Today is the – in the post-Conciliar, modern, non-traditional – Ordinary Form – Novus Ordo Calendar – Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Patroness of Europe and named by Paul VI as Doctor of the Church. Thus, her life and works reflect something of the Church’s own role as Teacher. Her head may be venerated in Siena and the rest of her in Rome in the Church Santa Maria sopra Minerva (near the ecclesiastical tailor Gammarelli where we are having vestments made – PLEASE CONTRIBUTE!)
Benedict XVI gave a wonderful general audience address about here. HERE
During my recent exile/sojourn in New York City, and during one of my visits to the Met, I spotted three little paintings depicting moments in the life of this great saint. These panels, tempera and gold leaf on wood, were part of an altarpiece commissioned after Catherine was canonized in 1460. They are based on her biography by Bl. Raymond of Capua (+1399), who was Catherine’s spiritual director. Think about that, Fathers! There are two more of these panels in another part of the Met, but it was closed off the day I was there.
This panel shows a common theme for Catherine, her “mystical marriage” with the Lord, as he places a ring on her finger.
According to Bl. Raymond, Christ appeared to Catherine holding a human heart in his hand. He opened her side and put the heart into her saying, “Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it for ever”. Thus, Catherine experience what St. Paul wrote, “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me.” (Gal 2:20). She has the mystical-cloud, floating-above-the-rooftops thing going on and, from His gestures, you can tell that the Lord is talking to her. For her part, she gestures to herself, as if to say, “Unworthy me?”
Again according to Bl. Raymond:
“For the seven year period prior to her death, Saint Catherine of Siena took no food into her body other than the Eucharist. Her fasting did not affect her energy, however. She maintained a very active life during those seven years. As a matter of fact, most of her great accomplishments occurred during that period. Not only did her fasting not cause her to lose energy, but became a source of extraordinary strength, she becoming stronger in the afternoon, after having received our Lord in His Eucharist.
In Rome there is a chapel where Catherine received Communion in this manner and priests can say Mass there.
NB: Talk about “turning your back to the people!” I always enjoy these old depictions of Mass. You can see interesting details, such as vestments, etc.
So, there is a little touch of Catherine for you today.
I will also call to your minds something she wrote about Popes.
Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him, but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom. He who rebels against our Father is condemned to death, for that which we do to him we do to Christ: we honor Christ if we honor the Pope; we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the Pope. I know very well that many defend themselves by boasting: “They are so corrupt, and work all manner of evil!” But God has commanded that, even if the priests, the pastors, and Christ-on-earth were incarnate devils, we be obedient and subject to them, not for their sakes, but for the sake of God, and out of obedience to Him.
— Saint Catherine of Siena in St. Catherine of Siena, SCS, p. 201-202, p. 222.
And, to Florentines, who were rebelling against Pope Gregory XI:
“He who rebels against our Father, Christ on earth, is condemned to death, for that which we do to him, we do to Christ in heaven – we honor Christ if we honor the pope, we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the pope… I tell you that God will and has so commanded that even if the priests and the pastors of the Church and Christ on earth were incarnate devils, it is seemly that we are obedient and subject to them, not for their sake, but for the sake of God, out of obedience to Him, for He wills that we should act thus.
“Know that the son is never in the right against the father, even if the father is ever so evil and unjust, for so great is the good which he has received from the father, that is, life itself, that he can never repay him for it. And we have received the life of grace from the Church, which is so great a benefit, that we can never, by any kind of homage or gratitude, pay the debt we owe.”
From Anne Baldwin’s Catherine of Siena: A Biography. Huntington, IN: OSV Publishing, 1987, pp.95-6