The Sad Joyous Truth:
Finally, you have found my blog page; you itinerant idiot. For those of you who have been here before do not pat yourself on the back. In all likelihood, you are much worse off now than when you last visited. Tell me it isn’t so, honestly, can you do that today? I don’t think so.
Catherine has written to me about you. She says you live in such wretchedness, stinking of death, beclouded and darksome for want of light, going about singing and laughing, spending time on vanities, pleasures, and indecency. I did try and defend you and your honor. No sooner had I responded to her a new letter arrived detailing your actions. Oh, how I wish I could rescind my letter. You all are indeed lustful, drunkards, and gluttons, so much so that you make a God of your belly. You cannot pass the hour without being hateful, spiteful, or proud. And despite the unnatural protrusion of your belly, the incessant clutter in your homes, the unyielding thoughts, and desires swirling around in your head and perhaps even your soul, you walk around singing and dancing. I will not detail here what she has said about you, we both know it will only be used as gossip by the others or turn into unnecessary denials or minimizations by you to save a little face, lessen the shame. Don’t be ashamed by my knowledge. Catherine felt it necessary to send me my very own letter. The envelope had excessive stamps covering over to Catherine’s return address on the envelope. No, I don’t know why she still does not use e-mail.
I could not stand her viciousness against you all, and especially the contents of my letter. I visited her. It didn’t go as intended. I knocked on her door, perhaps a little too loudly, and it opened of its own. She calmly said the door was unlocked as she was expecting me. I tell you I was disarmed right there and stupefied.
On my honor, I tried to take up her attack on your honor. She would have none of it. Let them speak for themselves she said, we both know you came here as it is you I have offended. I tell you now that this is not so, I was there for you as well as me. We had it out. Well not really out, I would start in with any number of justifications and excuses and fall into silence by her one or two-word convictions that belaid the truth of this situation. It got so, I would start a sentence, and she would be smiling, and my sentence would crumble mid-way. Eventually, I crumbled in a heap onto her couch. And then she said, okay, now you are ready.
This was an unexpected turn. My self-righteous anger was indeed quelled. Catherine calmly went about her way, describing in detail how all of my body’s senses had become corrupted and utilized for my very own self-fulfillment. My eyes see the world with a possessive intention, my ears listen for opportunity or threat to my self-worth, my touch craves the love of another to fulfill my sense of being loved, and my sense of smell draws me to the kitchen to provide me momentary pleasure that is never satisfied. It was a long afternoon – but I tell you I did not notice the hour arm on the clock spinning towards evening.
It was not all bliss this time spent. My anger welled up at my God as well as at my self in torrents. Why does God provide me so many trials and temptations? Why does not everything come labeled with directions and intentions? Why is this devil that I cannot see at the door of my soul?
I cannot detail all she said, but I am sure she will be willing to meet with you. In a matter of hours, I came to see and feel my imperfections. Despite entering into her house hours before feeling overly confident in my morality and justified in my martyrdom at the injustices her letter incurred on my psyche, I was indeed slipping into an unconscious false sense of self-mastery. I was the master of my ship, so to speak as if I had built the damn boat myself and controlled the winds and the seas. Let the boat rock a little, or the skies turn dark, and I was apt to hurl invectives at the unfairness of it all and my hopeless situation being far worse off than any others on the sea.
Catherine explained to me that through a daily re-orientation, I would come to experience joy through my senses in a way that provided me glimpses of God’s providence for me. She said, “the imperfect soul comes to perfection by fighting these battles, because there he experiences my divine providence, whereas, before this, he only believed in it.” She then listed the perceived injustices and suffering I have experienced in life (death of loved ones, failures, humiliations, desires denied) as well as the good times (successes, family, catastrophic near misses, and other blessings). I came to understand that when I am truly living in a state of piety, humility, and holiness that Joy and Suffering are the same.
I cannot believe I have written these words together: Joy and Suffering are the same. Catherine helped me see there is nothing wrong with “singing and dancing” when it is properly ordered in celebrating God and our human relationships on a spiritual level. And on the suffering, no matter how terrible the tragedy up to and including the loss or imminent death, each instance of suffering is an opportunity to deepen our faith. Catherine took my hand and said if you truly understand the nature of human suffering and divine providence you would pray for more suffering to be put on your plate – and I believed her as I trembled at the idea of carrying more, despite how light my burden is today.
In life, for Christians at least, we are waiting for momentary consolations and ultimate revelation when the time comes to an end of our world as we know it. Catherine says God gives us this great weigh of labor (suffering) lest the virtue of patience grows rusty within us. Impatience, she says, will corrode our soul. How often do I pray “Gods will, not mine, be done” but am secretly hoping God’s will matches my timeline and my outcomes? If he sends me suffering and delay am I open to it in a joyous and spiritual matter as an opportunity to deepen my faith and fulfill providence as only God understands it?
I am in one of those transition points in life where success is not guaranteed (is it ever?) and my anxiety and attachments to what I have today is at odds with the journey that lay ahead. This worry is contrary to truly following God’s direction, praying for discernment, accepting joy and suffering as they may come, and completing the actions and responsibilities that are my charge, in God’s name and not my own, without any ownership of worldly or spiritual experiences being of my design.
Catherine whispered to me that God would purge me of my selfish and disordered love, whether temporal or spiritual and prune me, employing many trials so that I may produce more and better fruit. If I am open to God, I will come to care equally about trial and consolation. I will not be seeking my consolation or fulfillment – but rather to honor, glory, and praise of the God that I seek.
I know some of you have met Catherine, and some of you have not. I am saddened to inform you she will not be home if you visit her in Siena. She did, however, jot down some notes for you not only on Suffering and Providence (pg. 297 to 307) but on the contemplative spiritual life as she experienced it. She called these notes left for you, “The Dialogue.”
If you cannot lay your hands on her notes in Siena, I can refer you to a seller nearby who has taken the time to make many copies of her notes. She apparently has written to others besides me. Oh, and before I go, let me apologize for calling you an idiot, although that was Catherine’s word, I should not have used it against you seven centuries later.