April 29th: St. Catherine of Siena, the first woman to be referred to as a Doctor of the Church
The 25th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, St. Catherine started having mystical experiences when she was only 6, seeing guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. She became a Dominican tertiary when she was 16, and continued to have visions of Christ, Mary, and the saints. St. Catherine was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she never had any formal education. She persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377, and when she died she was endeavoring to heal the Great Western Schism. In 1375 Our Lord give her the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Her spiritual director was Blessed Raymond of Capua. St, Catherine's letters, and a treatise called "a dialogue" are considered among the most brilliant writings in the history of the Catholic Church. She died when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430.
Everlasting God, who so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena, as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior, that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church: Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ's death, and rejoice in the revelation of His Glory, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May 2: Athanasius
"Black Dwarf" was the tag his enemies gave him. And the short, dark-skinned Egyptian bishop had plenty of enemies. He was exiled five times by four Roman emperors, spending 17 of the 45 years he served as bishop of Alexandria in exile. Yet in the end, his theological enemies were "exiled" from the church's teaching, and it is Athanasius's writings that shaped the future of the church.
May 4: St. Monnica
St. Monnica [note the two "n's', as there is an interesting archaeological tale involved in that spelling] was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the three or four greatest theologians in Christian history, whose most favored quotation was from his great work The Confessions, in which he said that, despite his mother's devotion to Christ and her desire for her son to be equally devoted, in his younger days his prayer was "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet."
Anyway, Monnica was a well-born member of a North African family of the early 4th century; her family was Christian. In her youth, she was a little on the wild side [a family trait, it appears]; her fondness for wine was extreme to the point that her family's servants would openly ridicule her for her drunkenness. A sense of shame and developing maturity caused her to eschew wine for the remainder of her life. However, it is safe to say that she did find her spirituality to be intoxicating.
Her husband was a pagan, and it was to these outworn creeds that her brilliant, precocious son Augustine was originally drawn. Her singular mission was to see that her son came to Christ, and it was to this she remained dedicated until, with inexorable results, Augustine would be baptized on Easter of 387. It should be noted that it was the Christian intellectual Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, who had much to do with Augustine's conversion, as Ambrose taught Augustine that one could be both an intellectual and a Christian. Ah, for an Ambrose in the 21st century....
Monnica followed her son as his political career took him from Carthage to Rome; her work with Christians in the Holy See would become legend. Interestingly, it was through her efforts that the sites of the Holy Land, while part of the Christian Roman Empire, would be set aside as special. The building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is thought to be on the site of Jesus' crucifixion, was the singular project encouraged by her work and devotion.
She died before she could return home to Carthage and was entombed in Ostia, on the Italian coast, on this day in the year 387. Her tomb would be discovered and revealed by archaeologists at the end of World War II. On it, the spelling of her name is as it appears in this posting, and not as "Monica", which is how it had been spelled in history texts since...well, for a long, long time. It is not known if the newer [which is to say, older] spelling is accurate or the result of a clumsy stone mason, but it is the spelling that is now accepted.
O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.