“Many of us begin emails with generic phrases like “I hope you are doing well.” Saint Catherine of Siena began her letters with greetings like “I long to see you engulfed and drowned in the sweet blood of God’s Son, which is permeated with the fire of His blazing charity.”
Saint Catherine wrote thirty-seven of these fiery exhortations to Dominican friars. In them, she invites and implores her brethren to discover, to be immersed in, and to preach the transforming power of Christ’s Passion.
The discovery of Christ’s Passion begins in what St. Catherine calls the cell of self-knowledge. Illumined by the Holy Spirit in prayer—and, St. Catherine adds to the friars, amid their fidelity to their physical cells—we realize the depth of our own poverty. Everything we are—whether by nature or by grace—is a gift of God. Left to our own resources, we are not.
Saint Catherine writes that dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge leads us to discover the magnitude of God’s goodness to us. We discover for ourselves that Jesus went to the cross out of burning charity for us: that He ran to the cross for us like a lover or a courageous knight. Likewise, we realize that charity itself was what held Jesus to the cross—that the nails themselves could not have fixed Jesus to the wood if His love for us did not hold Him there.
Pondering His love on the cross leads us to draw close and to accept being transformed by Christ’s Passion. Saint Catherine describes this change as an immersion in blood and fire: she writes of being “drowned and transformed in his overflowing blood,” of being “swallowed up—drowned—in the fire of God’s blazing charity.” This is a drowning—a dying—of the old self and its selfish ways of loving. It is also a bathing and a clothing in the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Saint Catherine compares this transformation to a kind of drunkenness. The blood of Christ crucified “is a wine on which our soul gets drunk,” and the lover of Christ’s blood is like a heavy drinker who forgets himself, immersing all of his thoughts in the wine. Such a man drinks and drinks and drinks until “his stomach becomes so warmed by the wine that he can no longer hold it, and out it comes!” Like the best of wines, Christ’s blood warms the heart and loosens the tongue. It rouses the soul from apathy and propels it outward to preach the truth with fire.
“Up, up,” St. Catherine urges. “No more sleeping.” Drowned and bathed in the blood of the Lamb, the friars are to run with zeal to the battlefield, seeking God’s honor and the salvation of souls. They are to imitate the apostles who “mounted the pulpit of the blazing cross, where they felt and tasted the hunger of God’s Son, His love for humankind.” Saint Catherine implores the friars to preach from the pulpit of the cross and to be consumed there with Christ’s desire; only then can their words burn like red-hot knives from a furnace to pierce their hearers’ hearts.
Saint Catherine bluntly acknowledges that the brethren should expect rejection in their ministry. True servants of Truth are not mercenaries who live for spiritual consolations. They do not flee from hard tasks or hard people. Instead, they remain on the battlefield, finding their rest and joy in their crucified captain. The fiery blood of Christ gives them strength “for every battle—for enduring pain, slander, reproach, and abuse for love of Him.” This blood replaces their small-heartedness with Christ’s own great-heartedness, and it allows them to share Christ’s love and zeal even toward grumblers and persecutors.
Together, St. Catherine’s letters to friars are an accessible entry-point to her spiritual doctrine, tailored to men of the cell and the pulpit. Their fervor and directness pierce through our complacency and alert us to the reality at the heart of St. Catherine’s vision of Dominican life: immersion in the blood and fire of Christ crucified.”
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