Change of Direction

“Change of Direction”
A Reflection by Fred Schaeffer, OFS, August 30, 2018


We could stagnate and talk more about the state of the Church at present time but that doesn’t do anyone any good. Let’s head into a fresh direction and begin this next reflection on a saint whose feast day we celebrate in September. I’d like to begin with September 15th and concentrate on Secular Franciscans.


St. Catherine of Genoa, Secular Franciscan, d. 1510.


St. Catherine of Genoa was the daughter of James Fieschi and Francesca de Negro, the fifth and last child, born in 1447. As was often the case in those years, she married young at sixteen to Julian Adorno who was shiftless, unfaithful and drove them into poverty after ten years of marriage. Then he reformed his life, became a Franciscan tertiary, and they agreed to live a chaste life together. Catherine began a very spiritual life and they began work at the Pammetone Hospital.


Some of the following notes are from the 2011 General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI on St. Catherine of Genoa:


“A unique experience on 20 March 1473 sparked her conversion. She had gone to the Church of San Benedetto in the monastery of Nostra Signora delle Grazie [Our Lady of Grace], to make her confession and, kneeling before the priest, “received”, as she herself wrote, “a wound in my heart from God’s immense love”. It came with such a clear vision of her own wretchedness and shortcomings and at the same time of God’s goodness, that she almost fainted.”


“Her heart was moved by this knowledge of herself — knowledge of the empty life she was leading and of the goodness of God. This experience prompted the decision that gave direction to her whole life. She expressed it in the words: “no longer the world, no longer sin” (cf. Vita Mirabile, 3rv). Catherine did not stay to make her Confession.”

“On arriving home she entered the remotest room and spent a long time weeping. At that moment she received an inner instruction on prayer and became aware of God’s immense love for her, a sinner. It was a spiritual experience she had no words to describe.” ( cf. Vita Mirabile, 4r).


“It was on this occasion that the suffering Jesus appeared to her, bent beneath the Cross, as he is often portrayed in the Saint’s iconography. A few days later she returned to the priest to make a good confession at last. It was here that began the “life of purification” which for many years caused her to feel constant sorrow for the sins she had committed, and which spurred her to impose forms of penance and sacrifice upon herself, in order to show her love to God.”


“On this journey Catherine became ever closer to the Lord until she attained what is called “unitive life”, namely, a relationship of profound union with God.”


“In her Vita it is written that her soul was guided and instructed from within solely by the sweet love of God which gave her all she needed. Catherine surrendered herself so totally into the hands of the Lord that she lived, for about 25 years, as she wrote, “without the assistance of any creature, taught and governed by God alone” (Vita, 117r-118r), nourished above all by constant prayer and by Holy Communion which she received every day, an unusual practice in her time. Only many years later did the Lord give her a priest who cared for her soul.”


“Catherine was always reluctant to confide and reveal her experience of mystical communion with God, especially because of the deep humility she felt before the Lord’s graces. The prospect of glorifying him and of being able to contribute to the spiritual journey of others alone spurred her to recount what had taken place within her, from the moment of her conversion, which is her original and fundamental experience.”


“The place of her ascent to mystical peaks was Pammatone Hospital, the largest hospital complex in Genoa, of which she was director and animator. Hence Catherine lived a totally active existence despite the depth of her inner life. In Pammatone a group of followers, disciples and collaborators formed around her, fascinated by her life of faith and her charity.”


“Indeed, her husband, Giuliano Adorno, was so won over that he gave up his dissipated life, became a Third Order Franciscan and moved into the hospital to help his wife.”


“Catherine’s dedication to caring for the sick continued until the end of her earthly life on 15 September 1510. From her conversion until her death there were no extraordinary events but two elements characterize her entire life: on the one hand her mystical experience, that is, the profound union with God, which she felt as spousal union, and on the other, assistance to the sick, the organization of the hospital and service to her neighbor, especially the neediest and the most forsaken. These two poles, God and neighbor, totally filled her life, virtually all of which she spent within the hospital walls.”


Pope-Emeritus, Benedict XIV continues:
“Dear friends, we must never forget that the more we love God and the more constantly we pray, the better we will succeed in truly loving those who surround us, who are close to us, so that we can see in every person the Face of the Lord whose love knows no bounds and makes no distinctions. The mystic does not create distance from others or an abstract life, but rather approaches other people so that they may begin to see and act with God’s eyes and heart.


Catherine’s thought on purgatory, for which she is particularly well known, is summed up in the last two parts of the book mentioned above: The Treatise on purgatory and the Dialogues between the body and the soul. It is important to note that Catherine, in her mystical experience, never received specific revelations on purgatory or on the souls being purified there. Yet, in the writings inspired by our Saint, purgatory is a central element and the description of it has characteristics that were original in her time.


The first original passage concerns the “place” of the purification of souls. In her day it was depicted mainly using images linked to space: a certain space was conceived of in which purgatory was supposed to be located.


Catherine, however, did not see purgatory as a scene in the bowels of the earth: for her it is not an exterior but rather an interior fire. This is purgatory: an inner fire.


The Saint speaks of the Soul’s journey of purification on the way to full communion with God, starting from her own experience of profound sorrow for the sins committed, in comparison with God’s infinite love (cf. Vita Mirabile, 171v).”


Partial Text. See Vatican website. © Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Appended to this reflection, most of which came from other sources, are two files:

  1. Spiritual Dialogue Between the Soul, the Body, Self-Love, the Spirit, Humanity, and the Lord God (Saint Catherine of GENOA (1447 - 1510))
  2. Treatise on Purgatory, St. Catherine of Genoa:

These are both lengthy but beautiful writings. We should draw inspiration from this beautiful Franciscan sister of our Order, who came to love God in such a special way. As the Holy Church is going through its own trial, do not let it drag you down. Take courage and instead immerse yourselves in holy Scripture and in the writings of our Franciscan Saints and Blesseds.


Fred Schaeffer, OFS
August 30, 2018





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