Feast of St. Catherine of Siena (April 29)   2 comments

Above:  St. Catherine of Siena

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA (MARCH 25, 1347-APRIL 29, 1380)

Roman Catholic Mystic and Religious

Born Catalina Benincasa

Former feast day = April 30

St. Catherine of Siena, some who knew her claimed, was a lunatic.  She did report having received many visions, after all.  And why had she cut off most of her beautiful hair and claimed to be a bride of Christ, unless she was crazy?  Others who knew her regarded her as a living saint, however.  Catalina Benincara, they insisted, was not out of her gourd; no, she was touched by God.  Both camps agreed that she was out of the ordinary.

If one ponders prophetic figures from the Hebrew Bible, one should be able to recall stories of God commanding prophets to behave in bizarre ways–from eating scrolls to walking around naked.  The biography of St. Catherine of Siena contains nothing so extreme, but does include not leaving her bedroom for three years, starting at the age of 16.

St. Catherine, born in Siena, Tuscany, on March 25, 1347, was one of the youngest of 25 children of a wealthy dyer.  At the age of 16 years she joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic.  For the next three years our saint lived as a contemplative and reported receiving many visions, both demonic and godly.  Sometimes Satan visited, St. Catherine said, but Jesus and St. Mary Magdalene also dropped by.  Regardless of the veracity of our saint’s visions, the godly voices she reported hearing instructed her to re-enter the world after years of isolation.  So St. Catherine worked as a nurse to the poor and the sick, including cancer patients and lepers.  She also began to attract a following, due to her holiness.

St. Catherine  served as a peacemaker during turbulent times.  She started on a small scale, by reconciling feuding families in Siena.  Then, in 1370, she began to correspond with potentates.  In 1376 our saint traveled to Avignon, France, the site of the residence of the Bishop of Rome during the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy.  St. Catherine helped to persuade Pope Gregory XI to return the Papacy to Rome.  He did so in 1377.  After Gregory XI died the following year, the College of Cardinals, responding to public pressure, elected an Italian Pope.  Unfortunately, Urban VI was unstable.  The combination of his instability and the politics germane to his election led to the election of a rival pontiff, Clement (VII), headquartered at Avignon.  The Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417) had begun.  Clement was more of a politician than a spiritual leader.  Urban was unfit for the Papacy, but he was the duly consecrated Bishop of Rome at Rome.  As European potentates and cardinals decided which Pope to support, St. Catherine wrote many of them and encouraged them to support Urban VI, even though she had no illusions regarding his character.  There was a higher principle–ecclesiastical unity–at work.

St. Catherine, distressed by the scandal of the Great Schism of the Papacy, reported one final vision in 1380.  She saw herself with the Church, like a great ship, upon her back.  Our saint collapsed, paralyzed.  Several weeks later she died, aged 33 years.

St. Catherine, who received the stigmata in 1375, wrote nearly 400 letters, many prayers, the Dialogue (with Jesus), and a Treatise on Divine Providence, a masterpiece of mysticism in the Italian language.  The Church canonized her in 1461 and declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

The proof is in the pudding, an old saying goes.  The evidence regarding St. Catherine of Siena indicates that she was a holy woman, not a lunatic.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS A KEMPIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC, MONK, PRIEST, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN BOSTE, GEORGE SWALLOWELL, AND JOHN INGRAM, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEWTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Everlasting God, you so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena,

as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior,

that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church:

Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ’s death,

and rejoice in the revelation of his glory; who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Lamentations 3:31-33

Psalm 119:73-80

1 John 1:5-2:2

Luke 12:22-24, 29-31

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 351

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