vatican. There's no way, no human way the Pope could possibly have complete total control of everyone working in the Vatican – no way.

In any case it was a crisis that reached a peek in the fourteenth century. She then went to Avignon where she experienced every conceivable kind of humiliation and the women at the court in Avignon laughed at her – mocked her. Then those prelates, who asked themselves, "What's this woman doing here anyhow?" They then subjected her to all kinds of humiliating inquisition. Then when the people from Florence came, the very ones who had asked her to represent them; they simply refused to accept her mediation. She was being used by the political powers. Thank God, thank God that the Holy See has been freed from the political powers under which it had been, shall we say, in control, they in control for centuries. But as providence would have it the Pope received her, and then she realized that what he needed was a stronger will, a more resolute will and her task was only one, to convince the Vicar of Christ that he should leave France and of course that meant arousing the anger of the French people. Leave France and return to Rome where, you might say, he belonged in the first place.

Let me tell you, you do not begin to begin to understand the history of the Catholic Church unless you know something, and the more the better, about the role of France in the history of the Papacy, and that for a variety of reasons. Gaul, as it was called under already Julius Caesar, was a very independent people. The French, as a class, are far above normal in intelligence and extraordinarily clear and penetrating speculative mind. For centuries no Papal document was allowed to be accepted until the French people accepted the decision, in other words, the French authorities had to accept what Rome issued and only if the French accepted what Rome had issued or published, was then the document from Rome considered authentic. And that went on into the nineteenth and even twentieth centuries. Then as we know in the nineteenth century, when as we are all familiar with the First Vatican Council at which, was voted the subject of Papal infallibility. Why did the First Vatican Council vote on Papal infallibility? Why? Because the French did not accept Papal infallibility. In other words, unless the French people, especially their leaders and most especially their Bishops approved, then, and only then, were the documents from Rome accepted in France. All of this is part of the history of the French nation.

So we read: The might of France, the Sacred College, and the Pope's own family immediately closed in around him to prevent him from taking this step. Every possible means were used to keep the Pope from leaving France and going back to Rome. It was a terrifying struggle of wills in which finally, thanks to God's grace, the victory went to Catherine. Pope Gregory XI left France and Avignon on September 13, 1376. Had he not left France only God knows what would have been the future of the Catholic Church.

The change of climate and the difficulties with which the Pope had to cope took a heavy toll on the Pope's frail physical condition. He died before the year was up and the new Pope, Urban VI, was from Naples and he began his Pontificate with a zeal for reform which immediately alienated the French Cardinals. The revolution was not over. I thought we should spend this kind of time on Catherine of Siena both because of her stature and because we need to know something at least a sliver of what is going on in the Catholic Church today. There are those who are in power in the Church, noted Bishops and Cardinals, not all of whom are on the side of Pope John Paul II. And it's just as well that most Catholics do not know, I don't say the whole story, but even more of what is going on. I repeat, the Catholic Church is divinely instituted and divinely protected but she is, and I mean this, twenty-four years in working for the Vatican, she is a very human, human institution.

Because of this new Pope's zeal for reforming the Church, he alienated the French Cardinals. Bad enough for the Pope to leave France and now for the new Pope to clean things up and that meant, of course, cleaning things up also among the Papal Curia. What did these French Cardinals do? They withdrew to the Italian town of Anagni and there they issued a statement declaring that the present, then Pope, Urban VI, was in reality an intruder whom they had only pretended to elect, the Cardinals out of fear of the Roman mob. The Romans wanted an Italian to be elected Pope so out of fear they elected an Italian. They never really intended to, so the Cardinals said. Then to make matters worse, shortly thereafter these French Cardinals elected their own Pope and then he went back to Avignon, to France, and thus began the Great Western Schism which lasted, my friends, for seventy years. It was the most terrible ordeal which the Church has ever had to suffer. Once there is conflict in the top echelons of the Church then you have a crisis, indeed. Catherine went to Rome at the request of Urban VI to organize spiritual help towards ending the schism. Before leaving Siena for the last time, she dictated a book. There is really only one book that she's identified with. It's called The Dialogue of St. Catherine and that, along with her four hundred letters, comprise what we call a treasury of her spiritual writings.

Once again in Rome, she pitted herself against the powers of evil that threatened to engulf the Church. For a whole year she lived exclusively on the Blessed Sacrament. We have witnesses that she got less than one hour's sleep every night while she wrote zealous letters all over Europe beseeching help for the restoration of unity and peace. And let me tell you, almost twenty-five years in working for the Holy See; I can tell you this, pray, pray for those same two intentions, for unity and peace in the Catholic Church. There is division and the division is in some high places. She daily offered her life to God to obtain peace and unity for the Church. One evening, in January 1380, while dictating a letter to Pope Urban, she had a stroke. She partially recovered, lived in a mystical agony, convinced that she was wrestling with demons. She had a second stroke while at prayer in St. Peter's Basilica and died three weeks later on April 29, 1380 at the ripe old age of thirty-three. She was buried under the high altar in the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sulpa Minerva, but her head, as the Italians do, her head was removed and taken to Siena where it is enshrined in the Dominican Church in that city. She was canonized eighty-one years after her death and her feast is celebrated in Siena on April 29 but the rest of the Church celebrates it on April 30. So much for a biographical sketch of St Catherine of Siena.

Just a few notes: you should all have received a quiz on Catherine of Siena. You don't have to read much of her life to be able to answer the quiz. To understand your Faith you should be able to answer these questions and I ask you as I did each class, please, please write out the quiz and turn it in. We are meeting, by the way, next week. We have class next Sunday on the first day of May and then, just for the record, we will not have class on the eighth of May. We will have class on the fifteenth and the twenty-second but not on the twenty-ninth. Our last class will be May the twenty-second. So once more, we have classes on the first, the fifteenth and the twenty-second of May. And I'm asking you to please take the quiz on Catherine of Sienna. And if you have not taken the other quizzes, and you still have the test, may I ask you please take the trouble and the time to answer those questions. Some of you, by the way, are doing brilliantly.

My plan before the end of the present class year is to draw up a kind of master test on Church history. My plan is to have perhaps one hundred of the most important facts of Church history that every self-respecting Catholic should know. And you'll have time to take the quiz and also to learn how much Church history you've remembered. It is mainly memory and the most important thing in remembering is the will to remember. We remember what we want to remember and we forget what we want to forget. OK?

I also brought with me a book that I recommend to all of you: Quotable Saints, published by Servant Publications. It has, I would say, over 500 quotations, well-chosen from the saints and neatly classified, including many quotations from Catherine of Sienna that I will read and make some commentary on.

And now your pages, which by the way, are taken from The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan by your teacher and I just got the republication rights back from Doubleday because this should be published. In any case, the two or so pages are taken from The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan. Catherine of Sienna is, by all odds, one of the great women of Catholic history, whose life and writing and spirituality should be known. Would somebody with a loud voice mind reading? Bill, would you mind reading?

Bill: "St. Catherine, who was born in Siena and died in Rome, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. From early childhood she had mystical experiences and practiced severe mortifications. At sixteen she joined the Dominican Tertiaries and from 1366 she had what are called spiritual espousals. By the time she was twenty she began to work in caring for the sick, especially those suffering from revolting diseases. Because of her extraordinary supernatural gifts she became advisor to the rulers of Church and state."

Fr Hardon: One thing we should note immediately. In the ages of Faith, as the fourteenth century certainly was, those who became advisors and guides to both ecclesiastics and those in authority in the state were, in general, people who themselves had the Faith. In other words, it must seem strange, even odd, for a young woman, actually in her twenties, to be consulted by kings, princes, and even the Pope. Behind that phenomenon, which it is for us a phenomenon, is something that we should try to recover. In the last analysis, a person is as worthy of being consulted – that person's judgment is worth listening to and being followed – in the degree or measure that person is living a life of union with God, which is almost the reverse of our modern, academically-preoccupied society. Either the natural or the supernatural gifts of people are ignored. What matters: how much education, what degrees you've got, what license, what rights you have, especially from the state, to exercise whatever intelligence you may have. In other words, Catherine of Siena shows how, over the centuries, to the ages of Faith, those only, who lived holy lives, were consulted because it was assumed that holy people were wise people; that one's union with God is a precondition for one's having a good, clear mind and a will that is worth following. Continue Bill…

Bill: "She successfully brought about the return of Pope Gregory XI from Avignon to Rome (1376) and effected the reconciliation between Florence and the Holy See. During the Great Western Schism she favored UrbanVl, the true claimant to the Papacy."

Fr Hardon: Okay, and that, of course, is also crucial, in other words, the true Pope was Urban VI.

Bill: "She authored many lengthy letters, mostly spiritual counsel and encouragement to her associates. But her principal claim to literary fame is her Dialogue, a masterful treatise on growth in holiness. Composed during the last stage of her life in Rome, the Dialogue was dictated to her followers as her spiritual testament to the world. Its four treatises are a treasure of Catholic wisdom, capsulized in the revelation of God's infinite love in making the world out of nothing and redeeming a fallen human race only because He loves His sinful creatures. In St. Catherine's language, this divine love is symbolized in the Precious Blood of Christ, shed for us on Calvary."

Fr. Hardon: Okay, what we should keep in mind, and this is why her letters are worth reading, but also her work, which we call her Dialogue. It is really the only single book that we can speak of as her having authored. And while her letters deal with the practical problems that she was dealing with in the Church, her Dialogue, her reflections are, as we are saying, a treasury of Catholic wisdom, capsulized in the revelation of God's infinite love in making the world out of nothing and redeeming a fallen human race only because He loves His sinful creatures. If there is one thing that stands out in Catherine's writings it is the "Allness" of God and the "nothingness" of man, the "Infinity" of God and the "emptiness" of man. In other words that we, except for God, would not even exist. God had to bring us into being.

Bill: "What is most remarkable about her Dialogue is not only the depth of its author's insights but the clarity of her ideas. Thus, in explaining the work of divine providence, she describes how a repentant heart can satisfy the offended majesty of God both for the guilt of sin and for the penalty due to sin. God is here speaking to His supernatural child, ‘I have shown you, dearest daughter, that the guilt is not punished in this finite time, by any pain which is sustained merely as something painful. What I mean is that the guilt is expiated by the pain which a person endures through loving desire and contrition of heart. What expiates the guilt of sin is not the pain itself, but the soul's loving desire to undo the evil committed by sin, since this loving desire has value through Christ crucified.’ "

Fr. Hardon: I think it would be well to zero in on what she is saying there. In fact, out of all that I might have quoted from Catherine's writings I chose that paragraph. What is Our Lord telling her? Of course sin is punished by pain, however, and this is the language that Our Lord uses. The guilt is expiated by the pain which a person endures through loving desire and contrition of heart. What expiates the guilt of sin is not the pain itself, but the soul's loving desire to undo the evil committed by sin, since this loving desire has value through Christ crucified. It is impossible, theologically, to overemphasize the importance of these statements. No question about it, we believe on faith and defined centuries later by the Council of Trent, that God does punish, He punishes sin with pain, for the pain means the deprivation of our desires. Unsatisfied desires is the theological definition of pain. Unsatisfied desire is the theological description of pain. And that we sinners all of us, no exception, are to expect and we do, we do, de facto, expiate our sins by our patient endurance of pain – pain described as unsatisfied desire, whether the desire is in the body, or the emotions, or the mind, or the will. But remember, the one who is writing here is no ordinary person. Now, she'd be the first one to admit that she was a sinner. When, then, Catherine speaks about expiation she does not deny what two centuries later the Council of Trent defined, that God does require expiation of our sins by sending us suffering, which is the experience of pain.

What she, however, wants to bring out and this really should be brought out is that, as the guilt is being expiated by pain, which a person endures through loving desire and contrition of heart, what expiates the guilt of sin is not the pain itself, it is not just the pain that is expiatory, it's the will behind the pain. It's the why, with my will, I endure the pain. And what is it? Says Catherine, it is the soul's loving desire to undo the evil committed by sin. All I know is having taught the theology of sin and expiation, what a difference between two people, both of whom are believing Catholics, one of whom knows at least academically that where there has been sin there must be pain and then – all right, all right – having sinned I guess I have to undergo this pain, so I will undergo the pain. What a difference – what a world of difference between enduring the pain because I've got no choice having sinned, and the soul's wanting, loving desire, to undo the evil committed by sin and loving and I mean that, loving, embracing, accepting the pain. For years now I have been saying whether in so many words or equivalently, this is for me, the sign of real progress in virtue. We're all sinners, every one of us, only God knows who is the greater sinner here in class, and we'll be safe, by the way, of thinking we are – for me, that's me. But there's progress in virtue once I realize that this is God's loving way of enabling me to expiate my sin by providing me with the blessed opportunity of suffering because I have sinned and therefore, therefore, I welcome, I want, I embrace the pain. What expiates the guilt of sin is not the pain itself but the soul's loving desire to undo the evil committed by sin so this loving desire has value through Christ crucified. In other words, uniting my sufferings with those of the Savior because, and how this, where do I begin, you can't begin to explain it – you either believe it or you don't. God, God became man to choose. He chose suffering in order that by His choice of the cross, He might thus expiate the sins that we have committed and therefore, by our uniting our sufferings with His and loving it, wanting it, choosing it, embracing it, then and I would say, only then, is our patient endurance of suffering pleasing to God. Why? Because then what am I doing? I am choosing that which is painful. Why? In order that I might make up, by my sacrifice, of my pleasure in enduring the pain out of love for the Lord, Who chose to suffer out of love for me. Continue, Bill…

Bill: "We may therefore say that suffering endured out of love for God is part of our expiation for sin. But the heart of expiatory suffering is not so much the actual pain."

Fr. Hardon: (this portion of the recording is blank) pain and however the words come out. There are two words that belong together, belong together by the Will of God, and they are love and pain. They belong together, they dare not be separated. When God wanted to show His love for us what did He do? He died on the cross. When we want to show our love for Him what do we do? We embrace the cross. And so far from minimizing or dodging the cross, and this is Catherine, every sentence almost she wrote, you choose, you prefer, you prefer the cross. Why? Because when you choose something which naturally you don't like there's more of the will in your choice. Continue, Bill.

Bill: "Another basic insight of the Dialogue is the idea of what we call "external grace". In His ordinary providence, God uses human beings as channels of grace to others. Our practice of virtue, then, is the normal way that God communicates His super&#shy;natural light and strength to everyone whose life we touch."

Fr. Hardon: I want to make sure as I type these out in the manuscript, I thought to myself, it'll take just maybe a hundred or so words to say it, but there's just a history, centuries of wisdom behind it. We need other people to make us holy and they need us to make them holy. Continue…

Bill: "St. Catherine boldly stated that, ‘every virtue is a pain by means of your neighbor.’"

Fr. Hardon: Memorize that and you'll appreciate people you’re not particularly keen about, even as you say it your lips may tremble, or your teeth may chatter…so what! Continue, Bill…

Bill: "And every virtue that our neighbor obtains comes by means of us."

Fr. Hardon: Yes, people need us. Continue…

Bill: "This mystery of faith runs deeper than the familiar value of giving others a good example. Other people are supernaturally affected by every act of virtue we make in God's friendship."

Fr. Hardon: They don't have to see us, they don't have to hear us, they don't even have to know we exist. Every virtue that we practice, every time we make an act of resignation to God's will, of humility, of patience, of charity, you name it, souls are benefiting that would not benefit unless we had performed that act of virtue. Bill…

Bill: "And we are correspondingly influenced by every morally good actions that other followers of Christ perform. In fact, this is the highest form of charity we can practice to be instruments of divine grace to other people."

Fr. Hardon: That's it! Centuries later, St. Ignatius built a whole spirituality on this premise. The only reason we are to become holy is that we might be channels of grace to others. Our purpose in becoming holy is not that we might be walking statues ourselves, no, but that God may use us. God uses only humble people to give others humility, only chaste people to bring chastity to others, patient people to bring patience to others and so on down the other virtues. And you parents, this is it! That's spelled I-T, capital I, capital T, this is it! It is as severe as, well, mathematics. In the measure our union with God, God uses us to sanctify others. And the more costly the virtue the more pleasing we will be to God, and where some people cause us all kinds of inconvenience, suffering and pain, you have them in your life, and I can tell you I've got them in my life. And when I talk to the Lord I name them by name. I even give their names out loud, making sure the doors are closed. And this is not a footnote. This is the very heart of Christianity. The need we have of others and that others have of us. Bill, continue…

Bill: "Fundamental to St. Catherine's writings is the belief that growth in sanctity is possible only through humble obedience to the Church's divinely established authority."

Fr. Hardon: This is most important! Here is a woman, my gosh, in her late twenties and early thirties talking to the Pope and she used some pretty strong language, but all the while she apologized as she recognized who he is. There's not a shred of pride in what she says, but always recognizing his authority but saying what, before God, she was divinely inspired to say. And authority can be very demanding, and when authority is out of order, oh, I can say this, without expanding on it, I know! But you still recognize what the limits of authority are in so far as this person has authority to tell me what to do or what not to do, I obey. Never, of course, will contradict what I know is contrary to God's will. And this is the hardest lessons, I think, for many Catholics to learn now, when so many in the Church, including so many in Church authority, are behaving, are acting, are writing, are saying things that are not very edifying. Do I still obey him? Yes, in so far as a bishop is still retained by the Pope as the bishop of the diocese, he's got authority. But I keep distinguishing, always, he has the right to tell me, in so far as what he tells me to do is consistent with the teaching of the Vicar of Christ, but I better know the Pope's teaching.

Bill: "This explains her phenomenal zeal for bringing the Papacy back to Rome after its years in exile in France. It also explains the paradox of her outspoken language to the Bishop of Rome, even as she humbly recognized him as the Vicar of Christ on earth. Humility of heart in submitting to God's will and humility of mind in accepting God's revealed truth are the two virtues on which St. Catherine would say finally depend our eternal destiny."

Fr. Hardon: If anyone proves that women can be superbly intelligent and profoundly insightful into the understanding of our Faith it's a woman like Catherine. Not, surely, enlightened by human erudition. She had almost no human education to speak of. Divinely enlightened, but open, totally opened to God's mind in accepting what God told her, and especially submitting her will to His divine will no matter what the cost might be.

We have some questions. I can read more of Catherine of Siena some quotations and comments as the need arises. There should be another box somewhere making the rounds.

Question: If we reject the Holy Father’s approval of women altar servers because accuse him of giving in to pressure and making a bad decision and make these thoughts public how are we different from the modernists we dislike so much?

Fr. Hardon: Well, I would say not, not to reject the Holy Father’s approval I repeat however, we have to make sure, and that is still dangling, we have to make sure that he did de facto approve, no question, of the Congregation for Divine Worship as plain as Italian can be. There it is two pages on the subject that I got in fact from Rome. That they made the decision in ‘92 again in ’93 and they further state that the Holy Father approved. They stated he did. Well, maybe he did. Once we make sure that he really did then no question of not accepting his decision and we have to say God is mysterious providence has reasons we don’t know and that good somehow will come out of it. I will keep you duly informed.

We’re going to get you a book, The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan. We’ll have a few copies left but I don’t think I’ll need it for the reprinting. So I like to think that somebody still has them on sale. You Have? If the worst comes to the worst I might, perhaps, maybe part with a copy of my own.

Question: Please advise me in the spiritual formation my son is likely to receive if I were to move him from home schooling. This his eighth year to high school at Notre Dame preparatory high school which is under the guidance of the Marist Fathers, personally, Fr. Leon, SM.

Fr. Hardon: Well, I am not that familiar with Notre Dame Prep High School. I would be guessing. In any case, my advice of course would be to trust God’s providence.

Question: Can you recommend a specific biography about St. Catherine of Siena?

Fr. Hardon: Yes. In the back of the book of The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan each of the recommended authors has a list of biographers so there are several standard biographers of St. Catherine of Siena. It is listed in the Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.

Question: I have found Jean-Pierre De Caussade’s book Abandonment to Divine Providence to be very helpful in explaining how to live in God’s Will from moment to moment. Can you say a few words about his writings? This is Caussade. It is available from Tan Books as Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence.

Fr. Hardon: Jean-Pierre De Caussade did not write a great deal. He suffered a great deal in his life. And what he learned was that we have a free will to not only choose to do God’s Will among options given to us we can choose A, B, C, D and doing God’s Will but we can also, but watch this carefully, we can also reach a situation in our lives. There’s not a question of choosing some option that God offers me, it maybe but I’ve got to be sure I know what I am doing, it maybe what God wants me to do is, so we tell Him, “Lord you are in charge of my life and I let go.” In other words, there are lives and Pierre De Caussade’s life was one such, where the suffering and the trials are so deep, so embedded in the person’s life, so inevitable, no matter what direction a person turns that what that person needs to do is not to continue searching, “What does God want me to do?” It maybe, it maybe what God wants me to do is resign myself to His Divine Will. And those situations, by the way, are more frequent than I believe most people realize. Our lives are more determined than I’m afraid a lot of people realize. Then there are choices or options that we have, we’ve either exhausted or you’re no longer in a position to make them and then what I should do is tell God, “Dear Lord, you want me to resign myself to your will and simply tell you this is what your will is. You want me to no longer search for what your will is except to resign myself to the inevitable.” That would be Caussade.

Question: What about evangelizing family that is offended by it? A prophet is never accepted in his own country. Are we to keep at them until they stone us? Yet it seems they should be our first concern.

Fr. Hardon: I like this and I’d buy it. What about evangelizing family that is offended by it? A prophet is never accepted by his own country. Are we to keep at them until they stone us? Yes! Then when they stone you it’ll be in a good cause. Obviously there are ways and ways of going about it, but no question. Talk to the people, try to persuade them, pray for them. They should be our first concern, emphatically! And pray for them and get them to pray for themselves, pray with them on the telephone. Worse they can do is hang up. I give you some source from my own life, especially my little Mother. Talk about an aggressive women, never took no for an answer.

Question: What do mean by surrendering one of God’s creatures? You mean by death?

Fr. Hardon: Oh no! Oh no! Surrendering one of God’s creatures. I did tell you didn’t I about the girl I was dating for four years of college? Remember? She was one of God’s creatures. And you know women. She had the wedding date set. And good girl, she waited twenty years after that dinner to get in touch with me which was very good of her. I let go of my Mother, a widow, pernicious anemia, poor health, working, scrubbing floors every night. I just finished college and I walk off and leave her alone. So, this is the difference, remember, between letting go of a creature that leads us into sin and letting go of a creature in order to surrender something precious to God. And for some people they still have to learn what I would call the A,B,C’s of sanctity. What do you like? What do you cherish? What the last thing on earth you’d want to give up? Ask the Lord, “Lord, what do you think?” Maybe surprised what he may tell you. And to make sure of one woman that I dearly, deeply loved, I kept comparing every girl I met with my Mother. I waited seven years before I visited my Mother. And let me tell you and God will bless you beyond your wildest dreams if you let go making sure he wants you to let go of a dear creature which may be and generally is a human being out of love for Him.

Copyright © 2005 by Institute on Religious Life

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

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