Saint Catherine of Siena
Catherine, the daughter of a humble Christian tradesman, was raised up to be the guide and guardian of the Church in one of the darkest periods of its history, the fourteenth century. As a child, prayer was her delight. She would say the Hail Mary on each step as she mounted the stairs, and was granted in reward a vision of Christ in glory. And He revealed to her the secrets of Christian perfection. When only seven years old she made a vow of virginity, afterwards enduring bitter persecution for refusing to marry.
Her parents persisted long in their refusal to allow her to enter religious life, her only ambition; but she made a kind of spiritual and penitential convent cell in her heart’s depths, and there she found her Beloved and conversed with Him each day. At the age of fifteen she was permitted to enter the Third Order of Saint Dominic, but continued to reside in her father’s house, where she united a life of active charity to the prayer of a contemplative Saint. Our Lord bestowed on her His Heart in exchange for her own, gave her Communion with His own hands, and imprinted on her body the marks of His wounds.
From this obscure home the seraphic virgin was taken by Providence to defend the Church’s cause. Her life became a continuing miracle. Armed with Papal authority and accompanied by three confessors, she traveled through Italy, reducing rebellious cities to the obedience of the Holy See, and winning hardened souls to God. In the sight of virtually the whole world she sought out Gregory XI at Avignon, brought him back to Rome, and by her letters to the kings and queens of Europe made good the Papal cause. She was the counselor of Urban VI, and sternly rebuked the disloyal cardinals who took part in electing an antipope.
Long had the holy virgin foretold the terrible schism which began before she died. Day and night she wept and prayed for unity and peace. But in spirit she saw the entire city of Rome full of demons, who were tempting the people to revolt and even to slay the Vicar of Christ. With intense earnestness Saint Catherine begged Our Lord to prevent this enormous crime. Their seditious temper was subdued by her prayers, but they vented their rage by scourging the Saint herself, who gladly endured all for God and His Church. She died in Rome in 1380, at the age of thirty-three.
Reflection. The seraphic Saint Catherine willingly sacrificed the delights of contemplation to labor for the Church and the Apostolic See. How deeply do the troubles of the Church and the consequent loss of souls afflict us? How often do we pray for the Church and the Pope?
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5