BLOG: St Catherine of Siena: Reflections on Saints this week, April 2017

“I desire, O Lord, to live here always conformed to your passion, and to find pain and suffering my repose and delight.”

– St Catherine of Siena

St Catherine’s feast day is 29th April. She is the patron saint of illness, miscarriages, sexual temptation – as well as the United States of America, Italy, people ridiculed for their faith and nurses.

St Catherine was born in Siena, Italy in 1347. When she was a young lady, her parents tried to arrange her marriage, but Catherine declined their request. She explained her refusal arose from her dedication to Christ and her family. She told them that she viewed them a microcosm of the Church: she saw her father as a representation of Jesus, her mother as Our Lady and her brothers as the apostles. This viewpoint enabled her to serve her family with complete humility.

During her childhood, St Catherine gave away her family’s food and clothing to people in need. Despite Catherine’s religious nature, she did not enter a convent but stayed at home. She joined the Third Order of St. Dominic and the Dominican sisters kindly taught her how to read while she remained with her family.

She lived a quiet and devout life at home until she was 21, then she experience her “mystical marriage to Christ”. The gift of her marriage ring and – years later – her subsequent stigmata were visible only to herself. This encounter compelled her to profess God’s love by preaching Christ’s message on earth. She also helped the poor and sick, travelled Italy extensively to restore peace where there was conflict, assisted in ameliorating the fractured politics of the Italian states at the time and became involved in restoring the papacy to Rome.

ACN story: Bishop states that government collision in Fulani terrorist network persecuting Christians in Nigeria

 Bishop Joseph Bagobiri of Kafanchan, Kaduna state, northern Nigeria – like St Catherine of Siena has need to address political issues that impact on religious concerns, in order to protect Christians. Speaking exclusively to Aid to the Church in Need this week, he accused the authorities in Nigeria of being complicit in the supply of arms to a Fulani terrorist network – which he claims have infiltrated federal and state governments.

He believes government has done little or nothing to stem “a wave of terror” by Fulani extremists against Christians and others which he estimates has claimed the lives of 1,000 people within the last couple of years in southern Kaduna.

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need is helping persecuted Christians in Nigeria – supporting the victims of atrocities, providing Mass stipends for poor and persecuted priests, helping with repairs to Dominicanchurch buildings and vehicles for Dominican clergy ministering in remote regions.

The charity is taking its inspiration from the example of the Dominican St Catherine as she dedicated her life to helping the Church. She established a monastery for women in 1377 outside of Siena to bring Christ’s message of peace to others. ACN’s primary role is helping the Church fulfil its pastoral duties – and all of this can only be done thanks to ACN benefactors.

From Nigeria, Bishop Joseph’s direct appeal to ACN benefactors in the UK

Appealing for prayers for peace and the attacked Christians, the bishop also asked ACN for support, he said: “Please find a way to draw the world’s attention to this menace of the Fulani Herdsmen terrorist activities.” See article.

Bishop Joseph Bagobiri and Fr Alexander Yeyock at the graveside of a victim killed in the Fulani Herdsmen attack on Holy Saturday in Asso, Kaduna State, Nigeria (© Aid to the Church in Need)

Speaking of the “ugly incident” that happened in front the Catholic Church in Asso, when 12 Christians assembled for the Easter Vigil were shot dead by Fulani herdsmen. The bishop described how: “most of those killed had participated the day before (Good Friday), in the dramatization of the suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus in the hands of his adversaries.” He added: “Little did they know that their end too will soon come like that of Jesus. Like Jesus too, we are confident that these souls are living in heaven with the Lord today.”

Help through and after atrocities – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” – Psalm 46

After the atrocity, Bishop Joseph calls “on us to rediscover anew our Christian faith and live it with greater commitment and generosity. We should turn God who is our strength and refuge.” He also quoted Psalms 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea’, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”

He added: “Our challenges notwithstanding, this is no time for sorrow and despondency, because we know our God is in charge of the affairs of men. Our faith in the resurrection of Christ should spur us up and fill us with courage to live on. These deaths will not be in vain. Our liberation is at hand. God will fight and defend us from all evil. The souls of dead ones are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them.”

Christ’s comfort in times of trial for St Catherine and suffering Christians in Nigeria today.

St Catherine’s greatest loss was her solitude. She always retained the companionship of the Holy Spirit who assisted her no matter what her physical location, cultivating solitude within her heart, so that she was open to being alone with God.

Fr Alban Butler wrote “our Lord had taught her to build in her soul a private closet, strongly vaulted with the divine providence, and to keep herself always close and retired there; he assured her that by this means she should find peace and perpetual repose in her soul, which no storm or tribulation could disturb or interrupt.”

St Catherine’s moral compass in life’s maze: full of hatred and revulsion… for sin and immorality

St Catherine asked Christ for help arising from a frightful conflict and queried why she felt she was left alone in her time of need. She recalled her shock that Christ confirmed his presence among the obscenity and pain, which she had endured. He enlightened her by saying that her revulsion of the injustices was life affirming, and so pleasing to him, because of his continued presence her ability to endure these trials. He explained: “They were displeasing and most painful to thee. This conflict therefore was thy merit, and the victory over them was owing to my presence.”

This lesson in the clarity of thought was repeated by Archbishop Fulton Sheen many centuries later in his talk ‘Victory over Vice’: “It is not hatred that is wrong, it is hating the wrong thing that is wrong. It is not anger that is wrong, it is being angry at the wrong thing that is wrong. Tell me your enemy, and I will tell you what you are. Tell me your hatred, and I will tell you your character. Do you hate religion? Then your conscience bothers you. Do you hate the wealthy? Then you are avaricious, and you want to be wealthy. Do you hate sin? Then you love God. Do you hate your hate, your selfishness, your quick temper, your wickedness? Then you are a good soul, for ‘If any one comes to me and does not hate… even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’” – Luke 14:26

Bishop Joseph Bagobiri also asked ACN for support, he said: Please find a way to draw the world’s attention to this menace of the Fulani Herdsmen terrorist activities.

Bishop Joseph also continues to speak out against the perverseness of injustice in Nigeria today. During his homily at the graveside of Nigerian Catholic that had gathered to pray in Asso village but was killed by armed terrorists on Holy Saturday. The bishop said: “Christ has risen and his bodily resurrection serves as the basis for the Christian faith.Quoting 1 Corinthians 15:14, we read: ‘if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.’”

The bishop added: “His bodily resurrection anticipates the future resurrection of all believer and 1 Corinthians 15:16, ‘For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised’, teaches [that] the resurrection of Christ serves as the basis for the future resurrection of all who believe in Him. In the resurrection of Jesus, our dead brothers and sisters are now alive. May their gentle souls rest in peace with the Lord.”

Reflection –

“I desire, O Lord, to live here always conformed to your passion, and to find pain and suffering my repose and delight.” – St Catherine

St Catherine wrote following one of her visions. Our Saviour presented her with two crowns, one of gold and the other of thorns, requesting her to choose as she pleased. Her reply: “I desire, O Lord, to live here always conformed to your passion, and to find pain and suffering my repose and delight.” In homage to Christ, she then placed the crown of thorns upon her head.

“…let it be to me according to your word” – St Luke 1:38 (RSV-CE)

St Catherine preferred a life of quiet prayer and contemplation, but like the Mother of God she obeyed God’s will by spreading the Good News in the fractured material world until she died at the age of 33 years.

ACN invites you to join us and pray for persecuted and suffering Christians around the world.

John Pontifex @ACNJohnPontifex
Head of Press & Information
Aid to the Church in Need | United Kingdom