“Love transforms one into what one loves.” — St. Catherine of Siena
On St. Catherine’s feast I could think of nothing better than to talk about love, and give it some real content.
I have told this story before, but it bears repeating. There is a woman I know who has a special needs child, now in his 30’s. He has quite a number of serious disabilities, but she has never once in all the 30+ years I have known her complained about the challenges he brings into her life. And they are many. One specific issue her son deals with is chronic insomnia, two to three times a month, which keeps him awake for three-night stretches. And he is terrified of being alone at night. So she stays up with him for all of those nights for each stretch, whenever they happen; at times convenient, and not convenient.
Every month. It’s just astonishing. And because she works during the day, she can’t nap.
She’s been doing this for about 28 years at this point.
Once I praised her for her selfless dedication in these stretches. She immediately rebuffed my compliment and said,
No, he’s the champ. Not me. He’s the one who suffers. I just get to walk with him. And I also need to say that I believe if I’m ever saved, you know, ever get to heaven, it’ll be because of him. He taught me how to love. Before he came into my world I was so self-centered, but never realized it. He pulled me out of myself and taught me to love. And he is pure love. A canonized saint in your house. Not bad.
Salvation, the God-given and neighbor-driven gift of the capacity to love. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange once said that the premier sign of holiness is when your thoughts are populated more with considerations of the welfare of others than your own welfare. Vatican II defined holiness as the “perfection of charity,” with “charity” being code language in theology for “loving with the same love with which God loved us in Christ hanging from the cross.” And the Gospels are clear: on the cross Jesus was all about everyone else.
My spiritual director once said to me in Confession, after Lent was over (and he gave me a brutal Lenten penance):
You’ll know your growing in holiness when you naturally seek out unpleasant people because you believe in your bones they have the greater claim on your love. And then when you do it all with cheer, without complaint, you’ll know you’ve reached the highest heights. Though on second thought you probably won’t know that then, because when you arrive that far you’ve finally forgotten about yourself.
Look around you. There is an army of people out there waiting for you to give them permission to pull you out of yourself, to school you in charity. In them God calls to you: “Do you love me?” All genuine Christian spirituality is in the first and final analysis an answer to that question given to the unpleasant milling around you.
Stay awake and keep watch with them for a while.
Are you saved?