St Catherine of Siena

St Catherine of Siena

St Catherine of Siena, 29th April 2022

We’ve attended a series of funerals recently, with one more to come today. And each was accompanied by a moving and marvellous eulogy, but also, in at least two cases, a real aversion to the full Christian Script where Christ’s sacrifice obtains for us forgiveness of sin. It’s not that we live in a less sinful age but that the language of sin has become associated, perhaps, with an institution which far from relieving people of their sins, has used the idea of sin to promote a particularly powerful way to control and, sadly, in many instances, abuse its own people,  perpetuating sin rather than redeeming it. So I found myself yesterday, having to excuse this language and reframe it as ‘imperfection’ – we all make mistakes and need forgiveness – so that the prayer of commendation would be an acceptable complement to the eulogy that had gone before.

Catherine of Siena has no hesitation in using the language of sin to highlight God’s mercy – or, rather, our need of it, living in an age, and place where, such language was just as open to abuse as it is today, but where the language of God’s mercy was also equally acceptable:

O eternal Godhead how fitting mercy is to you! It suits you so well that your servants arouse your mercy against the judgement the world deserves because of its sins.

(Prayer 9:124-131)

And much more in similar vein. But where this takes her is not, in this instance, to an issue of power-play but rather of toleration:

In mercy you have seen fit today to show me, poor as I am, how we can in no way pass judgement on other people’s intentions. Indeed by sending people along an endless variety of paths, you give an example for myself, and for this I thank you.

(Prayer 9:160-166)

I say ‘in this instance’ for she was no lover of sin and well able to use the language of sin to exert power on others, Popes included, but somehow we have to recover this idea of sin as an acceptable way to interpret our human actions without fear of abusing it. God’s mercy is for all despite our sin.

If she sinned against you in her life
forgive her and pardon her
because you created us for life,
not for destruction.

(from Coptic prayer of Commendation)