April 28, 2017

St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Saint Catherine of Siena

April 29th, is the memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380), the 14th century virgin, visionary and Doctor of the Church. Catherine di Benincasa was born the twenty-fifth child of Giacomo and Lapa di Benincasa in Siena, Italy. At the age of 6, she began to experience mystical visions including seeing angels. She consecrated her virginity to Christ when she was just 7 years old. Catherine defied her family’s plans to give her away in marriage by cutting her hair short and repulsing her future husband. Catherine's mother would eventually relent. With her family’s blessing, she became a Dominican tertiary at 16, where her visions of Christ, Our Lady and the saints continued. Two years later, she would join the Dominican third order, spending her days in seclusion and prayer.

By the time Catherine was 23, Christ answered her prayer to take her heart and give her His own. The Lord Jesus appeared to her holding in his hands a human heart, bright red and shining. He opened her side and put the heart within her saying: "Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it for ever." In addition, Christ gave Catherine a wedding ring, visible to her alone, as a sign of her mystical marriage to Christ and her profound union with the Lord.

Click here to read St Catherine of Siena’s seminal spiritual work The Dialogue.

Catherine's short life was marked by rigid and austere mortifications. For a brief period, she wore a hair shirt but couldn't keep it clean. She replaced the shirt with a heavy, painful, chain she wore around her waist. She usually slept for one hour each night, and would often starved herself except for the reception of Holy Communion. She did this in reparation for her sins and in order to master her bodily appetites and passions. She offered these sufferings on behalf of others.

Fr. Pius Parsch summarizes St. Catherine's remarkable contributions in service to the Church: "The reputation of her sanctity soon spread abroad; thousands came to see her, to be converted by her. The priests associated with her, having received extraordinary faculties of absolution, were unable to accommodate the crowds of penitents. She was a helper and a consoler in every need. As time went on, her influence reached out to secular and ecclesiastical matters. She made peace between worldly princes. The heads of Church and State bowed to her words. She weaned Italy away from an anti-pope, and made cardinals and princes promise allegiance to the rightful pontiff. She journeyed to Avignon and persuaded Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome. Even though she barely reached the age of thirty-three her accomplishments place her among the great women of the Middle Ages." (The Church's Year of Grace, Fr. Pius Parsch, C.R.S..A.)

Exhausted by her mortifications and negotiations St. Catherine died in Rome on April 29, 1380. Pope Pius II, canonized St Catherine on 29 June 1461. She was declared a co-patroness of Rome on April 13, 1866 by Pope Pius IX. Pope Pius XII named her co-patron of Italy, together with Saint Francis of Assisi, in 1939. She was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, in 1970. Saint John Paul II named her one of Europe's co-patronesses along with Saint Teresa Benedicta, and Saint Bridget of Sweden on October 1, 1999. Almighty ever-living God, who set Saint Catherine of Siena on fire with divine love in her contemplation of the Lord's Passion and her service or your Church, grant, through her intercession, that your people, participating in the mystery of Christ, may ever exult in the revelation of his glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever.

No comments :