Fearless. Bold. Doctor of the Church. Poet. Mystic. Stigmatic. Correspondent of Popes and Royalty. Correspondent to the Faithful. Action-oriented contemplative. Saint Catherine of Siena was all these and more.
She had a vision at age 6, and decided that she would become a virgin and bride of Christ by age 7. Her parents weren’t very enthused at the idea, but eventually they relented. She died on this day in 1380 at 33 years of age. Her body was exhumed in 1430 and found to be incorrupt. She was canonized in 1461 by Pope Pius II.
She is definitely one interesting person and you can find more in-depth biographical information and recognition of her feast day from other sources. The best news, as far as I’m concerned, is that she left us a lot to read. She is one heck of a great example of a soldier for Christ. Want to see her skewer three cardinals that backed an anti-pope? Head on over to the YIM Catholic Bookshelf and have a look-see. While you are there, have a look at her last letter to Pope Urban VI. I figure there were probably two reactions from those getting something in the mail from St. Catherine: joy and elation or a bad case of indigestion.
The letter which follows is of the former kind, full of Christian love and filled with practical instruction for her correspondents (and for us). Perhaps the portrait above is of Catherine as she wrote such a letter as this—
To Sano Di Maco and All Her Other Sons in Siena
In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified
and of sweet Mary :
Dearest sons in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you strong and persevering till the end of your life. For I consider that without perseverance no one can please God, or receive the crown of reward. He who perseveres is always strong, and fortitude makes him persevere.
We have absolute need of the gift of fortitude, for we are besieged by many foes. The world, with its delights and deceits; the devil, with many vexing temptations, who lights upon the lips of men, making them say insulting and critical things, and who often makes us lose our worldly goods—and this he does solely to recall us from devoted charity to our neighbour; the flesh, astir in our own senses, seeking to war against the spirit.
Yes, truly, all these foes of ours have besieged us; yet we need feel no servile fear, because they are discomfited through the Blood of the Spotless Lamb. We ought bravely to reply to the world and resist it, disparaging its delights and honours, judging it to have in itself no abiding stability whatever. It shows us long life, with youth a-blossom and great riches; and they are all seen to be vanity, since from life we come to death, from youth to age, from wealth to poverty; and thus we are always running toward the goal of death.
Therefore we need to open the eye of the mind, to see how miserable he is who trusts in the world. In this way one will come to despise and hate what first he loved. To the wiles of the devil we can reply manfully, seeing his weakness; for he can conquer no one who does not wish to be conquered. One can reply to him then with lively faith and hope, and with holy hatred of one’s self. For in such hate one will become patient toward every tempting vexation and tribulation of the world, and will bear these things with true patience, from what side soever they come, if one shall hate one’s own fleshliness and love to abide on the Cross with Christ crucified.
From living faith one will derive a will in accord with that of God, and will quench in heart and mind the human instinct of judging. The will of God alone shall judge, which seeks and wills naught but our sanctification. In this way one is not shocked at his neighbour and does not criticize him. Nor does he pass judgment on a man who talks against him: he condemns himself alone, seeing that it is the will of God which permits such men to vex him for his good. Ah, how blessed is the soul which clothes itself in a judgment so gentle!
He does not condemn the servants of this world who do him injury; nor does he condemn the servants of God, wishing to drive them in his own way, as many presumptuous, proud men do, who under cloak of the honour of God and the salvation of souls, are shocked by the servants of God, and assume a critical attitude under cover of this cloak, saying: “Such words do not please me.”
And so a man becomes disturbed in himself, and also makes others disturbed with his tongue, claiming that he speaks through the force of love—and so he thinks he does. But if he will open his eyes, he will find the serpent of presumption under a false aspect, which plays the judge, judging in its own fashion, and not according to the mysteries and the holy and diverse ways in which God works with His creatures.
Let human pride be ashamed, and consent to see that in the House of the Eternal Father are many mansions. Let it not seek to impose a rule upon the Holy Spirit: for He is the Rule itself, Giver of the Rule: nor let it measure Him who cannot be measured. The true servant of God, arrayed in His highest eternal will, will not do thus; nay, he will hold in reverence the ways and deeds and habits of God’s servants, since he judges them fixed not by man, but by God. For, just because things are not pleasing to us and do not go according to our habits, we ought to be predisposed to believe that they are pleasing to God.
We ought not to judge anything at all, nor can we, except what is manifest and open sin. And even this the soul enamoured of God and lost to itself does not assume to judge, except in displeasure for the sin and wrong done to God; and with great compassion for the soul of him who sins, eagerly willing to give itself to any torture for the salvation of that soul.
Now I summon you to this perfection, dearest sons; do you study with true and holy zeal to acquire it. And reflect that every stage in perfection which you reach will advance you in this holy and true judgment, free from offence or pain. So, on the contrary, false judgment betrays you into every sort of pain, and fault-finding and ruinous faithlessness toward the servants of God. All this proceeds from the personal passion and rooted pride which impels us to judge the will of our fellow-man.
So such a man is always looking back, and does not persevere in gracious love of his neighbour, and never has strong and persevering love. Nay, his is like the imperfect love felt by the disciples of Christ before the Passion; for they loved Him, rejoicing much in His presence; but because their love was not founded in truth, but pleasure and self-indulgence were in it, it failed when His presence was taken away; and they did not know how to bear pain with Christ, but fled in fear.
Beware, beware, lest this happen to you. You rejoice much in the presence of a friend, and in absence you make a fire of straw; for when the presence is taken away, every little wind and rain quenches it, and nothing remains except the black smoke of a dark conscience. All this happens because we have made ourselves judges of the will of our fellows, and the habits and ways of the servants of God, not according to His sweet will. Now no more thus, for love of Christ crucified! But be faithful sons, strong and persevering in Christ, sweet Jesus. Thus shall you discomfit the temptation of the devil, and the words which he says, lighting on the lips of men.
Our last enemy—that is, our miserable flesh with its sense appetites—is overcome by the flesh of Christ, scourged and nailed on the wood of the most holy Cross, by mastering it with fast and vigil and continuous prayer, with burning sweet and loving desire. Thus sweetly shall we conquer and discomfit our foes by the power of the Blood of Christ. Thus shall you fulfil His will and my desire, which grieves when it beholds your imperfection. I hope by His infinite goodness that He will console my desire in you.
Therefore I beg that you be not negligent, but zealous -, do not shift about in the wind like a leaf, but be firm, stable, and constant; loving one another with true brotherly charity, bearing one another’s faults. By this I shall perceive whether you love God and me, who desire naught but to see you in true unity. Drown you in the Blood of Christ crucified and hide you in His sweetest Wounds. I say no more.
Let the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli be commended to you. And never mind because I am not there, for good sons do more when the mother is not present than when she is, because they want to show the love they have for her, and to enter more fully into her favour.
I beg you, Sano, to read this letter to all the children. And do you all pray God for us, that He grant us to complete what is begun to His honour and the salvation of souls; for we wish no other desire nor work, in despite of any who may wish to hinder it. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. May God fill you with His sweetest favour. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
Remember I said she was a poet? Ok, so maybe she never wrote sonnets(that makes two of us) or knew what iambic pentameter is. But she has a simple message for those of us who may need a recharge of our batteries of faith.
Consumed In Grace
I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age.
the cheeks of the sun were pale before Him,
and the earth acted as a shy
girl, like me.
Divine light entered my heart from His love
that did never fully wane,
though indeed, dear, I can understand how a person’s
faith can at time flicker,
for what is the mind to do
with something that becomes the mind’s ruin:
a God that consumes us
in His grace.
I have seen what you want;
it is there,
a Beloved of infinite
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.