April 29, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Catherine of Siena

John F. FinkYes, it is true that St. Catherine of Siena, as a 29-year-old woman, convinced Pope Gregory XI in 1376 to act on his vow to return the papacy to Rome despite pressure to keep it in Avignon. The popes had been in Avignon since 1309, through the pontificates of seven popes. But that was only one thing that this remarkable woman accomplished in her short life. She was 33 when she died.

Catherine has been seen as a spiritual heroine by numerous women who have tried to emulate her devotions and penances. Those women include St. Rose of Lima and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

Her feast is usually celebrated on April 29, but isn’t this year because it is during Easter Week.

St. Catherine is recognized as one of only three female Doctors of the Church, and it is not because of her influence over a pope or even because she was called on as a mediator between the papacy and the city of Florence. She is a Doctor of the Church because of her mystical writings, mainly a book called The Dialogue.

That book consists of four treatises and the dialogue, of course, is with God. Her basic theme is God’s incredible love for humanity expressed by his first creating the world then redeeming it through the Passion and death of Christ.

In the book, God the Father spoke to Catherine, saying, “Beloved daughter, everything I give to man comes from the love and care I have for him. I desire to show my mercy to the whole world, and my protective love to all those who want it.”

God recounted that he formed humans in his image and likeness, and gave them a memory to recall God’s goodness, an intellect to know and understand God’s will, and a will to love what they would come to know with their intellect. He said that he did all that so that humans could know him and perceive his goodness.

However, God continued, heaven was closed off because of Adam’s disobedience. After Adam’s sin, all manner of evil made its advance throughout the world.

Therefore, still out of love for us, he handed over his only-begotten Son to make satisfaction for our needs. “With eager love, he submitted to a shameful death on the cross and by that death he gave you life, not merely human but divine.”

Then Catherine spoke: “Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.”

She told God that he could give her no greater gift than the gift of himself because he is “a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being.” †

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