Wednesday, April 28, 2010

St Catherine of Siena

The following is a reflection shared by one of our sisters as part of our Novena in honour of St Catherine:

Looking for inspiration and guidance in the face of the recent upheavals in the Church that have left us all a bit bewildered and shocked I turned to Catherine of Siena. The Church in her time too was in crisis and Catherine could in fact take her stand among the ranks of present day journalists exposing the sins of the Church, so strong and forthright is her condemnation of any one from Pope to pauper who was causing scandal and discrediting the Church of Christ. Indeed very few of the Church’s present critics could equal her when it comes to plain speaking. An extract from one of her letters says it all
In whatever direction you turn among secular and religious priests, clerics and prelates, small and great, you see nothing but offence against God. They all exhale the stench of grave sin.

This was the Church that Catherine saw when she looked around her. Catherine a young woman as she puts it herself ‘restless with a tremendous desire for God’s honour and the salvation of souls’ could have been forgiven if she had become totally disillusioned and had walked away from such a travesty of the ideal but she didn’t walk away. She remained faithful to the Church which was so plainly failing in its mission and which bore little resemblance to Jesus its head and founder. Not only did she not walk away but it was within that very Body of Christ disfigured wounded and broken as it was, a Church whose ‘limbs were rotting’ that Catherine became a Saint. That is why I think Catherine is in a privileged position to speak to us.
How and why did Catherine remain faithful to the Church? How does Catherine differ from so many modern day critics of the Church? The answer to that is very simple but very profound. Catherine loved the Church. Faith gave her eyes to see past the Church’s sin into its heart. Catherine viewed the Church not as a human institution that depends on human approval and can be overthrown or collapse but as the Body of Christ, made such at the price of Christ’s own blood. She realised what so many of our contemporaries seem to forget- the Church is Divine in its origin and that the way to Christ is through the Church that he loves. In one of her letters she writes
no one can enter into the abyss of the Trinity to savour the beauty of the Godhead except through the Church it’s spouse-since we must all pass through Christ Crucified, and his gate is found only in Holy Church. I saw this bride offering life, for she has so much life within her that no one can kill her. And she was bestowing strength and light; nor can anyone intrinsically weaken her. And I saw that her fruit never fails but is always increasing.

She kept her eyes fixed on the Cross and there she saw how loved and lovable the Church is.
Christ loved the Church and gave his life for her to make her holy and to bring her pure holy and spotless into his presence.

For Catherine that was enough. This is I think an extremely important insight to hold on to. Let us too look to Jesus in faith and learn from him as He hangs on the Cross how to love the Church as He loves it.

Catherine also gave me three very direct answers to questions I’ve been asking as I see our beloved Church being attacked from within and without. Those questions are- where do I fit in to all of this and what is God asking of me as we live through this time of tribulation?

Catherine’s immediate response in the face of the grave sin within the Church is that of one who from her knowledge of her own sinfulness realises that her sin is part of the sinfulness of the Church. She sees herself as part of the problem and believes herself responsible for the contradiction between the purity the Church should have on the one hand and the sin that in fact poisons it. If only her prayer and sacrifice were more in earnest the Church would reform. ‘It is my many sins that prevent the Church’s renewal,’ she laments over and again.

Catherine doesn’t stand over and against the Church judging and condemning it but stands alongside and within it knowing herself to be a sinner every bit as much in need of God’s mercy as anyone else. Is it not the same for us?
Then from the knowledge of her wretchedness and the weakness of the Church springs her intercession. Her life becomes one long plea to God for mercy, a plea culminating in her self offering on behalf of the Church.
I offer my life to you Eternal Trinity for your sweet spouse unworthy though I am. I ask only to see the renewal of that sweet spouse your Church. This I beg of you

God hears her plea and to aid her intercession reveals to her the true state of the Church in graphic detail. He then goes on to say
I have told you all this to give you more reason for bitter weeping over the blindness of my ministers, and to give you a deep knowledge of my mercy. In this mercy you can find trust and security, offering to me these ministers of holy Church and the whole world, and begging me to be merciful to them. The more you offer me sorrowful and loving desires for them, the more you will prove your love for me. For the service neither you nor my other servants can do for me you should do for them instead. Then I will let myself be constrained by the longing tears and prayers of my servants, and will be merciful to my bride by reforming her with good and holy shepherds.

He also explains to her and to us how she must both practice virtue and serve her neighbour to truly advance the reform of the church. In the Dialogue he says to her
You recall that I have already told you that I would satisfy your anguished longings by reforming holy Church through good and holy shepherds. I will do this, as I told you, not through war, not with sword and violence, but through peace and calm, though my servants sweat and tears. I have set you as workers in your own and your neighbours’ souls and in the mystic body of holy Church. In yourselves you must work at virtue; in your neighbours and in the church you must work by teaching and example. And you must offer me constant prayer for the Church and for every creature giving birth to virtue through your neighbour. For as I have already told you every virtue and every sin is realized and intensified through your neighbours. Therefore I want you to serve your neighbours and in this way share the fruits of your own vineyard.

Such was Catherine’s wisdom shared with me these past days and I think she would be very happy if we could all take to our hearts, as a special gift from her spoken directly to each of us today, the Father’s word’s to her
To this work I have appointed you - devote, then your life and heart and mind wholly to that Bride for me, with no regard for yourself.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Novena to St Catherine of Siena

As promised we share here some of Catherine's writings on which we are reflecting during these days of preparation for her feast on the 29th.

The following is an extract from a letter addressed to Fr Bartolomeo Dominici, in Florence in 1375: (taken from Suzanne Noffke's translation of Catherine's letters, Vol I)

I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ am writing to encourage you in the precious blood of God's Son. I long to see you set afire, swallowed up and consumed in His blazing charity, for we know that those who are set afire and consumed in that true charity lose all self-consciousness. That is what I want you to do.

I am inviting you, in this blazing charity, to plunge into a peaceful sea, a deep sea. I have just rediscovered the sea - not that the sea is new, but it is new to me in the way my soul experiences it - in the words "God is love". Just as the sun shines its light on the earth and a mirror reflects a person's face, so these words echo within me that everyting that is done is simply love, because everything is made entirely of love, This is why He says "I am God, Love". This sheds light on the priceless mystery of the incarnate Word, who out of sheer love, was given in such humility that it confounds my pride. It teaches us to look not just at what He did but at the blazing love this Word has given us. It says that we should do as a loving person does when a friend comes with a gift, not looking at the friend's hands to what the gift is, but looking with the eyes of love at the friends's loving heart. This is what God's supreme, eternal, more tender that tender goodness, wants to do when He visits our soul.

So when He comes to you with His incalculable blessings, let your memory open up at once to receive what you understanding has seen in His divine love, and let your will rise up in blazing desire to receive and gaze upon the burning heart of the giver, the good gentle Jesus, In this way you will find yourself swallowed up and clothed in the fiery gift of the blood of God's Son. You will be freed from all suffering and grief. This is what relieved the holy discioples' pain when they had to leave Mary and one another, though in order to spread God's word they gladly endured the separation. Run! Run! Run!
May God be ever in your soul. Amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Response to Pope Benedict's letter to Irish Catholics

In reponse to Pope Benedict XVI's letter quoted below, we, as a community, are setting aside each Friday of this coming year as a day of prayer and fasting for the renewal of the Church in Ireland.

Those of you who live close by our monastery are welcome to join our community for a silent holy hour each Friday of the coming year between 4.45 and 5.45 PM

Each day our chapel is open from 7 am until 7 pm and all who wish are welcome to join us for the celebration of the liturgy, Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration.

Extract from the Pope's pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland

I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32).

Back on Line!

We are happy to announce that our internet connection is functioning again after more than two weeks - hopefully there will be no further disruption.

Today we begin our novena in preparation for the feast of St Catherine of Siena. This year we are remembering in a special way the needs of Pope Bendedict XVI and the universal Church and more particularly our Irish Church - for the victims of sexual abuse and those members of the Church who have failed them, as we pray for the mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation which are so much needed. As we know, St Catherine of Siena prayed, suffered and worked tirelessly for the Pope and the Church of her day.

Before Vespers each evening during these nine days of novena one sister reads an extract from Catherine's writings - this year we will focus mainly on her writings related to the Church and the abuses of her times. During the coming days we hope to share some of these with you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Sincere apologies to all our readers for our silence - our internet connection has been out of order for over a week due to some external problem but it seems that we may not be reconnected until next week at the earliest.

It is still not too late to wish you the peace and joy of our Risen Saviour during this beautiful Easter Season.

Can we remind you of our forthcoming vocations weekend 23rd - 25th April - There are still places available.

We will be in touch again as soon as our internet connection is restored.