St. Catherine of Siena


St. Catherine of Siena:

Adapted by Catholic Tradition from SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA by Mother Frances A. Forbes, a nun of the Society of the Scared Heart in Scotland who was a convert and highly regarded by Cardinal Merry de Val, a close friend of Pope St. Pius X.

Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1913.
Currently published by TAN BOOKS.

Chapter 1
DROP LETTEROWARD the south of Tuscany, enthroned on her three hills, her quaint old towers soaring into the blue Italian sky, stands Siena, the city of the Virgin. Few of the cities of the country have changed so little in the course of centuries as she. The walls of a medieval stronghold still surround her, broken here and there by great gates on whose brick arches the blue and crimson and gold of the fourteenth century painters yet linger. Her ancient palaces, the exquisite cathedral and noble churches, the steep and narrow streets, have remained almost the same in the last six hundred years.

The very name, Siena, seems to evoke the fragrance of the lily, for it is the city of the Virgin, the Mother of God, solemnly dedicated to her in 1260, on the eve of the great battle of Montaperti, when the Sienese won a glorious victory over the rival republic of Florence:

"Follow me now," cried the head of the army, Buonaguida-----fittingly named, "let us surrender ourselves, our city, with all our rights, to the Queen of Eternal Life, to Our Lady and Mother, the Virgin Mary. Follow me, all of you with purity of faith and freedom of will to make this offering."

Three days of thanksgiving transpired after the victory and for generations after, the favorite theme of the artists of Siena was that "Lady and Mother" who had aided the cause of their city.

Less than a hundred years after this famous battle, in 1347, there was born to Jacomo Beincasa, a prosperous dyer of Siena, and his wife Lapa, a daughter who was destined to be the glory of her native city and one of the most remarkable women in all of history and especially of her time.

Catherine was the youngest of a a large family of brothers and sisters; she was so sweet and lovable that the neighbors called her "Eufrosina" or "Joy." Lapa would often miss the young child and find that she had been carried off by someone who was feeling lonely or sorrowful, and loud would be the protest when the mother appeared to take her baby home. The sunshine that played around the the golden head of little Catherine seemed to have  made its home in her heart, so happy was she, so innocently wise her childish utterances and so gentle the touch of her little hand.

It was customary in Siena that every child should have a devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but Catherine's devotion was considered most special, even from her infancy. As soon as she could talk she learned the Hail Mary, and she would kneel to say it on every step as he little feet climbed up the steep stairway to her father's house.

It was told that Lapa, watching from the kitchen below, would often see the child carried from the top to the bottom of the stairs by the hands of Angels and would tremble lest she fall. The things of Heaven seemed already as familiar to her as the things of earth, and she was not yet seven years old when she saw the first of the mystical visions which she was to have so frequently later on.

Visions and ecstasies are hard things to understand but they ought not be difficult to believe, God is the same in all ages-----yesterday, today, and forever. He Who showed Himself to St. Paul on the road to Damascus, and in vision upon vision to St. John on the Isle of Patmos, can show Himself to His servants, even today when faith is weak, almost extinguished as Christ foretold. While some people refuse to believe anything that cannot be proved in the "court of science", others find the fact that the mysteries of Almighty God, Infinite, are beyond their finite comprehension, the strongest proof of the Catholic faith they cherish and uphold.

One day young Catherine had been sent with her brother Stephen to the house of their married sister Bonaventura. As the two children passed the fountain of Fontebranda, Catherine, who was looking up at the Church of St. Dominic which stands on the opposite hill, saw in the heavens the figure of Our Lord robed and crowned: he stretched out His right hand and blessed her solemnly with a smile of sweetness. Catherine stood rooted to the ground, oblivious to the things around her, with her eyes fixed to the beautiful vision. Stephen turned to looked for her. "Catherine," he cried, but she did not come. "Catherine, Catherine!" he repeated, running to his little sister and pulling her by the hand, saying, "what are you doing? Why do you look up like that?" In response Catherine burst into tears because the vision was gone. "Ah," she said, "if you had seen what I saw you would never have pulled me away," but she did not tell her brother what had happened. It was not for several years when it had become a habitual thing for her to see and converse with Our Lord, that she told her confessor of this early vision.

After this foretaste of Paradise, our Saint became more quite and thoughtful. She had see the King in his beauty, and He had drawn her young and pure heart to him forever. Shortly after she made a vow to the Blessed Virgin to consecrate herself to God. "Here I give my faith and promise to Him and to thee that I will never take another spouse but Him, and so far as in me lies, will keep myself pure and unspotted for Him alone to the end of my days."

She longed to live the life of those holy hermits and Saints of whom she had so often heard and would creep away by herself to spend long hours in prayer. She would mortify her childish appetite by passing part of her portion at meals to her brother Stephen or slipping it under the table to the cats. She scourged herself with a little whip of cords.

Already, young as she was, we find the spirit of an apostle strong in her child heart. The Saints whom she loved the best were those who, not content with seeking their own perfection, spent their lives in drawing the souls of their fellowmen to God. Hearing that the great St. Dominic had founded an order expressly for this purpose, Catherine would follow the Dominican friars when they passed down the steep street and would kiss the place where they had set their feet. So sweetly would she speak of the things of God to her little playmates that they would leave their childish games to join her in her prayers, finding a greater happiness in her company.


  When Catherine was twelve years old-----and in Italy in those days a girl was considered grown up at that age-----her parents bade her take more pains to dress her beautiful hair becomingly, for they wished to find a husband for her and to settle her in a home of her own. In vain Catherine told them that she would never marry; they could not understand such a resolution and thought that she was moved by a childish obstinacy. They began to treat her harshly and unkindly, thinking that her refusal to obey them was due to her love of prayer. They took away from her her own little room and sent her to the kitchen to do the work of a servant, that she might never be alone or free to think of God.

Catherine bore their harsh and cutting words with sweetness and gentleness. No longer having a moment to herself, she resolved to make a little cell in her own heart, where she might live in the presence of her Beloved. While she was hard at work in the kitchen she would think to herself that she was in the Holy House at Nazareth. Her father she pictured as Our Lord, and her mother as the Blessed Virgin; the rest of the household were the Apostles and disciples of Christ. "Because of this imagination," says Fra Raimondo of Capua, "she seemed to serve them all with such great gladness and diligence that everyone marveled."

To prove to her mother that she was earnest in her resolve, she cut off all her beautiful golden hair and wore a little cap upon her head, but this only angered Lapa the more. Her daughter's hair, she angrily declared, would grow again, and in the end she would have to give in to her parents. Yet no unkindness could move the young girl from her gentle patience; and the wonderful sweetness with which she bore her trial began at last to make an impression on her father. He was a good man and had honestly thought at first that Catherine's refusal to marry was nothing but a childish whim. He now began to see that it was something more. Passing the door of Stephen's room one day, he saw Catherine kneeling on the floor in prayer, a white dove, which flew out of the window as he entered, hovering above her head.

"What dove was that?" he asked; but Catherine replied in astonishment, "Sir, I never saw or heard a dove in the chamber." Jacomo was greatly astonished, and he spoke to his wife of what he had seen.

At the same time Catherine's doubts as to the way in which God was calling her to serve Him were forever set at rest. One day as she was praying in her brother's room, the only spot now where she could be for a moment alone, St. Dominic appeared to her in a vision and promised her that she should one day wear the habit of his order.

The time had come to speak. Catherine told her family of the vow she had made to consecrate herself to God, and her determination to be faithful to it. For that reason she could not, she said, take an earthly husband, as her parents wished. If it pleased them to keep her at home as their servant, she would serve them willingly and obediently, but to Christ alone, her chosen Spouse, she would belong. Her gentle and modest words completely conquered her father, though Lapa still wept at the overthrow of all her hopes.

"Dearest daughter," said Jacomo, "God forbid that we should desire anything contrary to His Holy Will. In His Name, therefore, follow freely what you have vowed; from this day forth none in the house shall hinder you. Only pray for us to your Heavenly Spouse, that we may be found worthy of the eternal life which He has promised."

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