“Do you know, daughter, who you are, and who I am? If you know these two things, you will be blessed.” So spoke Our Lord to St. Catherine of Siena in a vision. Our Lord continued, revealing to her the answer: “You are she who is not; whereas I am He who is. Have this knowledge in you and the enemy will never deceive you.” It is a very mysterious message. What does the Lord Jesus mean by it? In his dialogue with Catherine, Christ is speaking as the Creator of all things, and He is explaining the essential difference between Him and all of Creation – a difference that makes all the difference.
As you are probably aware, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York made a controversial statement last week about the success of the measures they’ve taken in New York against the spread of Coronavirus. He said: “the number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that….” In a subsequent interview, Cuomo repeated: “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus. And what we do, how we act, will dictate how that virus spreads.” Bishop Robert Barron gave an excellent explanation of the error that Cuomo makes when he speaks this way, and I’ve posted his response below. But the words of Christ in His appearance to St. Catherine also help us to understand Our Lord’s relationship with His Creation, and why Gov. Cuomo’s misunderstanding of the nature of God is significant.
“You are she who is not; whereas I am He who is.” God is not a being in the sense that you and I are beings. We are beings, while God is the act of being. In other words, we are beings while God IS being. Everything that exists in Creation exists because it receives a share in the Lord’s perfect act of being. In the Gospel of John, we hear: “All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be” (John 1,3). So, Our Lord is reminding Catherine that He is the Source of all being and that without Him she has no existence. Her existence, like the existence of everything else, depends entirely on Him. And that is true for us – in fact, it is true for us at every moment. Poor Andrew Cuomo has a distorted conception of God, apparently thinking of God (if He believes in God at all) as a being among the many beings in the universe; an old man floating around somewhere in space – unreliable, capricious, maybe even cruel. As Bishop Barron explains, if God is just one being among the multitude in the universe, then He becomes a competitor to us, a bully to stand up to. But that’s not Who God is. God is He who is. We are they who are not. It is evidence of the goodness of God that we are, that He shares His perfect act of existence with us. And our existence is at all times a gift from God, and by existing we give Him glory.
In the 3rd chapter of the Book of Daniel, there is a beautiful song sung by the three Jewish youths who are saved miraculously from the fiery furnace of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. It is a song that calls out to all of creation to give praise to the Creator. “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord. Praise and exalt Him above all forever.” Such a hymn of praise is possible only when we have a proper understanding of the Lord’s relationship to His Creation. This is the necessary foundation of the virtue of humility – seeing ourselves as we truly are. It is humility that protects us from the deceptions of the enemy, who tries to convince us that we exist in the same way that God does and to resent Him for it. It is humility that allows us to marvel at the fact that we exist and that we are so wonderfully made, enjoying the ability to know how viruses work, to work together to fight the spread of disease, and even (wonder of wonders!) govern states. May God be praised.