Acta Sanctorum: St. Catherine of Siena (Apr 29)
April 29, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.


Life (1347? - 1380)

Stars differ in “magnitude”. So do saints. Some clearly excel others. But, of all the spiritual stars, Catherine of Siena is one of the very greatest.

Catherine was the 23rd child of James Benincasa, a devout dyer of Siena, and his hard-working but unimaginative wife, Lapa. From the age of reason, she showed herself a bright and religious child. When she was only seven, she had a vision which prompted her to decide never to marry. As she matured, her parents even brought pressure on her to enter marriage. But she stood firm, and eventually they consented to her wish to join the Third Order of the Dominicans and to live a hidden life of prayer and self-discipline in her own home. During the next three years, 1365-1368, she advanced so rapidly in her prayer-life that Christ appeared to her and took her as his special “bride”. Catherine now received from Him an order to leave her little domestic “hermitage” and carry his message of love to the outside world.

Between 1368 and 1374, Catherine Benincasa became accepted by a large number of men and women, young and old as their spiritual “mother”. To them, she began to write an important series of letters – soul counsel. As time went on, she also wrote about international concerns, including a projected crusade of Christians against the Turks. In 1374 opponents arose to criticize her as a presumptuous busy-body. But the Dominican Fathers, having examined her beliefs and attitudes, placed their stamp of approval on her and her work. Clearly, she was a born leader.

Between 1374 and 1378, Catherine was called upon to exercise a broad influence in public affairs. The Republic of Florence, at odds with Pope Gregory XI, sent her to visit the Pope at Avignon, France, to make peace between Florence and the papal states. She failed in that task, but she was more successful in urging the Pope, who, like several of his predecessors had been living in France, to return to his proper residence, Rome. It was during these years that she achieved her widest influence. At the same time she began to write her Dialogues, in which she set forth loyal but strong criticisms of the public faults of some Church leaders. In these years, too, she received the grace of the stigmata – Christ’s wounds on her body.

When Gregory XI died in Rome in 1378, the cardinals elected an Italian archbishop as his successor, Urban VI. But when these cardinals found that Urban would not cater to them, they forthwith declared his election invalid, and chose another prelate as Pope Clement VI. Clement, a Frenchman, settled in Avignon. Thus began that terrible tragedy, the Great Schism of the West. It lasted 37 years, and during this period Catholics were sorely divided on the question which was the true Pope.

Catherine defended the claim of Urban VI, even though she sometimes scolded him for imprudence in his words and actions. This grievous division of Christendom brought her from Siena to Rome, where she spent the rest of her life. She was constantly in correspondence with princes and prelates of many lands to win them over to Pope Urban. Even more importantly, she offered herself as a victim to God for the peace of the Church; and she suffered much.

It was in Rome that Catherine died and was buried, at the age of only 33. Considered a saint in her own lifetime, and hailed by later generations as “the greatest woman in Christendom”. Catherine of Siena was canonized (her feast is April 29) in 1461. On October 4, 1970, Pope Paul VI bestowed on her the title of “doctor of the Church”. She was only the second woman to be given that honor. The first was St. Teresa of Avila, proclaimed a “doctor of the Church” by the same pope just a week earlier.

Catherine of Siena was absolutely outstanding for her devotion to the Church. She viewed it as an extension of her “Sweet Jesus”.

How great and how firm is our devotion to the Church that Christ founded to save mankind? It should increase the older we become!

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture: 1 John 1:5-2:2
Beloved: This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
  My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.

(Year A) Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. 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. Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognise that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God! (Dialogue 167)

Musical Selection
Salve lux mundi, rex regum et
glória. Salve spes nostra, salve salvans
ómnia protége, munda, bénedic,
salvífica plebem quam tuo redemísti
Salva Redémptor, plasma
tuum nóbile, signátum sancto vultus
tui lúmine, ne lacerári sinas fraude
daemónum, propter quod mortis
exsolvísti prétium. 
Dole captívos
esse tuos sérvulos, absólve reos,
compéditos érige, et quos cruóre
redemísti próprio, Rex Bone, tecum
fac gaudére pérpetim. 
Sit tibi Jesu,
benedícte Dómine, glória, virtus,
honor et impérium. Una cum Patre
Sanctóque Paráclito, cum quibus
regnas, Deus ante sáecula. Amen.
Hail, Light of the World, King of
Kings and Glory. Hail, our hope, hail,
you who preserve all things. Protect,
cleanse, bless and save your people,
whom you have redeemed with your
Preserve, Redeemer your
noble creature, marked with the sacred
light of your countenance. Let him not
be torn by harmful friends, the one for
whom you paid the price of death. 

Grieve that your humble servants are
captives, absolve the guilty, raise up the
shackled, and, those whom you have
redeemed with your own blood, good
King, make them rejoice with you
May glory, power, honor
and dominion be to you, Jesus, blessed
Lord, together with the Father and the
Holy Paraclete, with whom you have
reigned as God from of old.
O God,
you set the heart of Saint Catherine on fire with divine love
as she contemplated the passion of your Son
and ministered to the needs of your Church.
Grant through her intercession
that, caught up in the mystery of Christ,
we may always rejoice in the revelation of his glory.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen. (ICEL; 1998)