Saint Spotlight, Series

Saint Spotlight: St. Catherine of Sienna

Saint Spotlight

Catherine_of_SienaSt. Catherine of Siena

Patron saint of fire prevention, Europe, Italy, and sick people

Early Life: Catherine was born in 1347 and was the 23rd child of acopo and Lapa Benincasa. She grew up as an intelligent, cheerful and intensely religious person. St. Catherine started having mystical experiences when she was only 6, seeing guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. She became a Dominican tertiary when she was 16, and continued to have visions of Christ, Mary, and the saints. Catherine would later advise Raymond of Capua to do during times of trouble what she did now as a teenager: “Build a cell inside your mind, from which you can never flee.” In this inner cell, she made her father into a representation of Christ, her mother Lapa into the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her brothers into the apostles. Serving them humbly became an opportunity for spiritual growth.

Ministry: She entered the Dominican Third Order at 18 and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and austerity. Gradually, a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious. An active public apostolate grew out of her contemplative life. Her letters, mostly for spiritual instruction and encouragement of her followers, began to take more and more note of public affairs. Opposition and slander resulted from her mixing fearlessly with the world and speaking with the candor and authority of one completely committed to Christ. She was cleared of all charges at the Dominican General Chapter of 1374. In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church.

Death: She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony.St Catherine died in Rome, on 29 April 1380, at the age of thirty-three, having suffered a stroke eight days earlier. She was canonized in 1461. It wasn’t until her death that the stigmata (wounds of Christ) that she bore for most of her life became visible.

Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. In 1939, she and Francis of Assisi were declared co-patrons of Italy. Paul VI named her and Teresa of Avila doctors of the Church in 1970. Her spiritual testament is found in The Dialogue.

“No one should judge that he has greater perfection because he performs great penances and gives himself in excess to the staying of the body than he who does less, inasmuch as neither virtue nor merit consists therein; for otherwise he would be an evil case, who for some legitimate reason was unable to do actual penance. Merit consists in the virtue of love alone, flavored with the light of true discretion without which the soul is worth nothing.”

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