Catherine of Siena moved in remarkably wide circles for a woman of fourteenth century Italy. She was a mystic whose plunge into God plunged her deep into the affairs of society, Church and the souls of all those who came under her influence.(Suzanne Noffke, O.P., The Dialogue, Foreword, xi.)
I am very grateful that I came under St. Catherine’s influence. My patron saint is like an old friend and spiritual mother accompanying me on the spiritual journey. The Catechism affirms, “…The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession” (2156).
Desiring to literally walk in Catherine’s footsteps, in 1992 I made a pilgrimage to Siena, Italy to pray where she prayed and to venerate her relics. At that time, I was in the midst of a reversion to the practice of Catholicism. What attracted me to saints such as Catherine was their radical gift of self to God. I had spent a few years in the grey place of mediocrity. Now, I had decided that discipleship for me would be all or nothing for God. The lives of the saints, particularly Catherine’s, seemed far more meaningful and adventurous than how I was living my young life focused on worldly pursuits that rendered me bored and empty.
Over the years I’ve returned several times to lovely Siena and to St. Catherine’s tomb in Rome’s church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva to contemplate the life and legacy of this great souled doctor of the Church. She is perennially relevant to the interior life of a believer striving to listen, hear and respond to God. I cherish the messages that God the Father gave to Catherine for our edification.
Spiritual Mother to a Pope
There is so very much to appreciate about St. Catherine’s contribution to the Church, not the least of which is her influence as spiritual mother to Pope Gregory XI (r. 1370-1378). Catherine spent three months in Avignon tirelessly working to realize her dream of the pope’s returning to Rome. Pope Gregory apparently resisted, but she persisted and became more convincing when she revealed that she knew of his secret vow that if elected pope he would return the papal residence to Rome. After completing her mission Catherine left Avignon. Then Pope Gregory began having second thoughts due to the influence of some French cardinals. Catherine, considered illiterate, dictated letters urging the pope to fulfill his promise. Note her courage.
I have prayed, and shall pray, sweet and good Jesus that He free you from all servile fear, and that holy fear alone remain. May ardor of charity be in you, in such wise as shall prevent you from hearing the voice of incarnate demons, and heeding the counsel of perverse counselors, settled in self-love, who, as I understand, want to alarm you, so as to prevent your return, saying, “You will die.” Up, Father, like a man! For I tell you that you have no need to fear.
Messages of God the Father
St. Catherine was given the extraordinary gift to listen, hear and record messages from the Eternal Father. Her book, “The Dialogue”, contain the revelations of The Father that affirm and challenge. Here, The Father is our parent and heavenly teacher.
- Pride is born from and nurtured by sensual, inordinate self-love.
- Pride obscures the knowledge of the truth.
- Pride is the enemy of obedience.
- Pride’s pith is impatience.
- Pride blinds the eye of the intellect.
- Pride gives the appearance of tender self-love, but in truth it is cruel.
- Pride causes the greatest poverty and misery,
- Pride deprives of virtue and causes treacherous injustice.
- Pride causes the elect to fall from heights to depths of mortal sin.
- Pride is like a bandage over the eyes of the Spirit.
- Pride perverts judgment.
On Humility & Virtues
- Your humility is tested by the proud, your faith is tried by the unjust, your compassion by the cruel, and your gentleness and kindness by the wrathful.
- The source of humility is the soul’s true knowledge of …self and of my goodness.
- Without humility, the soul would be without discernment. For lack of discernment is set in pride, just as discernment is set in humility.
- Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come to birth, just as the evil give birth to all their vices through their neighbors.
- When I say that humility is tested by pride, I mean that a proud person cannot harm one who is humble, for the humble person smothers pride.
- When you return good for evil you not only prove your own virtue, but often you send out coals ablaze with charity that will melt hatred and bitterness from the heart and mind of the wrathful, even turning their hatred to benevolence.
- Consider the virtue of steadfast courage. It is tested when you have to suffer much from people’s insults and slanders, which would like to drag you away from the way and teaching of the truth either by abuse or flattery.
- Discernment is that light which dissolves all darkness, dissipates ignorance, and seasons every virtue and virtuous deed. It has a prudence that cannot be deceived, a strength that is invincible, a constancy right up to the end, reaching as it does from heaven to earth, that is from the knowledge of me to the knowledge of oneself, from love of me to love of one’s neighbors.
- Discernment’s truly humble prudence evades every devilish and creaturely snare, and with unarmed hand-that is, through suffering—it overcomes the devil and the flesh. By this gentle glorious light the souls sees and rightly despises her own weakness; and so by making a fool of herself she gains mastery in the world, treading it underfoot with her love, scorning it as worthless.
On Free Will
- Each of you have your own vineyard, your soul, in which your free will is the appointed worker during this life.
- Once the time of your life has passed, your “will” can work neither for good nor for evil; but while you live it can till the vineyard of your soul where I have placed it.
- This tiller of your soul (free will) has been given such power that neither the devil nor any other creature can steal it without the will’s consent, for in holy baptism the will was armed with a knife that is love of virtue and hatred of sin. This love of virtue and hatred of sin is found in the blood. For my only-begotten Son gave his blood for you in death out of love for you and hatred for sin, and through the blood you receive life in holy baptism.
On The Blood of Christ
- So the precious life-giving blood of my only-begotten Son, dispelled death and darkness, confounded falsehood, and brought the gift of light and truth.
- For those who are receptive this blood bestowed and accomplished all that they need to be saved and made perfect. But since its gift of life and grace is in proportion to the soul’s readiness and desire, it deals death to the wicked.
- I created humankind anew in the blood of my only-begotten Son and reestablished them in grace, but they have so scorned the graces I have given them and still give them!
- In this life guilt is not atoned for by any suffering simply as suffering, but rather by suffering borne with desire, love, and contrition of heart.
- The value is not in the suffering but in the soul’s desire.
- Likewise, neither desire or nor any other virtue has value or life except through my only-begotten Son, Christ crucified, since the soul has drawn love from him and in virtue follows his footsteps.
- Suffering satisfies for sin then, with gentle unitive love born from the sweet knowledge of my goodness and from the bitterness and contrition the heart finds in the knowledge of itself and its own sins.
- If you should ask me why it is my will that the sins of the clergy should not lessen your reverence for them, this is how I would answer you: Because the reverence you pay to them is not actually paid to them but to me, in virtue of the blood I have entrusted to their ministry. If this were not so, you should pay them as much reverence as anyone else and no more. It is this ministry of theirs that dictates that you should reverence them and come to them, not for what they are in themselves but for the power I have entrusted to them…
- To me redounds every assault they make on my ministers: derision, slander, disgrace, abuse.
- Among all my creatures I have chosen these ministers of mine. They are my anointed ones, stewards of the body and blood of my only-begotten Son—your human flesh joined with my divinity.
Prayer of St. Catherine on Mercy
O eternal Mercy, you who cover over your creatures’ faults!
Your mercy is life-giving. It is the light in which both the upright and sinner’s discover your goodness. Your mercy shines forth in your saints in the height of heaven. And if I turn to the earth, your mercy is everywhere. Even in the darkness of hell your mercy shines, for you do not punish the damned as much as they deserve.
I see your mercy pressing you to give us even more when you leave yourself with us as food to strengthen our weakness, so that we forgetful fools should be forever reminded of your goodness. Every day you give us this food, showing us yourself in the sacrament of the altar within the mystic body of holy Church. And what has done this? Your mercy!
O Mercy! My heart is engulfed with the thought of you! For wherever I turn my thoughts I find nothing but mercy!
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us please.
Note: all quotations of the Eternal Father are gleaned from: Suzanne Noffke, O.P., The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena (Paulist Press, NY, 1980), pg. 1-216.
image: Baldassare Franceschini, Saint Catherine of Siena, 17th century. Dulwich Picture Gallery via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)