An Examination of Conscience with Saint Katharine Drexel, who rejected precisely the vanity on display all around us
I am disgusted with the world. God in his mercy has opened my eyes to the fact of vanitas vanitatis, and as he has made me see the vile emptiness of this earth, I look to him — the God of Love — in hope. He will not leave me to despair because of the dreariness of all the joys that cannot satisfy my heart. He is the God of Love, and pitying me, he will open my eyes still more and discover to me the joyful, true depths of all the things invisible. “Show thy face and we shall be saved; let thy voice sound in my ears. For thy voice is sweet, and show thy face exceedingly beautiful.”—St. Katharine Drexel
“Disgusted with the world.” You might have had similar feelings this week, in which case, you’re in good company, as demonstrated by St. Katharine Drexel, whose feastday we celebrate on March 3. A daughter of wealth born in the City of Brotherly Love, her writings and advice are speaking to me, after Super Tuesday. In a book I picked up while at her national shrine just a train (or pricey Uber) ride from Center City in Bensalem, Pa., I read this:
All, all, all (there is no exception) is passing away and will pass away. European travel brings vividly before the mind how cities have risen and fallen, and risen and fallen; and the same of empires and kingdoms and nations. And the billions who lived their common every day life in these nations and kingdoms and empires and cities, where are they? The ashes of the kings and the mighty of this earth are mingled with the dust of the meanest slave.
A sobering reminder in this election season, that all things pass, even governments and nations and empires. How do we assist our brothers and sisters in balancing out appropriate worldly concerns against the eternal realities? More than more than midway through Lent, it’s worth pausing with Katharine Drexel for an examination of conscience and reflection:
How long will the sun and moon, the stars continue to give forth light? Who can tell? Of one thing alone we are sure. In God’s own time — then shall come the Son of Man in great power and majesty to render to each according to his works.
She writes: “The reward and punishment for these will not pass away, nor does the Day, Eternity, then opening before us. An eternity of happiness infinite, or an eternity of misery infinite.”
In the same Drexel biography, one of her sisters recounts being at Mother Drexel’s bedside as she died. She promised “in tones of tenderest love”: “I will pray for you, and pray for you and never cease praying for you till you come there too.”
She is a saint with a heart for those most suffering and in need — blacks and Indians in a particular way at her time. Now, when we’ve seen racial unrest and violence and distrust and violent inflammations in recent years, I imagine she is an intercessor we should be calling on more these days.
St. John Paul II warned us that we shouldn’t make an idol out of democracy. He’s among the cloud of witnesses who might plead for us that God help us mend our ways, prioritize virtue and courage — and sacrifice and prayerful reparation. And repeat his prayer at her canonization in 2000:
May her example help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the building of a more just and fraternal world.
This weekend marks “24 Hours for the Lord” — dioceses throughout the world will have extended confession hours, some through the night on Friday and Saturday. What a beautiful way to make this week truly super before it ends. We all have many things we can criticize and complain about, but also ponder the Chesterton question: “What’s wrong with the world.” His answer: “Me.” What can we do to have clearer eyes, purer hearts, a depth of courage not of this world?
In The Name of God Is Mercy, Pope Francis talks about the damage relativism has wrought, how we have lost our sense of sin. He adds: “The fragility of our era is this, too: we don’t believe that there is chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love; to put you back on your feet. We need mercy.”
At Katharine’s shrine, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration throughout the week. This weekend, the fourth of Lent, is a time for choosing. The sacrament of reconciliation is the door to Divine Mercy. Don’t keep yourself from it. It may make all the difference: in renewal, in rebuilding, in transformation, in what God has to work with when we are called home.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review online. She is co-author of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice (available from Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon.com).