“…Catherine offered this advice over six hundred years ago, it seems perfectly suited for modern sensibilities. That is to say, our dulled spiritual sensibilities. …
… to consider any aspect of ourselves or our actions outside of our connection to God is the first and most fundamental misstep. Only the Incarnate Lord can supply the heat needed to start the kind of fire for which He, and St. Catherine along with Him, yearn.
Like other mystics and saints, St. Catherine returns again and again to the image of the Divine Fire—a symbol for the experience of God’s presence in contemplative prayer. But St. Catherine is unique among the saints for the way she uses this image to build a simple, yet profound kind of pyromaniacal pedagogy—a system for spiritual development rooted in a deeper union with God. It is in the context of this spiritual teaching that we can best appreciate both halves of Catherine’s most famous quote.
Expressed in another way, “be who God meant you to be” means “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). How can we, so weak and limited, possibly strive for a perfection that mirrors God’s? As with all His teachings, Christ would not ask it of us unless He knew we were capable, and that it would contribute to our ultimate happiness. Here the Fire becomes crucial. St. Catherine identifies the Divine Fire as nothing other than charity—God’s “inestimable Fire” of love for us, His creatures. As St. Thomas explains, man’s spiritual life consists principally in charity, and the person that is perfect in charity is said to be perfect in the spiritual life. This is the kind of perfection to which Christ calls us.
The process can only begin, as it did for Catherine, by experiencing that Fire. More often we feel simply burned out, not burning with God’s love. Physical sensations, as well as emotions, however, are unsteady guides. When relying on them, we’ll sputter out like firecrackers, whereas a persevering will and simple faith will keep us going even when we don’t feel like we are getting anywhere. The Fire may be gone in feeling, but not in grace. “Lord, set me on fire with Your love,” we can ask with humble directness. Or we can thoughtfully pray the Magnificat, the prayer of Mary when she literally had the Divine Fire within her, to reignite us. Then there are the sparks provided in the sacraments. Receiving absolution in Confession is like a molotov cocktail for the soul. St. Catherine says that man comes to Mass like an unlit candle, and when Communion is received worthily his candle is lit.
Elsewhere Catherine uses the image of coals. Coals, we could say, are happiest when they’re on fire, because that is what they are meant to be. The more thoroughly they are heated, the more they take on the very fire they’re in. The same goes for the soul enflamed by the Fire. Just as love transforms a person into what he loves, Catherine explains, so our soul’s inflamed love of God (Who is Charity Itself) produces a more intense, sincere love of neighbor. It is by this charity that we begin to truly set the world on fire.
“We are the Easter people,” Pope St. John Paul II declared. But there can be no Easter without fire. The Easter season begins and ends in flames: the Vigil commences with a blazing fire, and Pentecost is signaled by tongues of flame. This year, the feast of the patron saint of holy pyromania falls halfway between, bridging the two solemnities in a meaningful way. Through her incandescent intercession, may we not burn out or burn down, but rather burn within—and without, to the world.
Love & Happy Easter People! Let us blaze with His love!
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom