It was very windy and, despite the optimistic weather forecast, very cloudy and therefore a bit cold. Happily I once again took the advice in Survival and wore a cotton T-shirt under my long-sleeved shirt and fleece jacket. I didn't take any of the rough and fancy routes around the Salisbury Craigs that B.A. likes. Instead I just took the most obvious path ad followed it to Arthur's Seat and climbed on up. Since the hymns of the Chartres Pilgrimage started working in my head, I said the rosary on the way up. I popped in at the ruin of St. Anthony's chapel and sang the Regina Caeli.
Amid all the preparations for the Chartres Pilgrimage, I read about the life of Saint Catherine of Siena and the first part of her Dialogues because I promised my Chapter Leader that I would give a meditation. I made a lot of notes on her life, but I didn't read from Dialogues until I was on the actual plane to Paris. And that's when I realized it would be better just to let Saint Catherine speak for herself.
The part of Dialogues that I read to the Scottish Chapter--rather breathlessly and with great screeches from the megaphone, alas--was about knowledge of self, love for God and sorrow for sin. I was impressed that she began with knowledge of self, as it reminded me very much of the philosophy and theology of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, who was very interested in how we come to know things, particularly our own thought processes. Also, as long as I have been blogging, I have been interested in the concept of being rooted in reality instead of in wishful thinking, where I spent too much of my youth.
Saint Catherine examined herself and realized that she was a sinner, which disturbed her very much, for she believed her sins were an offense against God. Indeed, her sins seemed so dark to her, that she felt that she was somehow personally to blame for all the evil in the world, and she prayed that God would punish her for her sins. In her subsequent vision, God told her that there would be no point to this, for not finite punishment could make up for offending against the Infinite. However, what did please Him was Catherine's infinite love for Him and Catherine's infinite sorrow for her sins.
Later in the Dialogues, Catherine reflects that sins against God were sins against neighbour, either as sins of commission (e.g. stealing from the poor) or sins of omission (e.g. allowing the poor to go hungry), and I reflected this morning that this is what Christianity is about, really:
1. Love for God.
2. Sorrow for One's Sins.
3. Care for One's Neighbour.
You don't have all three, you don't have Christianity.
Love for God is easier when you reflect on all the good things and people you have in your life a lot more than you reflect on what and who you don't have. As a married woman, I have a lot more to be grateful for than I did when I was Single, but on the other hand, it was when I was Single that I learned to be truly grateful for my friends and family and to try to accept them as gifts enough. Of course, I have been very blessed and therefore am a spiritual wimp next to Job, who loved God even when he had nothing but boils and a nagging wife.
Love for God is also easier when you are in the countryside or wilderness away from urban distractions and dangers. I wonder if the rise of atheism isn't directly tied to the rise of the cities. Is there something spiritually wrong with being more than a stone's throw from a field or a shore? At one of the worst times in my life, I went down to the shore of Lake Ontario, and asked Lake Ontario, as a fellow creature, to help me out. Hey, if the priest can talk to a bowl of water during Easter Vigil, I can certainly talk to Lake Ontario. (It has not occurred to me to talk to the Firth of Forth, but then I'm from Toronto.)
Love for God is probably tied in some way to love for God's creation, so when you are in a landscape shaped by God, not by man, then perhaps it reflects Him more directly.
Sorrow for One's Sins hurts a lot and is that part of Christianity that everyone seems to want to skip nowadays. I took some ex-Catholic boyfriend or other to Mass once, and he complained that there was too much about sin. I was confused, for other than the "I Confess..." there hadn't been much about sin. One might conclude that ANY reference to sin was too much for him. He told me later than he didn't believe in sin, which was quite a remark from someone whose grandfather was shot by an occupying army.
Love for God naturally leads to Sorrow for One's Sins in the same way that love for your parents leads to grief for whatever heartaches you put your parents through. The better your parents, the worse it is that you were rotten to them or simply thoughtless, and God is infinitely better than even the best parents, oh--and as the Son also died for you on the Cross. Can you imagine your own dear dad giving himself up to be crucified to save you, even though you did that terrible thing that gave him grey hairs? Horrors. (This may actually be a lived reality for someone in Syria or Iraq.)
When in the grip of Sorrow for One's Sins, penance may come as a relief. The above-mentioned ex-Catholic ex-boyfriend once confessed a mortal sin, and the priest gave him only three Hail Marys. The lightness of the penance so shocked the young man, it was a watershed moment in the loss of his Catholic faith. No, I 'm not blaming the priest for that; I wasn't there, and I don't know if he tried to move his penitent to real contrition. But I am thinking about the fact that the Chartres Pilgrimage was a penitential pilgrimage, which meant that it was supposed to hurt. I' m also reminded of how in The Mission, Rodrigo Mendoza (played by Robert de Niro) undergoes a frightfully heavy penance, and he hangs on to it until the survivors of some whom he has harmed free him from it.
When thinking about Sorrow for One's Sins, too much luxury feels like nausea. Too Much. Too much food, too much drink, too much sleep, too much fun, too much leisure. And this brings us to the final consideration, which is Care for One's Neighbour.
Care for One's Neighbour can be really difficult and frightening because there are just so many neighbours nowadays. It's not like we live in a small village with a countable number of very poor who need help in being fed, housed, educated and moved to contrition for their error and sin. There isn't just one village atheist to be enlightened. Yesterday I couldn't decide whether it was a failure of charity to abstain from telling an Anglican woman who left a patronizing comment at the Catholic Herald that she is neither a deacon nor a priest (as she claims, not only because she is a woman, but because she is an Anglican and Anglican orders are absolutely null and utterly void. (I'm still worried about it.; what if no-one ever tells her?)
Care for One's Neighbour is also difficult because whereas everyone agrees (in principal) that this includes giving food, drink, clothing and--perhaps--some form of social interaction (e.g. visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned)--to others, the spiritual works of mercy are left by the wayside. The only Roman Catholic I know personally who regularly warns strangers that they are in danger of hell--because she really cares, because she really does love her neighbour that much--is Ann Barnhardt, who has been condemned by the SPLC as a professional hater. (No, I will not link to those so-and-sos. If Ann--one of the most generous people I've ever met--is ever killed, her blood will be on their heads.)
Advice on this tricky issue is best found from the saints, not from me. However, I am inclined to think that what is needed is attention to the people with whom one personally comes into contact as well as to some faraway, over-there group of people. Personally, I have always preferred chaste (or trying to be chaste) Singles who read the internet as my "faraway, over-there" group, although I think any western Christian would have to have a heart of stone not to answer the cry of Middle Eastern Christians somehow.
That reminds me: if you are feeling particularly enriched by my writings lately, would you hit the button in the margin and give a shekel or two to our brothers and sisters from Iraq? And would you pray for the conversion of the world to Christ? Thanks very much. One of the Chartres Pilgrimage meditations seemed to ask us to consider what we are doing right now for Christendom, and it seems to me that what I mostly do is blog.