CATHERINE OF GENOA AND THE EXPERIENCE OF PURGATORY
VATICAN CITY, 12 JAN 2011 (VIS) – During this morning’s general audience,
held in the Paul VI Hall in the presence of 9,000 faithful, Benedict XVI
focused his catechesis on St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), author of two
books: “Treatise on Purgatory” and “Dialogues on the Soul and the Body”.
Catherine received a good Christian education in the home before marrying
at the age of sixteen, although her married life was not an easy one. At
first she led a worldly existence which caused her a profound sense of
emptiness and bitterness however, following a unique spiritual experience
which made her aware of her own misery and defects and, at the same time, of
the goodness of God, she decided to change her life and to begin a journey
of purification and mystical communion with the Lord. “The place of her
ascent to the mystical heights was the hospital of Pammatone, the largest in
Genoa, of which she was director”, said the Pope.
“The period between her conversion and her death was not marked by
extraordinary events”, said the Holy Father, “but two elements characterised
her entire life: on the one hand, mystical experience, profound union with
God and, … on the other, service to others, especially the most needy and
“We must never forget”, he went on, “that the more we love God and remain
constant in our prayers, the more we will truly manage to love those around
us, because in each individual we will see the face of the Lord, Who loves
without limit or distinction”.
Benedict XVI then went on to refer to the works of the saint, recalling
how, “in her mystical experiences, Catherine never received specific
revelations on Purgatory or on the souls being purified there”. She did not
see Purgatory “as a place of transit in the depths of the earth: it is not
an exterior fire, but an interior fire”. She did not use the hereafter as a
basis “to recount the torments of purgatory and then show the way to
purification and conversion; rather, she began from the interior experience
of man on his journey towards eternity”.
Thus, for Catherine, “the soul is aware of God’s immense love and perfect
justice; as a consequence, it suffers for not having responded to that love
perfectly, and it is precisely the love of God Himself which purifies the
soul from the ravages of sin”.
This mystical saint from Genoa used an image typical of Dionysus the
Areopagite: the thread of gold linking the human heart to God, said the
Pope. “In this way the heart of man is inundated with the love of God, which
becomes his only guide, the only driving force in his life. This situation
of elevation towards God and abandonment to His will, as expressed in the
image of the thread, is used by Catherine to express the action of divine
light on the souls in Purgatory, a light which purifies and raises them
towards the splendour of the dazzling rays of God”.
“In their experience of union with God, saints achieve so profound an
‘understanding’ of the divine mysteries, in which love and knowledge almost
become one, that they can even help theologians in their studies”, said the
“St. Catherine’s life teaches us that the more we love God and enter into
intimate contact with Him through prayer, the more He makes Himself known
and enflames our hearts with His love. By writing about Purgatory, the saint
reminds us of a fundamental truth of the faith which becomes an invitation
for us to pray for the dead, that they may achieve the blessed vision of God
in the communion of the saints”.
And Benedict XVI concluded: “The saint’s lifelong humble, faithful and
generous service in the hospital of Pammatone is a shining example of
charity towards everyone, and a special encouragement for women who make a
fundamental contribution to society and the Church with their precious
efforts, enriched by their sensitivity and the care they show towards the
poorest and those most in need”.
She seems to an extremely interesting Saint, in her conception of Purgatory as a purification through the interior fire. I am just wondering whether there is a scheme that our Holy Father mentions so often women in his catechesis, perhaps they offer a different, and often a more existential approach to theology? My guess.
I knew very little of St. Catherine of Genoa, so this catechesis has been most interesting. I seem to recall the Holy Father saying last year, that he would be looking at great women of the Church in his Wednesday General Audiences, and Teresa, as you so rightly say, they certainly have a more existential approach. St. Catherine though is particularly interesting given her journey, and the conception of Purgatory as purification through interior fire is a concept I do not find difficult to either accept or understand.
The women who shout ‘ misogyny’ tend to be women who would like to be priests, or who are uncomfortable in their role as women. There is, as you say, a great tradition of strong women in our faith, and, amongst the saints, role models for absolutely any chosen path – be it maternal, virginal, religious, entrepreneurial, ministerial (catechesis) – etc., etc.
You have sparked my interest, teresa, for several reasons:
1) St Catherine was the saint of the year chosen for me by JP’s ‘saint-selector’
2) I too am intrigued by the Pope’s fascination with women mystic’s, of late: Hildegard, Julian, Teresa, etc.
3) St Catherine worked at a hospital, and seemed to see purgatory as something which begins in this life: this is very close to my own situation and belief.
4) I have no idea what ‘an existential approach to theology’ is. Can you explain it to me in terms appropriate to my station in life, ie that which a curious seven year old might understand?
Does this help Burro?Existentialism should be viewed as a conceptual analysis by men acting in autonomy. i.e. it has arisen as a direct consequence of . . . the fate of man in the modern world, and has appeared as a result of autonomous self-evaluation. This evaluation is then brought to the various disciplines and imposed as the presuppositional framework in which research is carried out.
When applied to the discipline of theology, the exegesis of Scripture and content of faith ultimately arise out of an existential foundation derived from the tradition of secular thought. This is what Teresa is saying – I think.
This is why I try not to ‘join’ the deep and learned discussions our well-read amphibious friend has – far too erudite for me!
I have just realised that this lovely saint’s feast day is 15th September, which also happens to be my birthday! (That date is also the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.) As nothing is pure chance in life, I feel sure there is a message for me there somewhere, and I’m now reading St. Catherine’s “Treatise on Purgatory” (and later on I’ll read her “Dialogues on the Soul and the Body”) with great interest.
Sadly, this doesn’t help at all! Poor Burrito’s head gets muddled by such long words.
Methinks there must be a simpler way to re-present Our Lord’s teachings to the simple folk of today?
Your last sentence suggests that you think the same!
You perceive correctly. Existential theology has been proved to be a bankrupt notion as it obviates the need for God. I suppose it’s the old phrase; do not trust the way you feel!!! There are basically three reasons scholars feel we should rejct existential theology – they are quite simply:
Distortion can result when elements congenial to the philosophy are overemphasized.
Ideas foreign to Christianity may slip in under the guise of Christian terminology.
The Christian faith may be outrightly accommodated to the prevailing philosophical fashion of the age.
Do you know what? I understood all that!
Gertie, you are my sort of theologian, thank you. XXX
Best, Toad feels, to fall back on the explanation of the doyen of existential philosophers, H. Dumpty;
“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less… When I make a word do a lot of work like that, I always pay it extra..”
So much for Kierkegaard. Cheapskate.