I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE, THE TRUE BREAD THAT GIVES LIFE TO THE WORLD. Today we celebrate the feast of an uncommonly gifted woman, St. Catherine of Sienna, who was not only an outstanding mystic but also an influential leader. That she continues to be relevant to our times was given recognition in 1970 when Pope Paul VI proclaimed her Doctor of the Church, and when in 1999 Pope John Paul II named her one of the three patronesses of Europe. The broad and deep understanding of the Catholic faith as expressed in her writings together with her ardent and effective services to the Church in a time of serious crisis qualified her for this title.


In her day the papacy had been seriously weakened in its influence not least because the Pope had removed from Rome to Avignon, France and was perceived as being under the influence of French interests. The fact that France and Italy were at war rendered the situation more problematic for the Church as a whole, and as time went on, in the last years of her short life – she died in 1380 at the age of 33 – matters arrived at a more wretched state when an anti-Pope arose and the long great schism divided the faithful, weakening the whole Church. Confusion was to deepen and persist for years, and Catherine suffered immensely from the unhealthy condition of the Body of Christ.


Although the Church has immensely benefited for well over a century from a long series of very able, gifted, and holy Popes, yet the world in which her mission is exercised has increasingly presented resistance to the message of Christ to which she is the faithful witness. Our present Holy Father some time ago expressed his awareness of the increased resistance to the faith in the modern world. He warned that we must be prepared to find the numbers of believers diminish in the future. Today other qualified persons have stated their conviction that our times give indication of decay when examined in light of the healthy traditions that marked Christianity in earlier periods. Recently Robert Bork, an acknowledged outstanding thinker serving in an earlier administration of our government, wrote an extended study of the current American culture. He summarizes his views in the following terms:


Passionate intensity uncoupled from morality would shred the fabric of Western culture. The rough beast of decadence, a long time in gestation, having reached its maturity in the last three decades, now sends us slouching towards our new home, not Bethlehem but Gomorrah. (Slouching Towards Gomorrah, vii)


Already in his Gospel Saint John, basing himself on the experience of the Church in the fifty years following the Lord’s resurrection, pointed out that the world was at enmity with God and his Church: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you.” He even records that on the night before his death Jesus had made a prayer to the Father in which he said “I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me.” (John 17:9) The history of the Church reveals to those who meditate on the experience of the faithful as time unfolds, that under various forms the world has regularly not only resisted the message of the Church but has hated and persecuted those who witnessed to it by their lives.


The faithful follower of Christ soon discovers that the spiritual life is a struggle that eventually brings the believer to face death and overcome it through faith in the risen Lord Jesus. In the course of his preaching our Lord had already declared this his disciples must make the choice between life in this world and the life he opens to us by his obedience unto death. “The one who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 16:25) By his own death and resurrection Jesus has made this choice possible for us. He offers us the gift of his Spirit that we might make the risen, glorified life our own that he now lives with the Father. This is the gift of his love that we celebrate here at the Eucharist during this sacred season of Easter as we call upon Saint Catherine, who was faithful in a time of distress, to intercede for us and the whole Church of God. &          

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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