Catherine of Siena:
Adapted by Catholic Tradition from
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.
GOD'S WILL-----GOD'S WAY
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
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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
"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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