Life on the Chrism Trail

Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena

April 29, 2021
Nolan Catholic High School
Fort Worth, Texas

1 John 1:5-2:2
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 13-14, 17-18
Matthew 11:25-30

We read in our first reading today the following words from the First Epistle of Saint John, “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

Saint Catherine of Siena, the great Dominican Saint, is known for two very important things. First, during her life she experienced apparitions of Christ who impressed upon her that the path to salvation and peace required full dedication and love for the Truth as fully revealed in Him and as acquired through the natural light of right reason. Saint Catherine not only experienced supernatural visions of Christ but was also harassed by visions of the Devil. One such vision of the Devil was particularly confusing because the Devil appeared to her as Jesus. After being initially troubled by the appearance of what seemed to be Jesus, she recognized that it was the Devil and sent the apparition away back to Hell. Saint Catherine was able to recognize that it was the Devil and not Jesus because he had no wounds from the crucifixion.

During this Easter season we have had several readings from the Gospels in which Jesus appears to His disciples after the Resurrection. Jesus always shows the disciples His wounds so that they recognize that He is truly risen and is not a ghost. Jesus also shows them His wounds because it was their sins, and our sins too, that crucified Jesus. Jesus shows them His wounds to teach them that their sins have no power over them if they repent, seek forgiveness, and are converted and reconciled. It was to save us from the power of our sins and to conquer our sins by His love that Jesus was wounded by the nails.

As we learn from the appearance of the Devil to Saint Catherine; he would very much like us to forget about the wounds of Christ, because he would like us to become indifferent to Christ’s unconditional love for us. The Devil tempts us to deny our sins because if we think that we are sinless then we would come to think falsely that we have no need of the Redeemer and no need of God. We then soon direct our attention to selfishness and the various false idols that the evil one would prefer that we worship: rage, lust, envy, greed, sloth, to name but a few. This is not only a temptation that he tried with Saint Catherine, but also a temptation that he continues to employ against us and against many in our society today. So, Christ calls us to be truthful not only about our sins, but also about His forgiveness and redemption of them that frees us from the further commission of sins and prompts us to love Him and our neighbor more honestly. Jesus does not cancel our sins, He gives us sorrow for them, forgives them, redeems them, and leads us to be reconciled to one another. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

The second point for our reflection regarding Saint Catherine is that out of her love for Jesus and for the Truth, she urgently called the Pope at the time to return to His vocation as the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of Peter, and the Bishop of Rome. The Pope at the time was living more like a prince in luxury and concerned about gaining political power and involved in the intrigue of the day. She wrote many priests, sisters, and religious leaders of the day to turn away from sin and indifference and return to the moral integrity befitting their vocations. Their vocations are to preach the true Gospel of the repentance of sins and conversion in the love of Christ and their neighbors. It is important to note that Saint Catherine did not call for structural changes to the Church despite the corruption and individual sins of its leadership. She called for an embrace of the truth of human sinfulness so that sinners might experience forgiveness and redemption. She called not for an end to Christianity or for systemic revision but for those who professed Christianity to live it fully with love and humility in the Truth of Christ.

Today, we too are tempted to deny our sins — sins of lust, sins of racial enmity, and sins of anger. We are tempted to ignore and to be indifferent to the wounds of Christ suffered in the offenses perpetrated against other human beings, our brothers and sisters. Yet, Christ again comes to us in the sacrifice of this Mass and shows us His glorious wounds. He calls us to embrace the truth of our sinfulness that we might be converted and redeemed by His blood which He shed for our salvation — a gift about which we cannot remain indifferent.

As Christians, we must not deny sins including sins of racism and bigotry manifested against our neighbor. We must not ignore them or become indifferent to them. In so doing let us never presume that any type of systemic change that does not rely on the grace of Christ and conversion of actions will bring us to any authentic and lasting peace or justice. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

Let us pray for humility: to begin with the recognition that we are not Christ and that we depend on Him for His wisdom that is not irrational but supra-rational, beyond the limits of our human reason and power to acquire unaided by His grace and inspiration. In keeping with the greatest commandment of Christ, that as certain as we are that we have much to say, let us be equally secure that we have much to learn from our neighbor. Let us pray for humanity: to remember and insist that my neighbor is as human as I am or as human as anyone else, as much made in God’s image and likeness no more and no less. Let us pray for hope: to make the choice and decision to work together with God and neighbor to build a world worthy of God’s children who were made for heaven. Let us be confident that Saint Catherine prays for us on this day that we might recognize our sinfulness and our redemption in the wounds of Christ and renew our vocations of Baptism to live with the fortitude of Christians called to service, called to justice, and called to love.

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