Friday, September 15, 2006

SAINT CATHERINE of GENOA Widow (1447-1510)

Saint Catherine Fieschi, daughter of a Viceroy of Naples, was born in Genoa. Her family, rich in great men, had given to the Church two popes, nine cardinals and two archbishops. Catherine, noble in birth, rich, and exceedingly beautiful, had as a child rejected the solicitations of the world, and begged her divine Master for some share in His sufferings. Despite her ardent desire to enter the cloister, at sixteen years of age she found herself promised in marriage to a young nobleman of dissolute habits. She was obliged to obey her parents’ intentions. Her spouse treated her with such harshness that after five years, wearied by his cruelty, she somewhat relaxed the strictness of her state and entered into the worldly society of Genoa. At length, enlightened by divine grace as to the danger of her state, she resolutely broke with the world and entered upon a life of rigorous penance and prayer. Having seen Jesus with His cross, and heard His reproaches, “O love!” she cried, “I will sin no longer!”

For twenty-three years she could take no nourishment but Holy Communion, and she drank only a little water mingled with vinegar and salt. Every day she prayed for six to seven hours on her knees, and never relaxed this practice. Her heroic fortitude was sustained by the constant thought of the holy souls of purgatory, whose sufferings were revealed to her, and whose state she has described in a treatise full of heavenly wisdom.

The charity with which she devoted herself to the service of the hospitals, undertaking the most disagreeable offices with joy, caused the administrators of the large hospital of Genoa to confide it entirely to her government. She served there without any remuneration whatsoever. Her examples also induced her husband to practice patience and amend his ways; before he died he joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and faithfully followed its penitential exercises. A long, grievous and mysterious illness during the last nine years of her own life served to perfect her union with God. The most able physicians could not help Saint Catherine, and judged that her illness was not from natural causes. Her first biographer wrote an account in detail of her last month on earth, and assures the Church that she left this mortal life in a state of total purification. She died on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14, 1510.

Reflection: The constant thought of purgatory will help us not only to escape its dreadful pains, but also to avoid the least imperfection which hinders our approach to God.


Chapter vi

How she was withdrawn by God from the use of her senses. Of three rules given her by the Lord, and of certain words chosen from the Our Father and Hail Mary, and from the whole of the Holy Scripture.

After the four years above mentioned, her mind became clear and free, and so filled with God that nothing else ever entered into it. At mass and instructions her bodily senses were closed; but interiorly, in the divine light, she saw and heard many things, being wholly absorbed in secret delights; and it was not in her power to do otherwise. It is wonderful, that with all this interior occupation, God did not allow her to depart from the usual order. Whenever it was needful, she returned to her accustomed mode of life, answered the questions put to her, and thus she gave no cause of complaint to any one. She was sometimes so lost in the sense of divine love, that she was obliged to hide herself, for she was like one dead. In order to escape such a condition, she endeavored to remain in the company of others, and said to her Lord: "I wish not, O sweet Love, for that which proceeds from thee, but for thyself alone!" She wished to love God without soul and without body, and unsustained by them, with a direct, pure, and sincere, love; but the more she shunned these consolations, the more her Lord bestowed them upon her. Sometimes she was found in a remote place, prostrate on the earth, her face covered with her hands, so completely lost in the sweetness of divine love, that she was insensible to the loudest cry.  At other times she would walk back and forth, as if lost to self, and following the attraction of love.  Sometimes, when she had been thus lifeless for the space of six hours, she would be aroused suddenly by the voices of persons calling her, and attend to their smallest wants, for she abandoned as hateful all right to self. On these occasions she came forth from her retirement, with a glowing countenance, like a cherub ready to exclaim: "Who will separate me from the love of God," with all the other words of that glorious apostle. Her love once said to her interiorly: "My daughter, observe these three rules, namely: never say I will or I will not. Never say mine, but always ours. Never excuse yourself, but always accuse yourself." Moreover he said to her: "When you repeat the `Our Father' take always for your maxim, Fiat voluntas tua, that is, may his will be done in everything that may happen to you, whether good or ill; from the `Hail Mary' take the word Jesus, and may it be implanted in your heart, and it will be a sweet guide and shield to you in all the necessities of life. And from the rest of Scripture take always for your support this word, Love, with which you will go on your way, direct, pure, light, watchful, quick, enlightened, without erring, yet without a guide or help from any creature; for love needs no support, being sufficient to do all things without fear; neither does love ever become weary, for even martyrdom is sweet to it. And, finally, this love will consume all the inclinations of the soul, and the desires of the body, for the things of this life."

Today's picture depicts three Catherines: St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Catherine of Bologne and St. Catherine of Genoa.