Novena to St Catherine - Day 1

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Novena to St Catherine - Day 1

Dominican Nuns Ireland
Published by Dominican Nuns Ireland in Reflections (Dominican) · 20 April 2024
Tags: stcatherineofsienanovenatostcatherinefeastdaypatron
Novena to St Catherine - Day One

Novena Prayer
The holy virgin, Saint Catherine, never ceased praying to God
to let peace return to His holy Church, alleluia.

V/: Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
R/: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Almighty God, you made St Catherine of Siena a contemplative lover of the Lord’s sufferings
and an ardent servant of your
Grant, through her prayer that your people may be united
to Christ in His mystery,
and rejoice forever in the revelation of
His glory.

We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.

Sister Saints
20th of April (Feast of St Agnes of Montepulciano)

There is something wonderful about saints meeting saints. From time to time, these precious occurrences seem to capture the imagination until they grow into tremendous legends – like Our Holy Father Francis meeting Our Holy Father Dominic in Rome around the Lateran Council. Or, perhaps, we get quite lucky and something in the water seems to favour a certain city with a plethora of such opportunities – like Lima in the 16th century, when St. Martin de Porres walked the streets alongside St Juan Macias, St Rose of Lima, and the lesser-known St Turibius of Mogrovejo. Or, more recently, we have some extraordinary pictures of St Teresa of Calcutta hand in hand with St John Paul the Second.
Marvellous. Fantastic. Magical.

Which, unfortunately, can sometimes be the problem with such legends: they set the saint apart from the ordinary, the grounded, the real. Now, do not misunderstand me; I am not of the mind that the wild and miraculous in hagiography makes it less likely to be true – quite the contrary. I worry that by lionising the legend, we are actually attempting to make these things untrue for us: ‘These are the things saints do. They are not the stuff of ordinary souls. They are not the stuff of souls like mine.’ And so, with careful art, and questionable prudence, we lock ourselves away from the excesses of sanctity.

I am, of course, talking in a very long-winded way about the meeting between St Catherine of Siena and the saint we have been honouring today, and who would be honoured at this evening’s Vespers if it did not fall on the vigil of the Fourth Sunday of Easter: St Agnes of Montepulciano.

For those who don’t know the story: St Catherine presented at the Monastery in Montepulciano, which is very near Siena, and leaning down to kiss the foot of the incorrupt relics of St Agnes, the foot miraculously rose to prevent her from having to stoop. The story, of course, was told everywhere and frequently by St Catherine’s biographers as a mark of her sanctity.
Unfortunately, the sometimes saccharine approach we take to such a story can conceal the monument of it, and much of what it means.

St Catherine – as we heard in today’s letter from the Office of Readings for St Agnes’s feast – referred to St Agnes as “Our Mother, the Glorious Agnes”. Our Lord, in fact, revealed to the young Catherine that they would share an equal state in Glory one day, and as we read in her letters, St Catherine had an extensive and very grounded understanding of St Agnes’s virtues – her humility, her love for souls, her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and yes, her ability to heal the sick, and in one case raise the dead.

St Catherine knew very well what sanctity consisted in, and she praised St Agnes for it, but not in a way that put distance between them. She never saw them as being leagues apart, but as sister saints.

In fact, in characteristic Catherinian audacity, which can only come from a knowledge that sanctity is God’s gift and not our own achievement, she often talked of their shared greatness and the works that God had done in them. Her relationship with the nuns at Montepulciano was extensive, and two of her nieces would later enter religious life there. A letter to one of them, Sr Eugenia, is extant and contains St Catherine’s confronting and profound understanding of the contemplative life:

“Where shalt thou feel grief in thy conscience?” she says, “In prayer. Where shalt thou divest thee of the self-love which makes thee impatient in the time of insults and of other pains, and shalt clothe thee in the divine love which shall make thee patient, and shalt glory in the Cross of Christ crucified? In prayer. Where shalt thou breathe the perfume of virginity and the hunger for martyrdom, holding thee ready to give thy life for the honour of God and the salvation of souls? In this sweet mother, prayer. This will make thee an observer of thy Rule: it will seal in thy heart and mind three solemn vows which thou didst make at thy profession, leaving there the imprint of the desire to observe them until death."
St Agnes, to Catherine was both utterly real and utterly extraordinary, and nothing Agnes did was ever out of Catherine’s reach – not because Catherine saw greatness in herself, the cell of self-knowledge would never allow that, but because it was the same God who had called them, who was at work in them, and who would bring the work He had begun to perfection.

Likewise, in the days to come, as we read of the extraordinary things that God did in St Catherine and celebrate the wild wonders of her life, perhaps we can take a new look at them, shake ourselves out of the tempting torpor, and look again at the places where we have shut the door to God’s grace in our lives – in our lowered expectations, in our disappointments, even in our prudence – and remember that the Spirit of God is sharper than a two-edge sword, all He needs is for us to open the door a crack.

Let us look at these two examples not as marvels, but as sister saints.

(Artwork: St. Catherine of Siena by Fr. Henry Flanagan, O.P., Monastery of St Catherine of Siena, Drogheda)


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