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 3
DROP LETTERHE solitude and the silence of the little cell beneath her father's house had grown so dear to Catherine that she would gladly have stayed in it for the rest of her life, but this was not God's will for her. She was destined for a great mission; hers was to be the work of an apostle, the winning of souls for Christ.
It was about this time that He made known to her His desire that she should begin to take part in the family life of the household and tend the poor and the sick in her own town of Siena. The life of prayer was not to cease, but it was to go hand in hand with action. It was a sacrifice to Catherine to give up the quiet life that she loved so much, but she had learned to renounce her own desires and to find her happiness in the will of God. The household of Jacomo Benincasa and his wife Lapa was a large and busy one. Several of the elder sisters and brothers were married and lived with their children in their father's house. Catherine could find plenty to do at home as well as abroad. Looking upon herself as the last and the least of all, she was always ready to do what was hardest, making herself the servant of everyone who was in need of help. Though constantly in pain, for the austerities she practiced had affected her health, she was always cheerful and merry, and the radiant happiness of her face impressed everyone who saw her. The sick and the poor were her especial care, and Jacomo allowed her to give freely from his little store to all who were in want.

Perhaps the greatest proof of true holiness is the patient bearing of injuries and affronts. It seems, says St. Ambrose, as if all who are called to a very close and intimate friendship with God have sooner or later to pass this test.
In one of the hospitals in the town lay a poor woman so terribly afflicted with leprosy that no one would attend to her. Catherine offered to be her nurse, and would go every day after hearing Mass at St. Dominic's to wash and dress her sores, make her bed and prepare her food. Lapa, who was afraid that her daughter might contract the terrible disease, begged her not to run such a risk, but Catherine replied that what she was doing she did for God, Who would not let her suffer in consequence.

The poor woman, who was at first grateful for the tender care she received, soon began to presume on the charity and humility of her nurse. If Catherine were a moment late, she would scold and abuse her as if she had been her slave, and find fault with everything that she did. "Have patience a moment, dear mother," Catherine would gently answer, "and I will do all as you wish"; and the more her ungrateful patient abused her, the more tenderly and lovingly did she serve her. At last, as the disease increased in violence, the terrible signs of it appeared on Catherine's hands. Lapa was loud in her outcries, but her daughter, wholly forgetful of herself, continued to tend the poor creature until her death. Then, when she had prepared the body for burial-----for no one else would touch it-----her trust in God was justified and she was miraculously healed.

This came to the ears of one of the Sisters of Penance, an old woman called Palmerina who, though she had given her wealth to the service of God, was of a proud and envious disposition. She could not bear to hear others praised and, conceiving a great dislike for the gentle young Sister of whom everybody spoke with admiration, never let pass an occasion of saying hard things about her.

It was a great distress to Catherine that she should be the cause of sin to another, and hearing that Palmerina was very ill and not expected to live, she went to her to see if she could not win her to a better frame of mind. Her efforts only seemed to increase the bitterness and the hatred in the old woman's heart, and after listening impatiently for a few moments, she cursed her visitor and bade her begone.

Then Catherine had recourse to prayer and for three days besought Our Lord that she, whose only desire was to bring souls to Him, might not be the cause of the loss of this one. Her prayers were heard. Palmerina sent for her and, after having asked her pardon for all that she had said against her, received the Last Sacraments and died in peace. After her death Our Lord made it known to Catherine that it was through her earnest prayers that this soul had been saved; and she, after thanking Him with deep humility, asked as a special grace that it might in the future be given to her to see the souls of those with whom she conversed, rather than their bodies. This gift God granted to her, as we shall see.

It was often from her own sisters in religion and from good people that Catherine had the most to suffer. They could not understand the way in which God was leading her, and they sometimes distrusted her conduct. So great was her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament that after Communion she would often remain for several hours in an ecstasy, without moving or being conscious of anything around her. "Why could she not behave like other people," they asked, "and go home quietly after Mass? Who was Catherine Benincasa that she should set herself up as being a Saint?" They even induced the Dominican friars to change her confessor and to deprive her of Holy Communion.

 Catherine bore it all with her usual patience and humility, believing that they were really seeking the good of her soul. When she was told that some people looked on her as a hypocrite and a deceiver, she only answered that she was indeed the greatest of sinners and that she would like to kiss the feet of those who knew her so well.

A certain Franciscan of Pisa, Fra Lazzarino, had heard of Catherine's ecstasies and was convinced that she was an impostor. He did not conceal his opinion when talking with others, especially when he was sent to Siena to lecture on philosophy. Seeing, however, that the people would not believe him, he resolved to visit Catherine and try to make her commit herself in some way. For this purpose he went to Fra Bartolommeo, a Dominican friar who was a friend of Catherine's, and asked to be taken to her house. Fra Bartolommeo, who felt sure of the results of the interview, consented at once.

As soon as they were seated in her cell, Fra Lazzarino remarked that he had heard so much of Catherine's holiness that he had come to visit her in order that her conversation might edify and comfort his soul. To this Catherine replied humbly that he, learned in the Scriptures and an eloquent preacher, was much more fitted to comfort her poor little soul than she was to help him. This was not quite what he had expected, and after a short time he rose to go, saying that he would return another time. Then Catherine, kneeling modestly before him, begged for his blessing and his prayers, and he, more as a matter of form than because he desired it, asked her to pray for him, to which she gladly consented.

During that night and all the next day the Franciscan was beset by such a deep sense of contrition that he could do nothing but shed tears, and at last he began to ask himself in what way he had offended God. A voice answered in his heart, "Have you forgotten that last night, although you were not in earnest, you asked My servant Catherine to pray for you?" At this Fra Lazzarino hastened to Catherine's house and, falling at her feet, besought her to direct him in the way of God. Catherine begged him to rise and, at last, at his earnest entreaty, told him that it was God's will that he should practice more perfectly his vow of poverty, following his Lord in nakedness and humility. The Franciscan realized, as she spoke, how greatly he had been at fault on this point, and he determined to follow his rule more strictly. He became one of the holiest and humblest of the followers of St. Francis and a true friend to St. Catherine.
Her trials, however, were not yet ended. A woman called Andrea, who belonged to the Sisters of Penance, was dying of cancer, and so noisome was the disease that no one had courage to remain near her. Catherine, on hearing this, went with her usual charity to offer her services to the sick woman. Andrea was one of those people who had spoken strongly against Catherine and who were inclined to think that Catherine was a hypocrite. She accepted Catherine's charitable offer, as no one else could be found to assist her, but her mind was full of suspicious thoughts, and in spite of the unselfish love with which her young Sister served her, she denounced Catherine to the Prioress and Sisters of the Penance as a woman of bad life. It was a serious accusation, and Catherine was summoned to answer the charge.

Gently and humbly she replied to every question that she was innocent, but the lie told by Andrea grieved her sorely, and she prayed earnestly to Our Lord that He would Himself prove her innocence. In answer He showed her a crown of beautiful jewels and one of thorns and bade her choose between them. Catherine placed the crown of thorns upon her head. "Since Thou dost bid me choose," she answered, "I choose to be like Thee, and to bear crosses and thorns for Thy love as Thou hast done for love of me."

When the hard things that were being said about Catherine reached the ears of Lapa, she, who was better able than anyone else to judge of the holiness of her daughter's life, was exceedingly angry. She told Catherine that if she went near Andrea again she would no longer look upon her as her child. Catherine was greatly troubled at this and, kneeling at her mother's feet, reminded her that Our Lord had bidden His children to love their enemies and do them good.

"If I should leave Andrea," she continued, "no one would take care of her, and so I should be the cause of her death. It is the devil who is deceiving her, but with God's grace she will know the truth and be sorry for what she has said."
 Lapa could never resist the pleading of her daughter, and Catherine returned to her work of mercy. Her prayers and her charity at last prevailed. Andrea realized that she had been slandering a Saint, and she did all in her power to make reparation for her fault before she died.

The citizens of Siena were gradually becoming aware that there was one in their midst whose holiness made itself manifest to all who approached her, but there were still a few who could not or would not understand. Two friars, one a Franciscan and the other an Augustinian, thought that Catherine was an ignorant woman who was likely to lead others astray. Brother Gabriel, the Franciscan, who was a great theologian, lived, as unfortunately too many of his order were doing at the time, in a spacious cell, handsomely furnished, and surrounded with every luxury like a rich man.

The two, having determined to expose Catherine's ignorance, induced her confessor, Fra Tommaso della Fonte, to take them to see her, and they began at once to ask her the most difficult theological questions, hoping to put her to shame before several of her friends who were present. But God gave wisdom to His little servant, and with gentle humility she spoke to them in such wise of the love of Christ and of His service that they both began to realize how little they knew of either.

"Is there nobody here," cried Brother Gabriel suddenly, "who will for the love of God go and give away everything that I have in my cell?" Henceforward he was faithful to the practice of poverty, and though he held a high position in his convent, he delighted to render the humblest services to his brethren. Both friars became friends and champions of the holy maiden whose burning words had made such an impression on their hearts.

When Catherine was twenty-one years old, Jacomo Benincasa died. He had been a good and tender father to Catherine, full of sympathy and understanding when she needed it the most, and though it was a deep grief to her to lose him, she rejoiced greatly at his readiness to go and at the holiness of his death. She it was who, during the sad days that followed, comforted and cheered her mother and the rest of the household, forgetting all grief in the joy of the knowledge given her by God that the soul of her father had passed from this earth straight to the glory of Heaven.


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