Benedict and Catherine – Part Four
10/27-28:Why do we make a Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips and hearts before the Gospel is read? (Part 1 of 2)
Making the triple Sign of the Cross before the Gospel is a longstanding tradition. Before the Gospel, the priest bows before the altar and silently prays:”Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim Your Gospel. “After the Gospel, he kisses the Gospel Book and prays: “May the words of the Gospel wipe away our sins.”
Through the tradition of the triple cross, we are asking the Lord to bless our minds and our hearts that they will be open to hear the Gospel, so we might proclaim through our lips the good news of Jesus to all the world. Gospel means “good news”.
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Over the past several years, I have had many people come to me, saying that they are “struggling.” This struggle can be with prayer – that seems dry and arid. It can be with feeling a total lack of God’s presence. No matter what they do, no matter what prayers they say, not matter how faithful they are to the sacraments, it seems as if God isn’t around. They just “don’t feel Him”.
What can be especially difficult is that these feelings can sometimes last for several years. They frequently ask, “What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?”
According to Catherine of Siena …. nothing.
According to Diana L. Villegas in her article, Catherine of Siena’s wisdom on discernment and her reception of Scripture:
Catherine teaches that the Christian path encompasses a journey of transformation into the images of God we were created to be so that we can grow in capacity to see as God sees and act as God acts, and therefore serve God well. This transformation involves growth in capacity for truth and for charity, where charity consists of becoming progressively able to give of self for the good of the other. The capacity for truth and love are central to the human journey because we are images of God who is Truth and Love. In The Dialogue,” God says to Catherine that God is Truth and the path to truth; and God is Charity and the path to charity.
Until you know and understand the truth about yourself, your pride will act as a barrier to coming closer to God’s presence. Your mind will trick you and keep you from seeing the seriousness of your sins and the lack of charity in your life. So you need to see the deep, unvarnished and painful truth about yourself. In The Dialogue (12.45), God speaks to Catherine saying “I – Truth – have shown you the truth and the doctrine to achieve and persevere in great perfection. This charity is attained with the light of understanding and with a heart sincere.”
Thus, the capacity to see the truth means a person is then able to discern what is in and of God. The capacity to desire the good as free as possible from selfishness results in wanting what God wants. Discernment in Catherine’s work, then, refers to these capacities to see and to desire as God would. Progress in capacity for charity and truth are central topics repeated throughout Catherine’s works and at the center of her understanding of discernment.
This also has a basis in Scripture. The central theme of most of the New Testament, especially the Gospels and the Letters of Paul is Jesus – the way, the truth, and the light.
Catherine lays out a pathway to higher spiritual perfection. She proposes a three-step process. She describes these steps metaphorically as the “feet of Christ, the side (or heart) of Christ and the head (the mouth”) of Christ.”
In the spirituality of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, ”The Little Flower” describes a vast charism between us and God. The way to move from our wretched sinfulness to God, and ultimately to heaven, is to use “the bridge” which is Jesus Christ. Catherine has the same image – and method – to attain spiritual growth and ultimately heaven:
But there are many who begin their course climbing so slowly, and with such negligence and ignorance, that they suddenly faint, and every little breeze catches their sails, and turns their prow backward. Wherefore, because they imperfectly climb to the first Step of the Bridge – Christ crucified – they do not arrive at the second step of His Heart.
So what are the specifics of these steps? More on that next week.