Tuesday, April 29, 2008

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

St Catherine of Siena,
Andrea Vanni, (1332-c. 1414)
San Domenico, Siena

April 29 is the Feast Day of St Catherine of Siena.

is a piece I have composed in her honour.

The music is an attempt to capture something of her mystical zeal and pain. She is more frantic than Julian of Norwich, and isn't as thought thorough as St Teresa of Avila. Yet I sense an overpowering light that seems to make her experiences shimmer. It is sudden and intense. It is this I have tried to capture in the piece.

At the execution of man she converted and has received Holy Communion for the first time, she had a mystical experience:
I prayed, I constrained her,
I cried "Mary!" for I wished this grace,
that at the moment of death she should give him a light and a peace in his heart,
and then I should see him reach his goal.
Then my soul became so full that although a multitude of people were there,
I could see no human creature,
for the sweet promise made to me.

The vision, and it's reason for happening show Catherine's true nature as one who desired to serve God to her utmost, and beyond.

At the age of 6 she started to recieve visions. By her early teens she was asking her parents whether she could become a Nun. When they refused, she cut all her hair off, and wanted to make herself as ugly as possible. She fasted regularly, often forgoing any food other than Holy Communion. Her parents were wealthy, and had hoped she would "marry well". 1363, at the age of 16 she joined the Dominican Tertiary. In 1373 she was told by God to leave the cloister, and enter public life. She initially thought of the Clergy, and asked God how this would be possible. He replied:
I will raise up women ignorant and frail by nature
but endowed with strength and divine wisdom.
Then, if the men will come to their senses and humble themselves,
I will behave with the utmost mercy towards them,
that is to say, towards those who, according to the grace given them, receive my doctrine,
offered to them in fragile but specially chosen vessels,
and follow it reverently.

Within her letters, we find out her thoughts concerning the privilege, call, and role of the Clergy.
To her future biographer, and Spiritual Advisor, Raymund of Capua, she writes:
Kind father,
cheer up,
for you have been called to him so sweetly.

Persevere with joy and patience,
without crippling pain.

... I desire to see you a seeker and lover of truth.

She also writes on what a Priest should do and be (same thing?). the sort of flower that breathes out a fragrance before God and for those in your care.
Be a true shepherd, ready to give your life for your sheep.
Consider God's ineffable love for your salvation;
open your eyes and you see his boundless blessings and gifts.
Fall in love with virtue;
its effect is the opposite of that of vice,
because sin brings bitterness
while virtue brings sweetness
and even in this life a foretaste of the next.

The Letters of Saint Catherine of Siena, Suzanne Noffke, O.P., volume 1, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1988, 57-58.

Her opinion of the Clergy may be understood better by the words she recieved in a vision. God explains to Catherine the role of Ministers, and what they are actually administering at the Eucharist:

I have especially chosen My ministers for the sake of your salvation,
so that, through them,
the Blood of the humble and immaculate Lamb, My only-begotten Son,
may be administered to you.
To them have I given the Sun to administer,
giving them the light of science and the heat of Divine Love,
united together in the color of the Body and Blood of My Son,
whose Body is a Sun,
because He is one thing with Me, the True Sun,
in such a way that He cannot be separated or divided from Me,
as in the case of the natural sun,
in which heat and light cannot be separated,
so perfect is their union;

Of the dignity of the priest;
The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena

Reading St. Catherine's thoughts on Priests has given me much to ruminate over.
Be the sort of flower that breathes out a fragrance before God and for those in your care.
Be a true shepherd, ready to give your life for your sheep.
I think this is good advice.

St. Catherine of Siena
from Orcherd of Syon*

*The treatment is of my down doing. Click on the picture for large version.The beautiful original is here.

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