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The Catholic Defender: Saint Catharine of Bologna

Born in Bologna, Catharine was related to the nobility in Ferrara, and was educated at court there. She received a liberal education at the court and developed some interest and talent in painting. In later years as a Poor Clare, Catharine sometimes did manuscript illumination and also painted miniatures.

At the age of 17, she joined a group of religious women in Ferrara. Four years later, the whole group joined the Poor Clares in that city. Jobs as convent baker and portress preceded her selection as novice mistress.

In 1456, she and 15 other sisters were sent to establish a Poor Clare monastery in Florence. As abbess, Catharine worked to preserve the peace of the new community. Her reputation for holiness drew many young women to the Poor Clare life. She was canonized in 1712. The liturgical feast of Saint Catharine of Bologna is celebrated on May 9.

Saint Catherine feast day was on March 9 and was canonized on May 22 1712 by Pope Clement XL. She is the patron saint of Art , against temptations, artists, Bologna Academy of Art, Liberal arts and Painters. Saint Catherine's symbol was a palette and paint brushes, because she was an artist/painter.

Appreciating Catharine’s life in a Poor Clare monastery may be hard for us. “It seems like such a waste,” we may be tempted to say. Through prayer, penance, and charity to her sisters, Catharine drew close to God. Our goal is the same as hers, even if our paths are different.

She was a model of piety and reported experiencing miracles and several visions of Christ, the Virgin Mary,

She soon began to experience visions of Christ and Satan, and wrote of her experiences, one of which occurred one Christmas.

Upon the death of her father and the remarriage of her mother, Catherine decided to follow her heart and enter the Religious life of the Order of St. Augustine, which at that time was relatively new. During these new beginnings Catherine wrote, "During my tender years, enlightened by Divine Grace, I entered God's service in this Monastery with good intentions and much fervor. My life was filled with prayer, day and night. Any virtue I admired or heard of in others, I tried to imitate in my own life. I did so not out of envy, but to please God in Whom I had put all my love."

As in all cases the devil would also enter the picture to try and confuse Catherine in the hope that she would become prideful in her gifts and talents. During this time Catherine went through interior darkness but though young Catherine could also discern the voice of the wicked one and would openly rebuke his evil insinuations with these words, "Be sure, evil spirit, you will not tempt me so openly nor so stealthily without my knowing it." Catherine endured these demonic with her usual spiritual maturity and though she felt no consolations she simply trusted in God and knew that God alone sufficed for her. Even when the evil one would try and disguise himself as our Lord and accuse Catherine of sundry offenses rather than argue with her beloved Catherine instead would agree as to her unworthiness, this would then have the devil fleeing her presense as he cannot stand to be in the presence of true sanctity.

Though Catherine suffered much during this demonic manifestations her love for God did not dwindle nor her obedience to the Church. Through all this Catherine's Faith and her reception of the Sacraments strengthened her. It was during Mass as she received Jesus in the Eucharist that Catherine explained what happened in her Treatise, "she felt and tasted the sweetest, purest Flesh of the Immaculate Lamb, Christ Jesus." Catherine also went on to explain this to her fellow Sisters, " Sometimes the devil inspires souls with an inordinate zeal for a certain virtue or some special pious exercise, so that they will be motivated by their passion to practice it more and more. This temptation is more to pride rather than virtue....Sometimes, on the other hand, the devil coaches souls to do less than they can really do. This temptation is more to false humility...In both cases, the devil's goal is to make the soul discouraged when the virtue is found to be unattainable; and to be wearied and disgusted if his efforts are below his abilities. The soul ends up neglecting everything. It is necessary to overcome the one snare as the other."

The Lord would often show Catherine through visions the enormity of what sin can do to a persons soul, if they die unrepentant, her glimpse of the Final Judgment so horrified and terrified Catherine that she cried out in horror at such a shocking sight. Catherine went on to warn others of this terrible plight and how to avoid it in her writings, "Whoever wishes to carry the cross for his sake must take up the proper weapons for the contest, especially those mentioned here. First, diligence; second, distrust of self ; third, confidence in God; fourth, remembrance of Passion; fifth, mindfulness of one's own death; sixth, remembrance of God's glory; seventh, the injunctions of Sacred Scripture following the example of Jesus Christ in the desert."

Catherine excelled at obedience which pleased God greatly and so came about the miracle of the bread. As Catherine was preparing and baking the bread, she placed several loaves in the oven when she suddenly heard the bells peel for prayers, Catherine didnt hesitate and hurried to her prayers, before hastily leaving she made the sign of the cross over the loaves still baking and rushed out. When she was able to return several hours later she found to her amazement that the bread had not burnt indeed it was the most delicious bread she had ever baked.

Though Catherine experienced miraculous signs and visions from God and also endured those by the evil one, her humility and obedience never wavered, indeed it would be her obedience that often saved her from the wicked snares of the evil one, as he tempted her to distrust God's love for her.

One particular vision would touch Catherine deeply as she was given a vision of Christ Crucified as He explained to her what truly brought him the most suffering and anguish which was the knowledge of those who would prove to be faithless when serving Him. He wept at the lack of faith shown by many of his beloved children and the many souls who were lukewarm, this brought intolerable pain to our Lord and Saviour. Jesus also shared with Catherine His pain at watching the sorrow and agony etched on the face of His beloved Mother as she stood by the Cross with her own spirit pierced to the core. Upon seeing and hearing this Catherine spent many days in tears at the thankless displayed by souls who's faith had grown tepid.

It was also at Christmas that Catherine driven by her zealous love for Jesus and our Blessed Mother that Catherine requested to pray 1,000 Hail Mary's in front of the Tabernacle. As Catherine prayed her Hail Mary's she found she was in the presence of her loved Holy Mother, who smiled gently at her as she handed her baby Son Jesus to the humbled Catherine, who was stunned at such a gift that she leaned forward to kiss her beloved child Jesus. Catherine wrote of this experience, "The perfume that emanated from His Pure Flesh was so sweet that there is neither tongue that can express, nor such a keen mind imagine, the very beautiful and delicate Face of the Son of God, when one could say all that was to be said, it would be nothing." Catherine was not alone in experiencing this most wondrous event as her fellow Sisters smelt the holy Presence of the baby Jesus and our Lady as a heavenly fragrance filled the room.

On the move to Bologna Catherine became Mother Abbess, during her time there vocations grew as Catherine holiness was evident to all. It was not long though before a health crisis would have all her community praying as Catherine became seriously ill, but due to a fellow Sisters pleading prayers to keep a little longer their beloved Mother Abbess. Upon recovering Catherine asked for her violin to be brought to her when her Sisters complied with this strange request, Mother Abbess Catherine then played a tune to honour God whilst proclaiming to her startled Sisters, "May the Lord forgive her who through her prayers has still kept me in this world."

Though Catherine would survive this health scare, and indeed become even more busy on her recovery, still her time was limited.

So it was that Catherine called her community together as she told them that she would soon be going on her final journey to our Lord and Saviour and to spend the rest of her eternal life in the Heavenly realm. Catherine had a peaceful and holy death.

Saint Catherine's body upon exhumation was found to be incorrupt.

Catherine of Bologna also experienced spiritual visions throughout her life of both Jesus and Satan, including a frightening vision of the Last Judgement, which led her to increase her prayers for the salvation of sinners.

She wrote that she had the ecstatic experience of having the baby Jesus placed in her arms by the Blessed Mother. She was also tormented by visions of the devil, but she was able to overcome these after many years of prayer.

In Lent of 1463, Catherine became seriously ill, and she died on March 9th. Buried without a coffin, her body was exhumed eighteen days later because of cures attributed to her and also because of the sweet scent coming from her grave. Her body was found to be incorrupt and remains so today in the Church of the Poor Clare convent in Bologna. She was canonized in 1712.

St. Catherine eagerly responded to her call to lead the religious life. Her piety, charity, and kindness attracted many to follow her along the road to perfection. The beauty of her life and death encourages us to resolve to live in perfect charity as a Lenten goal.

Saint Catherine was beatified in 1524 by Pope Clement VII and canonized on May 22, 1712 by Pope Clement XI.

As was the custom of the Poor Clares, she was buried without a coffin. She was exhumed 18 days later after visitors noticed a sweet smell coming from her grave and some experienced miracles. Her body was found to be flexible and uncorrupted. Six hundred years later, her body remains intact. Her skin has blackened from exposure to oil lamps and soot, but still she sits, clothed in her nun’s robes, on a golden throne behind a glass case in the Church of the Saint in Bologna, resplendent in death as she would never have wanted to be in life.

She was canonized in 1712 and her feast day is March 9.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke eloquently of this humble saint:

“From the distance of so many centuries she is still very modern and speaks to our lives. She, like us, suffered temptations, she suffered the temptations of disbelief, of sensuality, of a difficult spiritual struggle. She felt forsaken by God, she found herself in the darkness of faith. Yet in all these situations she was always holding the Lord’s hand, she did not leave him, she did not abandon him. And walking hand in hand with the Lord, she walked on the right path and found the way of light.”

The patron saint of artists and against temptations, Catherine de' Vigri was venerated for nearly three centuries in her native Bologna before being formally canonized in 1712 by Pope Clement XI.

Dear saintly Poor Clare, Saint Catherine of Bologna, so rich in love for Jesus and Mary, you were endowed with great talents by God and you left us most inspiring writings and paintings for wondrous beauty. You did all for God’s greater glory and in this you are a model for all. Make artists learn lessons from you and use their talents to the full.

With her great wisdom and counsel she wrote a timeless treatise, The Seven Spiritual Weapons. This work is still relevant today for all those who seek to know, love and serve the Lord. Here is a brief summary of each of the spiritual weapons and how you can apply them to your life.

  1. Humility: St. Catherine stressed the importance of cultivating humility as a foundational virtue. This means recognizing your own limitations, acknowledging your dependence on God in all areas of your life and allowing yourself to be open to receiving God’s grace and mercy.

  2. Obedience: This word can bring negative connotations, but St. Catherine urged Christians to turn to God for his guidance. The goal is to align your life with His divine plan which is where true joy and peace will be found. Obedience involves sacrificing those things that separate you from God and trusting that He knows what is best for you, even when things aren’t working out the way that you expected.

  3. Faith-filled Reading and Reflection: To nourish and deepen your faith it is crucial to read Scripture, spiritual writings and the lives of the saints to increase your understanding of God’s teachings and to be inspired on your faith journey. These writings will give you an insight in how to center your life around God.

  4. Continuous Prayer: St. Catherine advocated for a life of constant prayer and communion with God. She encouraged others to cultivate an ongoing conversation with him, seek his guidance, express gratitude, and to seek His presence in all areas of life. Constant prayer is directing all areas of your life towards God with a spirit of trust and gratitude.

  5. Mortification: In order to detach yourself from worldly desires so that you can focus more fully on God, you will need to practice self-control and temperance. To grow in your spiritual life you will need to embrace self-discipline and self-denial even when it is difficult and uncomfortable. On the other side you will find freedom, joy and peace.

  6. Spiritual Joy: When you are connected with Christ you are able to find joy even in the face of difficulties. This joy can be found in the presence of God and as you come to know Him on a deeper level. This joy will help you to overcome and push through challenges on your spiritual journey.

  7. Trust in God: By surrendering your worries, fears and anxieties to God you will experience a deep sense of peace and confidence in His loving care for you.


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