A Woman Gives Advice to Pope: On How to be a Real Man of God
Every child wants to see his father strong and courageous. Cowardly behavior or wincing before opposition among fathers and leaders leads to low morale among children and followers. This innate desire among the spiritual sons and daughters of the Church is equally applicable.
The following passages are taken from letters that St. Catherine of Sienna wrote to Pope Gregory XI in 1376. The Holy Father happened to be living in France, away from his native soil in Rome. Much was left undone in the Catholic Church at the time. Scandals, disobedience and division were not punished or corrected. There was a spirit of timidity among the Catholic clergy at the time.
Like today, the Catholic laity in the fourteenth century wanted their spiritual leaders to take a stand against iniquity, both in and outside the Church. Like the Good Shepherd demonstrated, there is a price to be paid for doing the right thing and speaking the undiluted truth. To be sure, every saintly pope, bishop or priest went to his grave with scars. Many of them were banished from Catholic institutions, religious orders or other associations. It is true, the most painful of rejections is to be rejected by your own. Still, St. Catherine of Sienna, a Dominican sister, wanted her Holy Father, Pope Gregory XI, to be a man who would take the hits for the good of the Church and God's glory.
However, St. Catherine didn't just leave it at that. She didn't just vent or complain to him leaving him empty handed. No. She taught him how to build-up virtue with God's grace. And in doing so the Gregory XI would be in a much better position to weather the storms. Humility is tested by pride, purity by lust and courage by fear. "Virtue," she said, "is acquired and made perfect only by means of its opposite." Temptation is often designed by the Devil to bring a soul down. But such temptation can be advantageous when a Christian exercises those virtues which helps him overcome it. Therefore, instead of being cast down by temptation and trial, the soul is built-up and made strong.
The following are excerpts from her letters:
Be a Courageous Man:
"I beg you in the name of Christ crucified not to be a timid child but a courageous man. Open your mouth and swallow the bitter for the sake of the sweet... I long to see your heart firm, stable and strengthened in the holy patience, for I believe that a heart weak and inconstant and unwilling to suffer will never succeed in doing the great deeds of God."
Never Turn Back:
"At this point you are Christ's Vicar. You have taken this on in order to work and fight for God's honor and the salvation of souls and the reform of the holy Church...And because your burden is greater you need a more bold, courageous heart, fearful of nothing that might happen. For you know well, most holy father, that when you accepted holy Church as your bride, you agreed also to work hard for her. You expected all these contrary winds of pain and difficulty to confront you in battle over her. So confront these dangerous winds like a brave man, with strength and patience and enduring perseverance. Never turn back because of pain or discouragement or slavish fear, but persevere and rejoice in the storms and struggles. Let your heart rejoice, for in the many contrary things that have happened or will yet happen the deeds of God are surely being done..."
"Next I beg you to turn your attention to punishing the sins of the Church's pastors and officials when are acting improperly. See to the appointment of good ones who are living virtuously and justly- which they must do for the honor of God, for their own salvation and because it is their duty. Besides, layfolk are watching you very closely because they have seen all the trouble that has come of wrongs going unpunished."
By Its Opposite:
"Everyone of us who wants to serve God and be clothed in virtue must have this constancy and strength and patience. In other way can we have God within our soul. For if disordered pleasure or enjoyment or complacency about ourselves and the world were to make us turn toward material well-being, or if impatience were to make us turn away from difficulties and abuse, and if we were to let go of affection for virtue (the virtues we have conceived through holy desire as well as those we still want to acquire), then we better realize that virtue is acquired and made perfect only by means of its opposite.
Now what sort of soul would refuse to endure any difficulty or temptation, from whatever source or whatever way God would send it? Such a soul would have no proven virtue, for virtue is proved by its opposite. How is purity proved, and how is it learned? Through its opposite, that is, the temptation to impurity. For an impure person would not need to be molested by impure thoughts. But if it seems that our will no longer consents to what is perverse, and is purified of every stain by a true holy desire to please our Creator, then the devil, the world, and the flesh will harass us. So opposites always drive each other out...
When we see ourselves pestered by the vice of pride we humble ourselves, recognizing that we are sinful and proud. Were it not for this temptation, we would not come to know ourselves so well. Once we have humbled ourselves and see what we are, we conceive such a contempt for ourselves that we are happy and glad for any pain or injustice we might suffer. Such people are like courageous knights. They do not avoid the blows, but even consider themselves unworthy what seems to them- and is -a very great grace: to bear pain, temptation and harassment for Christ crucified.
So it turns out that we are evading virtue if we shun its opposite- evading the very virtue with which we should be resisting and overthrowing virtue's opposite, vice. With humility we should be driving out pride; and with freely chosen poverty, drive out worldly wealth and pleasures and prestige. Let peace drive out and conquer war in our own soul and in the souls our neighbors. Let patience master impatience through love of God's honor and for our own virtue. And through hatred and contempt of ourselves, let us bear courageously and patiently anguish, abuse, derision and insult, physical pain and temporal loss..."