On February 2nd there was a little buzz about the actions of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog whose shadow or the lack thereof is supposed to tell us if Spring will be early or late. Forget Punxsutawney Phil. We Dominicans have our own hedgehog. Who? St. Catherine di Ricci whose feast is today. (Ricci means hedgehog in Italian!) While not a nun her life was very similar as a cloistered 3rd Order Sister.
A brief synposis of St. Catherine's life from our Dominican Office Supplement.
"Alexandra de' Ricci was born of a noble family near Florence in 1522. At the age of twelve she entered the Dominican convent of St Vincent at Prato and took the religious name Catherine. Inspired by the Dominican reformer Girolamo Savonarola she worked constantly to promote the regular life. She was favoured with extraordinary mystical experiences and at the age of twenty began to experience the sacred stigmata and weekly ecstasies of the Passion. These phenomena continued for twenty years. Despite her intense mystical life of prayer and her penance, Catherine served as prioress of the convent for thirty-six years. She was noted as a kind and considerate superior, particularly gentle with the sick. She died on February 2, 1590"
St. Catherine knew St. Philip Neri and Sr. Mary Magdalene di Pazzi. She counseled many lay people and guided them in their spiritual lives. We have approximately 1000 of her letters! Most have never been translated into English. Catherine was not gloomy or overly serious. She was " always cheerful and merry!" She possessed a warm, friendly personality that spilled over into concern for others showing them love in simple things. At one time she was in charge of the young girls boarding at the monastery. They called her "the snack mistress!"
St. Catherine is known for her great devotion to the Passion. Her love for Christ was that of always wanting to become as identified as possible with her Crucified Beloved. Her love for Jesus was passionate and joyful and she radiated to her sisters and all who met her this ardent love. For St. Catherine everything pointed to the mystery of the Passion.
" Gather up all your worries and make a bundle of them and throw them all into those most holy wounds of Jesus Christ. You could not put them anywhere better than in Jesus and his most holy Mother. They are the ones who are perfectly capable of consoling and calming the human heart..."
St. Catherine left us with the beautiful Canticle of the Passion which is sung slowly. It used to be sung in Dominican houses every Friday of Lent and continues to be in many places. Special thanks to our brothers in Ireland for this rendition.