Saints are often known for miracles which they performed while on earth. St. Catherine de' Ricci (1522 - 1590) falls in that category of saints. She was a true mystic and a genuine wonder worker. However, despite her spiritual experiences, she also had her feet firmly planted on the ground. Consequently, she was a practical woman whom her fellow religious sisters trusted to lead them.
Born in Florence, Italy to a prominent family, Catherine entered the Dominican convent of San Vincenzio (St. Vincent Ferrer) as a tertiary at the age of fourteen. Within several years, she was made the mistress of the novices, then the sub-prioress at age twenty-five before being elected the prioress for life at the age of thirty.
She experienced many miraculous phenomena including ecstasies, bilocation, and the stigmata. St. Philip Neri, who lived in Rome and who was not given to hyperbole or hysterics, testified that he had indeed been visited by Catherine despite the fact that she was in her convent near Florence at the time.
Also, for a period of about twelve years, every week, Catherine would go into a state of ecstasy from around noon on Thursday until around 4:00 p.m. on Friday in which she would experience the Passion of Our Lord including the stigmata. Even her bodily motions would indicate parts of the passion as she stood for the scourging, bowed her head for receiving the crown of thorns, and stretched out her hands as if being nailed to a cross.
Eventually, Catherine and her sisters prayed for this to cease and the Lord granted their request.
She also became known for performing miracles, and here is a sample of four miracles which all took place in one calendar year.
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Two Physical Miracles
The first two were physical miracles. In the first case, the sisters found that their grain had spoiled in the granary in which it was stored. This was a devastating blow because it was an important source of their daily food. Catherine prayed and then entered the granary walking barefoot across the spoiled grain. Through her prayer and action, the grain was restored and the sisters could again use it for food.
In the second miracle, a fire broke out in the convent. The sisters were able to escape from the fire, but the fire continued unabated. And, in those days, of course, without the fire fighting equipment which we have today, a fire would easily destroy a property. However, Catherine prayed and made the sign of the cross over the fire, and the fire extinguished immediately.
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Exposing a Lie and Rescuing a Soul
The third miracle was a spiritual one that requires some explanation. It also shows the application of Jesus' command, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Mt 10:16) And, it is also a clear example of St. Paul's exhortation, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." (1 Cor 11:13-14)
Apparently, the daughter of one of the prominent families near Catherine's convent allowed herself to be overcome by evil. The young woman than feigned a desire for holiness and requested entry into Catherine's convent of San Vincenzio. The young woman was accepted, and she began to live a life of apparent holiness based on her asceticism and patient acceptance of the suffering she experienced due to several severe illnesses.
In addition, the young woman would remain in her cell from Thursday midday through late afternoon on Friday. This behavior gave the appearance that she was experiencing a similar mystical experience of the Lord's passion. All of her behavior gave rise to many of the sisters believing in the deep holiness of this young woman.
However, doubts began to arise among some others including the priest confessor because the young woman never revealed anything of her interior life to him and neither did she request advice or spiritual direction. Some of the older sisters also expressed doubts because of the reserve which the young woman kept.
Catherine, herself, eventually realized that all of this was a ruse, and she joined with several other sisters in praying for the defeat of the enemy. At this point in time, the young woman under such strong possession listened to the voices of evil and tread upon the crucifix in her cell and she soon stood on the brink of hell with her denouncing of Christ.
Warned by her guardian angel, Catherine went to the young woman's cell and entered into it despite the great evil present. Catherine remained with the young woman and through her prayer and sacrifice was able to convince her of the great mercy of the Lord who alone could save her. The young woman then requested to make a general confession which she did. Through her deep repentance she turned completely from the evil that had threatened her eternal state. Several days later, she died in peace having received the mercy of the Lord and in full reconciliation with God as was revealed to Catherine.
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The Repentant Thief
The fourth miracle is also a spiritual miracle. In September of the same year as these other miracles, a young thief was sentenced to be executed for his crimes. This was an unexpected turn of events for the man who had only expected to serve time in prison. As a result of his impending death, he became inconsolable and hardened.
During those days, there were groups called the Brothers of Good Death who sought to minister to men sentenced to die in order to help them prepare for a holy death through repentance and trust in the mercy of God. With this thief, their efforts proved to be in vain. He had no interest in what they had to say. Thus, the brothers appealed to Catherine to pray for the man which she readily agreed to do and continued for some time.
Not many days after she began to pray for him, the man had a genuine conversion. He felt a great remorse for his crimes, repented of them, and began to peacefully prepare for his death. The young man accepted his capital punishment and offered up his suffering and death for reparation for the sins he had committed. The man reasoned that if our innocent Lord was willing to suffer and die, he, who had sinned against God and man, should be willing to accept a just sentence for his sins.
On the day of his death, the bells were rung to announce that the sentence had been carried out. Sr. Maddalena Strozzi heard them and encouraged Catherine to pray again for the young man. Catherine's reply was that she indeed had been praying all morning and would continue to do so. Later, Sr. Maddalena asked Catherine if she had hope for his salvation. Catherine replied that she did indeed believe that the man had been saved through God's mercy.
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