Location, location | REFLECTIONS FROM ROME 2024

June 25, 2024
  • IMG_0866

Location, Location, Location: Why Limitations Matter for the Spiritual Life

“What’s been the best part about Rome?” someone recently asked me. I later replied that it was praying at the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, which is under the main altar in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The first time I was in Europe, I prayed in that church, and St. Catherine spoke to me, becoming the first saint to speak to me clearly. Seven and a half years later, I returned to that church, and I again had a much-needed conversation with Catherine, one of my favorite saints. Although I have had many conversations with Catherine and other saints following my first trip to Europe, I could listen to Catherine significantly more easily when I visited her tomb this week than I normally do. But why should my location matter? If the saints are in Heaven, should we not be able to converse with them anywhere?

We can certainly speak and listen to God and the saints wherever we are, but our location can make it easier for us to hear them. I expected Catherine to speak to me at her tomb as she did in the past, which strengthened my faith. So often, we do not hear the voices of God and of the saints simply because we do not expect them to speak to us. But when we expect God and the saints to speak to us, God teaches us to hear them. Our material location also facilitates our hearing God and the saints because we are material beings, so we become attuned to that which is physically before us.

Relying, in part, on material locations in the spiritual life can humble us by reminding us of our lack of self-sufficiency. Recognizing that we cannot always pray easily anywhere strengthens us against spiritual pride. Indeed, the fact that we need the saints to help us grow closer to God is itself humbling. Though God could draw us to himself directly, he lets the saints draw us towards himself so that, relying on our spiritual brothers and sisters, we can draw closer to God in humility and charity. So, although God could help us hear him directly wherever we are, he gives us limitations to humble us and thereby draw us to himself. He makes us rely, to an extent, on our location, and to a greater extent, he makes us rely both on our brethren on Earth and on the saints in Heaven.

Thomas Wheeler
Archdiocese of Cincinnati