FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
San Domingos Church in Macau is one of the favorite places for tourists and in particular for Christians and believers. The original structure of the Church was built upon orders of the first three Spanish Dominican missionaries, who had arrived here about September 1, 1587. The main altar of the baroque Church is presided by a royal statue of Our Lady of the Rosary accompanied on her right side by a statue of St. Dominic de Guzman (San Domingos), the founder of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans, and on her left side by a statue of St. Catherine of Siena. The great Italian mystic and Dominican saint is one of the patrons of the Diocese of Macau, and her feast is celebrated on April 29 of every year.
Catherine Benincasa was born on March 25, 1347 in Siena, Italy. Jacobo and Lapa, her parents, had twenty five children. Catherine was their twenty third child. She was a deeply pious girl. When she was about seventeen years old, Catherine joined the “Mantellata” of Siena – a group of lay women of the Third Order of Penance of Saint Dominic. She died on April 29, 1380 – after much suffering. She was canonized by Pius II in 1461, proclaimed a co-patron of Europe by Pope Pius XII in 1939, and declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Catherine wrote a major work of spiritual and mystical life: the Dialogue, or the Book of Divine Providence, which is a conversation between God and Catherine. As it has been said, more than a book it is Catherine’s life. She also wrote hundreds of wonderful moving letters and about twenty six prayers uttered by her during periods of ecstasies or while praying aloud; the prayers were taken down by her followers.
The point of departure of St. Catherine’ spiritual life is knowledge of God and self-knowledge. God tells her: “From knowledge of me to knowledge of self, and from love of me to love of others.” For Catherine, God is the Supreme Truth, “gentle first Truth,” and the Supreme Love, “Love itself.” God asks her: “Do you know, my daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you will have beatitude within your grasp. You are she who is not, and I AM HE WHO IS.” Self-knowledge eradicates self-love, which is the source of all evils. The virtue of discretion attains for us knowledge of God and of self, which leads to humility that takes us to gratitude and love.
Catherine had three special loves: God, neighbor, and the Church. Jesus tells her: Love of God and love of neighbor are “the two feet” on which she must walk, or “the two wings” on which she must fly.
God fell in love with his creature’s beauty and created him: “We have been created in such dignity that no tongue can relate, nor eye see, nor heart think what the dignity of man is” (Letter). After man’s falling into sin, God sent his only Son Jesus to redeem him and thus increase his dignity. For Catherine, the death of Christ is the supreme expression of God’s ‘mad’ love for man: “O loving madman, was it nor enough for you to become incarnate, without also wishing to die.”
Jesus is the Bridge to reach God. God tells St. Catherine: “So I gave you a Bridge, my Son, so that you could cross over the river, the stormy sea of the darksome life, without being drowned.” One crosses the Bridge through three steps. The first step is the step of servile fear – the fear of hell. The second step is the step of holy fear – the fear of offending God. The third step is the step of love of God – loving God as a son or daughter and as our friend.
How may one cross the Bridge from one step to the next? We may cross the Bridge through prayer and the practice of virtues. St. Catherine’s advice to us: Never abandon prayer; this is the weapon of the soul against every adversary. She affirms: “Prayer is the mother of all virtues”; “It is prayer who conceives virtues as her children in love for God, and gives them birth in love of neighbor.” The virtue of love is above all the virtues, and perfects them all.
Catherine loves the liturgy, in particular the Holy Eucharist. She attends Mass every day. In the Mass, she says, “the Lord awaits us with open arms.” She approached often the Sacrament of Penance. She loved to read good books. The Breviary is her “first book after the stars and the flowers” (Perez de Urbel).
Catherine was happy with her interior cell and the intimate company of Jesus. One day Jesus tells Catherine who continues her life of solitude: “Open the door of your cell; but not that I can enter, but that you can come out. You cannot serve me inside; you must go out to serve the neighbor. The soul that truly loves never gets tired of serving the others.” She had a tender love for the poor, the sick, sinners and prisoners. One morning, on her way to St. Peter’s to attend Mass a beggar approaches Catherine. That day she had nothing to give so she gave him her medal. When the poor man put it on, Catherine saw in him, the face of Christ. Indeed, “I was hungry and you gave me food.”
Another striking note in Catherine’s life is her constant work for peace. Catherine was a tireless promoter of peace. With Raymond of Capua, her confessor, and her many followers, Catherine walked through the roads of many Italian towns and cities working for and achieving peace among quarreling factions and groups. She talked to kings, princes, the Pope and cardinals and priests against corruption and on behalf of the needy, and promoted justice with compassion and forgiveness.
In the last eight years of her life, Catherine focused more on her third love: love of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. In the Church, we all receive the good of salvation through the proclamation of the Word and the Sacraments. To be redeemed and saved, she says, we all “have to pass by the door of Jesus Crucified; this door is found only in the Church.”
St. Catherine of Siena repeats that “the reform of the Church must be done by holy and good shepherds in deed and in truth, not only with the sound of the word, because if it is said and not done, this would amount to nothing” (Letter, 291).
Loving the Church implies obedience to the Church, in particular to the Holy Father whom she calls “the sweet Christ on earth.” She says: “He who does not obey the Christ of the earth, who represents the Christ of heaven, will not have part in the fruit of the blood of the Son of God, because God wants that we receive from her hands that divine blood and all the sacraments that give us life by the same blood.” I remember the words of Saint Cyprian: “One cannot have God as Father if he does not have the Church as mother.”
When she lived in Rome, Catherine walked every day to the tomb of St. Peter to pray for the Church. Being faithful to the Church requires from all the members to pray for the Church and to work towards her purification. Her greatest visible achievement: the return of Pope Gregory XI to Rome from Avignon, where the popes resided for over fifty years. Catherine always fought for the unity of the Church, particularly after the death of Pope Gregory XI in 1376 and the schism of the west that followed.
Catherine offered her life as sacrifice for the Church: “My great desire is to shed my blood, drop by drop, in the garden of the Church.” A few days before her death at thirty three Catherine says: “If I die, know that I die of passionate love for the Church.” Her last words: “Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.”
St. Catherine of Siena is, together with the Immaculate Conception, St. Francis Xavier and St. John the Baptist, patron of Macau. On May 2, 1646 the Macau Senate declared “S. Catarina Padroeira desta terra, que entao se achava na miseria e o seu povo dividido e desunido pela discordia”: The Macau Senate declared St. Catherine Patron of this land, which was then in a state of misery, and its people divided, and not united due to discord (From Manuel Teixeira).
St. Catherine of Siena, Patron of Macau, pray for us – for the people of Macau.
(Published by O Clarim, The Macau Catholic Weekly: April 28, 2017)