April 29th is the feast of the patron saint of this blog, St. Catherine of Siena, and this little passage from one of her letters outlines one of her most profound theological ideas, Christ crucified as a ladder to holiness, a ladder to God. She would go on to develop this further in her great work, The Dialogue, which was a mystically inspired conversation between God and her. Since the 29th falls on a Sunday this year, I think technically the feast day is shifted to Monday. Enjoy this little passage. It’s filled with her incredible brilliance.
And if you ask, “What is the way?” I will tell you it is the way Christ chose, the way of disgrace, suffering, torment, and scourging. “And how?” Through genuine humility and blazing charity, an indescribable love by which we renounce all worldly riches and ambition. And from humility we progress to obedience, as I have said. Upon such obedience follows peace, since obedience frees us from all suffering and gives us every joy—for the selfish will, the source of suffering, has been done away with.
To make it possible to climb to this perfection, Christ actually made for us a staircase of his body.
If you look at his feet, you see that they are nailed fast to the cross to form the first stair. This is because we have first to rid ourselves of all selfish will. For just as the feet carry the body, desire carries the soul. Reflect that we can never have any virtue at all if we don’t climb this first stair. Once you have climbed it, you arrive at deep and genuine humility.
Climb the next stair without delay and you come to the open side of God’s Son. There you find the fiery abyss of divine charity. At this second stair, his open side, you find a storehouse filled with fragrant spices. There you find the God-Man. There your soul is so sated and drunk that you lose all self-consciousness, just like a drunkard intoxicated with wine; you see nothing but his blood, shed with such blazing love.
Then, aflame with desire, you get up and climb to the next stair, his mouth. There you find rest in quiet calm; there you taste the peace of obedience. A person who is really completely drunk, good and full, falls asleep, and in that sleep feels neither pleasure nor pain. So too the spouse of Christ, sated with love, falls asleep in the peace of her Bridegroom. Her feelings too are asleep so that, even if all sorts of troubles befall her, they don’t disturb her at all. If she is materially well off she feels no disproportionate pleasure, because she has already stripped herself of all that is at the first stair. This, then, is where she finds herself conformed with Christ crucified, united with him.
From The Letters of St. Catherine of Siena, Vol. II translated by Suzanne Noffke; quoted from Magnificat, March 2018.
Notice the three steps of the bridge, the feet, the wounded side, and the mouth. One climbs the first stair by shedding one’s will through humility. One reaches the second stair as one reaches charity, or true love. And finally at the third stair you are in complete harmony with God whiole achieving a state of peace.