Looking in the Mirror

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

If a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass.

For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.

James 1:23-24

St. Catherine of Sienna is famous, among other things, for scolding popes, when they were asking for it.

Where did she get the spiritual clout to do such things, and not only “get away” with them, but succeed in pulling off a “feat for the ages, helping to end 70 years of the Church’s exile in Avignon”?

St. Catherine was a masterful diplomat, who did not blanche to call upon others to give their lives for Christ, if that is what circumstances demanded.

Talk about a tough sell!

The core of her message was simple: “the devil is not cast out by the devil but by virtue.”

Before recommending that others cast out the devil by practicing virtue unto death, however, St. Catherine knew that, like our Lord, she had to lead by example.

As her biographer, Sigrid Undset, explains:

That the soul knows itself means, among other things, that it understands the great honor that was done to men when they, through no merit of their own, were created in God’s image.

In the mirror of God’s goodness, the soul sees how badly it has degraded and crippled itself by love of many things.

When she saw herself in this mirror, Catherine realized that her guilt was so great that it was enough to have caused all the misery of the world and the Church, which she wept over.

Looking into the mirror of God’s “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), St. Catherine was able to see that man is nothing and God everything.

She saw that the sins she deplored in others were, in effect, her own, and she willingly took their punishment upon herself, before admonishing her fellow sinners to make lesser sacrifices for the betterment of their own souls.

In our own sinful times, St. Catherine shows us that the solution to our problems is as simple—and as difficult—as acknowledging our own nothingness and allowing God’s virtue to drive our devils out.

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