Only one block behind one of the most famed and architecturally impressive structures in all of history lays the body of a woman who shook the souls of those who encountered her. St. Catherine of Siena’s body (her head is at the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena) is underneath the high altar in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a minor basilica that belongs to the religious order to which she dedicated her life to, the Order of Preachers. Her body is approximately three kilometers away from the historic center of Rome as well as approximately three kilometers away from St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. There could be no more precise a location for the body of the woman who single-handedly restored the papacy to its rightful home. No person understood more profoundly the inseparable nature of Church, Tradition, the West, and Rome.
Beyond her saving negotiation skills to restore the papacy to the Eternal City when three “popes” competed for supremacy, St. Catherine of Siena reached spiritual heights that ought to be strived for. Not only a mystic, but one who experienced the gift of tears and understood the saving power of interior suffering, she was also named Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Although “Catherine knew great suffering” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, November 24, 2010), she shined with a joy that reflected the intensity to which her heart was conformed to the heart of Christ. Fr. George Rutler explains the joy of those sanctified, “The culminating evidence of sanctity is a joy that is not of this world. Saints always suffer in various ways as a consequence of their heroic virtue, which pits them against the ‘wickedness and snares of the Devil,’ but there is no such thing as a sad saint. The saints are proof of the existence of God and his mercy by their very lives, which are testimonies greater even than miracles or the logic of natural theology.” St. Catherine of Siena is the exemplary model who proves that holiness is happiness.
Her holiness came from nothing other than her devotion to the Eucharist. In his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict writes that “the Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness.” He then offers the names of many saints that have inched toward perfection because of their Eucharistic devotions, among them St. Catherine of Siena. The Eucharist motivated each and every one of her actions and was the source of her supernatural joy.
Every word and teaching of St. Catherine of Siena ought to be read in light of her Eucharistic faith. Zealously, she once said, “Lord, I treasure your knowing how to give the world a kick” (Letter T360). St. Catherine of Siena believed, rather she knew to be true, that the Lord’s Supper, the Crucifixion, and Holy Mass are all one and the same and that the remarkable mystery of Christ present each and every day to the world in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is the life-giving reality of which anything is possible, but most importantly, the salvation of souls. This is the kick the Lord gives to the world. It manifests itself in many forms, but always originates from the Eucharist.
St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis!
Tyler Lomnitzer is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and is a member of the Knights of Columbus at The Catholic University of America.
As a catechetical leader in a parish, this is my first experience being involved in a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. I am a cradle Catholic, born and raised in the Church, and have had no personal acquaintances go through the RCIA. This year, I have participated on a leadership team to observe how the RCIA is done catechetically. Now that the Easter Vigil has passed and the candidates have been fully initiated into the life of the Church, they are moving into mystagogy, a time where they will process what they have just gone through.
During this time studying the mystery of Christ and his life within us, I cannot help but see how God has formed me this year. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “You who are soon to be enlightened, already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns” (Catechetical Lectures, Prologue, 1). St. Cyril recognized that those who are initiated into the Church learn of Christ’s life within them through initiation at Easter. The “mystery” that we study during mystagogy is not up to us to be solved or remain unsolved. Rather, it is a mystery that we can continue to grow into throughout our lives. I, a lifelong Catholic, a member of the RCIA team, and graduate student in Theology, am still trying—with the grace of God—to weave my heavenly crown alongside those who have just joined the Church. We can all continue to grow in the mystery of our life in Christ.
Much of St. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures to the neophytes have to do with turning away from sin, and choosing a heart of stone over a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). St. Cyril writes, “If any here is a slave of sin, let him promptly prepare himself through faith for the new birth into freedom and adoption” (Lecture 2). St. Cyril is not just addressing the newly baptized, but everyone in the congregation. Why should God forgive us who continue to sin? Why do we deserve such a freedom? How can we be adopted by God? What kind of love could overpower the sins I have committed? These are the mysteries that we reflect on in mystagogy. While candidates have a new-found life through baptism in Christ, we all renew our baptismal promises at Easter. We are all called to continue to reflect on the answers to those questions.
My experience as a team member with the RCIA has showed me that in bringing others into the Mystery, Christ is also calling me back to remember the Mystery of God’s love in my own life. Easter provides us the time to remember and renew our baptismal promises. In that renewal, we can remember that mystagogy is not just for the newly initiated, but for everyone. We can all grow in knowledge of the Mystery of Christ that we experience in the church at Easter and in our everyday lives.
Thomas Coast currently serves as an Apprentice Catechetical Leader in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire. He is currently working on his Master’s Degree in theology through the University of Notre Dame’s Echo Program.
There’s a line from Coldplay’s “The Scientist” that pops in my head from time to time. Nothing seems to prompt it. The line just comes: “Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart.”
As I sit with the words now, I notice why they speak to me. A lover of math and physics, questions of science have engaged me from the very beginning. At first it was dinosaurs, fossils, rocks, mountains, stars, planets – big, physical, earthy things. As I grew and learned through the complicated processes of science, the whole world became an infinitely complicated, continuously unfolding window into God’s creative mind. From the quantum entanglement of paired photon particles to the unimaginably long process of creation through evolution that could selectively form the creatures of this mysterious and complicated world, I stand in complete, utter fascination.
Yet, as captivated as I am by science, its questions are not enough. For me, asking the probing questions of science isn’t about head knowledge, it’s about heart knowledge. The created world and all its mysteries, when uncovered and understood, stir in me deeper mysteries, mysteries of a different category and question. At some point I moved beyond asking what and how to asking why and what does it mean.
As we celebrated Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded that the gifts we have been given are of both head knowledge and heart knowledge. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, strength, piety, and fear of the Lord – these challenge and equip us to probe deeper, scientifically and metaphysically, into the mystery of being.
Of all the gifts, fear of the Lord might sound the most antiquated, but it may also be the most relevant for today’s ongoing conversation with secularism. Understood as “wonder and awe”, rather than fear, this gift certainly explains my shift in focus from science to faith. And, I’m certain, explains the drive of so much scientific research today.
Wonder is the starting point for two difficult conversations – one between science and fundamentalism and the second between faith and active secularism. Both the agnostic physicist and the pious mystic share the gift of a profound wonder and awe at the created world, whether or not they both believe the world had a creator.
As we celebrate the gift of Pentecost, and as we give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s continued work, let us take time to wonder with someone about the intricacies of creation – whether it be through the eyes of science or the eyes of faith – and let us hope that this gift of wonder can begin a creative conversation of a different sort.
Mark Bartholet is the Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC.