St. Catherine of Siena
Took the Crucifix as her Book
Catherine of Siena was a remarkable woman, one of only three women to be given the awesome title of Doctor of the Church in the Twentieth Century; St. Thèrése, the Little Flower and St. Teresa of Avila being the other two. She had an intensely personal relationship with the Lord from the time she was a child. She had a great many mystical experiences with Jesus. They included holding the Baby Jesus in her arms, being mystically married to Jesus, and receiving the wounds of the Crucified Lord in a powerful way.
The Crucifix was her book
We have written at length about this powerful woman, (Bob and Penny Lord's book: Saints and other Powerful Women in the Church) but in this book we are only bringing you some of her mystical encounters with our Lord Jesus, especially the Crucified Jesus and His Passion.
As she had never learned how to read, and Catherine could not study the Gospel to learn more about her Lord, she spent long hours kneeling before the Crucifix. The Wounds of our Savior before her, she prayed she might share in His Suffering. She yearned to feel His Passion in her body.
At an early age, she made a commitment to turn her life over to Jesus. This was when she was a very small child. She knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. She took a vow of Virginity, which did not endear her family towards her. She suffered a great deal in her effort to belong to Jesus alone. She wanted to serve the Lord as a religious, but she did not want to be in a cloister. In those days, women either married, or joined a cloistered religious community.
She wanted to become a Mantellate. (Mantellate - Third Order of St. Dominic, a lay or secular Order. Members were not required to take the vows Nuns of religious Orders made, that is, chastity, poverty and obedience) But even they didn't want her. They only accepted widows - she was a virgin. She was too young and too pretty. She prayed and the Lord worked miraculously, so that the superiors saw her as a weak, ugly girl, which she was not. But it did the trick. They were willing to accept her. Then the enemy began to attack her: What was it, a life of loneliness and hardship, in a dark, little room away from all she loved? Catherine, with what little strength she could summon, threw herself to the foot of the Crucifix, crying,
"O my only, my dearest Bridegroom, You know that I have never desired any but You! Come to my aid now, my Savior, strengthen and support me in this time of trial!"
Her eyes fixed on her Lord on the Cross, she heard the gentle stirring of a silk gown. Before her was the Mother of God, Mary Most Holy holding out to Catherine a silken dress, shimmering from the golden thread, jewels and pearls adorning it. As Mary clothed Catherine in the heavenly gown she had chosen, she said gently, lovingly,
"My daughter, I have drawn this garment from the Heart of my Son. It lay hidden in the wound in His Side, as in a golden casket, and I have made it myself with my own holy hands."
Once more Catherine said "yes" to Jesus' call to an intimate life with Him. She privately took the vows of Nuns who belonged to Religious Orders, poverty, chastity and obedience, although it was not required of her. She stayed in her room, a recluse, except to attend Mass. For three years she lived this solitary life, scourging herself three times a day, denying herself sleep and adequate nourishment, not seeing or hearing anything or anyone outside this little world of hers. Although she allowed no one in her cell, she was never alone. Jesus, sometimes accompanied by His Mother and other times by Saints and Angels, would come and instruct her about God His Father, the Truths of the Gospel, about salvation and sin.
Catherine does battle with the fallen angels
But, Jesus and His Heavenly Companions were not her only spirited visitors. The fallen angels, with their lies and deceptions, never failed to take an opportunity to attack. They let her have it again and again. One night, drenched and drained from the battle that had been ruthlessly ensuing, she had a thought from the Holy Spirit. She remembered the day she had asked the Lord for the gift of Fortitude. The Lord's words came back to her, "If you want to have the strength to overcome all the enemy's attacks, take the Cross as your refreshment." Fortified by the Lord's words, she stood ground, to do battle with the little devils.
Finally, the demons dispersed. The Lord appeared for the first time since the attacks had begun. Catherine asked the Lord where He had been during the onslaught. He replied, "I was in your heart." Catherine told the Lord she could not understand how the enemy could be attacking her if He had been there. When He asked her if her temptations brought her enjoyment or sorrow, she shared her feelings of repulsion and her intense trial. He told her it was He who planted those feelings. If He had not been in the center of her heart, the thoughts and temptations of the enemy would have pleased her instead of displeasing her.
According to the Life of St. Catherine, written by Blessed Raymond of Capua, her confessor and confidant, in an Apparition which took place about the year 1372, she was given a special gift, one which would stay with her for the rest of her life. She was allowed to drink of the Blood of Jesus, from His Side. She shared with Blessed Raymond that after drinking the Blood of Jesus, she couldn't eat anymore. She was neither hungry, nor could she hold anything in her stomach, other than the Sacred Species, the Body and Blood of Jesus. (excerpt from Bob and Penny Lord's book: This is My Body, This is My Blood, Miracles of the Eucharist ) She became what is called a Eucharistic Faster. She lived on nothing but the Blessed Sacrament. This continued for eight years. Her fasting did not affect her life. She was full of energy during that period. As a matter of fact, some of her greatest work took place during that period. Nor did it have anything to do with her death. She was able to live a normal life on nothing but Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, and some sips of water.
Catherine chooses the Crown of Thorns
From her youngest years, Catherine was being called to a closer walk with Jesus. He always accompanied that call with a sign to strengthen her for the gift of that walk, and the days ahead with that gift. One day Jesus appeared to Catherine with two crowns, one of thorns and one of gold, asking Catherine which she chose. Catherine pointed to the crown of thorns. Jesus replied,
"You have chosen well. That you have chosen the crown of thorns for your time on earth, you will wear this crown of gold for all eternity when you come to make your new life with Me."
Jesus replaces Catherine's heart with His Own
Another time, Jesus took Catherine's heart and replaced it with His Own. During this exchange of hearts, Catherine later confessed to her Spiritual Director she was without a heart for days, as she waited for Jesus to replace her stony heart with His Unconditional, Loving, Compassionate, Merciful and Forgiving Heart, with which she was then able to love unconditionally, returning hate with love, envy with generosity, abuse with mercy and patience, forgiving all for their malice and gossip.
The Miracle of the Cross - Catherine receives the Stigmata
Whenever Catherine went anywhere, she drew people to herself. She radiated such a strong spirituality that people wanted to follow her example. She went to Pisa in response to an invitation she received. She spent a great deal of time at a little church called St. Christina. One day, after having received Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, she meditated on the crucifix on the altar. She was there for some time when she felt a strange sensation overcoming her. She felt herself coming closer and closer to the Crucified Christ. Then, in an instant, she saw flames shoot out from the five Wounds of Jesus and penetrate her body, in her hands, her feet and her side.
Blessed Raymond was in the chapel when it happened. In his words, she was transfigured into the Image of Jesus Christ. He had just finished celebrating Mass for Catherine and her companions when she went into ecstasy, "her soul separating as much as it could from the body." They saw her body, which had been prostrate on the floor, rise. Mid-air, she kneeled, her face aglow with the fire of Jesus' Love inside of her. Then with a tremor, her body fell in a heap onto the floor. Her companions waited for her words, as she came out of the rapture. It was her practice, always, to share what the Lord had told her or what had transpired during an ecstasy. This time, however, it was different. Catherine awoke after a few moments, and went directly to Raymond.
"Father, I must tell you, that by His Mercy, I now bear the Stigmata of the Lord Jesus in my body," "I saw our Lord fastened to the Cross, coming down upon me in a blaze of light. With that, as my spirit leaped to meet its Creator, this poor body was pulled upright. Then I saw, springing from the marks on His Most Sacred Wounds, five blood-red rays coming down upon me, directed towards my hands and feet and heart. Realizing the meaning of this mystery, I promptly cried out: `Ah, Lord, my God, I implore You not to let the marks show outwardly on my body. (The members of her Company reported that the wounds of the stigmata, although invisible during her life, became visible upon Catherine's death.) Whilst these words were still on my lips, before the rays had reached me, their blood-red color changed to radiant brightness, and it was in the form of clearest light they fell upon the five parts of my body - hands, feet and heart."
Although Raymond continued asking her if she did not mean the wound was in her side, she insistently repeated over and over again, no, it was in her heart. Raymond writes of the excruciating pain she suffered bearing the Precious Wounds of our Lord Jesus. Although Catherine had known pain all her life, this so debilitated her, she was in a coma for a week. Fearing she was dying, all her friends, including Raymond, prayed night and day. Not able to stir from her bed, feeling all the torture of Christ's Wounds cruelly rubbing against the blunt hard nails, she, too, was sure she was dying. Nothing helped to alleviate the agony and exhaustion that were companions of the Stigmata. Catherine returned home from Pisa but this did not improve her condition. Her mornings were pure hell for her, as she tried to get up from bed, having had barely an hour's sleep the night before. Only the loving support of her friends in the Mantellate, and the eyes of her heart focused solely on the Eucharist, gave Catherine the strength to painfully rise from bed.
Feeling some relief from the pain, Catherine consoled Raymond, "The Lord has heard your prayers, and it is now my soul which is afflicted with suffering; but as for my body, these wounds no longer cause it pain, but rather lend it force and vigor. I can feel strength flowing into me from those wounds which at first only added to my sufferings."
Catherine gave her last ounce of blood for her Church. Near the end of her painful journey on earth, her friends heard her say,
"O Eternal God, accept the sacrifice of my life for the mystical body of Thy Holy Church. I have nothing to give save that which Thou hast given to me. Take my heart then and press it out over the face of Thy Spouse!"
She saw God take her heart from her body and squeeze it out over the Church. As long as Catherine had a breath of life in her to give, she prayed and sacrificed for her love on earth, Mother Church. She instructed her companions she would continue to fight for her Church even after death.
"Father, into Thy Hands I commend my spirit."
She had had a Vision in the early part of 1380, in which the ship of the Church crushed her to the earth. At that moment, she offered herself as a willing sacrifice. She was to be ill from this time until April 21 of that year, when she suffered a paralytic stroke from the waist down. On April 29, she went to her reward.
Catherine, with her last faint breath of life, continued to gaze on her Spouse on the Cross, whispering over and over again, "Blood, blood, blood." She was joining Christ on the Cross, for the last time on earth; His Last Great Act of Love becoming her last great act. On Sunday, Catherine whispered for the last time, "Father, into Thy Hands I commend my spirit," and she went Home.
On October 4th, 1970, a lay woman, a woman without formal education, considered by some almost illiterate, our sister Catherine, a Saint, only one of three women to be so honored, was chosen as a Doctor of the Church.