No matter how they overburdened her, they could not destroy her peace of soul, her habit of turning her own heart into a cloistered cell, and her resolve to belong to Jesus alone. They were called the Mantellata. Siena had many of them, and Catherine longed to share their life. One night, in a dream, there appeared to the saint many venerable patriarchs and founders of various religious Orders. These saints, among whom she recognized Saint Dominic, told her to choose an Order to which she would belong so that she could better serve her Lord.
Dominican Saints September through December
Catherine immediately turned to her favorite saint, as he came toward her carrying a robe of the Mantellata. Be afraid of nothing, for you shall surely be clothed in this robe which you desire. Now that she was sure of her vocation, she went to her parents and informed them of the reason for her resistance to their plans. Jacopo, in his heart, was not surprised. Kindly, he spoke:. My dearest daughter, it is far from us to set ourselves against the Will of God in any way, and it is from Him that your purpose comes. Keep your promise and live as the Holy Ghost tells you to live.
We shall never disturb you again in your life of prayer and devotion, or try to tempt you from your sacred work. Once again, the beloved daughter of the Benincasa household was given her own cell. Day and night she prayed and meditated. In her eagerness for suffering, the fragile saint exchanged her hair shirt for an iron chain, which she fashioned about herself so tightly that it bit into her flesh.
This she wore until her life was nearly ended and her confessor commanded her to lay it aside. Three times a day she applied the scourge to her body: once for her own sins, once for the sins of the living, and once for the souls in purgatory. She ate a bare minimum to sustain life. Indeed, later, food became so repulsive to her that she could not eat anything, and for years she lived on the Holy Eucharist alone.
Despite all these sufferings, she once said that her greatest penance at this time was going without sleep. She allowed herself only one half hour of sleep a night. Even this she would eventually relinquish, so that in her last years she lived with no sleep at all — her very life continuing on only by a sustained miracle from God. Catherine Benincasa was accepted into the Dominican Third Order in her sixteenth year.
But before she received her habit, the arch-enemy of souls tried fiendishly to prevent this lily of surpassing beauty from renouncing the world. Instead of using his usual hideous forms, Satan appeared to Catherine as a young man — not to frighten, but to persuade.
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He tempted her with the pleasures, legitimate ones, that the world has to offer to an attractive and intelligent young woman. The saint was undaunted and threw herself before the crucifix, begging her Bridegroom for help. Suddenly, the Queen of Heaven stood before her, clothed in radiance. She held a cloak covered with pearls that shone like the sun.
Catherine bent forward, and Our Lady slipped the garment over her head. A few days later the pure victor received her longed-for habit of the Sisters of Penitence. The white robe stood for purity, the black cape for humility and death. Like Our Lord, Catherine was to live thirty-three years on this earth. But while Jesus had spent thirty years of solitude in the company of His Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, Catherine was to spend thirty years of active life in the world.
And while Jesus had given but three years to public life, Catherine was to have only three years of solitude. During these three years, her cell was her paradise. She never left it except to go to Mass. Nor did she even speak to anyone but her confessor. For this blessing our saint was immensely grateful, since she considered herself a miserable sinner in need of so glorious an advocate.
Saint Agnes of Montepulciano (Visions of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory)
Jesus Himself taught Catherine the maxims on which her spiritual life was to rest. If you know these two things, you will be very happy. With the Almighty Himself for her teacher, the unlettered child of Siena grew immeasurably in wisdom and in virtue.
Her soul was infused with an understanding of the deepest mysteries of the Faith, and she was given a miraculous familiarity with the Scriptures. The most amazing gift in this regard was the infusion by her Spouse of a knowledge of letters into her heart. At times, as she was reading the Breviary, Our Lord would appear and read the responses, as when two monks recite the office together antiphonally. The devil was furious at this holy and chaste young woman, whose name Catarina means pure. There was one terrible occasion when Satan and his cohorts attacked her with a flood of sensual and filthy images.
The saint saw before her men and women openly committing disgusting and infamous acts.
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During these painful temptations, which lasted for days, Catherine was denied the consolation of the visible presence of her Divine Spouse. But she withstood, and prayed ceaselessly, knowing that by this means she would be delivered and strengthened. At last, a whole army of devils took flight in fear.
It was the last day of the carnival in Siena, a time of festivity which often led even the more virtuous townspeople to fling themselves headlong into sin. The mystic, alone in her cell, prayed and scourged herself vigorously for the revelers.
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It was at this time that Our Lord rewarded His Spouse with a most unusual favor- a mystical marriage feast. Jesus put a ring on her finger. It was adorned with a brilliant diamond and studded with four pearls. Then He spoke to His bride:. I here betroth you as My bride in perfect faith, which for all time shall keep you pure and virgin, until our marriage is celebrated in heaven with great rejoicing. Shortly after this espousal, Our Lord revealed the work He had in mind for the youngest child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa.
She must labor in the world for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Her assignment, difficult enough for a holy man, was deliberately given by Christ to a frail woman. Our Savior explained:. Today I have chosen unschooled women, fearful and weak by nature, but trained by Me in the knowledge of the divine, so that they may put vanity and pride to shame. Therefore, My daughter, you shall humbly do My will; for I will never fail you; on the contrary, I will come to you as often as before, and I will guide and help you in all things.
Catherine always exhibited, even by nature, a very maternal care for anyone in need. While she performed all her chores at home during the night — the washing and mending of clothes, the scrubbing of floors — her day was spent hustling about the city performing all manner of good works. Soon, the poor and needy were flocking to the Benincasa door. No matter how many times a day Catherine tapped the wine barrel to aid a beggar, it always seemed to remain full. And too, even when the saint was bedridden with a fever, she would suddenly be given strength, climb out of bed, and then she would be off carrying excessively heavy loads of necessities to some impoverished family.
Sometimes Catherine would perform these charities at night so as not to embarrass the needy. Always she would find the door of the house to which she was going unlocked. One day she was met by a poor man who was half-naked and suffering terribly from the cold. The holy virgin, having nothing with her except her own garments, hesitated not to give him her tunic. That night Jesus appeared to her wearing her tunic, but now it glittered in jewels.
Our Lord took from His side a blood-red robe and gave it to His spouse. From that day on the saint never suffered from the cold, though she wore but one garment, even in the most bitter-cold weather. This good Samaritan never shirked the service owed to others because of their repulsive diseases. The holy virgin always sought out the most miserable and ungrateful invalids and waited on them cheerfully.
Once she took care of a snarling leper woman, whose vile remarks were as loathsome as was her affliction.
Visions of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory book
Soon the saint noticed the unmistakable signs of leprous infection on her own hands. Nevertheless, Catherine persisted in her duty, not willing to forsake the poor woman in her greatest need. Then, all alone, Catherine washed and buried the disfigured corpse. After completing this mission to the very end, even unto death, she marvelled to see that her own hands were as white and beautiful as ever, with no trace of the incurable infection that had been there. Catherine undertook the care of another poor woman, Andrea, who had a cancerous wound so foul-smelling that no one would enter her room.
The saint tried to show no sign of aversion as she daily attended her patient. But one day, as she washed the wound, her body rebelled, and angered at her own weakness, Catherine turned aside and drank the bloody contents of the bowl she had been using to rinse the wash cloth.
When her Spouse appeared to her, He rewarded her for this great charity by allowing her to drink the Blood from His sacred side. While the Sister of Penitence was spending herself in helping others, she would herself many times be stricken with strange, preternatural illnesses that no physician could even diagnose, let alone remedy. During these ecstasies her body would become extremely rigid and pale and would rise several inches off the ground, suspended in the air.
She bore all with patience, as she continued her missions of mercy. The wasted little mystic of Siena was responsible for the return of thousands of souls to the Catholic Faith. Hardened sinners could not withstand the charity in her exhortations, and many wretched and vile souls left her company with a firm purpose of amendment.
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