An Old Prayer for New Times

Many saints have lived through tumultuous times—much like our own. Look no further than the fourteenth century; it seems to bear a striking resemblance to our present state of affairs. In fact, a quick read through one saint’s writings and you would think that she was living today. 

Saint Catherine of Siena was born in the middle of the fourteenth century when the black death swept through Europe. Italy was far from united at the time, for all of the city states were embroiled in near ceaseless warfare (of smaller or larger scale) with one another. At times, the Pope was even placing cities under interdict so that there were many who could not receive the Sacraments on account of their rebellious leaders. Saint Catherine was sometimes called on to act as an intermediary in these conflicts, such as when she traveled to Avignon in order to convince the Pope to lift the interdict on Florence. 

Despite these many tribulations, the Catholic Church and her members persevered through this period of upheaval and uncertainty. And how did they do it? We can look to St. Catherine as a model. Her response to all of the troubles in the world was to implore the Lord to act through his Christian servants, both lay and ordained. She prayed for their renewed fidelity to the vocation God had given them. Whenever she prayed thus, she never failed to include herself as needing the same help she was asking for others. 

Saint Catherine’s humble trust in God can serve as an example for us during these uncertain times. Below is an excerpt from a prayer that she said on Passion Sunday in 1379, a little more than a year before her death at the age of 33. Perhaps you will find her centuries-old appeal to resonate with the needs of our present day and age. 

 

Oh Godhead,
my Love,
I have one thing to ask of you.
When the world was lying sick
you sent your only-begotten Son
as doctor,
and I know you did it for love.
But now I see the world lying completely dead—
so dead that my soul faints at the sight.
What way can there be now
to revive this dead one once more?
For you, God, cannot suffer,
and you are not about to come again
to redeem the world
but to judge it.
How then
shall this dead one be brought back to life?
I do not believe, oh infinite Goodness,
that you have no remedy.

Indeed, I proclaim it:
your love is not wanting,
nor is your power weakened,
nor is your wisdom lessened.
So you want to,
you can,
and you know how
to send the remedy that is needed.
I beg you then,
let it please your goodness
to show me the remedy,
and let my soul be roused to pick it up courageously.

Response: [St. Catherine pauses here to listen to the Lord’s response.]

True,
your Son is not about to come again
except in majesty,
to judge,
as I have said.
But as I see it,
you are calling your servants christs,
and by means of them
you want to relieve the world of death
and restore it to life.
How?
You want these servants of yours
to walk courageously along the Word’s way,
with concern and blazing desire,
working for your honor
and the salvation of souls,
and for this
patiently enduring pain,
torments,
disgrace,
blame—
from whatever source these may come.
For these finite sufferings,
joined with their infinite desire,
you want to refresh them— 
I mean, you want to listen to their prayers
and grant their desires.
But if they were merely to suffer physically,
without this desire,
it would not be enough
either for themselves or for others—
any more than the Word’s Passion,
without the power of the Godhead,
would have satisfied
for the salvation of the human race.

Oh best of remedy-givers!
Give us then these christs,
who will live in continual watching
and tears
and prayers
for the world’s salvation.
You call them your christs
because they are conformed with your only-begotten Son.
Ah, eternal Father!
Grant that we may not be foolish,
blind,
or cold,
or see so darkly
that we do not even see ourselves,
but give us the gift of knowing your will.

I have sinned, Lord.
Have mercy on me!

I thank you,
I thank you,
for you have granted my soul refreshment—
in the knowledge you have given me
of how I can come to know
the exaltedness of your charity
even while I am still in my mortal body,
and in the remedy I see you have ordained
to free the world from death.

“Prayer 19” in The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, trans. Suzanne Noffke (San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 2001), 212-15.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the Dominican student blog for the Province of St. Joseph, and it appears here with kind permission.

Image: Giovanni di Paolo, Saint Catherine of Siena Dictating Her Dialogues by Sailko / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

Br. Bartholomew Calvano, O.P.

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Br. Bartholomew Calvano received a B.A. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry/Mathematics/Computer Science from Rutgers. He worked for two years with The Brotherhood of Hope, helping out with campus ministry at Northeastern University in Boston, before entering the Order of Preachers in 2015.

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