April 27, 2012
What this 14th-century mystic can teach us about fidelity to Christ and to a Church in crisis. an essay by Thomas McDermott, OP
In the wake of so many clerical sex abuse scandals, to many people the Catholic Church appears hypocritical and bankrupt morally and spiritually. In the midst of such trying times, how can Catholics justify remaining in the Church? The words and deeds of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), Dominican Mantelatta—or penitential woman—who lived during an earlier crisis, can offer us some guidance and hope.
Catherine lived in worse times than our own because it was not only the Church that seemed to be collapsing, but larger society and even the world itself. The Black Death, or bubonic plague—one of the deadliest pandemics in human history—reached Sicily via Genoese trading ships from the Black Sea the year Catherine was born. It is said that four-fifths of the population of Siena died from the plague the following year. There would be several successive waves of the disease during Catherine’s lifetime. One anonymous chronicler in Siena at the time wrote: “And no bells tolled, and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death…. And people said and believed, ‘This is the end of the world.’”
At the time, Italy was a conglomeration of feuding monarchies, communes, and republics with factions such as the Guelphs, who supported the papacy, and the Ghibellines, who supported the northern Italian rulers. The Italian peninsula was beset by foreign mercenaries, the most famous of which was the Englishman John Hawkwood, to whom Catherine directed one of her 381 letters. Outside of Italy, the Hundred Years War between England and France was raging, and there was the additional threat of militant Islam as seen in the advance of the Turks twice to Vienna. ...more at the World Catholic Catholic Report
My parish in Clarksville Virginia is St Catherine of Siena.