ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA,
Catherine was born in Siena in 1347, and was the 23rd child
of ]acopo and Lapa Benincasa. She was an intelligent, cheerful
and religious young lady. At the age of 18 she entered the
Dominican Third Order, spending the following three years in
solitude, long hours in prayer, and in penance. Gradually she
attracted followers among priests, religious and laity, whom she
encouraged and guided in the spiritual life.
Catherine also took an active interest in public affairs of the
Church. She was instrumental in having Pope Gregory XI return
to Rome from Avignon. She supported his successor in Rome,
Urban VI, against the A vignon faction.
Not very robust in health at any time, she suffered a stroke
eight days before her death which occurred on April 29, 1380 at
the age of 33.
In chapter 167 of her Dialogues we read:
"Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of
Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine
nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I
search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I
search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive
will ever leave me desiring more." (Dialogues; 2nd Reading,
Liturgy of the Hours).
Throughout her life Catherine had mystical experiences, the
first at age 6. These guided her life choices. She was also blessed
with the stigmata. Her mystical teaching is found in the
Dialogues, in her letters and in some two dozen prayers. Central
to her theology is the redeeming Christ on the Cross and his
blood which is poured out mercifully for all people. All of her
writings reveal the mystic's hunger for God.
"When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I
grow more famished for your light I desire above all to see
you, the true light, as you really are." (ibid).
Catherine longed to surrender herself completely to God:
"I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the
beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding.
I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen
what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share
in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his
own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love
St. Catherine had difficulty with critics and slanderers, even to
the point where she had to defend herself before a Dominican
General Chapter. It is difficult to appreciate St. Catherine of
Siena in so few minutes, but what Alois Maria Haas has written is
"Mystical rapture in God always gave [Catherine] great
certitude for quick action. The image of knightly battle
inspired her, and she fought against ecclesiastical deca-
dence through criticism, instruction, and preaching about
poverty and obedience, the necessity of an uncompromis-
ing knowledge of self and of God, prudence, and the
renunciation of self, love and egoism. In sum, it was a
unique attempt to unite action and contemplation in a life
dedicated to the good of the Church. Catherine's life was
consumed by and offered up for the Church. The Church
was her guarantor of the redeeming blood of Christ, the
nursing mother of salvation. Her mysticism received from
this a strong emphasis on the history and community of
salvation." (Christian Spirituality: high Middle ages and
Refonnation, pp 167,168).
The Opening Prayer of the Mass sums up her life succinctly:
"Father, in meditating on the suffering of your Son, and in
serving your Church, Saint Catherine was filled with the fervor
of your love." The Antiphon at the Magnificat in Evening Prayer
adds: "Always and everywhere Catherine sought and found
God Through the strength of her love she entered into union
St. Catherine of Siena was canonized in 1461. She was
declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.