Guidoccio Cozzarelli (Siena 1450 – 1517), Saint Catherine of Siena exchanges her heart with Christ, around 1500, Siena, Pinacoteca nazionale
Catherine was born in Siena on 25 March 1347. Her confessor, Raimondo da Capua - who also became Minister General of the Dominicans - left written testimony of the precocious vocation of this great saint. In 1363, when she was just 16, she became a Dominican tertiary. Illiterate, she learned to read and also to write so as to be able to draw directly on the Holy Scriptures. She obtained special gifts and graces from Jesus, which made her one of the most important mystics in the history of the Church.
Her life was short - she died in Rome on 29 April 1380, at the age of 33, the age of Christ - but she quickly climbed the summits of perfection. Her anxiety to resemble Jesus more and more led her to intense charitable activity for the benefit of the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned. Meanwhile, she suffered unspeakably for the world, which was at the mercy of disintegration and sin. A real thorn for her was seeing the Pope – whom she called "the sweet Christ on earth" - no longer in Rome, but in Avignon. She therefore did not hesitate to leave for the French city, where she arrived on 18 June 1376 to meet Pope Gregory XI, who, persuaded by the intrepid Catherine, returned to the city of Saint Peter on 17 January 1377.
Let us listen to the words of Catherine herself: "Dearest sister in Jesus. I, Catherine, servant of the servants of Jesus, write to you in His Precious Blood, wishing only that you feed yourself with God’s love and nourish yourself with it as at a mother’s breast… You must, then, become love, looking at God’s love who loved you so much not because He had any obligation towards you but out of pure gift, urged only by His ineffable love. You will have no other desire than to follow Jesus! As if you were drunken with Love, it will no longer matter whether you are alone or in company: do not think about many things, but only about finding Jesus and following Him! Run, Bartolomea, do not stay asleep, because time flies and does not wait one moment!” (from the letter no. 165 to Bartolomea, wife of Salviato da Lucca).
We find represented this very anxiety that inspired Catherine to follow Jesus throughout the world in the beautiful painting by Guidoccio Cozzarelli, a sixteenth-century painter and fellow citizen of the great saint. We can see Catherine kneeling before an altar, focused on the apparition of Jesus. She has a heart in her hand: is she offering it or has she received it? In fact, the painting presents an episode narrated by Raimondo da Capua. To him, who was also her biographer, Catherine confided that she had a vision in which Jesus appeared to her with a bright red human heart in his hand, opened her chest, introduced the heart inside and said: "Dearest child, as the other day I took your heart that you offered me, so now I give you mine, and from now on it will be in the place that your heart occupied."
Let us pray the collect prayer:
O God, who set Saint Catherine of Siena on fire with divine love in her contemplation of the Lord's Passion and her service or your Church, grant, through her intercession, that your people, participating in the mystery of Christ, may ever exult in the revelation of his glory.