Wednesday, April 30, 2008

St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine's feast day was really yesterday, but better late than never!

St. Catherine of Siena is sort of a popular saint for modern consecrated virgins living in the world, as she is one of the very few female saints in the Middle Ages era who lived her vocation as a spouse of Christ outside of a cloistered monastery. She was Dominican, but instead of being a second-order nun (like the Dominican Nuns of Summit, NJ, who also have a blog) she was rather a member of a non-enclosed women's third-order group (which would be roughly equivalent to today's active Dominican sisters, like the Nashville Dominicans or the Dominican Sisters of Mary).

But although today St. Catherine would probably be considered a religious (she considered herself one) and not a consecrated virgin technically speaking, there is a lot about her life that I find personally relevant and inspiring.

That being said, her life story is more phenomenal and extraordinary than those of even most saints! We do know quite a bit about her because her spiritual director, Bl. Raymond of Capua, wrote an extensive biography. Even though most of the recorded events of her life sound like medieval, made-up, pious legends, if you actually read the book you can see the pains which Bl. Raymond took to verify what he recorded. He names witnesses to everything, and then gives his assessment as to how reliable those witnesses were.

St. Catherine was born in 1347 to a middle-class family in Siena, Italy, the twenty-third of twenty-four children. She had her first vision of Christ when she was six years old, and afterwards decided to dedicate her life to God. As a girl her piety was so "over the top" that it drew a lot of attention from the neighbors. In her own household, she created a good deal of family strife when as a young teenager she refused to marry the suitor her parents had chosen for her, and when she requested her own room so that she could spend the majority of her time in prayer and solitude.

Her family did eventually come around though, especially when her father looked in on her when she was praying once and saw a white dove floating over her head!

When she was maybe fourteen, she had a vision in which she was mystically espoused to Jesus (He gave her a ring that stayed on her finger, but which only she could see). After this, she left her cell so that she could perform acts of charity for other people. A few years later, she joined the local Dominican third order association, despite the objections about her young age. Subsequently, she developed a following and was called "Mother" by almost everyone who knew her (the one exception being her own natural mother, who wouldn't stand for it).

The rest of her life story is filled with miracles and heroic acts of kindness. She also dictated several books, which allowed her to be named one of the first two female Doctors of the Church.
But perhaps her most notable deeds were her ultimately successful efforts to end the Avignon Papacy by persuading the Pope to move back to his own proper See at Rome. This was a huge accomplishment in the preservation of the Church's unity, and it profoundly effected the course of history. To provide continued consolation and encouragement for the Holy Father St. Catherine stayed with him in Rome, where she died when she was only thirty-three. For this reason, St. Catherine is the patroness of the city of Rome.

Obviously, I am not aspiring to be a miracle worker or someone who tells pontiffs what to do. But I find that reading about St. Catherine does help me not to lose my nerve! Sometimes I feel awkward because I have such an unusual vocation, or I worry that my efforts to live a prayerful life irk some of my classmates.

Still, I remember what St. Catherine once said, "If we were all what we were meant to be, we would set the world on fire." I think that if we do our best at every moment to do what we believe God wants (no matter what!), we can trust that He will do wonderful things through us.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Papal Mass

At the risk of “blowing my cover,” I wanted to write about how fortunate I was to have been able to attend the Papal Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral last weekend. It was such an amazing experience that it has taken me a week to “come down” enough to string some thoughts together coherently! (And I had a term paper due the next Monday, which I almost didn’t finish in time—I briefly found myself wondering whether or not “I was too much in awe of the Pope to write” would be a legitimate excuse.)

I knew it would be an impressive, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Pope on an American pastoral visit, yet I had no idea that seeing Pope Benedict XVI in person would have such an emotional effect on me. A month or so before the Mass my Dad said to me, “I bet you’ll feel something. It will be like a religious experience.” But I admit that I was fairly skeptical about this.

When the Benedict XVI walked into the Cathedral, I started crying and all the nuns around me started crying. As odd as it is to say this, the Pope really looked beautiful. It was almost as if he was glowing, he looked so happy. I kept thinking how truly awesome it is that God took a shy German seminary professor and gave him the grace to stand in the place of Christ on earth.

Besides the Eucharist, I think one of my favorite parts of the Mass was right before the final blessing, when the Holy Father turned and spontaneously addressed the assembly:

“At this moment I can only thank you for your love of the Church and Our
Lord, and for the love which you show to the poor Successor of Saint Peter. I
will try to do all that is possible to be a worthy successor of the great
Apostle, who also was a man with faults and sins, but remained in the end the
rock for the Church. And so I too, with all my spiritual poverty, can be for
this time, in virtue of the Lord’s grace, the Successor of Peter.

It is also your prayers and your love which give me the certainty that the
Lord will help me in this my ministry. I am therefore deeply grateful for your
love and for your prayers. My response now for all that you have given to me
during this visit is my blessing, which I impart to you at the conclusion of
this beautiful Celebration.”

Though the Pope’s homily was very moving and sincere, it was still something he had written beforehand. In this rare Papal ad lib, you could tell that his Holiness was speaking straight from his heart—something which just about melted mine. (As sentimental as this sounds, I wanted to give him a hug, but of course the Swiss Guard would have tackled me.) How marvelous to be told more or less directly by the head of the Catholic Church that your love and prayers are appreciated!

I can’t describe how precious of a gift it was to be a part of this assembly at the beginning of my consecrated life. I always knew and believed that I was a part of the Church which Jesus Christ Himself established (first through my baptism and soon more intimately trough my consecration), but now I feel that I have SEEN this reality with my own eyes.

*(the photo and the quote from Pope Benedict XVI were taken from the blog Whispers in the Loggia.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Pope Is Here!

(A note on the photo: this is what some of the "Pope tickets" look like--I thought it was interesting.)

It just boggles my mind to think that the Pope--Christ's number-one representative on earth--is right now here in our country! And I also can't believe that I will see him in person later this week!

Last Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, was "Good Shepard Sunday", and the readings from the Gospel at Mass this week focus on Christ's role as the pastor of His flock. I found this rather Providential, as it gave me an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate we are as Catholics to have a Pope. Not only does the Pope preserve the orthodoxy of our beliefs and the unity and universality of our Church, but he is also a visible reminder of Christ's continuing concern for His people.

I am even happier than I thought I would be about the Holy Father's apostolic journey to the United States!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Pope Is Coming This Week!

Pope Benedict XVI will be making his pastoral visit to the United States this week, and like millions of other people, I am really excited. I am particularly looking forward to the Holy Father coming to our country, as I found out that I will be able to attend one of the Papal Masses. When Benedict XVI was elected, I never guessed that I would be seeing him in person three years later--let alone attending a Mass he would be celebrating!

Hopefully, the joy surrounding the Holy Father's visit will serve as a much-needed source of encouragement to the American Catholics who struggle to maintain their faith in the midst of a secular world. We are also hoping that this "pilgrimage in reverse" will help foster vocations.
To view (or read the text of) the Pope's video message to the people of the United States, click here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

An Unusually Helpful Book

A mentor of mine recommended the book, Christ in His Consecrated Virgins: The Marriage of the Lamb by Ludwig Munster. As far as I know, this is the only book written specifically for the formation of women who were to become consecrated virgins according to the liturgical rite. Because of this, it specifically addresses theological identity of consecrated virgins as such.

This is different from the vast majority of literature on the topic of virginity within the consecrated life in general, which tends to focus more on the theological identity of those under religious vows. Of course, there is a great deal of similarity and overlap between "liturgical" consecrated virginity and the religious vow of chastity. But an often misunderstood fact is that the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity bestows a unique charism upon the recipient which is separate from religious profession. (One article I read described the consecration as relating to vows in an analogous manner to the way in which Ordination relates to vows.)

It was certainly a welcome surprise to find a book addressed directly to theology of my particular vocation. However, as the book was originally published in 1957, before the promulgation of the revised Rite and the subsequent provisions for consecrated virginity lived "in the world", this book is actually written for nuns (probably in Benedictine communities) who were to be consecrated some years after their perpetual or solemn profession. Consequently, Christ in His Consecrated Virgins does not refer to many aspects of consecrated virginity as it is expressed in canon 604 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Christ in His Consecrated Virgins is structured so as to discuss various components of the vocation to consecrated virginity as they correspond to the different elements of the pre-Vatican II Rite of Consecration (which is included as an appendix). For example, the chapters have titles such as "The Call of Christ", "Litany of the Saints", and "Authorization for Reciting the Canonical Hours". One problem with this is that several elements of the older rite did not survive the revision called for by the second Vatican Council (such as the Anathema--which, if you'll pardon the colloquialism, I think was kind of cool!), and some of the elements described only occur when the virgin to be consecrated is also a nun.

But despite this slight obsolesces, I still find the format to be enriching and helpful--it certainly re-enforces the maxim "how we pray is how we believe". Further, it is not too difficult for me to see the similarities and parallels between consecrated virginity as it existed in 1957 and consecrated virginity as it exists in 2008. I think it will take me a few readings before I absorb everything Christ in His Consecrated Virgins has to offer.

I think it would be great if a companion book was written about the revised rite. Maybe my own weak attempts would make good future posts for this blog!