ST CATHERINE OF SIENA RAISED HER MOTHER FROM THE DEAD
Catherine of Siena issued from the womb of her mother Lapa, but Lapa and Catherine were so different that they appeared as though they were not even related and certainly not close. It seemed as though the mother had never exercised any influence over her daughter.
They were, however, quite close but their relationship was complex. Catherine was Lapa's favorite child, the child on whom she lavished the most attention. Of Lapa's 25 children, Catherine was the only child that her mother nursed - this is a fact carefully recorded by Raymond of Capua - who was Catherine's confessor and biographer. Lapa had not been able to nurse the other 24 babies.
Lapa was a woman of the-here-and-now, a practical sort who understood material possessions more than spiritual goods. She had strong knee-jerk instincts and was not one to meditate or think deeply. But neither did she ruminate. She was a more hot-tempered Italian than her husband, Jacomo, who was milder. Once, Jacomo was wronged by a man who calumniated him by way of malicious gossip. Lapa wanted her husband to stand up for himself, but Jacomo refused and elected to be silent. In time the slanderer was found out, and Jacomo's name was cleared. Yet for the time Jacomo was maligned, he bore this injury with quiet patience, against his wife's urgings.
Raymond was Catherine's confessor and he knew Lapa very well. Raymond damned Lapa with faint praise and called her, "very simple". He lamented that she was so wholly attached to this life that she had a tremendous fear of death. All the while, Raymond stressed that Lapa was an honest person, she was not intellectually gifted and could not lie if she tried. Raymond repeated again and again that she cared nothing for the invisible things, which was a way of saying that the visits Our Lord paid Catherine and the visions Our Lord afforded Catherine did not overly interest Lapa because she could not see them. All the while, Raymond stressed that Lapa was a very honest person, she was not intellectually gifted but she could not have lied had she tried.
Catherine grew to be a young child who was inordinately popular with relatives and friends alike, everyone wanted her to come into the parlors of their red-bricked homes. It was hard on Lapa who had to contend with the demand for her daughter's attention and the hectic timetable of her little girl's social life. She was given the nickname "Joy" because, as Raymond of Capua put it, "as soon as one conversed with her, sadness was dispelled from the heart...a ravishing peace took possession of the soul."
Lapa was the mother of Catherine, one of the most important mystics to have ever lived, and yet Lapa was as indifferent to the unseen glories of Heaven as her daughter was totally invested in them. Catherine was merely 6 years old when she was out walking with her younger brother, Stephen, and Our Lord first appeared to her. At the gable end of the Dominican Church, she beheld a magnificent throne whereupon sat Our Lord and He was crowned in His glory. To Christ the King's side were St Peter, St Paul and St John the Evangelist. Our Lord reached out His hand and blessed Catherine. The apparition of St Paul is not incidental. Later on in her life, Paul became something of a supervisor to Catherine. Once the feisty apostle scolded Catherine severely because she turned from a vision she was having of Our Lord, so she could salute a young man.
There was also an irony in that Catherine was held up as a spiritual authority by most people with the exception of her mother. Catherine even swayed Pope Gregory to leave France where he had exiled himself and made himself a caprice of the French cardinals. At Catherine's command, the Pope released himself from the clutches of the French red caps and went home to Rome. But Catherine had little sway over her own mother.
This came to a dramatic crescendo after the death of Catherine's father, Jacomo. Lapa did not take her husband's death well, and she fell ill. Worse still, she became horribly anxious at the idea of death, because she could not bear to leave this life. It bears stressing that Lapa was 63 and Catherine was 23 at this time. Yes, Lapa had been a little older having Catherine who she bore at 40. Catherine had a mystical foreshadowing of her mother's demise and did her best to plead with her mother that she needed to prepare for death, but her mother was impervious to her pleas. Quite simply, she ignored Catherine. For her part, Catherine begged Our Lord not to take her mother 'til Lapa was ready.
Fear of death consumed Lapa to the point that she was indifferent to her salvation. A most strange turn of events followed. One day, Catherine was in an ecstasy, pleading her mother's case before Our Lord, He announced to her that Lapa was dead and had died in sin, "And behold she is dead without receiving the sacraments of the Church."
Catherine was distraught. Under her white veil, she trembled in grief for her mother's soul. She reminded her Divine Spouse of the previous request she made of Him, "Ah Lord, my God...was not thy mercy pledged not to withdraw my mother from the world but when she would consent to it?" Catherine implored Our Lord to bring her mother back to life, "I will not leave thy presence til thou dost restore my mother to me."
On account of Catherine's ardent prayer, Our Lord relented, "Announce to thy mother, who is unwilling to die at present that a day will arrive in which she will ardently sigh for death without obtaining it."
When Catherine left her Divine Spouse's presence, she and several witnesses saw her mother arise from her death state. They had been getting ready to bury Lapa. From the coldness and numbness of her expiration, she came back to life completely renewed. Her illness was completely gone and she was more vital than ever. It was perhaps this grand miracle that instilled in Lapa the urgency she needed to make holiness a priority.
In the decades to come, Our Lord gave Lapa an abundance of that which she craved: life. He gave her so many extra years that she was confounded. Catherine died when her mother was 73, but Lapa went onto live until she was 89. This was all the more astonishing because it was during the Black Plague.
A widow who had lost half her children, including her precious Catherine, Lapa marveled at her advanced years and she exclaimed to Raymond of Capua, "God has riveted my soul to my body, so that it cannot be separated from it. How many children and grandchildren have I lost? It is only I that cannot die. I am left to feel the sufferings and deaths of all the others."
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You may like to offer the Litany to St Catherine of Siena and ask her intercession for your most pressing needs and those of your loved ones.
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Classic painting of Catherine crowned with thorns executed by Carlo Dolci.
This post was informed by Raymond of Capua's biography of Catherine of Siena.