Gaining Mastery of the World

St. Catherine of Sienna’s Dialogue with Christ begins with a question precisely opposed to the one  most of us would think of asking: “What can I do to suffer for you?”

In response, Jesus affirms the generosity of her desire, but proceeds to instruct the saint on the true nature and value of Christian suffering. “I am one who is pleased by few words and many works,” he tells her.

By “many works,” Christ hastens to add, he does not mean a multiplicity of just any kind of actions.

While “one who simply shouts, ‘Lord, Lord, I would like to do something for you!’” has accomplished little, “one who wishes to kill the body with great penances without slaying the selfish will” is merely “shouting” with his body instead of with his mouth.

What Jesus means by “many works” is that a soul “grounded in charity” infuses any and every act with an “infinitely desirous love” of God. While human action in itself is finite and therefore lacking in relation to the eternal, any deed done for God participates in his boundless perfection.

When we regard “penances and other bodily practices” as means of pleasing God and growing in his virtue, we come to measure them in a different way. The same is true of the good works we do for others.

Measuring these acts in relation to God, there is no limit to what we are willing to do or suffer. “The light of discernment,” however, “rightly sets conditions and priorities of love” where finite beings (ourselves and others) are concerned.

If we are to serve God “courageously and conscientiously,” we must practice a charitable discernment whereby we respect the order of goods in the world.

It would never do, for instance, to commit even the slightest sin in the (false) hope that it might bring material or even spiritual benefit to our neighbor. For offending God is no way to please him!

Sanctity by no means dispenses with prudence. Rather, it cultivates a special kind of discernment, following a divine “light which dissolves all darkness, dissipates ignorance, and seasons every virtue and virtuous deed.” This “truly humble prudence” allows mortal deeds to be directed by an immortal hand.

It is only by “making a fool of herself” and embracing a wisdom not her own that the prudent soul “gains the mastery of the world, treading it underfoot with her love.”

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