Monday, March 20, 2006

The Visions of Saint Catherine of Bologna

Catherine de'Vigri was born into a prominent family, but also a very devout family who instructed her in the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith. At only 11 years of age Catherine became lady in waiting to Margherita d'Este at the court of Nicholas III d'Este at Ferrara.

Even though Catherine was born into privilege this did not spoil her pleasing personality and her compassion for those less well of than herself. Catherine learnt from watching her beloved mother to spend hours in prayer but also to put that prayer into practice when providing for the poor in her region. When those who were on the receiving end of her largesse Catherine insisted that they must thank the Good Lord for all had come from Him and not herself.

At the court of Nicholas III Catherine proved herself a worthy companion to Margherita and many would seek out the company of Catherine because of her vivacious and gentle personality and her uncommon wisdom in one so young. Catherine's piety was obvious to all who met her, this was not a young girl who paid only lip service to her Lord, no! Catherine lived her faith fully and put it into practice through unceasing prayer and alms giving.

Catherine was gifted in many areas of her life including the artistic field where she displayed her talent by drawing paintings of her beloved Lord and our Blessed Mother as well as self portraits which did not hide her homely appearance. This young girl was also an accomplished musician who could play the violin as if it were speaking the melodies. Though highly gifted with these talents Catherine did not boast but instead proclaimed the greatness of God who was simply working through her.

Upon the death of her father and the remarriage of her mother, Catherine decided to follow her heart and enter the Religious life of the Order of St. Augustine, which at that time was relatively new. During these new beginnings Catherine wrote, "During my tender years, enlightened by Divine Grace, I entered God's service in this Monastery with good intentions and much fervor. My life was filled with prayer, day and night. Any virtue I admired or heard of in others, I tried to imitate in my own life. I did so not out of envy, but to please God in Whom I had put all my love."

As in all cases the devil would also enter the picture to try and confuse Catherine in the hope that she would become prideful in her gifts and talents. During this time Catherine went through interior darkness but though young Catherine could also discern the voice of the wicked one and would openly rebuke his evil insinuations with these words, "Be sure, evil spirit, you will not tempt me so openly nor so stealthily without my knowing it." Catherine endured these demonic with her usual spiritual maturity and though she felt no consolations she simply trusted in God and knew that God alone sufficed for her. Even when the evil one would try and disguise himself as our Lord and accuse Catherine of sundry offenses rather than argue with her beloved Catherine instead would agree as to her unworthiness, this would then have the devil fleeing her presense as he cannot stand to be in the presence of true sanctity.

Though Catherine suffered much during this demonic manifestations her love for God did not dwindle nor her obedience to the Church. Through all this Catherine's Faith and her reception of the Sacraments strengthened her. It was during Mass as she received Jesus in the Eucharist that Catherine explained what happened in her Treatise, "she felt and tasted the sweetest, purest Flesh of the Immaculate Lamb, Christ Jesus." Catherine also went on to explain this to her fellow Sisters, " Sometimes the devil inspires souls with an inordinate zeal for a certain virtue or some special pious exercise, so that they will be motivated by their passion to practice it more and more. This temptation is more to pride rather than virtue....Sometimes, on the other hand, the devil coaches souls to do less than they can really do. This temptation is more to false humility...In both cases, the devil's goal is to make the soul discouraged when the virtue is found to be unattainable; and to be wearied and disgusted if his efforts are below his abilities. The soul ends up neglecting everything. It is necessary to overcome the one snare as the other."

The Lord would often show Catherine through visions the enormity of what sin can do to a persons soul, if they die unrepentant, her glimpse of the Final Judgment so horrified and terrified Catherine that she cried out in horror at such a shocking sight. Catherine went on to warn others of this terrible plight and how to avoid it in her writings, "Whoever wishes to carry the cross for his sake must take up the proper weapons for the contest, especially those mentioned here. First, diligence; second, distrust of self ; third, confidence in God; fourth, remembrance of Passion; fifth, mindfulness of one's own death; sixth, remembrance of God's glory; seventh, the injunctions of Sacred Scripture following the example of Jesus Christ in the desert."

Catherine excelled at obedience which pleased God greatly and so came about the miracle of the bread. As Catherine was preparing and baking the bread, she placed several loaves in the oven when she suddenly heard the bells peel for prayers, Catherine didnt hesitate and hurried to her prayers, before hastily leaving she made the sign of the cross over the loaves still baking and rushed out. When she was able to return several hours later she found to her amazement that the bread had not burnt indeed it was the most delicious bread she had ever baked.

Though Catherine experienced miraculous signs and visions from God and also endured those by the evil one, her humility and obedience never wavered, indeed it would be her obedience that often saved her from the wicked snares of the evil one, as he tempted her to distrust God's love for her.

One particular vision would touch Catherine deeply as she was given a vision of Christ Crucified as He explained to her what truly brought him the most suffering and anguish which was the knowledge of those who would prove to be faithless when serving Him. He wept at the lack of faith shown by many of his beloved children and the many souls who were lukewarm, this brought intolerable pain to our Lord and Saviour. Jesus also shared with Catherine His pain at watching the sorrow and agony etched on the face of His beloved Mother as she stood by the Cross with her own spirit pierced to the core. Upon seeing and hearing this Catherine spent many days in tears at the thankless displayed by souls who's faith had grown tepid.

It was also at Christmas that Catherine driven by her zealous love for Jesus and our Blessed Mother that Catherine requested to pray 1,000 Hail Mary's in front of the Tabernacle. As Catherine prayed her Hail Mary's she found she was in the presence of her loved Holy Mother, who smiled gently at her as she handed her baby Son Jesus to the humbled Catherine, who was stunned at such a gift that she leaned forward to kiss her beloved child Jesus. Catherine wrote of this experience, "The perfume that emanated from His Pure Flesh was so sweet that there is neither tongue that can express, nor such a keen mind imagine, the very beautiful and delicate Face of the Son of God, when one could say all that was to be said, it would be nothing." Catherine was not alone in experiencing this most wondrous event as her fellow Sisters smelt the holy Presence of the baby Jesus and our Lady as a heavenly fragrance filled the room.

On the move to Bologna Catherine became Mother Abbess, during her time there vocations grew as Catherine holiness was evident to all. It was not long though before a health crisis would have all her community praying as Catherine became seriously ill, but due to a fellow Sisters pleading prayers to keep a little longer their beloved Mother Abbess. Upon recovering Catherine asked for her violin to be brought to her when her Sisters complied with this strange request, Mother Abbess Catherine then played a tune to honour God whilst proclaiming to her startled Sisters, "May the Lord forgive her who through her prayers has still kept me in this world."

Though Catherine would survive this health scare, and indeed become even more busy on her recovery, still her time was limited.

So it was that Catherine called her community together as she told them that she would soon be going on her final journey to our Lord and Saviour and to spend the rest of her eternal life in the Heavenly realm. Catherine had a peaceful and holy death.

Saint Catherine's body upon exhumation was found to be incorrupt.

I would encourage all to read more about Saint Catherine of Bologna.

Peace of Christ to ALL

Copyright © 2006 Marie Smith. All rights reserved.

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