Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. -- Saint Augustine of Hippo from “The City of God

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Saint Catherine of Siena

Doctor of the Church and Mystic

Catherine is one of the Churches greatest Saints and is also a Doctor of the Church, an amazing feet for someone who was nearly illiterate, let us take a closer look at Catherine’s life.

Catherine was born into an incredibly large family of 25 siblings later another would be born into this family of wool dye merchants. They were considered for those times to be lower middle class and therefore prosperous though not wealthy, so Catherine’s Father, Giacomo Siena was able to provide a decent upbringing in the year of Catherine’s birth, 1347.

But it was during this very year 1347 that the whole of Europe would be struck down with the Black Plague, which attacked all the peoples irrespective of position or wealth, for disease is no respecter of Class distinction!

This dreaded disease destroyed an estimated third of Europe’s population, and was to change society structures both, Government and also Religion. Many people due to lack of education blamed the Church for failing to cure the peoples of this disease, the Black Plague, which left many feeling disgruntled at the Church Hierarchy. The Church was not helped in that many of the Priests, Monks and Nuns whilst trying to help those who had been struck down with this disease, ended up by being infected with it themselves, which led to a decline in the Priesthood and Religious life, as many died of it.

So Catherine’s birth was fortuitous and very timely during this period of great upheaval for the Catholic Church. And God touched Catherine’s heart and soul at a very young age, for she was to experience Mystical events from her youth right through to adulthood. This began for her at the tender age of 6 where she would see and converse with her Angels, who taught the young Catherine to love prayer and solitude.

Catherine’s Mother, Monna Lapa was not so overjoyed at these mystical experiences, and wished for her daughter to live a normal life, which included the prospect of marriage. For though Giacomo provided for his family it was Monna Lapa who ruled her family with an iron glove, and who provided the discipline needed to look after her family of 26 children.

In the end both parents united in trying to discourage Catherine from a religious life by insisting that she do most of the household chores and the responsibility of looking after her brothers and sisters, alongside her Mother. But their efforts were to be in vein, for Catherine was determined as she had already Consecrated her virginity to her beloved Jesus, so though her parents planned a marriage their obstinate daughter refused to accept this and after many wrangles the parents of Catherine were able to acquiesce to their daughters wish.

It was around this time that Catherine’s Father allowed her to join the Third Order Dominicans, and his daughter then spent approx 3 years in her room which she described as her 'desert', where she embraced a spirit of solitude, and began practicing austerities. It was during this time when Catherine removed herself from the company of her family that she experienced a vision of Jesus who then betrothed her to Himself in a Mystical Marriage.

Upon this event Catherine left her room of solitude and began visiting and nursing the poor in her area, and due to her loving and compassionate personality and also her great wisdom she attracted many friends of like mind, to join her in this service of the poor.

The years that Catherine spent in her room also prepared her to face much opposition from those in authority in the Church, and Catherine began having discourses with the Nobility and the Church Hierarchy about the factions which were tearing the Catholic Church apart. Even though Catherine was known for her passionate love of the Church she also exhibited a spirit of great Joy and compassion which gained her many followers and also just as many complaints and rumours.

But Catherine was undeterred and displayed a fearless and determined stand to unite the Schism which was threatening to destroy the Church. She was known to write very forthright letters too many Cardinals irrespective of their power which criticized their handling of Church affairs.

This was a tumultuous time in Church history and with the aid of her good friend Raymond of Capua, Catherine wrote to Pope Gregory Xl and convinced him with strong language to return the Papacy to Rome instead of remaining at Avignon. Being fearless herself, Catherine had no understanding of timidity and therefore she spoke plainly to the Pope, "Be not a timorous child, but manly . . .", even though Catherine was direct she was also respectful of the Holy Fathers Position and peppered her letters with endearments. It was also at this time that Catherine was encouraged to personally visit the Holy Father in Avignon and plead for his return to Papal authority. Pope Gregory Xl then departed Avignon to take his rightful place in the Seat of Peter as the legitimate Pontiff, in Rome!

But the troubles did not cease and Pope Gregory Xl was to die the same year as his return to Rome in 1378, which led to further upheavals within the Church and to the Papacy itself. Upon the death of Pope Gregory Xl the Cardinals decided to elect an Italian as Pope in the hope that the Papacy would be strengthened within Rome, therefore Pope Urban Vl became the Supreme Pontiff. But this new Pope was to prove to be problematic in that Pope Urban Vl was deeply suspicious of everyone and anything fearing conspiracies in every hidden corner. His temper and inconsistencies then led the very same Cardinals to try and oppose him by electing a new Pope which was Pope Clement Vll.

It was during these Church intrigues and upheavals that the firm and steadfast spirit of Catherine was greatly needed, for she was to support the claim of Pope Urban Vl as the rightful Pontiff and not Clement Vll. So upon a request from Pope Urban Vl to help him unite the troubled Church, Catherine spent days and nights pleading his cause to all Cardinals and those in positions of authority.

But this was to take a heavy toll on Catherine’s health, and through her practice of austere disciplines including not eating food but subsisting on the Eucharist alone, Catherine’s health became very frail, it was also at this time that she dictated her 'dialogue' to her friend Raymond of Capua.

In the end Catherine’s health could not endure the extreme measures of her austere life, and she suffered what was the first stroke, she only partially recovered before she endured another stroke, which she never recovered from. During these fateful months Catherine suffered many agonies and also battled with demonic forces, until her strength was entirely spent.

Catherine died on April 29th, 1380; she was only 33 years of age.

St. Catherine she was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461.

St. Catherine of Siena was proclaimed a Doctor of The Church on the 4th October 1970.

Some Quotes:

"They do not sit in judgement on my servants or anyone else, but rejoice in every situation and every way of living they see. . . . Even when they see something that is clearly sinful, they do not pass judgement, but rather feel a holy and genuine compassion, praying for the sinner." – Saint Catherine of Siena.

"Whenever you think God has shown you other people's faults, take care: your own judgment may well be at fault. Say nothing. And if you do attribute any vice to another person, immediately and humbly look for it in yourself also. Should the other person really possess that vice, he will correct himself so much the better when he sees how gently you understand him, and he will say to himself whatever you would have told him." – Saint Catherine of Siena

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