I love Saint Catherine of Siena. When people get their undies in a bundle over the position of women in the Church, I immediately think of St. Catherine, and comment to myself, “They just don’t get it.”
Born the youngest of 24 children on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, in 1347, this courageous woman, and Doctor of the Church, led an amazing and influential life. When she was 6 years old, she had a vision of Jesus in glory sitting with the Saints Peter, Paul, and John. A year later she secretly vowed to consecrate her life to God. At about the age of 12, her parents started to discuss marriage with her. Catherine refused, cutting off her long hair so as to appear less desirable. To punish her, Catherine’s parents forced her to do menial labor and would not allow her to be alone, thus disturbing the solitude she so desired. During this time, as she patiently endured the punishment, God showed her that she could build a quiet cell in her soul where no one could disturb her.
In time, her parents realized that Catherine was serious about her devotion to Christ, and they let her follow God’s call, giving her a small cell in which to live off of the main house. She practiced some pretty serious prayer, fasting and mortifications. In time she became a third order Dominican, and as she grew in the practice of her faith, she experienced both celestial visions and hellish torments.
The day before Ash Wednesday in 1366 during the town’s Mardi Gras festivities, Jesus along with the Blessed Mother appeared to Catherine. Our Lady took Catherine’s hand and held it up to Jesus who put a ring on Catherine’s finger, becoming his mystical bride. Although invisible to others, Catherine could always see it.
During this time of great suffering in Europe and of frequent plagues, Catherine spent much of her time caring for the sick of Siena, often taking the most serious cases that no one else wanted. Her reputation as a miracle worker spread and the people of Siena turned to her in all circumstances. In 1375, in the small church of St. Christina in Pisa while mediating after communion, she received the stigmata. Like her wedding ring, the wounds were only visible to Catherine, but upon her death, however, they were visible to all.
The sanctity of her life was exemplary enough, but what Catherine is most known for is bringing the papacy back to Rome. All I can say is that the Church was mess during this time. At one point, there were actually 3 people claiming to be Pope. Catherine proved successful in returning the papacy to Rome from Avignon, France. Read more about it here, Catherine of Siena & the Great Schism.
My personal experience of Catherine’s greatness was reading her book called The Dialogue, dictated to her by the Holy Spirit. (in pdf or on-line). This book is deep and wide. Quite a few years ago, I read it over an extended period of time during my weekly holy hour. I highly recommend it. The one thing I remember most from it is this excerpt below. I encourage you to as the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind to hear God’s voice in it and to form your intellect, memory, and will in such a way as to always be faithful to His purpose in your life.
Alleluia! Alleluia! He is Risen! Anne
From The Dialogue
How the three steps figured in the Bridge, that is, in the Son of GOD, signify the three powers of the soul.
You know that every evil is founded in self-love, and that self-love is a cloud that takes away the light of reason, which reason holds in itself the light of faith, and one is not lost without the other. The soul I created in My image and similitude, giving her memory, intellect, and will. The intellect is the most noble part of the soul, and is moved by the affection, and nourishes it, and the hand of love — that is, the affection — fills the memory with the remembrance of Me and of the benefits received, which it does with care and gratitude, and so one power spurs on another, and the soul is nourished in the life of grace.
“The soul cannot live without love, but always wants to love something, because she is made of love, and, by love, I created her. And therefore I told you that the affection moved the intellect, saying, as it were, ‘I will love, because the food on which I feed is love.’ Then the intellect, feeling itself awakened by the affection, says, as it were, ‘If you will love, I will give you that which you can love.’ And at once it arises, considering carefully the dignity of the soul, and the indignity into which she has fallen through sin. In the dignity of her being it tastes My inestimable goodness, and the increate charity with which I created her, and, in contemplating her misery, it discovers and tastes My mercy, and sees how, through mercy, I have lent her time and drawn her out of darkness. Then the affection nourishes itself in love, opening the mouth of holy desire, with which it eats hatred and displeasure of its own sensuality, united with true humility and perfect patience, which it drew from holy hatred. The virtues conceived, they give birth to themselves perfectly and imperfectly, according as the soul exercises perfection in herself, as I will tell you below. So, on the contrary, if the sensual affection wants to love sensual things, the eye of the intellect set before itself for its sole object transitory things, with self-love, displeasure of virtue, and love of vice, whence she draws pride and impatience, and the memory is filled with nothing but that which the affection presents to it. This love so dazzles the eye of the intellect that it can discern and see nothing but such glittering objects. It is the very brightness of the things that causes the intellect to perceive them and the affection to love them; for had worldly things no such brightness there would be no sin, for man, by his nature, cannot desire anything but good, and vice, appearing to him thus, under color of the soul’s good, causes him to sin. But, because the eye, on account of its blindness, does not discern, and knows not the truth, it errs, seeking good and delights there where they are not.
“I have already told you that the delights of the world, without Me, are venomous thorns, and, that the vision of the intellect is deluded by them, and the affection of the will is deluded into loving them, and the memory into retaining remembrance of them. The unity of these powers of the soul is so great that I cannot be offended by one without all the others offending Me at the same time, because the one presents to the other, as I told you, good or evil, according to the pleasure of the free will. This free will is bound to the affection, and it moves as it pleases, either with the light of reason or without it. Your reason is attached to Me when your will does not, by disordinate love, cut it off from Me; you have also in you the law of perversity, that continually fights against the Spirit. You have, then, two parts in you –sensuality and reason. Sensuality is appointed to be the servant, so that, with the instrument of the body, you may prove and exercise the virtues. The soul is free, liberated from sin by the Blood of My Son, and she cannot be dominated unless she consent with her will, which is controlled by her free choice, and when this free choice agrees with the will, it becomes one thing with it. And I tell you truly, that, when the soul undertakes to gather together, with the hand of free choice, her powers in My Name, then are assembled all the actions, both spiritual and temporal, that the creature can do, and free choice gets rid of sensuality and binds itself with reason. I, then, by grace, rest in the midst of them; and this is what My truth, the Word Incarnate, meant, when He said: ‘When there are two or three or more gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.’ And this is the truth. I have already told you that no one could come to Me except by Him, and therefore I made of Him a Bridge with three steps. And those three.