Catherine Benincasa was born in Siena, Italy, on March 25, 1347, the day of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday. Catherine was the penultimate of a family of 25 children. Her father was a cleaner and her mother ran the house, which still exists in Siena. From her earliest childhood, Catherine developed a mystical life. At the age of six, she had a first vision of Christ clothed in pontifical ornaments, beside him were the Apostles Peter, John and Paul. In response to this vision that deeply marked her, Catherine made a vow of virginity and lived in prayer and penance. Her parents wished to marry her and entrust her with household chores hoping to divert her from her fears.
At the age of 16, Catherine had a vision of Saint Dominic, following which she entered the Dominican Third Order, in the feminine branch known as the Mantellate. Therefore, while remaining in her family as a lay person, she devoted herself to prayer, penance and charitable works, especially with the sick and the pestilent. Gradually her reputation for holiness and peacemaking within families became known. Catherine carried out an intense activity of spiritual advice to all categories of people: nobles, politicians, artists, people, consecrated persons, ecclesiastics, etc. Catherine would even energetically and effectively advise Pope Gregory XI, who at that time resided in Avignon, to return to Rome. Around her began to form a true spiritual family made up of many people, fascinated by the moral authority and holiness of life of this young woman. Catherine impressed people with the mystical phenomena that marked her life such as her frequent ecstasies. Many people put themselves at her service and became her spiritual sons, calling her "mother." Accompanied by her disciples, she traveled throughout Italy and the South of France, a true ambassador and peacemaker.
Throughout her life, Catherine received an abundance of mystical grace. In 1368, during a vision, Catherine was presented to Jesus by the Virgin, and Christ gave her a splendid ring, saying to her: "I, your Creator and Savior, marry you in faith, which you will always keep pure until you celebrate with me your eternal wedding." Another episode of Catherine's mystical life is the exchange of heart. The Lord appeared to her holding a red human heart in his hand, and he opened his chest, and brought it in, and said to her, “My dear little girl, just as one day I took the heart that you offered me, now I give you mine, and from now on it will take the place that yours occupied.” Catherine's whole life was a miracle, she received the stigma, had the "gift of tears" and several times the wafer flew away from the priest's hands to come directly to Catherine. The young woman ended her life in Rome and died at the age of 33, on April 29, 1380. Saint Catherine of Siena is celebrated on the day of her birth in Heaven, April 29.
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Catherine of Siena was canonized in 1461 by Pius II. In 1970 Paul VI declared her Doctor of the Church. She is the second woman to bear this title, after Saint Teresa of Avila and before Saint Therese of Lisieux. Pius IX made her the co-patroness of the city of Rome and Pius XII proclaimed her patroness of Italy on the same level as Saint Francis of Assisi. In 1999, John Paul II declared her co-patroness of Europe, alongside Saint Bridget of Sweden and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Under the main altar of the Basilica of Saint Mary of Minerva in Rome is the marble tomb where the body of Saint Catherine of Siena is preserved. The tomb dates back to the fifteenth century and was restored in 1999. The body of the saint is housed in the upper part. The head of Saint Catherine is located in a reliquary in the Basilica of San Domenico, also known as Basilica Cateriniana, in Siena.
Catherine learned to read and write in adulthood with great difficulty. Despite this, she managed to form a spiritual work of immense wealth. Her complete work consists of three groups:
Correspondence: one preserves from Saint Catherine 378 letters addressed to the most diverse people: popes, cardinals, bishops, kings, queens, religious, people of any condition. Catherine begins all her letters with the formula: “In the name of Jesus the crucified and the sweet Mary. I, Catherine, servant …” This indicates that she is acting for Christ and that her opinions are to be received as the expression of the divine will. On the other hand, Catherine is the creator of
The collection of prayers: there are 26 prayers of Saint Catherine. It was her disciples who gathered them as she prayed, visibly out loud and especially some during her ecstasy.
The Dialogue of Divine Providence, or Book of Divine Doctrine: it is a masterpiece of spiritual literature. Dictated between 1377 and 1378, it relates conversations between God the Father and Catherine, it constitutes a synthesis of her spirituality and his doctrine.
Raymond of Capua, future master general of the Dominican Order, became the confessor and "spiritual son" of Saint Catherine, it was he who wrote the first complete biography of the saint. It bears witness to Saint Catherine's magnificent spiritual heritage.
In her work of Dialogue, St Catherine describes Christ as a bridge between heaven and Earth. This bridge consists of three steps formed by the feet, the side and the mouth of Jesus. By rising through these steps, the soul goes through the three stages of sanctification: the detachment from sin, the practice of virtue and love, the gentle and loving union with God. Here is a passage that testifies to Saint Catherine's keen love for Christ: "By mercy, you have washed us in the Blood, by mercy, you wanted to converse with creatures. O love fool! It wasn't enough for you to embody yourself, but you wanted to die too! [...] O mercy! My heart suffocates when I think of you: for wherever I turn, I find nothing but mercy. "
Catherine, although aware of the human faults of priests, has always had a very great respect for them. Through the sacraments and the Word, priests dispense the saving power of the Blood of Christ. Saint Catherine has always invited priests, and also the Pope, whom she called "sweet Christ of the Earth", to be faithful to their responsibilities. The saint of Siena was always animated by a deep and constant love for the Church, before she died, she said: "As I leave my body, I have indeed consumed and given my life in the Church and for the Holy Church, which is a very special grace to me". In proclaiming her co-patroness of Europe, John Paul II said of her: "the young Sienese woman entered with a sure look and words of fire into the heart of the ecclesial problems of her time".
O Holy Spirit, come into my heart: by your power draw Him to you, O true God, and grant me charity at the same time as fear.
O Christ, keep me from all evil thoughts: warm me and set me on fire with your most sweet love, and all sorrow will seem light to me.
O my holy Father, my sweet Lord, now help me in all my actions. Christ Love! Christ Love!
O Mary, Temple of the Trinity, O Mary, bearer of fire, Mary, distributor of mercy, Mary, who has sprouted the divine fruit!...
O Mary, tranquil sea, peacemaker, Mary, fruitful land. You are the new tree that bore the fragrant flower of the Word, the only Son of God.
In you, fruitful land, was sown the Word. You are both the earth and the tree.
Oh Mary, chariot of fire, you carried the hidden fire and veil under the ashes of your humanity.
O Mary, vessel of humility, within you is preserved and shines the light of true science, with which you, rising above yourself, have charmed the eternal Father...
O Mary, you have become the book where our law is written. Today, you have written in yourself the Wisdom of the Eternal Father...
O Mary, blessed be thou forever among all women, for in this day thou hast given us the bread of thy flour: the divinity has been united and mingled with mankind, so strongly that henceforth nothing, neither death nor our ingratitude, will be able to break the union.