Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Dwelling Place of Love and the Source of Every Virtue

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

I wish, from time to time, to share with you reflections from various sources on the devotion to the Heart of Jesus.  In many ways this image has been used over time to referring to Christ's great love.  Philip, your patron, himself expressed it so beautifully in a letter to his niece: 

"Let us concentrate intensely on Christ’s divine love and let us enter deeply into the wound in His side, into the living font of the wisdom of God made man, so as to drown ourselves in Him and not be able to find again the road which leaves Him.”

Prior to the full theological development of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus, however, we find some of the most beautiful reflections in the thought of St. Catherine of Siena who we see, although predating St. Philip, doing exactly what he advised with a depth unparalleled in the spiritual tradition of the Church.  Indeed, she enters deeply into this mystery: into the wounds, breast, pierced side, and heart of her Lord.  It is, for Catherine, the focal point of Christ's love for humanity.

We would do well then to take her as our guide into this mystery - into what Sr. Mary Jeremiah, OP describes as "The Secret of the Heart."  In the weeks to come I wish to follow with you her examination of Catherine's experience and thought as found in her "Prayers" and in particular "The Dialogue" through her discourse with the Heavenly Father.

St. Catherine of Siena describes the wounds of Christ as a hiding and dwelling place; the source of his blood on fire with love and mercy; the signs of his victorious resurrection; and the merciful remedy for the sins of humanity.

In the Letters, Catherine refers to the wounds as piaghe (wounds, sores) in the sense of the bloody wounds of Christ crucified.  In the Prayers and parts of The Dialogue, these wounds are called cicatrici (scars), and refer more to the glorified marks of Christ's victory over sin.

The major image of which Catherine uses for the wounds of Christ is as a place of hiding.  She closes many of her letters with the words, "Bathe yourselves in the blood of Christ crucified, hide yourselves in the wounds of Christ crucified."

In The Dialogue Catherine beautifully expresses this desire, this need to hide herself within the wounds of Christ.  "I will hide myself in the wounds of Christ crucified and bathe myself in his blood.  In this way my iniquity will be consumed and I will rejoice in my creator."

She encourages others to enter these "most sweet and super-sweet" wounds as into a dwelling place in order to find the treasures of the Lord.  These wounds are sweet and delectable because they express the great love which inspired Christ to open his body for humanity.

The wounds of Jesus are not just empty gashes or crevices in which one seeks hiding in a negative sense, but rather a habitation richly adorned with positive aspects.  One primarily finds the blood there.  The blood is her favorite image because it contains within it the mystery of God's love and his saving action for humanity.  In the blood one finds the fire of love and mercy for one's sins and weaknesses.

"His humanity was a wall which contained within itself the eternal Godhead united to this humanity.  The fire of divine charity overflowed through the open wall of Christ crucified.  Therefore, his most sweet wounds poured out blood embued with fire, so that the fire of love was distributed."

These wounds not only contain within themselves mercy for the sinner, but they themselves cry out for this mercy.  We first see this reference to the "crying out" of the wounds in The Dialogue.  The words are those of the eternal Father to Catherine.  The Father is explaining the resurrection of the just and concludes with these words.

"Christ's glorified body gives you certainty of your own resurrection.  There is rejoicing in his wounds which remain fresh.  The scars are preserved in his body and continually cry out to me, high and eternal Father, for mercy for you."

Catherine speaks to the Father in two prayers using the same concept.  In the follow selection Catherine is praying to God about the remedies for sin offered by the Son of God.

"The other remedy . . . was to retain the scars in the body of the Word that they could continually cry out before you for mercy for us.  In your light I saw that through the fire of love you kept them in his body and that they hinder neither the glorification of his body, nor the retaining of the color of blood in his glorified body."

When the soul enters the wounds of Christ, she finds a safe and secure dwelling place.  In the follow passage we see Catherine concentrating on the principal wound, that of the side.  It is here that the soul finds the source of every virtue, the fountain of God's love for human beings.

"Remove from yourself, therefore, every bit of self-love and egoism, and enter within the wounds of Christ crucified, where there is perfect and true security.  It is that sweet place, where the bride fills the lamp at the side of Christ crucified."

excerpt from "The Secret of the Heart"
Sr. Mary Jeremiah, OP