From Sadness to Cheerfulness
According to the “Dialogue” of St Catherine of Siena
Meditation for a Time of Trials
By Fr de Paillerets O.P.
St Catherine is not surprised that sufferings, of any kind, cause tears to flow. But she doesn’t want them to be evil tears, purely human tears, that show our excessive attachments to the good things of this world, and even if those good things can have us in chains.
If a trial is sent to us, it has this precise purpose: to detach us from the world and from ourselves, so that we put ourselves entirely in the hands of Divine Providence.
The soul does not learn how to suffer the first time around. In the beginning, even if the tears are good, they are still mixed with a lot of self-love. And so, crying over herself “tears of tenderness and compassion“, — even if she accepts the sufferings in expiation for her sins — the soul has not yet, for all that, yet “thrown underfoot and entirely renounced her own will“.
God [who spoke to Catherine] says that she must learn “to despise herself and to hate herself perfectly, at the same time as she arrives from there, at a knowledge and familiarity with My goodness, which will turn her love into a fire. She begins from that moment to unite and conform her will to Mine, and to find and see in herself an entirely new joy and compassion. The joy that she feels in herself is from loving Me and the compassion that moves her is for the neighbor closest her [herself]”. So self-love has disappeared. “She doesn’t regret her own suffering, the damage to herself.” (89)
It is entirely necessary that we aim and move toward total acceptance and patient resignation to the things God wills. This is because, since we have categorically refused to align ourselves with the rebels against God, we don’t have any other path to pursue than the hatred of ourselves.
“The thorns and tribulations” of this earth couldn’t even begin to make us turn back. Again, with the light of reason and of the holy faith, we must clearly see the love of God, which cannot will anything but what is good for us.
Respect for the Will of God
My servants “know that it is for their good and not out of hatred for them, but out of love, that I send trials to them.”
“…they purify themselves from their sins, by contrition of heart, they acquire merits from their perfect patience, and their trails will be rewarded by an infinite Good. They know that every suffering in this life lasts only a short while, like [earthly] time itself. Time is like the balancing point of a scale, nothing more! When time runs out, it is the end of suffering. It’s not very much!
With respect, they put up with everything that happens to them, judging it a grace to be tested and tried by me, and willing nothing other than what I will.
That’s how my servants bear their present trials, they go with patience through the thorns, which do not injure the heart. Their heart was not taken away from them by self-love involving the feelings!” (45)
For sure, self-love does not easily let go of its place without resistance. Beneath the deliberate acceptance of the will, self-love makes feelings of sadness, but we must not let it take the fort. What do these suffering feels count for compared to the essential peace to be found in the will? It’s in that sense that we read these words:
“Whoever is born into this life is subject to pains, be they bodily or spiritual. My servants have bodily pains, but their spirits are always free; I mean that these bodily pains do not cause any sadness, because their will is in accord with Mine. However, it is in the will that man really suffers.”
Joy calls us so much, the joy of love. And this joy must invade us. God doesn’t want us to be satisfied with mere resignation. Or, even more, it is His love which brings joy to birth in the soul which suffers in accord with His will.
That’s what the soul has met in the teaching and example of the Lamb without stain. And so, passing by way this Word, she puts up with and takes “with a true and sweet patience all the pains and all the afflictions that I send to her for her salvation. She receives them with the strength of a courageous man, without choosing which one she prefers. She is not satisfied with accepting things patiently with mere resignation, but she cheerfully accepts them. As long as she has something to suffer she is happy! The soul is invaded with such a great joy, such a perfect tranquility of spirit, no tongue would know how to express it.” (89)
The cheerful joy of the strong, the patient, the loving: it’s not too high, to great for us. I want to say that Christ calls us all, and that we should not fear to desire this and to arrive at it. It might be that this will require long and painful efforts to conquer and to follow the Lamb. The Lord gives to some a rapid route that he doesn’t give to others. That doesn’t matter, as long as we welcome his designs with a trusting respect.
From the book of Rev. Father de Paillerets O.P., The Cross and Joy, 1932.
Translation by Fr M.