“I AM and the Risen Christ’s Victory” (4/29/2019, Feast of St Catherine)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
The Lord says to St. Catherine, “You are she who is not and I AM HE WHO IS.” Her spiritual director, Bl. Raymond of Capua says that these words were the foundation of Catherine’s spiritual life. There are profound metaphysical depths here. It’s about the creature’s relation of utter dependence upon the Creator. It uses some exaggeration but this helps drive the point home subjectively or existentially, to wake up our minds and hearts to the depths of the truth.
This helps answer the question: How did Catherine become such a great Saint? I think in part because it was given to her to make the break-through into the New Creation, where divine things were the most real things for her. And this maxim, the foundation of her spiritual life, was crucial for this to happen—to grasp divine things as the most real things.
We could reflect a lifetime on this maxim, as Catherine herself did, going deeper and deeper into it. But today, just beyond the Easter Octave, I want to focus on one thing: these words were spoken to Catherine by the Risen Christ. It’s the Risen Christ who says, “You are she who is not and I AM HE WHO IS.”
We might at first have expected such words to come from God the Father. But they are spoken to Catherine by the Risen Christ, in his Sacred Humanity, gloriously triumphant. And it is the risen Christ, the beginning of the New Creation, that Catherine sees by her side, visibly at times, accompanying her throughout her days.
Here is how Raymond of Capua recounts the event. The Lord Jesus appeared to Catherine one day and said, “Do you know, daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you have beatitude in your grasp. You are she who is not, and I AM HE WHO IS. Let your soul but become penetrated with this truth, and the Enemy can never lead you astray….You will have set your feet on the royal road which leads to the fullness of grace, and truth, and light” (Life, p 85).
Raymond notes, “[The Lord Jesus] was commanding her to shut out every other thought from her heart, taking thought only for himself and for his will alone; and to let no anxiety of any kind about herself…disturb the even-tenor of her soul in taking thought of him” (90). “Within us…dwells as in his home that [divine] Guest who said: ‘Have courage, I have overcome the world.’ In that indwelling Guest, Catherine placed all her hope” (47).
So in addition to the metaphysical depth of this pithy maxim, we see another dimension at work: that of placing all our hope in Christ and his Victory. He has overcome the world. The victory Jesus has won in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection is the ultimate reality. The New Creation, begun in Christ’s Resurrection breaks forth, and the worldly perspectives of the old creation are left behind. Our own anxieties, uncertainties, areas of unbelief, and wavering can be placed aside as nothing in face of the ever-greater reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
The Lord tells Catherine “to shut out every other thought from her heart,” other than this great I AM. We still work to rectify problems but with a new attitude. Before the Risen Christ, all else opposed to Him evaporates before the glory of his Light, Truth, Grace, and Victory, as a mist before the shining sun.
“You are she who is not,” with all that doubts, hesitates, and wavers. “I AM HE WHO IS” with the Victory that will endure forever and be triumphant. And surely this gave Catherine boldness to act fearlessly in the world, to change it. For, it’s a new creation. As St Paul puts it, “Behold, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17) Ultimately, it’s really that simple. Behold the old has gone the new has come.
Why are we so mesmerized by illusions? (And the worst illusion of all is thinking we have no illusions) Why are we so attracted by phantoms? Why so fearful of shadows? Why are we so taken in by what is not? Yet…Christ and his Victory. “I AM HE WHO IS,” all else is as not.
It’s actually like what we heard from our two readings from the Word of God. The Father has given the Son authority over all, to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given him (Jn 17:2). It’s about submitting to this authority of the Lord Jesus and the eternal life he has given us. Exousia, an authority rooted in being, true Being, the full weight of Being, an authority that will last forever, while all else opposed to it fades away before his presence.
Jesus says in our first reading, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Rev 1:8).
He who is…He who is the Alpha and the Omega: He plans and He accomplishes. And this more than anything else is what is, what was, and will be forever. The Risen and Victorious Christ is the great “I AM,” and he will be triumphant forever and ever. Amen.