Dominican Saints 101: St. Catherine of Siena
April 28, 2012
Trying to sum up St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380, feast – April 29, patron saint of many things but particularly of Europe and the sick) is a daunting task. She was the recipient of an invisible stigmata, she convinced the Pope to return from Avignon to Rome, and she is one of the three female Doctors of the Church. Each of these could merit its own post as they all reveal something special about Catherine. Yet, I think that there are two things that come to mind, and which are related, that help us to understand Catherine better: being espoused to Christ and being an intercessor for men. In his biography of St. Catherine, Bl. Raymund of Capua (her spiritual director) shows the clear connection between these two ideas. He wrote this:
The Virgin Mother of God took in her own all-holy hand Catherine’s right hand, spread out its fingers, and held them towards her Son; then she petitioned him, in his goodness, to espouse Catherine to him in faith. The only-begotten Son of God most graciously consented. He drew out a gold ring set with four pearls and surmounted by a splendid diamond. With his all-holy right hand he placed it on the ring-finger of Catherine’s right hand, saying as he did so: ‘Behold, I espouse you in faith to me, your Creator and your Savior. That faith will be ever kept untarnished until the day when you will celebrate with me the everlasting wedding-feast in heaven. So now, daughter, do manfully. From now on you must never falter about accepting any task my providence may lay upon your shoulders. Remember, you have been confirmed in faith, and will prevail over all your enemies.’ (The Life of Catherine of Siena, part 1, ch. 12, para. 115)
Christ, then, joins Catherine to Himself in a mystical espousal so as to aid her in her task of persevering through any challenges that will befall her. Behind this is the idea of charity. It’s more natural to want to provide for the request of someone you love than for an enemy. When Christ espouses Catherine to Himself, He joins her in such a way that this mutual giving and receiving can more fruitfully take place. Christ asks a lot from Catherine in her life, and she is faithful to Him. Likewise, Catherine asks a lot from Christ, and He too is faithful. Miracle after miracle, Catherine turns to Christ and asks Him to assist those whom He has brought into her life. Whether it’s pleading with criminals, assisting those at the hour of death, or healing the sick, Catherine’s love for Christ and His love for her bring about numerous miracles. Thus, her intercession for men, founded on her espousal to Christ, brings about the healings of bodies and souls. May Catherine’s intercession likewise lead Christ to heal our souls. O God, you enabled the blessed Catherine, graced with a special privilege of virginity and patience, to overcome the attacks of evil spirits and to remain unshaken in your love; grant, we beseech you, that following her example by treading underfoot the wickedness of the world, and overcoming the wiles of our enemies, we may pass in safety to your glory. Through Christ our Lord.