“For He is the Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world who by dying hath destroyed death, and by rising again hath restored us to life.” Words taken from the Easter Preface.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
St. Catherine of Sienna was born in the 14th century AD. She was literally one of 25 children and she along with her twin, who died in infancy, where the 24th and 25th of one mother. St. Catherine was well known for her mystical experiences, including a wonderous, mystical marriage where Christ, the bridegroom, presented her with a diamond and pearl ring. All while King David came down from Heaven to play the harp for the wedding nuptials. Catherine also bore the stigmata, the very wounds of Christ upon her body, albeit in an invisible manner. St. Catherine was also granted divine-inused knowledge that made her a spiritual Doctor of the Church, and a spiritual mother to many. And yes, Catherine was also the greatest woman in all of Christendom, as she sought to bring a pope back to Rome, and to end conflicts between various families and city states in Italy. After her mystical marriage with her divine spouse, St. Catherine was told to enter into public life more fully and perform more Apostolic works, including helping the poor, the sick, and the dying.
Our dearest Lord then spoke to Catherine the following, “My daughter, from now on, you must undertake without protest all the works which I come to demand of you. For armed with the power of faith, you shall triumphantly overcome all your opponents.” With this command of our Lord, Catherine was now ready to re-enter the world. She began at once by giving alms and giving to those in need. Soon she was caring for the most wretched of the sick at the local hospital. But some of the patients she served were most disagreeable and would not have been satisfied, even if an angel had come down to serve. It was just these sort of patients that Catherine purposely sought out and wished to serve, preferrably the most difficult ones.
According to one writer, a number of patients were former high priced escorts. Old, high-priced prostitutes, who had long ago been forced to retire from that life of pleasure to which they had belonged. These bitter women found a perverse consolation in making the nursing work of Catherine as difficult as possible. There was one particular woman, an old woman who suffered from advanced leprosy known as Cecca, who was especially difficult. Day in and day out, St. Catherine bathed Cecca, fed the poor leper, and cleaned her room. Catherine would even kiss the poor leper, who mothers were afraid to even touch. This most holy, mystical nurse came every morning and evening to dress the wounds of the patient. She attended to all of Cecca’s wants with as much care and reverence as if she had been Cecca’s own mother.
At first, Cecca was pleased, but she soon became very ungrateful and insolent and reviled her charitable nurse with harsh words. If Catherine was just a few minutes late in arriving to assist the patient, Cecca would mock her and claim that she had been late because of her gossiping with the friars at church after Mass and that this caused her delay. Cecca also repeatedly cursed Catherine and accused her of sleeping with monks. Nonetheless, Catherine bore it all with her usual unruffled sweetness. She assisted not only with her hands but with her prayers and exhortations until Cecca died in peace with the final sacraments. During the time of this heroic service, St. Catherine had caught leprosy. It began in her very hands. Yet, St. Catherine would not be deterred. She carefully washed the body of the deceased woman, and reverently carried it to the grave, laid it in the ground, and covered it with the earth. And as soon as this last act of mercy was performed and the corporal works of mercy of burying the dead were completed, Catherine’s leprous hands became white, fair, and more beautiful than they ever had been before. Cecca’s soul had been redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ. Therefore, all her efforts were more than worth it.
The great preacher Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say “Every soul has a price. Important things cost a lot. And the salvation of souls is very costly and requires tremendous effort. Applying the most precious blood and the fruits of redemption is a most difficult work, especially since there is so much resistance to good in fallen man.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen was famous for asking our Lord purposely to send him sinners to reconcile even though he knew full well that it would mean a sacrifice and a cross for him personally. One of his many stories from the events of his life, the good Archbishop spoke of a woman who came to him for confession one day, and while in that confessional, she informed Bishop Sheen, that she was only in the box to satisfy the desire of her mother, who was waiting outside. She said that her sins were far too great, even unforgivable and that she was fixed in a sinful life that she could not leave. The woman went on to tell Bishop Sheen that she was a prostitute and that she had given up her soul over to the devil as a young teenager in order to be released from a reformed school that she was in. As a good confessor, Bishop sheen encouraged her to receive the Sacrament of Penance, but the woman flew out of the confession. But as she did fly out of that confessional, Bishop sheen cried out, “You will return.”
The next few hours, Bishop Sheen heard several confessions , 30 to be exact. But no matter the sins of the particular penitent, be they venial or mortal, this good confessor asked that they all do a five-decade rosary for the sake of a sinner who needed the grace of conversion. Of the 30 penitent, 29 agreed to do that lengthy penance of a rosary. All but one were willing to make the effort. It was getting quite late and the church was empty of people. Only our dear Lord in the most blessed sacrament and Bishop Sheen remained inside. The doors of the church were still open. Just after midnight, the young woman, the Magdalen, returned. She went to confession and she received absolution.
Again, every soul has a price. It’s worth the effort. I remember another story from the life of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. One day while he was in his apartment, Bishop Sheen received a phone call from a nurse, a friend at the local hospital. The nurse informed Bishop Sheen about a difficult patient on her floor. It was a man named John, a fallen-away Catholic who was suffering from a terminal case of cancer that was attacking and eating away his very face. John, the patient, had made it clear to all the nurses and doctors involved that he absolutely refused to have any priest visit him. Bishop Sheen immediately went before the most Blessed Sacrament and promised our Lord to visit that man every day until that soul could be won.
He then went to the hospital and knocked on the door of John’s room. The patient asked who’s there. “A Catholic priest,” Bishop Sheen responded. John then let out a series of curses and abuse of language and refused amendments. Bishop sheen nevertheless came back the next few nights and was greeted in a similar way. But after a week, Bishop sheen was able to get a few steps into the room and began to see the horrible condition of the patient, as well as the stench issuing forth from him. The cancer upon his very face reflected, in some way, the very condition of his sinful soul. And after three weeks of nightly visits, Bishop Sheen had made it to the very bedside of John where he spoke of God’s infinite mercy and goodness, and the power of the blood of Christ. The patient had completely despaired and was unwilling to receive the Sacrament of Penance. With his 40th visit to the hospital, Bishop Sheen was stopped by his nurse friend who stated that John would probably not make it through the night. Nurses always seem to know when the end is near. Bishop Sheen then gave one last try at convincing John to make his peace with God with a good confession. But again, the patient refused. Bishop Sheen then stated, “If you are unwilling to receive the sacrament of Penance at this time, would you be willing to say at least a prayer to the good Lord, especially towards the end?” The prayer goes like this; Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Bishop Seen repeated this prayer a number of times, hoping that John would join in by reciting it, but it was all to no avail. The next day, Bishop Sheen came to that same hospital only to find out that John had died during the night. The good Bishop then began to question the nurse about John’s last hours. “Did he say anything?” Bishop Sheen asked. The nurse thought for a moment, and then said that John, during the last hour of his earthly life, kept on repeating over and over again, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Every soul has a price. Christ poured forth His most precious blood for each soul. And a great effort is needed to bring down that blood and apply it to men’s souls. Salvation is spread as it was won. On this Low Sunday, we continue to recognize the great victory of our Lord over sin, over death, and over the devil with his miraculous physical resurrection from the dead. The new Adam ushered in a new creation in being born from the womb of the tomb on Easter Sunday. But the bringing about of His eighth day, as the Fathers call it, the Lord’s Day, this eternal day, this Haec Dies. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This day was unlike those first six days of creation followed by that seventh day of rest. You see it as one of the glories of the act of creation, making things out of nothing. It is one of the glories of the act of creation, that there’s no real effort involved. It’s not as if the good Lord had to exert Himself on those first days of creation. He didn’t need to deliberate for hours upon it. He simply spoke, and it was made out of nothing effortlessly. But the recreation, the redemption of man, the work of conversion, on the contrary, was filled with blood, sweat, tears and untold effort, and even agony.
The Great Oratorian, Father Frederick Faber had this to say. “Consider the precious blood working its way out of our blessed Lord’s body in the sweat of the Gethsemane. The slow, painful oozings from the crown of thorns, the rude violence of the sprinkling of the scourging, the distillation of the blood along the streets of Jerusalem and up the slope of Calvary, the soaking of his clinging rayment, the four wells dug by the cruel nails ebbing and flowing with the pulses of His feeble life, the violation of the silent sanctuary of His dead heart, being open with a spear to seek for the last few drops of that precious treasure that might still be left. All these are parts of the effort of conversion.” Conversion, not just for the sons of Adam in general, but for each human person requires untold effort. The work of those first days of creation certainly exhibits an infinite and effortless power, and that the good Lord made things out of nothing. Yet it is the hard work of redemption, spreading the fruits of Christ’s blood. With all the efforts of Christ and all the efforts and pain of a sorrowful mother. This truly accomplished the most.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.