Biography, the Beginning
St. Catherine was born in Siena, Italy in 1347. At the age of 16, Catherine’s sister died, and her parents proposed that she marry the widowed husband as a replacement. Catherine opposed this, and began fasting and cut her hair short to mar her appearance. Her parents relented. She joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, which, after a period of cloister, allowed her to associate with a religious society while living at home.
Catherine began an active ministry to the poor, the imprisoned, and the sick. So skillful was her nursing that many recovered their health under her care and she became known as a miracle worker. The fame of this wonderful woman spread to Pisa and Florence, and so through Italy, and many pilgrims came to see her and to beg her to lay her hands on them and cure them.
Father, may Catherine’s life inspire us to serve the poor, imprisoned and sick among us. Amen!
Impact on the Church In Turmoil
Italy was at that time the prey of innumerable warring factions. Each city had its powerful families who were trying to make themselves lords. The Church, at that time, was divided by what was called the Great Schism. Amidst this turmoil, the Pope left Rome, and established his residence in Avignon, France. The Pope and the Roman Emperor were continually fighting for the control of the different cities of Italy.
Believing that the Pope’s return was necessary for the welfare of Italy, she wrote the Pope: “Respond to the Holy Spirit who is calling you! I tell you: Come! Come! Come! Don’t wait for time because time isn’t waiting for you.” Later she went to Avignon to see Pope Gregory XI. She found that the city was safe from the wars which were devastating the rest of Europe, and that none of the papal court were anxious to give up their luxurious life there. Gregory, however, was moved by her appeal. Within a year after Catherine left, he took courage, confronted the timid and slothful cardinals, and moved his seat back to Rome.
Father, may Catherine inspire us to pray and work for the sanctification of The Church. Amen!
Her Mystical Experiences
Around age 7, when returning from her sister’s home, Catherine stopped and looked up the hill at the Church of St. Dominic. She saw a great throne on roof of the church, and on that throne sat Jesus, and with Him were many saints. Jesus stretched out His right hand and made the sign of the cross over her, as she had seen the Bishop do when he gave his people his blessing. The other saints, in turn, also made her the sign of blessing. She kept the details of the vision private for a long time, and spent much time contemplating its meaning for her life.
In her teens, after a period of seclusion in the convent, Catherine experienced what she later described as “spiritual marriage” to Jesus. In this vision, Jesus placed a ring on her finger, and her soul attained mystical union with God. She called this state an “inner cell in her soul” that sustained her all her life as she traveled and ministered.
Throughout her life, Catherine experienced periods of ecstasy. It was during these times that she dictated to her secretaries what was later published as “The Dialogue”.
Father, bless us that we may welcome you into the inner most part of our being. Amen!
Catherine was well known for her ability to be calm and kind, even in the face of insult and criticism. She wrote: “He proves his humility on a proud man, his faith on an infidel, his true hope on one who despairs, his justice on the unjust, his kindness on the cruel, his gentleness and benignity on the irascible. Good men produce and prove all their virtues on their neighbor, just as perverse men [prove] all their vices.”
Catherine believed that prayer was not limited to vocal prayers, but, as Jesus urged, we should pray always. She knew that Satan worked to discourage a life of prayer. She wrote: “This he [Satan] does in order that holy prayer may become tedious to the soul, tempting her often with these words: ‘This prayer avails you nothing, for you need attend to nothing except your vocal prayers.’ He acts thus in order that, becoming wearied and confused in mind, she may abandon the exercise of prayer.”
Father, help us to pray always; give us the grace to prove our virtues on our neighbors. Amen!