Page 26 Service by Attaining and Possessing Virtue
“…-for she knew that she could be of no service to her neighbors in teaching or example or prayer without first doing herself the service of attaining and possessing virtue”(p.26)
In this section, Catherine petitions the Father for four actions, the first being for herself so she would be able to serve in teaching, example and prayer after attaining and possessing virtue. This brings to mind the words of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” When praying the Jesus Prayer, the supplicant is praying for personal mercy rather than praying for another person. Is this not a selfish way to be praying, just as Catherine petitions the Father for her own virtue before other petitions that will benefit others?
In reality, Catherine acknowledges that she cannot possess virtue unless the Father gives it to her. She recognizes that she can do nothing without possessing this God-given gift; she cannot teach, be an example of pray for others unless God gives her the virtue to accomplish these actions. James tells us that, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, NRSV). Catherine prays in the knowledge that she can do nothing or give nothing unless she receives virtue from the Father. Without God’s virtue, she is useless.
Catherine remains true to the theme of uniting with God by using the fruit of this unity for His own purpose. Without this unity, she can do nothing. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5, NRSV).
Catherine is correct in making her first petition to be for herself so she can serve others. The other three petitions are for reform of the Church, for the whole world, especially for peace of rebelling Christians, and finally for a private petition. Catherine lives a life dedicated to bringing about these last three petitions, relying on the help of God.
Catherine’s words remind us of the importance of praying for ourselves so we will have the will, discernment, desire, and ability to serve the Almighty.
I pray, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, your servant. Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, hear my prayer.
New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
R.J. Payne & E.H. Cousins, (1980). The Classics of Western Spirituality: Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue. Paulist Press: New York.