St. Catherine of Siena icon
© Cecilia Lawrence
April 29th, 2013
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf“If you are who you are meant to be, you will set the world on fire!” ~ St. Catherine of Siena“My sister and my beloved, open yourself to me, you are a coheir of my kingdom and you have understood the hidden mysteries of my truth. You are enriched with the gift of my Spirit, cleansed of all sin by the shedding of my blood, alleluia! Go forth from the quiet of contemplation and courageously bear witness to my truth.” ~ Responsory for the Feast of St. Catherine of SienaThe holy virgin Catherine steadfastly begged the Lord to restore peace to his holy Church, alleluia.
-Antiphon of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena
Happy Feast of St. Pius V! I actually did finish this yesterday on her feast day, but due to not being able to scan it yesterday evening, I’ve had to wait until today to upload it. I’m fairly happy with it, though her face was giving me a bit of trouble for awhile. I hope she looks alright now (this is what comes from staring at the same picture for hours and hours). Enjoy!:+: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE SAINT :+:Saint Catherine of Siena (March 25th 1347 – April 29th 1380)
, (born Caterina Benincasa) was born in Siena, Italy on the Feast of the Annunciation to a middle-class Italian family. Her father, Giacomo di Benincasa ran a cloth dyeing business, and was helped by his wife Lapa Piagenti, who was the matron of a large family. Catherine and her twin sister Giovanna were the 23rd and 24th children born to Lapa and Giacomo. They were born just as the Black Plague hit Siena, and Catherine’s twin sister died. Lapa had another daughter two years later, also named Giovanna (who eventually died several years later).
Catherine was a very lively, energetic and charismatic child. Even though she was one of the youngest in the family, she was often the leader in their games. When Catherine was about six, she and her brother Stefano were visiting one of their older married sisters. Catherine suddenly stopped in the middle of the road. Her brother kept calling back to her but she didn’t hear him. She was experiencing her first mystical vision where she saw Christ seated in glory with the apostles Peter, Paul and John. She later said that Christ smiled at her and then blessed her. Her brother finally came back and pulled her by the hand, tearing her away from the sight. This experience made a powerful impression on her, and at the age of seven she vowed her virginity to God.
She grew into a very beautiful, strong-willed and eloquent young woman. Her parents soon began thinking about marrying her off to some young gentleman and they urged her to start looking her best and paying more attention to her appearance and manners. She at first complied out of obedience, but when her parents persisted in urging her to marry; she told them of her decision to remain a virgin. Her parents were furious and kept persisting, until she finally hacked off her beautiful long brown-gold hair. Her mother Lapa was particularly angry at this, and assigned her many of the difficult chores in their large household. Catherine was often so busy that she was cut off from the silence and solitude she craved the most. After about a year, Catherine finally wore down the patience of her stubborn mother by being equally stubborn and serving the family by doing the menial chores with great gaiety, kindness and patience. Catherine later wrote that in those years where she was deprived of solitude, she was taught to build up a little cell in her soul where she could always find God within her.
After her parents relented, she was given a small cell beneath the staircase of their family home where she lived apart in prayer and fasting. At about 17, she desired to join the Dominican tertiaries (Third Order Dominicans who are lay people associated with the Order). She was refused at first because they only accepted widows at the time, but she persisted and after recovering from a serious illness, was accepted.
On Shrove Tuesday in 1366 at the age of 19, St. Catherine was praying in her cell when she received a mystical vision of Christ, Our Lady and the hosts of heaven. Our Lady lifted her hand up gently and raised it up to Christ, who then placed a ring upon her finger, espousing himself to her in a mystical marriage. For the remainder of her life, the ring was visible to Catherine, but to no one else.
Two years later her father died, so Catherine left her strict solitude and contemplation to help take care of her mother and the poor in the city of Siena. Soon, she began attracting a crowd of followers whom she affectionately termed her “family.” Her spiritual father, confessor and later biographer, the Dominican friar Raymond of Capua, was struck by her and remained devoted to her throughout his whole life. Eventually, Catherine began to widen her ministry, beyond simply helping the poor in Siena. She experienced many visions, ecstasies and mystical revelations, the crowning of which was her receiving the stigmata. She prayed, however, that the stigmata would be invisible to those around her, but after her death they appeared as wounds on her hands, feet and side. She dictated many forceful, eloquent letters addressed to dignitaries, popes, noblemen, mercenary captains, her own followers, priests and many others from all walks of life. She became a figure of peace and mediation between the warring Italian city states as her influence grew. Hundreds of her letters survive, which are filled with her great spirit, mystical and practical knowledge, all touched with an overflowing love for God. Her great work, The Dialogue of Divine Providence
is one of the great Christian classics.
There is a touching story in Catherine’s life which is characteristic of her great compassion for the sick, dying, and those in sin. One young Perugian knight named Niccolò di Toldo was sentenced to be executed for his inflamed and seditious exclamations against the Sienese government. He was bitter and resentful and had no remorse for any of his actions. Catherine managed to break through his anger and convinced him to go to confession and Mass. She wrote in a letter to her confessor Blessed Raymond of Capua, relating the incident which touched her deeply.
I went to see the person you know about, and my visit helped him so much that he went to confession and made a good preparation. He made me promise, for the love of God, to be with him at the end. I gave him my word, and I kept it…I went to him and he was much consoled. I took him to hear Mass and he received holy communion, which he had never done before. His own will was conformed and subject to God’s, but he was still fearful that he might not be strong when it came to the point…He kept saying: “Stay with me, don’t leave me; then I shall be alright and die happy.” And all the time he leaned his head on my breast…I said to him: “Courage, dearest brother. We shall soon be at the wedding feast. You will be going to it bathed in the sweet blood of God’s Son and with the sweet name of Jesus [on your lips]. Don’t let it slip from your mind for an instant. I shall be waiting for you at the place of execution.”…Then he said: “I shall go with joy and courage, and the time in between will seem like a thousand years, thinking that you will be there waiting for me.” He said such lovely things that one could almost burst at the goodness of God.
So I waited for him at the place of execution. All the time I waited I was praying and sensing the presence of Mary and Catherine, virgin and martyr…I begged, indeed forced Mary to get me the grace I wanted, which was that I might give him light and peace of heart at the moment of death, and then see him going to God. I was so absorbed in the assurance I received that my prayer would be granted that I saw no one in the crowd around me.
At last he arrived, meek as a lamb. When he saw me, he began to laugh and wanted me to make the Sign of the Cross over him. I did so, and then said: “down with you to the wedding, brother! You will soon be in the life that never ends.” He laid himself down with great meekness; then I stretched out his neck and bent over him, speaking to him of the blood of the Lamb. His lips murmured only “Jesus” and “Catherine” and he was still murmuring when I received his head into my hands, while my eyes were fixed on the divine Goodness as I said: “I will.”
Then I saw the God-Man as one sees the light of the sun. His side was open to receive into His own the blood that had just been shed…He received the soul itself and plunged it into the mercy-filled storehouse of His open side. Thus did the First Truth show that his reception was due entirely to God’s grace and mercy and to nothing else. How indescribably moving it was to see God’s goodness; to see the gentleness and love with which He waited to welcome that soul—with the eyes of His mercy fixed on it—as it left the body and was plunged into His open side…Then the Holy Spirit sealed him into that open side.
But [Niccolò] did such a lovely thing—one last gesture that would melt a thousand hearts (and no wonder, seeing that he was already experiencing the divine sweetness). He looked back, like a bride who pauses on the bridegroom’s threshold to look back and bow her thanks to her escort.
When he had gone, my own soul was serenely at peace, and so impregnated with the scent of blood that I could not bear to remove the blood itself that had splashed onto me. Alas, poor me, I can say no more. I was envious, seeing myself left behind.
(St. Catherine’s Letter to Blessed Raymond of Capua: www.drawnbylove.com/pdf/di%20T…)
Catherine’s life was marked by a period known sometimes as the “Babylonian captivity” where the Pope and the whole papal court (due to the influence of the French kings) were in Avignon, France. Due to the persistent, eloquent and persuasive entreaties of St. Catherine, however, Pope Gregory XI finally returned to Rome and ended the seventy-three years of a Rome without the Pope. She was in Florence attempting to settle the riotous populace of Florence when an attempt was made on her life. The would-be assassins were about to stab her to death when she fell to her knees with joy and exclaimed, “At last! I am ready to go to Christ!” The men, greatly disturbed at this, withdrew in fear. Catherine lamented the incident bitterly, being very grieved that she was not worthy to win the martyr’s crown. The Florentines finally made peace with the new Pope Urban VI (Pope Gregory XI having died while she was there), and Catherine went home to Siena.
The peace was not to last. Soon the great western schism broke out where there were several men claiming to be Pope. For the rest of her life she remained in Rome where she worked to persuade the people of Italy of the legitimacy of Pope Urban VI’s claim. She died in Rome on April 29th, 1380 at the age of thirty-three. She was buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but later her followers from Siena managed to take her head back to Siena where it was enshrined with great honor in the Church of Saint Dominic. Catherine’s mother Lapa (who lived to the ripe old age of 89) was in attendance at the installation of her daughter’s relics. St. Catherine’s well-preserved head can be seen in Siena to this day.
She was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461 and made a Doctor of the Church along with St. Teresa of Avila in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. In 1999, Pope John Paul II declared her a patron saint of Europe along with St. Benedict. She is also one of the patron saints of Italy alongside of St. Francis of Assisi.
A great website dedicated to the writings of St. Catherine: www.drawnbylove.com/
This site also has a good summary of her life: www.catholicculture.org/cultur… The Feast of St. Catherine of Siena is celebrated on April 29th. O God, who set Saint Catherine of Siena
on fire with divine love in her contemplation of the Lord’s Passion
and her service of your Church,
grant, through her intercession, that your people
—participating in the mystery of Christ—
may ever exult in the revelation of his glory.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.