Imagens da página

rine travelled to France to lead the Pontiff, Gregory XI., away from the delights of his native land; she brought back the Popes to Rome, the real centre of Christianity. She addressed herself to cardinals, princes, and kings. Her zeal, kindling at the sight of the disorders which prevailed in the Church, led her to exert her activity in order to overcome them; she negotiated between the nations and the Holy See; she brought back to God a multitude of souls, and communicated, by her teaching and example, a new vitality to those great religious orders which were the life and pulse of the Church."

Of the story of this noble and heroic woman, who was born into an age marked by the gross corruption of Society and the Church, and into a land scourged by war and pestilence, I shall essay to present a brief but accurate record.

To Giacomo Benincasa, of Siena, surnamed II Fullone, or The Dyer,—a loyal God-fearing man, profoundly respected by his neighbours,—was born by his wife Lapa no fewer than five and twenty children. Of these Catharine was the survivor of a fragile pair of twins, who first saw the light in 1347. Her twin-sister Jane lived only a few days. Catharine lived to make for herself a name in history.

Of her husband Lapa was wont to say:—" He is so moderate and mild in his words that he never gives way to anger, though it would have been justifiable on many occasions. If he saw any of his household vexed or excited he would soothe them by saying :—' Now, now, do not say anything which is unjust or unkind, and God will give you His blessing.' On one occasion he was much injured by a fellow-citizen who had robbed him of money, and made use of falsehood and calumny in order to ruin his character and his business. He never would hear his enemy harshly spoken of, and when I, thinking there was no harm in it, would express my anger against my husband's detractor, he would say :—' Let him alone, dear, let him alone, and God will bless you. God will show him his error, and will be our defence.' This soon came true, for our adversary confessed that he was in the wrong."

It was good to be brought up under the eye of such a father, and at an early age Catharine developed many gracious gifts and qualities, which he did not fail to cultivate. Hence she became so beloved that the neighbours constantly sought her,—finding in her society and childish innocent prattle such sweetness and consolation, that they gave her the name of Euphrosyne, meaning joy or satisfaction. There was an ineffable sweetness in her smile, in which her eyes as well as her lips partook. Everything seemed to ripen in the sunshine of her frank, happy nature, and she was not less fond of birds, and beasts, and flowers, than of her fellow-creatures. Tradition represents her as favoured, even in her young years, with celestial visions. By the side of that convent-church of S. Dominic to which I have already referred was placed a small chapel; and thither she frequently repaired to spend whole hours in silent communion with her Lord. One evening, when she -was six years old, her mother sent her with her little brother Stephen, to take a message to the house of an elder sister. On their return, the sun was setting, and the excitable and imaginative Catharine, in the richly tinted clouds of evening above the gable end of S. Dominic's church, saw a vision of Jesus in glorious apparel, supreme in majesty and beauty. As she gazed, the Saviour looked tenderly upon her, and stretched forth His hand in the act of benediction. While she was absorbed in silent ecstasy, her little brother descended the hill in the belief that she was following him. Turning round, he saw that she lingered on the summit, looking towards the gold and purple magnificence of the sunset. He called, but she answered not. Running back to her, he seized her hand :—" Come on," he said, "why do you tarry here?" With a start, as if awakened from a profound trance, she broke out sobbing :—" Oh, Stephen, could you but have seen what I saw, you would never have disturbed me thus." And as the vision had vanished, she turned her face homewards, weeping. was evident. So, one morning, she set out boldly to reach the Desert . It was natural to suppose that the ravens would provide her with food as they provided the prophet Elijah ; but she prudently took with her a loaf of bread to supply her wants if the ravens failed her. Leaving the city behind her she boldly made her way towards a range of distant hills, where, as the houses were scattered far apart, she felt assured that she must be on the border of the wilderness. Creeping into a little cave over which a rock impended, she began to pray and meditate in happy mood, and there she remained until the evening when "God suddenly revealed to her that He designed her for another mode of life, and that she must not leave her father's house." Thereupon she hastened home; tradition asserting that she was carried by angels, or miraculously supported so that her foot did not touch the ground.

Frequently listening to stories of the lives of the saints, and of all they had done and suffered, and of their lifelong seclusion from the world in savage and remote places, she was induced, when about seven years old, to form the idea of going on a pilgrimage into the Desert. For this purpose she frequently betook herself to secluded nooks, to muse and dream away the hours, but, sooner or later, her privacy was always intruded upon. She must go further away; that

[ocr errors]

Her next amusement was to gather around her a congregation of children of her own age, and deliver to them extemporaneous sermons, which are said (no doubt with much exaggeration) to have been eloquent and powerful. When she was twelve years old, her parents began to talk of her marriage, though knowing no one among their acquaintances whom they regarded as worthy of her. As for Catharine herself, she had already resolved to adopt a celibate life, and to take a vow of perpetual virginity, that she might be the freer to act in God's service. There arose, consequently, a struggle between her parents and herself when a young man of good birth and high character presented himself as a suitor. Her parents subjected her to a stern discipline with the view of overcoming her opposition; but while gentle and affectionate she was resolved. Forbidden to have a room to herself, she elected to share the chamber of her little brother Stephen, because she could take advantage of his long hours of absence in the day, and his deep boyish slumber at night, to continue the prayers and vigils in which her soul delighted. Her quiet, unassuming steadfastness had a great effect on the minds of her parents; they could not but feel that she was animated by no weak caprice, but by some over-mastering purpose; and what that was, her father dimly perceived when, entering her room suddenly one evening, he found her engaged in

prayer. Her attitude and expression were as a revelation to him ; and it is easy to believe that they would move him greatly, without adding the legendary embellishment that he saw the light resting upon her head in the shape of a snowwhite dove.

A quick imagination, an impressionable temperament, and a habit of fervent prayer and meditation,—given these, and what may we not expect as the result in a girl of tender years? Excited by her constant desire to assume the Dominican habit, and become a preacher, she saw S. Dominic in a dream, and she heard him say, as he smiled upon her: —" Daughter, be of good cheer. Fear no let or hindrance, for the day cometh in the which you shall be clothed with the mantle you so eagerly covet." Ah, with what a rapturous emotion she arose that day, and how her heart burned within her, as gathering around her all her family, she addressed them in most earnest words -}—" For a long time you have decided that I should marry, but my conduct must have proved to you that I could not accept of the decision. Yet have I refrained from explaining myself, out of the reverence I feel towards you, my parents. Now, however, my duty compels me to break my silence. I must speak candidly to you, and reveal the resolution I have adopted,—a resolution not of yesterday, but dating from my early years. Know, then, that I have made a vow, not lightly, but deliberately, and with full knowledge of what I was doing. Now that I am of maturer age, and have a better knowledge of the purport of my own actions, I persist, by the grace of God, in my resolution, and it would be easier to dissolve a rock than to induce me to change my mind. Give up, therefore, for me, dear friends, all these projects for an earthly union : it is impossible for me to satisfy you on this point, for I must obey God rather than man. If you wish me to remain as a servant in your house, I will cheerfully fulfil all your will to the best of my power; but if you should be so displeased with me as to make you desire me to leave you, know that I shall remain immovable in my resolve. He Who has united my soul to His, has all the riches of earth and heaven, and He can provide for and protect me."

1 Mrs. J. E. Butler, pp. 32, 33.

[ocr errors]

Words so courageous and so firm as these affected Catharine's parents and family to tears; they felt that further pressure would be useless and unjustifiable. "God preserve us, dearest child," said her father, "from any longer opposing the resolution which He has inspired. We are satisfied that you have been actuated by no idle fancy, but by a movement of divine grace. Fulfil without hindrance the vow you have taken; do all that the Holy Spirit commands you; henceforth your time shall be at your own disposal; only pray for us, that we may become worthy of Him Who has called you at so tender an age." Turning to his wife and children, he added :—" Let no one hereafter contradict my dear child, or seek to turn her from her holy resolution; let her serve her Saviour in the way she desires, and may she seek His favour and pardoning mercy for us: we could never find for her a more beautiful or honourable alliance, for her soul is wedded to her Lord, and it is not a man, but the Lord Who dieth not, we now receive into our house."

Thenceforth she was allowed to retain as a cell or oratory that little private chamber, which became her favourite resort, and the scene of her wonderful communion with Heaven. Giving herself up to prayer and meditation, she remained there for three years; during which she prepared herself for her future work by vigilant self-examination and lofty intimate spiritual intercourse with her God. At the same time she taught herself the lessons of mortification and abstemiousness. Her diet was of the plainest; she gave but little time to sleep; she lay upon the bare boards without any covering; her garments were of the coarsest wool, but always scrupulously clean, for cleanliness and exterior neatness she cherished as a sign of inward purity. The night was consumed in prayer, in pouring into her SaViour's ear her love and anxiety; not till the first sound of the matin-bell did she retire to her wooden bed for a brief repose. She confessed to Raymond of Capua, in later life, that her victory over sleep had cost her more pain and trouble than any other of her struggles; and that she had undergone indescribable anguish in crushing out the natural desire for rest. "Such conquests over self and over the infirmities, even over many of the just and natural demands of the

« AnteriorContinuar »