The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis during today's general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall in the presence of 8,000 people, to St. Catherine of Bologna (1413-1463).
Born to a noble family in the Italian city of Bologna, at the age of ten she moved to Ferrara where she entered the court of Niccolo III d'Este as a maid of honour. There she received a very careful education which would later serve her during her monastic life when "she used the cultural and artistic knowledge acquired over those years to great advantage", the Pope said.
In 1427, at the age of fourteen, she left the court to dedicate herself to religious life in a community of young women. Two years later the leader of this group founded an Augustinian convent, but Catherine and a number of others preferred Franciscan spirituality and transformed the community into Poor Clares.
The saint "made great spiritual progress in this new phase of her life, though she also had to face great trails", the Pope explained. "She experienced the night of the spirit, tormented even by the temptation of disbelief in the Eucharist. After much suffering, the Lord consoled her. In a vision He gave her the clear awareness of the real Eucharistic presence". In another vision God revealed the forgiveness of her sins, giving Catherine a "powerful experience of divine mercy".
In 1431 the saint had yet another vision, this time of the Final Judgement, which led her "to intensify her prayers and penance for the salvation of sinners. Satan continued to assail her as she increasingly entrusted herself to the Lord and the Virgin Mary. In her writings, Catherine left us essential notes on this mysterious struggle, from which, by the grace of God, she emerged victorious".
These notes are contained in her one written work, the "Treatise on the Seven Spiritual Weapons" in which Catherine teaches that to combat evil it is necessary: "(1) to be careful always to do good; (2) to believe that we can never achieve anything truly good by ourselves; (3) to trust in God and, for His love, never to fear the battle against evil, either in the world or in ourselves; (4) to meditate frequently on the events and words of Jesus' life, especially His passion and death; (5) to remember that we must die; (6) to keep the benefits of heaven firmly in our minds, (7) to be familiar with Holy Scripture, keeping it in our hearts to guide all our thoughts and actions".
"In her convent Catherine, though used to the court of Ferrara, ... performed even the most humble tasks with love and ready obedience", said the Holy Father, recalling also that, out of obedience, the saint "accepted the job of mistress of novices, although she felt she was incapable of carrying out the role". In the same spirit she agreed to move to Bologna as abbess of a new monastery though she would have preferred to end her days in Ferrara.
Catherine died on 9 March 1463 and was canonised by Pope Clement XI in 1712. "With her words and life", Benedict XVI concluded, "she strongly invites us always to allow ourselves to be guided by God, to do His will every day even if it does not always correspond to our own plans, and to trust in His Providence which never abandons us. In this perspective, St. Catherine also invites us to rediscover the value of the virtue of obedience".
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