It just so happened that on a recent trip to Birmingham, Alabama, I began reading a biography of today's saint, Catherine of Siena. It was written by the Nobel Prize winning author Sigrid Undset. You can read more about this fine book at Ignatius Press. St. Catherine died on this day in 1380 at the age of thirty-three. She was an amazing woman who experienced many mystical graces including an exchange of hearts with Jesus and the stigmata which only became visible after her death because Catherine, in her humility, did not want the attention which the visible wounds would have brought her. She was bold and courageous and did not shrink from writing to and meeting with the pope to tell him that he should leave his residence in Avignon, France and return to his diocese, Rome.
Here are some prayers of hers. The first two are reflections on the Incarnation--the mystery that in order to save humanity, God became human. St. Catherine asks why did God go to such lengths.
O great and eternal Trinity, as if intoxicated with love and gone mad over your creature, seeing that since it was separated from you who are life, it could produce only the fruit of death, you provided a remedy for it with the same love with which you had created it, and grafted your divinity on to the dead tree of our humanity. You who are the greatest sweetness deigned to unite yourself to our bitterness; you, who are brightness, with darkness; you, wisdom, with foolishness; you, life, with death; you, who are infinite, with us who are finite. What constrained you to this in order to restore us to life, after your creature had so injured you? Only love--for through this grafting, death is vanquished.
O eternal and infinite Good, O extravagance of love! You need your creature? Yes, it seems to me; because you behave as if you could not live without it, although you are life and all things receive life from you, and without you nothing lives. You fell in love with your own workmanship and delighted in it as if enraptured with its well-being; it flees you and you go searching for it; it goes away from you and you draw near; you could not have come any nearer than in assuming its very humanity.
In the following prayer St. Catherine reflects again with wonder at the depths of God's love and in particular the gift of the Eucharist.
O eternal Trinity, O Trinity eternal! O fire and abyss of charity! O enamored of your creature! How could our redemption benefit you? It could not, for you, our God, have no need of us. To whom then comes this benefit? Only to man. O inestimable charity! Even as you, true God and true Man, gave yourself entirely to us, so also you left yourself entirely for us, to be our food, so that during our earthly pilgrimage we would not faint with weariness, but would be strengthened by you, our celestial Bread. O fire of love! Was it not enough for you to have created us to your image and likeness, and to have re-created us in grace through the Blood of your Son, without giving yourself wholly to us as our food, O God, divine Essence? What impelled you to do this? Your charity alone, in the excess of your love.
United to Jesus, loving with his Heart that beat within her, Catherine shared his love for humanity. She offered herself to God with these words:
Lord, you know why I cry out to you with daring confidence; because, when you inspire me with compassion and love, you are constraining me to raise my voice even to your throne. I see lost souls of innumerable sinners, and my heart breaks at the sight, or rather, my heart is enlarged and then, overcome with compassion, I cannot help weeping for their misfortune. I offer you my life, Lord, now and for ever, whenever it shall please you to take it, and I offer it for your glory, humbly beseeching you, by the merits of your passion to cleanse and purify the Church, your Spouse, from every defect; delay no longer!
Catherine also offered her life for the pope and for peace and unity within the Church:
O supreme and ineffable Godhead, I have sinned and am not worthy to pray to you, but you have the power to make me worthy. I have a body which I surrender and offer to you: here is my flesh and here is my blood. If it is your will, crumble my bones and flesh together for your Vicar on earth for whom I beg you to deign to hear me. Give him a new heart, continually growing in grace, a strong heart to raise the standard of the holy cross in order to make those without faith share like ourselves in the fruits of the passion and of the blood of your only-begotten Son, the spotless Lamb.