In life, "even before the temptations which we all suffer," we must never abandon "the hand of God", "to realise the project that God has for each of us, because He is the only firm rock on which we build our lives. "
This is the teaching that comes from the life of Saint Catherine of Bologna, the woman of the Middle Ages to whom Benedict XVI dedicated the last general audience of 2010.
Her life is "a strong call to always be guided by God and do His will every day, even if it is different from our projects, to trust in his Providence, which never abandons us."
"In this perspective Saint Catherine speaks to us and her character is a very modern one. She suffers from doubts and temptations as we do, she feels abandoned by God, she experienced the dark night of the soul, but in all these situations she clung on to the hand of the Lord and by holding on to the Lord's hand she found the right path, the path of light, and so she says to us: have courage, never let go of the Lord’s hand".
This "woman of great culture, but very humble," "generous in sacrifice, ready to serve," the Pope told the eight thousand people in the Paul VI at the Vatican, was born in 1413 into a noble family of Ferrara. Her father was a doctor of law and public reader in Padua, in the service of Niccolo III d'Este, who "although he led a far from exemplary private life," was watchful of his subjects’ spiritual life.
In 1424, aged 11, Catherine joined the Este court as a maid in the service of Margherita d'Este. She received the education of the time studying music, painting, dance, Latin and poetry and became an expert in the art of the miniature.
But she had "a singular modesty" and "her spirit constantly turned to the things of Heaven."
"Catherine was not affected by court life."
And in 1426, she left the court to join a group of young women who were living together, dedicated to the spirit.
"She states that she entered into service illuminated by the grace of God, promising to acquire all the virtues she saw in others, not for pride, but to gain greater favour before God”.
"She suffered great and terrible trails: from the devil's temptations to despair, the dark night of the soul, to disbelief in the Eucharist."
But the Lord gifted her the understanding of the Eucharistic presence "that Catherine can not express with words."
However tensions arise in community between those who want to follow the Augustinian spirituality and those who prefer the Franciscan one.
Between 1429 and 1430 the head of the group decides to establish an Augustinian monastery.
Catherine, however with some sisters decide to follow the rule of St. Clare.
In the monastery of Corpus Domini, Catherine and her companions receive "a proper spirtual formation and also meet Father Bernardino da Siena.
In this climate, Catherine "makes a good confession and prays hard to God to forgive her sins and punishment" and she receives an "experience of divine mercy that marks her forever."
In 1431 she has a vision of the Last Judgement.
"The terrifying scene of the damned, pushes her to intensify prayers and penance for the salvation of sinners. The devil continues to assail her, and she trusts herself totally to the Lord and the Virgin Mary. In her writings, Catherine leave us some essential characteristics of this mysterious combat, from which she emerges victorious through the grace of God. She does so to instruct her sisters and those who intend to set out in the way of perfection: she wants to warn against the temptations of the devil, which often hides under deceitful appearances, only to then insinuate doubts about faith, vocational uncertainty, sensuality. "
It is "The Seven Spiritual Weapons," a work of "great wisdom and profound discernment”.
“The purity of her faith is reflected in her writings," her "missionary zeal", her "passion for the salvation of souls."
The "weapons" are "care and concern in doing good", "believing that alone we can never do good things," "trusting in God," "constant meditation on the events and words of Jesus' life and in particular the Passion", "remembering that we must die ","keeping our mind fixed on the final goal of Heaven" “familiarity with Sacred Scripture."
"A fine program of spiritual life for us today."
In the monastery, Catherine "performs even the most humble service with love and ready obedience," "disobedience she saw as a sign of spiritual pride that destroys all other virtues."
On the death of the Abbess, the superiors thought of her for the succession, but she urges them to turn to the Poor Clares of Mantua.
But in 1456 her convent is asked to create a new foundation in Bologna.
Catherine "does the will of God”, and goes to Bologna with 18 nuns: she becomes the superior of the convent.
But even if that role “she is the first in prayer and service. "
Although plagued by severe suffering, "she carries out this service with generosity and dedication, calling all to the evangelical life of patience, perseverance, brotherly love, love for the divine Bridegroom to prepare the dowry for the eternal wedding."
At the beginning of 1463 her illness worsens, "she gathers together the sisters to announce her death and to recommend the observance of the rule."
"She ensures her help even from Heaven" and enters into her final agony, "her face is becomes beautiful and luminous, she says the name of Christ three times " and dies. It is March 9, 1463.
The city of Bologna, in the chapel of the monastery of Corpus Domini, houses her incorrupt body. She was canonized in 1712.