Catherine Benincasa lived through two outbreaks of the bubonic plague in Siena (in what we now call Italy). Her mother gave birth to Catherine during the devastating first outbreak of the disease. Then the Black Death came back, 26 years later. Catherine lost three of her siblings.
In those days, the pope lived in France. Odd. Since the pope is, by definition, bishop of Rome.
Catherine wrote to Gregory XI. She reasoned with him: If you prefer French living to doing your pastoral duty in Rome, then you ought to resign.
The pope actually did as the young nun asked. Not resign, but come to Rome.
Problem solved? Not exactly. Gregory then died. The Cardinals elected a successor, who insisted on remaining in Rome, rather than return to France (home of most of the Cardinals, at that time.) So the Cardinals asked him to resign. When he wouldn’t, they elected a different pope.
Catherine called the Cardinals “incarnate demons” for causing a schism.
The “Western Schism,” as we call it, lasted for the next forty years. Pope Martin V finally succeeded in both a. returning the papacy to Rome and b. achieving universal recognition as pope, during the 1420’s.
Today at Holy Mass, we read the passage from John 6 where Lord Jesus says: I will not lose anything that the Father gives Me. Everyone who sees the Son, and believes in Him, will have eternal life.
St. Catherine of Siena died in Rome, 640 years ago today. She breathed her last surrounded by ecclesiastical turmoil, but totally united with Jesus, even in His wounds. (She received the stigmata.)
In 2005, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass on the altar that holds St. Catherine’s mortal remains.
Also, last year I got to visit the relics that they keep in Venice. May St. Catherine intercede for us with the Son of God.