I’m sure you’ve heard of that great Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena. It’s well known that she was the 24th child to Giacamo and Lapa. That she was a joyous child and devoted herself to Christ at an early age. It’s not news to you, either, that she made several visits to Pope Gregory XI and then to Pope Urban VI, urging them – among other things – to leave Avignon and return to Rome.
There is no shortage of stories about Catherine of Siena; she led a very devout and holy life!
But I want to talk about Palmerina, a fellow Mantellata of Catherine. Do you know this story? Palmerina was a cantankerous and outspoken old woman and she was convinced that Catherine was a fraud and so was especially rude to her.
Palmerina was also afflicted with breast cancer. At one point the cancer had so ravished her breast that the wound was stinking and oozing. The wound was so terrible, Palmerina so ornery, no one would have anything to do with her. She had been abandoned to her room, left alone with nothing but the smell her own stinking flesh, rotting.
No one, that is, except for Catherine of Siena. Catherine came to visit her. She even kissed Palmerina’s open wound, willing it to be the blood and sweat of Christ on the Cross. At first, Palmerina refused to believe Catherine was genuine. Eventually, however, the aging Mantellata was won over and went on to die in peace, reconciled to Christ.
Catherine of Siena kissed the reeking and rotting cancerous breast of a mean, old and dying woman! How did she do this? Why did she do this? The answer is that same simple answer that has rung and echoed throughout the ages. She loved.
Catherine of Siena first loved Christ, and the perfect love of Christ returned to her, enabling her to love the ailing Palmerina. And Palmerina, much like the woman in today’s Gospel reading, repented and found peace with Christ.
This is what today’s Gospel reading is calling us to do: love! Love with the love of Christ!
Of course there is sin in this world. We will meet harlots and drug abusers and liars whose sin is so wretched that we threaten to run at its stench. People we meet – friends, neighbors, family – will have sin so vile it eats away at their flesh. And what should our reaction be? Will we be so reviled by it that we point and stare before turning to run away? Or we will stand from afar and assess the wound while others rush in to stop the bleeding? Or will we pause to envision our Lord and Savior as he hangs on the cross, and then run to the injured; kissing the wound and thereby admonishing it to be healed?
Reflect: Sin is ugly. Yes, it stinks and is impossible to ignore. We need only look at our own lives to see that this is so. The wounded need bandaging and love; and we, as Pope Francis has said, are a field hospital. We must love our friends, neighbors, and family, and withhold our own judgements about the rotten and stinking wound that oozes out of their pores.
Act: It is imperative that we rush in with love. Run to the wounded and give freely what has been given freely to you: the love of Christ.
(This post originally appeared as a Gospel reflection has part of Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship online 2017 Lenten study, April 3, 2017)