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The Bridge of Mercy — and Canticle of Mercy

DM 101: Week 25

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 6, 2006)
The Dialogue and Divine Mercy
We will not presume to outline here the whole teaching of St. Catherine's masterpiece, The Dialogue. Rather we will focus on the theme of Divine Mercy as it appears in the book, especially in chapter 3, called "Dialogue," and the central chapter of the work, chapter 4, called "The Bridge."

In chapter 3, St. Catherine makes three petitions to God the Father. First, she asks for mercy upon the Church, the "mystic Body," which is so badly in need of reform and renewal. God the Father responds by reassuring her of the redemptive power of Christ's blood. Secondly, she asks for mercy upon the world, and God responds by showing her with greater clarity how the poison of selfish sensuality is infecting the world. Third, she asks for grace for her confessor and assistant, Raymond of Capua, that he may follow the truth in all things, and God the Father responds by telling her of the central truth of the Faith: that He has given Christ to us to be a "bridge" of mercy for the world to cross, so we can be united with His fatherly love. St. Catherine then asks to know more of this "bridge," and the answer she receives to that request forms the basis of the next chapter of her book.

Chapter 4 contains much of the essence of St. Catherine's spiritual understanding. She describes first how the damned are those who try to cross the river of life underneath the bridge, and as a result, they are swept away by the raging waters of the world, their own passions, and the Devil. Then he is told that there are three ways to cross the bridge itself. The first is the way of those who approach God primarily out of fear of punishment, and on that basis they begin to be contrite for their sins and seek God's forgiveness. The second way is the way of those who cross the bridge out of "ordinary charity," seeking with patience and perseverance to pray and meditate on the gospels and practice the virtues, although they are very dependent upon the consolations that God gives to them in prayer (and so their following of Christ is still mixed with a fair degree of self-love). Finally, there is the way of the "perfect," those who are willing to abandon all consolations and accept any suffering, so long as it pleases God and wins souls for Him. This is the way of perfect charity, akin to what other saints (e.g. St. Theresa of Avila) will call the way of mystical union with God.

What is it that propels the Christian soul to seek to cross the bridge in the first place, and that encourages and assists us every step of the way? The answer is: the Divine Mercy! It is knowledge of the breadth and depth of Divine Mercy that inspires and comforts the soul on its journey. In one of the most famous passages in the book St. Catherine breaks into a canticle of praise of the Divine Mercy, which is probably unequalled in the literature of Catholic spirituality (section 30):

By your mercy we were created. And by your mercy we were created anew in your Son's blood. It is your mercy that preserves us. Your mercy made your Son play death against life and life against death on the wood of the cross. In him life confounded the death that is our sin, even while that same death of sin robbed the spotless Lamb of his bodily life. But who was conquered? Death! And how? By your mercy!

Your mercy is life giving. It is the light in which both the upright and the sinners discover your goodness. Your mercy shines forth in your saints in the height of heaven. And if I turn to the earth, your mercy is everywhere. Even in the darkness of hell your mercy shines, for you do not punish the damned as much as they deserve.

You temper your justice with mercy. In mercy you cleansed us in the blood; in mercy you kept company with your creatures. O mad lover! It was not enough for you to take on our humanity: you had to die as well! Nor was death enough: You descended to the depths to summon our holy ancestors and fulfill your truth and mercy in them. Your goodness promises good to those who serve you in truth, so you went to call these servants of yours from their suffering to reward them for their labours!

I see your mercy pressing us to give you even more when you leave yourself with us as food to strengthen our weakness, so that we, forgetful fools should be ever reminded of your goodness. Every day you give us this food, showing us yourself in the sacrament of the altar within the mystic body of the Holy Church. And what has done this? Your mercy.

O mercy! My heart is engulfed with the thought of you! For wherever I turn my thoughts I find nothing but mercy! O eternal Father, forgive my foolish presumption in babbling on so before you " but your merciful love is my excuse in the presence of your kindness.


(This series continues next week on the theme of Divine Mercy in The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena).

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