Most six-year-olds are happy to spend their days with their families and playing with friends, but in 1353 or thereabouts one small child in Siena, Italy had a vision of Jesus which changed all that. Walking home one day with an older brother, Catherine Benincasa stopped short and stared at the sky for quite some time without moving. Her brother repeatedly called her name, but it wasn’t until he pulled her by the hand that she finally responded. With tears she told him that she had seen a beautiful vision of Jesus with Saints Peter, John and Paul, and tiny though she was, she understood that a miracle had occurred in her life.
After this occasion she stayed to herself more and more, and when she was seven she made a vow that she would never marry, but dedicate herself to Christ. As she grew her parents tried to convince her to find a husband, but she insisted Christ was her only spouse. Catherine then took the vows of a third-order Dominican and wore the habit normally only given to widows or elderly women. She cut off her hair and lived in a small room in her family home where she prayed and fasted continually for three years.
After this time of preparation, she emerged at God’s bidding and went to serve the sick in hospitals. She continued this activity during a great plague, ministering to many, and also became known as a peacemaker among her people. Catherine could often read thoughts and sensed other’s motives. She sent many people on to confession and helped reconcile them to God.
She continued to have visions, including one where she was given a wedding ring by Christ, and one where He fed her the Eucharist. She began to write notes and letters documenting these and other inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Her spiritual renown grew, and her writings were often devoted to begging Catholics to strive for peace within the Church. At that time Pope Gregory XI was living in Avignon, France, and she persuaded him to return the papal offices to Rome. Later during the Western Schism, which saw the Church split between two popes in these rival cities, she once again worked desperately for peace.
While still in Rome, she suffered a stroke in 1380 and died eight days later at the age of 33. She was canonized in 1461, and her writings, including The Dialogue of St. Catherine, were largely responsible for her being named a Doctor of the Church.
Saints and our lives
• St. Catherine of Siena once wrote: “(Wisdom) sees that the heart of man is in no way so drawn as by love, because it was created by love.” What a beautiful statement! Our hearts, created by a loving Trinitarian God, are always drawn to love, which sustains us and which beckons us. The love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is formed within us, and remains within the depths of our being. If we hold fast to this thought it will allow our hearts to turn to God when we are troubled or in despair. We will instinctively reach for Love, to God who ever draws us nearer, because that is how and why we were created.
• “Be always discreet in your conversations. You will be able to have the actual cell little; but I wish you to have the cell of the heart always, and always carry it with you. For as you know, while we are locked therein enemies can do us no wrong. Then every act you shall do will be guided and ordered of God.” (letter to Master Raimondo of Capua). Here Saint Catherine gives advice about interior conversation with God. So many people today are too willing to share their thoughts and lives with anyone and everyone on social media. The young are especially susceptible to this, and don’t realize the danger of exposing themselves on a whim.
St. Catherine’s advice of centuries ago is still current, reminding us to go within and talk things over with God. After all, if we believe that God is almighty, all wise, all loving, and all good, doesn’t it make the most sense to pour our hearts out to Him? Friends have their place in our lives, of course, but don’t ever neglect your friendship with the one true God.
• St. Catherine of Siena was a mystic, a vessel of miraculous grace. Can we, too, bring the grace of God to another human being? Our faith would tell us “Yes!” Our personal witness to Christ’s love in our life can be a small miracle to another. Our stories of how God has worked in us can encourage someone who might be struggling with their faith or strengthen someone who is feeling abandoned; and though we may be reluctant to share them, we should “put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4) and, like Peter, trust Christ with the outcome.
Taken from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: St. Catherine of Siena” produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization. For the complete pamphlet, visit the Office of New Evangelization at www.drvc.org