Saint Catherine of Siena
Doctor of the Church
Feast Day: April 29, (formerly April 30)
- Patroness: Joint patron of Italy (along with Saint Francis of Assisi),
- co-patroness of Rome,
- patroness of Europe (along with along with Edith Stein and Bridget of Sweden)
- Fire Prevention (as are Saint Agatha, Saint Barbara, Saint Eustachius, Saint Florian and Saint Lawrence)
- against fire, and firefighters,
- bodily ills, illness, miscarriages, sick people, sickness,
- nurses, and nursing services,
- people ridiculed for their piety,
- sexual temptation, and other temptations
- Siena Italy, and Italy,
- Symbols: stigmata, cross, ring, lily
Do you know about your guardian angel? Saint Catherine of Siena knew all about guardian angels, even when she was a little girl. Beginning when she was only about six years old, Catherine loved to go out to quiet places to pray and talk to God. She began to have mystical experiences when she could see guardian angels as clearly as she could see the people they were protecting.
As she grew up, Catherine continued to love quiet prayer. She became a Third Order Dominican when she was sixteen, and kept on having visions of Christ, Mary and the saints. For three years, she only spoke to God and to her confessor. Then, one night, she had a vision of herself as a bride of Christ, and saw the Infant Jesus giving her a wedding ring. She began to tend the sick, to serve the poor and work for the conversion of sinners.
There were great disagreements in the church at this time. The Pope had left Rome and moved to a city in France called Avignon. Saint Catherine knew that God was unhappy about the way people were arguing, so she wrote to the Pope and after awhile was able to convince him to move back to Rome. Saint Catherine wrote many letters and a book that is still read and admired today. Because of all the help she was able to give to the Church, and the great wisdom of her writing, she was named a 'Doctor of the Church.'
Saint Catherine was always very close to Jesus and God. She had visions, and special trials sent to her all through her life. Towards the end of her life, she was given 'the Stigmata'- the marks of Christ's crucifixion - though, at her prayerful request, they remained invisible until her death. About fifty years after she died, her body was found to be incorrupt.
Saint Catherine of Sinena was the 25th of the 26 children of a northern Italy wool dyer named Giacomo di Benincasa. She was born on 25 March 1347. The family belonged to the lower-middle class. There is no record of how many of her siblings lived to middle childhood, or adulthood, though infant mortality was undoubtedly high and life expectancy short. Nor is there any record of how common a family of this size was at the time, though one would suspect that it is extraordinary at any time.
So, from an extraordinary family, came an extraordinary woman. From an early age, it was apparent that Catherine was different. At a very young age (before what is considered to be 'the age of reason') she began to practice austerities, to spend long periods of time in prayer, and to have mystical visions. She consecrated her viginity to Christ when she was seven.
At the age of twelve, her parents thought of arranging a marriage for her, but she begged them to allow her to remain single. To discourage her from this plan, her parents put her in charge of much of the household management, hoping that this servitude would change her mind. After some years, convinced by her steadfastness and patience, her father relented and Catherine joined the Third Order of Dominicans, and spend the next three years 'in the desert' in a small room in her parent's home. Sometime during this time, she underwent what is called a 'spiritual espousal', and she had a vision of the Infant Jesus offering her a wedding band.
She rejoined the world, and began to serve Christ in the sick, poor and ignorant. Many people were attracted to her by her charm, calm and wisdom. She served the poor, sick and to pray for the conversion of sinners. She still spend much time in prayer. Despite persecutions by the local clergy and others, she began to gather disciples. When another vision commanded her to enter the 'public life of the world', Saint Catherine entered into correspondance with the princes and republics of Italy, was consulted by papal legates about the affairs of the Church, and began working to repair the damage of civil war and religious factions in her country.
It was chiefly her letters, advice, and persistence that finally convinced Saint Gregory XI to leave Avignon and return to Rome, to reform the clergy and administration of the Papal States, and to call for a Crusade to regain Jerusalem from the muslim infidels. Catherine travelled to many cities (at a time when travel wasn't easy or comfortable, especially for women) working for peace in Italy and the Church. She wrote hundreds of letters to important people and ordinary people alike. All were treasured for their wisdom and clarity of thought. She also wrote a book, called the 'Dialogue' a conversation between the Eternal Father and the human soul, discussing the whole of mankind's spiritual life. For this important body of work and her service to the Church, she was named a Doctor of the Church.
Saint Catherine died on 29 April 1380, when she was just 33 years old. In 1430, some 50 years later, her body was found to be incorrupt.
After her childhood, when she exhibited signs of great and early piety, and a youth spend in seclusion as a Third Order Dominican in prayer, fasting and mortifications of the body, Saint Catherine moved out into the public world.
She had miraculous visions and experiences since early childhood, in which she was spiritually espoused to Christ, given the Stigmata (though they remained invisible until her death) and eventually received a Divine command to leave her cell.
She spent most of a year bringing about a spiritual revival in the Republic of Siena, and began to gather about her a group of disciples, desiring to follow her example and live in love. It was at this time that Catherine miraculously learned to write, even though she had had no formal education or training. She began to send letters to men and women in every condition of life, from the poorest to the most influential, to the princes and republics of Italy, giving advice, and trying to restore peace to her country and Church. She convinced Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon, she acted as an ambassador and mediator for the Florentines, and worked strenuously for the reformation of the Church.
In a quiet period in 1378, we was able to return to Siena, where she spent the summer dictating her 'Dialogue' the book of her meditations an revelations, as a series of conversations between our Eternal Father and the human soul, represented by Saint Catherine herself. The writings of Saint Catherine rank among the classics of the Italian language, and are as full of wisdom and peace as when they were written. The major theme of her writings is that we all, whether in the cloister or in the world, 'must abide in the cell of self-knowledge,' we must strive to know ourselves better, to understand that we do nothing on our own, that all our talents and our lives themselves come from God.
Her own life confirms her teaching. Saint Catherine was an uneducated woman of the fourteenth century, child of a extremely large and only moderately prosperous family. Yet, as God's bride, she was able to influence great men, change the course of politics, and affect the entire world.
Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself.
For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being.
Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light, and causes me to know your truth. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.
from On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena.
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