Wednesday, March 03, 2010

To Frate Ranieri of the Dominican Church of Santa Caterina in Pisa Near Holy Week (6 to 11 April) 1376

St Catherine of Siena surrounded by a host of angels adoring the Cross 17th cent
Oil on canvas
75 x 125
Musée des beaux-arts de Nante, Nantes

Ex Voto to St Catherine of Siena c.1520 (also Ex voto de Jean-Baptiste Pusterula, Soldat)
Oil on wood
61 x 45
Musée de Tessé, Le Mans

Girolamo Di Benvenuto
The Death of St Catherine of Siena c.1480
Oil on canvas 32 x 25
Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon

The Church of Santa Cristina, Pisa

Giovanni di Paolo ca.1403-1483
St. Catherine of Siena Receiving the Stigmata
Circa 1461
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Raymond of Capua's Life of St. Catherine of Siena describes the event thus:

"Arriving in Pisa with a number of other people, of whom I was one, Catherine was put up by a citizen who had a house near the Santa Cristina chapel.

On the Sunday, at the virgin’s request I said Mass in this church, and, to use the official expression, I “communicated” her. When she had received Communion she went as usual into ecstasy, her spirit, thirsting for its Creator—that is to say, the supreme Spirit—absenting itself as far as it could from the senses. We were waiting for her to come back to herself, so as to receive some kind of spiritual encouragement from her, as we often did on these occasions, when to our surprise we saw her little body, which had been lying prostrate, gradually rise up until it was up­right on its knees, her arms and hands stretched themselves out, and light beamed from her face; she remained in this position for a long time, perfectly stiff, with her eyes closed, and then we saw her suddenly fall, as though mortally wounded.

A little later, her soul recovered its senses.

Then the virgin sent for me and said quietly, “You must know, Father, that by the mercy of the Lord Jesus I now bear in my body His stigmata.”

I replied that while I had been watching the move­ments of her body when she was in ecstasy I had suspected some­thing of the sort; I asked her how the Lord had done all this.

She said, “I saw the Lord fixed to the cross coming towards me in a great light, and such was the impulse of my soul to go and meet its Creator that it forced the body to rise up. Then from the scars of His most sacred wounds I saw five rays of blood coming down towards me, to my hands, my feet and my heart.

Realizing what was to happen, I exclaimed, ‘O Lord God, I beg you—do not let these scars show on the outside of my body!’

As I said this, before the rays reached me their colour changed from blood red to the colour of light, and in the form of pure light they arrived at the five points of my body, hands, feet and heart.” “So then,” I said, no ray reached your right side?”

“No,” she replied, “it came straight to my left side, over my heart; because that line of light from Jesus’s right side struck me directly, not aslant.”

“Do you feel any pain at these points now?” I asked.

She heaved a great sigh, and answered, “I feel such pain at those five points, especially in my heart, that if the Lord does not perform another miracle I do not see how I can possibly go on, and within a few days I shall be dead.”

From Lamb’s translation, pp. 175-6

Frate Ranieri had recently entered the Dominican Order at the priory associated with the church of Santa Caterina (St. Catherine of Alexandria) in Pisa. Catherine may have become acquainted with him while she was in Pisa.

It is thought that Ranieri had been Rector of the Church of Santa Cristina in Pisa (founded AD 842; present appearance from 1816) before joining the Dominicans.

Catherine, who during her 1375 stay in Pisa had lived just behind Santa Cristina and had prayed in the church often (and where she received the stigmata), would certainly have gotten to know its rector well. She had perhaps confronted him about his uninhibited lifestyle because in the present letter she expresses obvious delight at the news that he has become a Dominican and sees the step as a kind of reparation for his earlier liberties.

Ranieri entered the order on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (then celebrated on 7 March) at the age of thirty-six, and that he died in Pisa on the same feast at the age of fifty six

Letter To Frate Ranieri of the Dominican Church of Santa Caterina in Pisa Near Holy Week (6 to 11 April) 1376

In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and of gentle Mary.

Reverend father—out of reverence for that sweetest of sacraments— in Christ Jesus,

I Caterina, servant and slave of the servants of God, am writing to you in the precious blood of God's Son.

I long to see you a real knight, fighting against every vice and temptation for Christ crucified with a true holy perseverance. For it is perseverance that is crowned. You know that victory is achieved by fighting and by perseverance.

In this life we are set as on a battlefield and we must fight courageously, not dodging the blows or retreating, but keeping our eyes on our captain, Christ crucified, who always persevered.

He didn't give up when the Jews said, "Come down from the cross!" Nor did the devil or our ingratitude make him give up fulfilling the Father's command and our salvation. No, he persevered right up to the end, when he returned to the eternal Father with the victory he had achieved, the victory of having rescued humankind from darkness and given us the light of grace once again by conquering the devil and the world with all its pleasures.

And it killed him: this Lamb took death for himself in order to give us life; by his dying he destroyed our death.

This captain's blood and his perseverance ought to inspire us for every battle—for enduring pain, slander, reproach and abuse for love of him. It should inspire us to voluntary poverty, humility of heart, and total and perfect obedience.

In this way, when the cloud of our body is destroyed, we will return victorious to the city of eternal life. We will have conquered the devil, the world, and the flesh, our three wicked enemies—and especially the flesh, which is always pricking at us and fighting against the spirit.' We must subdue it and discipline it with fasting and vigils and prayer.

And the evil thoughts that come we must constantly chase out with holy images—pondering and imagining how great is the fire of blazing charity; how much it has done for us freely and not because it was our due.

For the Father gave us the Word, his only-begotten Son. And the Son gave his life—for it was out of love that he tore open his body so that blood poured out from every part. He washed away the stains of our sin with blood. When we contemplate such love we are consumed by love,and it seems to us we cannot do as much; nor could we. Even if we were to give our body up to every sort of pain and torment, we could not pay for the great love and all the blessings we receive from our Creator. He is our dear God, who loved us without being loved. Yes, this is the way you will chase out the devil's evil thoughts.

But you might say to me, father, "Since you want me to be a courageous knight, and since I am on the battlefield being attacked by many enemies, I need armor. Tell me what sort of armor to use." I answer that I don't want you to be unarmed. I want you to be armed as was dear Paul, that man in love, who was as human as you are. I mean armed with the cuirass of true and deep humility and the breastplate of blazing charity.

For just as the cuirass is joined to the breastplate and the breastplate to the cuirass, so is humility the nurse of charity, and charity the nourisher of humility. This is the armor I am giving you, since it can withstand all the poisoned arrows the devil, the world, and the flesh can shoot, without being penetrated by a single one. For when we are in love with Christ crucified no arrow of deadly sin will penetrate us—I mean through the consent of our will. We are so strong that neither the devil nor anyone else can force us to do more than we want.

You must also have a knife in your hand to defend yourself against your enemies, and it must be a double-edged knife. One edge is hatred and contempt for yourself, for the time you've often spent with scant concern for virtue and in great wretchedness and sin and frequent offenses against our Savior. We must hate this sin, and we must hate ourselves in so far as we have sinned. For once we have conceived such a hatred we want to make up for our past life and endure every sort of suffering for love of Christ and in payment for our sins. [We want to] make up for pride with humility, for avarice and greed with charity and generosity, for the liberties of selfishness with obedience. This is the holy reparation we must make when we carry this knife of hatred and of love.

But I am exultantly happy over the glorious news I've heard about you, since you've apparently made reparation for your liberties by taking on the yoke of holy obedience. You cannot have done better than to have renounced your own will and the world with its pleasures and enjoyment.

I urge you for love of Christ crucified to stay on this battlefield with courage and with a holy perseverance. Never retreat in order to evade any blow of trouble or temptation. No, unwavering and armed as I've described, use those arms to withstand and deflect whatever blows may come, and the double-edged knife of hatred and of love to defend yourself against your enemies.

I want the tree of the cross to be planted in your heart and soul.

Conform yourself with Christ crucified. Hide yourself in the wounds of Christ crucified. Bathe in the blood of Christ crucified. Get drunk on Christ crucified and clothe yourself in him. As Paul says, glory in the cross of Christ crucified. Eat your fill of disgrace and shame and dishonor by suffering for love of Christ crucified. Fasten your heart and affection to the cross with Christ, for the cross has been made a ship for you and a port that will lead you to the [ultimate] port, salvation.

And the nails have been made keys for you to open the kingdom of heaven.

So up, dearest father and brother! No more sleeping in the bed of indifference! No, fight as a courageous and fearless knight against every adversary. For God will give you the fullness of grace, so that when your life is finished you will after your labors come to rest and see the supreme eternal beauty and vision that is God, where your soul is quieted and stilled Every suffering and evil ended, you will receive every good, satiety without boredom and hunger without pain.

Finish your life on the cross.

Keep living in God's holy and tender love.

Gentle Jesus! Jesus love!