April 29 is the Feast day of St. Catherine of Sienna (1347-1380). There's a brief blurb on St. Catherine here, but it's a sanitized, watered-down version. (Unlike what one finds in the 1954 Lives of the Saints (pub: John J. Crowley and Company) which details wearing the hair shirt and iron-spiked girdle, and scourging herself with an iron chain. No doubt these details would frighten the children today.) Not a word at Saints of the Day that this 23rd (24th?) child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa was responsible for returning the papacy from Avignon, France back to Rome, which had enormous (positive) consequences for the Church. But David Warren knows:
"This Catherine is a figure not only in hagiography, but also in world history. She changed its course by persuading a weak pope to return from Avignon to Rome, in defiance of a French king and the entire papal curia, to face greater dangers. She was the decisive influence in stopping a civil war, forging unexpected and fruitful alliances between Italian city states. By such means, she helped restore a papacy that had all but disintegrated, and put it back on what the Marxists call, “the right side of history”.
"It was a moment, in the 14th century, when Europe might have ceased to be Catholic. There have been several such moments; and in remembering them, we might even find hope today -- supposing we ourselves are on the right side of history."
Catherine of Sienna was an advisor to Pope Urban and Pope Gregory XI. She was respected by the theologians of her time, and wielded a political and theological influence that was remarkable for women in the Middle Ages. In 1970, Pope Paul VI named her and Teresa of Avila as doctors of the Church. Remember that the next time critics paint the Catholic Church as anti-women. Note to feminists: women had influence and authority prior to the women's lib movement of the 1960's and 70's. Is St. Catherine of Sienna's life story to be found in any Women's Studies courses?
From Catherine's letter to Gregory XI:
"In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary: Most holy and most reverend my father in Jesus Christ: I Catherine your poor unworthy daughter, servant and slave of the servants of Christ, write to you in his precious blood; with desire to see you a good shepherd. For I reflect, sweet my father, that the wolf is carrying away your sheep, and there is no one found to succor them."
I think that's exactly what Pope Benedict is about.
Hat tip to Relapsed Catholic.