Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena of 14th century Italy. She became a part of the Dominican order and devoted her life to mystical prayer. She is known for being one of the greatest mystics in the church who led a life of radical witness to the love of Christ, a relationship described as a mystical marriage.
Catherine was sought out by religious leaders, political leaders, people from many walks of life for her deep wisdom. But on a more mundane, but historically significant note, she told the Pope where to go!!! Not necessarily where you’re thinking, although I’m sure this crossed her mind.
In the 14th century medieval Italy, France and Italy were at odds; nothing new. The pope ended up fleeing to Avignon, France where the papacy resided for 67 years. Yes, the pope abandoned Rome and moved the papal court to Avignon, which can be visited today.
Catherine believed deeply and rightly that the Pope belongs in Rome, the city of Peter’s martyrdom. She went to the Pope at the time, I believe one of the Gregory’s, and told him to get back to Rome where the Pope belonged. He actually listened to this young woman!!!!! Just think, the Pope didn’t always live in Rome and Catherine is the reason for his return after 67 years.
Needless to say, Catherine was a strong woman who spoke truth to power and who led a compelling life of extreme discipline and ascetical practices, some of which were a bit strange.
With our patron St. Teresa of Avila, Catherine was declared a Doctor of the Church due to her spiritual teaching and mystical theology. But it was her deep love of the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ that her influence continues to be felt today and will so for all time.
Catherine took to heart Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel, that he is the Bread of Life satisfying our deepest hungers. She lived for the Eucharist, which fed her deep love of Christ leading her to experiencing him as her spouse. She compared Christ to a bridge that connected heaven and earth, as well as, the soul with God. And this bridge consisted of three parallel paths: the mouth, feet and side of Jesus. Ironically, one name for the Pope is “pontiff” which means “bridge.”
The Eucharist is the food that is our bridge to Jesus, connecting us to him AND to each other!!! It creates and nourishes a holy “communion” of human beings, making our way through time in pilgrimage, creating a new world, flowing from the resurrection.