A major section of Saint Catherine of Sienna’s Dialogues addresses the widespread corruption afflicting the Holy Catholic Church, then (as now).
The root cause of such corruption is, of course, personal, as is the case with the saintly governance practiced by those ministers who have been true to their divine calling.
As for the saints: “Because they had first done justice to themselves”—that is, had sought and obtained virtue, by the grace of God—“they were just to their subjects as well.”
Such “holy justice” consists in seeking perfection in one’s own life, and guiding others in the same direction.
Holy ministers do not refrain from correcting their wayward sheep, “for those who are not corrected and those who do not correct are like members” of a body “beginning to rot.”
Their method of correction was of course charitable. “Those who were sinful they drew out of their sin by showing that they themselves were also sinful and week”; “while correcting others and imposing penances for the sins they had committed, they themselves in their charity did penance along with them.”
By contrast, corrupt ministers foster corruption in the Church by failing in their duty to correct sin, first in themselves, and then in others.
Due to their own lust for power and prestige, wayward shepherds “sometimes administer correction” to “the little people,” “as if to cloak themselves in this little bit of justice.”
“But they will never correct persons of any importance, even though they may be guilty of greater sin than more lowly people, for fear that these might retaliate by standing in their way or deprive them of their rank and their way of living.”
How are we to respond to this betrayal by those who ought to be fostering the flowers of holy justice, but instead give way to “slavish fear”?
Remembering that the holy sacraments administered by such men are gifts of God that cannot in themselves be corrupted by the sins of men, we ought to reverence every minister of God, insofar as he is a bearer of such gifts.
On the other hand, we “ought to despise and hate the ministers’ sins,” which we should “try to dress . . . in the new clothes of charity and holy prayer.”
We can “escape the leprosy” of bad prelates by practicing charity, which makes us “put up with [our] neighbors with true patience by enduring pain, torment, and weariness no matter what their source.”
When we live as “little sheep in the garden of holy Church, grazing there in holy longing and constant prayer,” we will not raise our heads “either in impatience or in inordinate gladness” at the virtues or vices of her earthly administrators.
Rather, we will be “humbly attentive” to the honor of God, “the salvation of souls, and the reform of holy Church.”
Loving what is good, and hating what is evil, we will set our hearts ablaze with the cleansing fires of holy justice—without which neither we nor those for whom we pray can have any hope of genuine happiness.
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