Yesterday at 1:00 a.m., two dear friends welcomed the birth of their first child, John. It was a difficult birth which began at their home with a midwife and ended up in the hospital with an emergency C-section. Thanks be to God both mother and son are doing great. I went to visit the family in the hospital yesterday morning, taking them communion and a teddy bear.
I knocked on the door and entered the darkened room when I heard their welcome. I didn't plan on staying long, since neither of them got any sleep the day before. I congratulated them, told the new mom how proud I was of her, listened to the new father talk a bit about how frightened he'd been the night before I noticed the high-tech crib between them! Getting closer, I leaned over and saw the face of their precious, sleeping newborn, only nine hours old.
And I was overwhelmed with emotions.
It hit me so suddenly and unexpectedly, I had to turn away. You see, I know the dad's story very, very well. He's told me about his conversion five years ago, and I have seen God's grace at work in him, and experienced God's grace at work through him on my behalf. I witnessed the evolution of the relationship between him and his wife - a friendship that blossomed into love founded first of all on a shared love for Jesus and a desire for holiness. It has not always been an easy course, but that's the nature of relationship.
This morning I awoke thinking of that wave of emotions, and what it means.
It seems as though it's a reminder of something that I too easily forget in the midst of the mundane activities of life. But the saints don't forget it, which is why they are saints. The reminder is this; simply that we easily love the people whom our beloved loves. I can name at least two of the emotions I felt in the presence of those three souls: a love for the child who is the fruit of their love, and an overwhelming gratitude for what God has done and continues to do in their lives - and also gratitude for the love that I have received from them.
St. Catherine of Siena knew this transitive nature of love. She wrote to Ristoro di Piero Canigiani of Florence:
"It is the nature of love to love as much as we feel we are loved and to love whatever the one we love loves." Letter T299.
This is an important insight to consider on this feastday of St. Catherine, the patroness of Europe. It helps us understand the motives behind her tremendous zeal for the spiritual welfare of others, and why she, as a woman, was sought as an intermediary between the warring cities of fourteenth century Tuscany.
She loved those she knew were loved by Jesus, even when they themselves might have been naturally unlovable. She was able to see Christ in a condemned man, Niccolo di Toldo, who refused to see a priest. He was to be executed for having made some critical comments about the ruling regime when he was drinking; certainly an unjust sentence, and one which made Niccolo angry at God. She went to him, won his confidence by listening to his pain, spoke to him of Jesus and his unjust sentence of death, and accompanied Niccolo to his execution. Later, she wrote to Raymond di Capua, OP, her friend, "I have just taken a head into my hands and have been moved so deeply that my heart cannot grasp it . . . I waited for him at the place of execution. . . he arrived like a meek lamb and when he saw me he began to smile. He asked me to make the sign of the cross over him . . . I stretched out his neck and bent down to him, reminding him of the blood of the Lamb. His lips kept murmuring only 'Jesus' and 'Catherine,' and he was still murmuring when I received his head into my hands . . . my soul rested in peace and quiet, so aware of the fragrance of blood that I could not remove the blood which had splashed onto me."
Whether it was a condemned criminal, a citizen of another city filled with hate for her, or a prelate or monarch who was giving scandal by their actions, Catherine remembered that Jesus loved them and died for their redemption, and acted accordingly. By doing so, she aligned herself continually with the saving will of Jesus for sinners.
It is all too easy for us to "hate the sinner" as much or more as the sin. We often feel justified in doing so, and our behavior, as a consequence, is often anything but Christian. Rather, we choose to imitate the ways of the world, which are much more naturally satisfying to our fallen human nature. But we are called to live a supernatural life - a life of grace. Today we might ask for Catherine's intercession, that we might be more like Jesus, desiring to love everyone we meet, whether it is easy and natural, or not. When it is not, then we must ask for a supernatural love - His love moving our heart and will. In this way will we truly be friends of Jesus and all the saints and angels, and the words He spoke to Catherine, he will say to us:
If you choose me as your companion you will not be alone; my love will always be with you…
Trust in my love and set aside every fear…
Confront the princes and tyrants of this world with my strength.
Take from me the fire of my Spirit and share with all my mercy and my burning love.
You are not alone. You have me.