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.

DROP LETTERATHERINE was now free to give herself up to the life to which she felt God was calling her. Beneath her father's house was a little cell with one small window, and her she took her abode. Her bed consisted of a few bare planks of wood and this also her day bench. A crucifix and a picture of Our Lady before which she kept a lamp continually burning, hung upon the wall. These were all her furnishings and in this simplicity she found the solitude and silence her heart desired.

For three years, except for Holy Mass at the Church of St. Dominic, which was close by, she scarcely left her cell as to her it was the very gate of Heaven; in it began that life of prayer and intimacy with God that was to endure throughout her short life of thirty-three years, although in much different circumstances that these three preliminary years provided.

Catherine increased her penances, for she had come to understand that unless sacrifice accompanies prayer, it is not as fruitful, if at all. So she schooled herself to eat less and less until she managed to go almost entirely without food, and the hours she slept became shorter. She had fastened an iron chain around her tender body which made every movement a painful one; several times a day she scourged herself until she bled. This may be difficult for us to read about and harder still for us to comprehend unless we know her motives for such austerities.

The Saints tells us: "Thou shouldst not, my soul," she says, "thou that art a member, travel by another road than thy Head. An unfit thing it is that limbs should remain delicate beneath a thorn-crowned Head."

That thorn-crowned Head bent continually toward her from the crucifix, and at the sight of the Wounds that her Beloved had borne for her, our Saint, like all true lovers, longed to give Him "blood for blood."

We must remember that closely bound with this ardent love of Christ was the love she had for her fellowmen-----those souls that she longed to draw to Him. All around she saw men and women giving themselves up to a life of sin and to contempt of their Creator, another strong motive for penance. We know from her own words that for the salvation of others she was ready to bear the pains of Hell. "I am fain to offer Thee my body in sacrifice," she said one day to Our Lord, "and to bear all for the world's sins, that Thou mayst spare it, and change its life for another."

It was from Jesus Christ Himself that she learned the value of suffering. One day while she was praying to resist evil and temptation, Our Lord said to her: "Daughter, embrace the Cross and for My sake look on all sweet things as bitter, and all bitter things as sweet, and so be certain that you will always be strong."

When she was seventeen she received the habit of the Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic: the white robe for purity and the black mantle of humility, in the little side chapel of the Church of St. Dominic, which is still fragrant with her memory and which was one of her favorite places to pray. It was here that she was for alms by a poor beggar, and having no money herself, she took the little silver cross from her Rosary and gave it to him.


The next day she was in the chapel again when Jesus appeared to her with a smile and with that little cross ablaze with jewels. "Daughter, knowest thou this cross? Yesterday thou gavest it to Me with a great love and charity, and on the Day of Judgment I will show it in the presence of men and Angels."

He appeared to her in another vision here also, opening her breast and putting in His Own Heart saying, "Lo, most dear daughter Mine, even as the other day I took from thee thy heart, so do I now give thee Mine own, by which thou shalt ever live." The chapel still has the pillar against which Catherine used to lean in her ecstasies and here it was that she received Holy Communion miraculously by the Hands of Christ Himself.

The Sisters of Penance were not consecrated nuns strictly speaking. They lived a holy life in their own homes, working among the poor and nursing the sick. They were mostly elderly women or widows; at first they objected to Catherine's joining them because she was so young, but after having spoken to her they were struck by her wisdom and modesty and they consented readily to accept her.

It seemed to her now as if God had granted her all her heart's desire, and she gave herself up to continual prayer and communion with Our Lord in the little cell that was to her so full of His presence. Heaven was very close to Catherine in her purity and holiness, and the veils that hid the supernatural from the sensible world grew very thin. Sometimes she smelled the fragrance of the lilies of Paradise, and standing by night at her little window, it was given to her to hear the angelic songs of Heaven. Our Lord Himself continually appeared to her, and spoke to her familiarly as "friend to friend." She told her confessor that she could often hear the voices of the Saints singing in the eternal song of praise, and that those who had loved Our Lord the most on earth sang more strongly and sweetly than all the rest. One day she suddenly stopped speaking and seemed rapt in ecstasy. "Do you not hear, Father," she asked him, "with what a high sweet voice the blessed Magdalen sings in the choir of the Blessed?"

Although Catherine knew so much about the things of God, she had no more education than other girls of her class in the fourteenth century. She did not even know how to read, and this was a continual grief to her, for she had a great desire to be able to say the Divine Office and to study the Sacred Scriptures and other holy books. She borrowed an alphabet from her sister and tried to teach herself, but it seemed to her a very difficult thing. Then she prayed to Our Lord and asked Him to be her Teacher, and after that all became easy.

When she was saying the daily Office, Our Lord would come to her in her little cell and walk up and down with her reciting the Psalms. Catherine told her confessor that when she came to the end of the Psalm they were reciting together, instead of saying, as it was written in the prayer book, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son," she would say, "Glory be to the Father and to Thee" and turn to our Blessed Lord as she spoke.

She loved to unite her prayers to those of her brothers, the Dominican friars. From her little cell she could hear the bell that called them to the church for Office. At night while they slept she remained in prayer; but at midnight, when she heard the bell of St. Dominic's ringing for matins, she would rise from her knees. "Lord," she would say, "until now my brethren have slept, and I have watched for them in Thy Presence. Now they are rising to offer Thee their praises; suffer me to take a little rest." Then she would lie down on her hard couch and sleep.

Thus, in the solitude of her little cell, her Divine Spouse was fashioning Catherine after His Own Heart to the work He had for her. The first lesson she was to learn was that of her own weakness and of His strength. "Knowest thou, My daughter," He said to her one day, "what thou art and what I am? I am He Who Is, and thou art that which is not." The second lesson was that of self-forgetfulness. "A soul that loves God perfectly," she told her confessor, "ends by forgetting herself and all other creatures."

But the fashioning was not ended. Catherine had yet to pass through the fires of temptation. The sweet visions ceased; Our Lord seemed to have forsaken her, while her cell was haunted by frightful figures who whispered evil thoughts in her ear and who pursued her even to the church with their hideous suggestions. "Why chastise your body thus?" they said, "you will never have courage to persevere. Life is for enjoyment, not for suffering. You will lose both the joys of this life and the happiness of the next; you will never endure to the end."

Then Catherine set herself to fight bravely and not to look for comfort, for she remembered Our Lord's words to her when she had prayed for strength: "If you suffer with Me, you will also be rewarded; accept all adversities with a willing and cheerful heart." But the evil spirits beset her more and more strongly. "You cannot resist us," they said; "we will give you no peace until you give in to us; we will make your whole life unbearable by our torments."

Then Catherine answered quietly, "I have chosen pain for my comfort; therefore, it will not be difficult for me to bear for the love of my Lord all that you shall do to me." At these words the evil spirits left her, and in the midst of a glorious light she saw Our Lord Himself standing before her. "Mine Own daughter Catherine," He said, "I have suffered for thee; think it not much therefore to suffer for Me." But Catherine asked Him where He had been all the time when she had been beset by such horrible temptations.

"Daughter," He replied, "I was in your heart, taking great delight to see love and holy fear and faith so strong in it. The pains of My servants are no delight to Me, but I rejoice to see their readiness to suffer patiently and gladly for My sake. Now that you have so bravely fought your battle, I will be with you more closely and will visit you more often than before." Then Catherine was filled with a great joy and gladness, and all her pain was forgotten.

She had asked for purity and strength, and God had answered her prayer. "Give me now, O Lord," she prayed, "a more perfect faith, that nothing may ever separate me from Thee"; and Our Lord answered her, "I will espouse thee to Myself in faith." It was at the end of the Carnival time, and everybody in Siena was making merry and thinking only of amusement. Catherine knelt in her little cell praying, for she knew how many sins were being committed during those days of wild enjoyment.

Suddenly a great light shone in her little room and Our Lord appeared to her with the Blessed Virgin, St. John, St. Paul and St. Dominic. Our Blessed Lady took Catherine by the hand and, holding it out to her Divine Son, asked Him to espouse Catherine to Himself. He drew out a ring set with four glistening pearls and a diamond that shone like the sun, which He placed on the finger of Catherine's right hand, saying, "Behold, I have espoused thee to Me, thy Maker and Saviour." Then the vision vanished, but all her life long Catherine could see the ring of her Beloved upon her finger, the token that she belonged to Him forever.

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