St Catherine de RicciThe Ricci are an ancient family, which still subsists in a flourishing
condition in Tuscany. Peter de Ricci, the father of our saint, was married to Catherine Bonza, a
lady of suitable birth. The saint was born at Florence in 1522, and called at her baptism
Alexandrina, but she took the name of Catherine at her religious profession. Having lost her mother
in her infancy, she was formed to virtue by a very pious godmother, and whenever she was missing she
was always to be found on her knees in some secret part of the house. When she was
between six and seven years old, her father placed her in the Convent of Monticelli, near the gates
of Florence, where her aunt, Louisa de Ricci, was a nun. This place was to her a paradise: at a
distance from the noise and tumult of the world, she served God without impediment or distraction.
After some years her father took her home.
She continued her usual exercises in
the world as much as she was able; but the interruptions and dissipation, inseparable from her
station, gave her so much uneasiness that, with the in consent of her father, which she obtained,
though with great difficulty, in the year 1535, the fourteenth of her age, she received the
religious veil in the convent of Dominicanesses at Prat, in Tuscany, to which her uncle, F. Timothy
de Ricci, was director. God, in the merciful design to make her the spouse of his crucified Son, and
to imprint in her soul dispositions conformable to his, was pleased to exercise her patience by
rigorous trials For two years she suffered inexpressible pains under a complication of violent
distempers, which remedies themselves served only to increase. These sufferings she sanctified by
the interior dispositions with which she bore them, and which she nourished principally by assiduous
meditation on the passion of Christ, in which she found an incredible relish and a solid comfort and
After the recovery of her health, which seemed miraculous, she studied more perfectly to die
to her senses, and to advance in a penitential life and spirit, in which God had begun to conduct
her, by practicing the greatest austerities which were compatible with the obedience she had
professed; she fasted two or three days a week on bread and water, and sometimes passed the whole
day without taking any nourishment, and chastised her body with disciplines and a sharp iron chain
which she wore next her skin. Her obedience, humility, and meekness were still more admirable than
her spirit of penance.
The least shadow of distinction or commendation gave her
inexpressible uneasiness and confusion, and she would have rejoiced to be able to lie hid in the
centre of the earth, in order to be entirely unknown to and blotted out of the hearts of all
mankind, such were the sentiments of annihilation and contempt of herself in which she constantly
lived. It was by profound humility and perfect interior self-denial that she learned to vanquish in
her heart the sentiments or life of the first Adam—that is, of corruption, sin, and inordinate
But this victory over herself, and purgation of her affections, was
completed by a perfect spirit of prayer; for by the union of her soul with God, and the
establishment of the absolute reign of his love in her heart, she was dead to and disengaged from
all earthly things.
And in one act of sublime prayer she advanced more than by
a hundred exterior practices in the purity and ardour of her desire to do constantly what was most
agreeable to God, to lose no occasion of practicing every heroic virtue, and of vigorously resisting
all that was evil. Prayer, holy meditation, and contemplation were the means by which God imprinted
in her soul sublime ideas of his heavenly truths, the strongest and most tender sentiments of all
virtues, and the most burning desire to give all to God, with an incredible relish and affection for
suffering contempt and poverty for Christ.
What she chiefly laboured to obtain,
by meditating on his life and sufferings, and what she most earnestly asked of him, was that he
would be pleased, in his mercy, to purge her affections of all poison of the inordinate love of
creatures, and engrave in her his most holy and divine image, both exterior and interior—that is to
say, both in her conversation and her affections, that so she might be animated, and might think,
speak, and act by his most Holy Spirit.
The saint was chosen, very young,
first, mistress of the novices, then sub-prioress, and, in the twenty-fifth year of her age, was
appointed perpetual prioress. The reputation of her extraordinary sanctity and prudence drew her
many visits from a great number of bishops, princes, and cardinals—among others, of Cervini,
Alexander of Medicis, and Aldobrandini, who all three were afterwards raised to St. Peter's chair,
under the names of Marcellus II, Clement VIII, and Leo XI.
Something like what St. Austin relates of St. John of Egypt
happened to St. Philip Neri and St. Catherine of Ricci. For having some time entertained together a
commerce of letters, to satisfy their mutual desire of seeing each other, whilst he was detained at
Rome she appeared to him in a vision, and they conversed together a considerable time, each
doubtless being in a rapture. This St. Philip Neri, though most circumspect in giving credit to or
in publishing visions, declared, saying that Catherine de Ricci, whilst living, had appeared to him
in vision, as his disciple Galloni assures us in his life. And the continuators of Bollandus inform
us that this was confirmed by the oaths of five witnesses.
Bacci, in his life
of St. Philip, mentions the same thing, and Pope Gregory XV, in his bull for the canonization of St.
Philip Neri, affirms that whilst this saint lived at Rome he conversed a considerable time with
Catherine of Ricci, a nun, who was then at Prat, in Tuscany. Most wonderful were the raptures of St.
Catherine in meditating on the passion of Christ, which was her daily exercise, but to which she
totally devoted herself every week from Thursday noon to three o'clock in the afternoon on Friday.
After a long illness she passed from this mortal life to everlasting bliss and the possession of the
object of all her desires, on the feast of the Purification of our Lady, on the 2nd of February, in
1589, the sixty-seventh year of her age. The ceremony of her beatification was performed by Clement
XII in 1732, and that of her canonization by Benedict XIV in 1746. Her festival is deferred to the
13th of February.
In the most perfect state of heavenly contemplation which this life admits of, there must be
a time allowed for action, as appears from the most eminent contemplatives among the saints, and
those religious institutes which are most devoted to this holy exercise. The mind of man must be
frequently unbent, or it will be overset. Many, by a too constant or forced attention, have lost
their senses. in he body also stands in need of exercise, and in all stations men owe several
exterior duties both to others and themselves, and to neglect any of these, upon presence of giving
the preference to prayer, would be a false devotion and dangerous illusion.
Though a Christian be a citizen of heaven, while he is a sojourner in this world, he is not to
forget the obligations or the necessities to which this state subjects him, or to dream of flights
which only angels and their fellow inhabitants of bliss take. As a life altogether taken up in
action and business, without frequent prayer and pious meditation, alienates a soul from God and
virtue, and weds her totally to the world, so a life spent wholly in contemplation, without any
mixture of action, is chimerical, and the attempt dangerous.
The art of true
devotion consists very much in a familiar and easy habit of accompanying exterior actions and
business with a pious attention to the Divine Presence, frequent secret aspirations, and a constant
union of the soul with God. This St. Catherine of Ricci practiced at her work, in the exterior
duties of her house and office, in her attendance on the sick (which was her favourite employment,
and which she usually performed on her knees), and in the tender care of the poor over the whole
country. But this hindered not the exercises of contemplation, which were her most assiduous
employment. Hence retirement and silence were her delight, in order to entertain herself with t.
Creator of all things, and by devout meditation, kindling in her soul the fire of heavenly love, she
was never able to satiate the ardour of her desire in adoring and praising the immense greatness and
goodness of God.
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