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Blessed Raymond Of Capua (1330-1399)

 

Being spiritual adviser to a saint must have its peculiar difficulties, and, consequently, the spiritual guidance of Catherine of Siena, whose career was unprecedented in history, must have called for a great many talents, as well as virtues, on the part of her director, Blessed Raymond of Capua. As one might suspect, this was not Raymond's only claim to fame. He was a man of tremendous gifts, and his life has enriched the Order both in his day and ours.

Raymond was born in Capua, in 1330, of one of the prominent families of the city. As a student at the University of Bologna, he met the Dominicans and was received into the Order; in after years, he revealed that a vision of St. Dominic had determined him to take the step. He was a model religious and soon was entrusted with responsible work in the community.

One of his first tasks was the direction of several monasteries of nuns, at Montepulciano. He was one of the first biographers of St. Agnes of Montepulciano, who had died there less than fifty years before. In 1367, he was called to Rome to be prior of the Minerva. He was teaching at Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, when, in 1374, he was sent by the master general to Siena. Here lived the greatest woman mystic of the century, St. Catherine of Siena, in whom the authorities of the Order necessarily took great interest. Raymond was appointed her confessor and director.

This appointment was deliberate on the part of the master general, but Raymond was a stranger to Catherine. She saw him first at Mass, where she had been praying fervently for a spiritual guide who would understand the peculiar mission to which she had been called, and would direct her safely along the difficult and lonely way that God had marked out for her. As she watched him at the altar, on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, an interior voice said to her, "This is my beloved servant. This is he to whom I will entrust you." She approached him after Mass and told him her story.

Raymond was a cautious man and not overjoyed about being selected for the role of Catherine's director and confessor. He did not at first express any great enthusiasm for her mission. Further acquaintance with her convinced him that she was a very holy woman. His first move, which would make Catherine very happy, was to allow her to receive Communion as often as she wished. Further than that he could not go at that time.

It took a siege of the plague to convince him to put complete confidence in Catherine's genius. They worked together among the plague sticken until one day Raymond collapsed with the disease himself. Catherine came to his bedside when she heard that he was already unconscious and probably dying. She did not leave until he opened his eyes and showed signs of recovery. He knew that he had been on the brink of death, and that Catherine's prayers had brought him back.

Raymond was Catherine's director and confessor for the last six years of her life, six years that are probably unparalleled in the history of any other woman. Catherine wished, first of all, to see the long desired new crusade actually launched. The pope took several steps in the direction of initiating this project, and called for the support of all in propagandizing the crusade.

Catherine took him quite literally. She wrote a letter to the English pirate, John Hawkwood, imploring him to channel his fighting energies into the cause of God. Raymond had the delicate job of conveying this letter to the famous freebooter. In the meantime, Catherine kept sending him penitents, and he was so busy in the confessional that he barely had time to eat. Catherine possessed a tremendous power to turn people from evil to good, but she could not hear their confessions. Raymond, therefore, was kept very busy.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to follow the interplay of politics which kept the Italian peninsula in turmoil for all the years of Raymond's life. After a great many crises among the Italian cities, and a number of switches of allegiance, Catherine brought some of the leaders into line and began to hope for settlement. She persuaded the pope, Gregory VI, to go back to Rome, thereby ending the sorry situation of having the pope within reach of the French king. With a tremendous effort of will, and at great personal sacrifice, Gregory VI went back to Rome and died.

Pope Urban VI was elected to succeed him. After a confusing series of events, the cardinals declared the first election invalid and elected Clement VII as anti pope. The country, the Church, and the Order split in various factions over their allegiance to one or the other papal contestant. Years later, St. Antoninus was to write about these trying days:

There were many discussions about the matter and many books were written in defense of both sides. Through all the time that the division lasted, both parts (or obediences) could count among their supporters men exceedingly learned, both in theology and canon law, and also many men of most holy life and (what is more striking still) outstanding by the miracles they wrought; yet it was never possible so to decide the question that no doubts remained in the minds of the majority of men.
(Chronicorum III: Tit. 22)

Catherine and Raymond sided with Urban VI. Raymond was soon sent on an errand to the king of France, on behalf of his candidate, and was stopped and threatened by the soldiers of the anti pope. When he reported this to Catherine, she gave him scant sympathy and hinted strongly that he was not overly brave. He tried again with no better success. When one remembers that Raymond had other work to do besides the direction of his unpredictable penitent, it becomes clear that Raymond was an exceedingly busy man. Some people broke under the load of work that Catherine so blithely distributed among her close followers.

In 1380, when Raymond was in Genoa preaching the crusade, be heard a voice in the air saying, "Tell him never to lose courage. I will be with him in every danger. If he falls, I will help him up again." A few days later he received the sorrowful news that Catherine had died in Rome on the day he heard the message.

He was soon to need all the moral support she could give him. A few weeks after her death, he was elected master general of the portion of the Order which supported Urban VI. Most superiors on taking over such a task have at least only one community to deal with; his was the unhappy task of trying to bring order out of chaos, and to promote a reform in an Order that was neatly split in half, with some of its best men on both sides. Various things have been said about his rule as master general; some claim that he saved the Order's observance, others criticize him for a seeming lack of attention to study. We, at least, can agree on the difficulty of the task facing him.

The work of reforming the Order from within was the principal work of this period. With the help of the most outstanding men of the Order, Raymond established an upward trend in observance against great obstacles. He set up several houses of strict observance to pioneer this work, and he gradually extended it until this spirit of primitive observance would predominate in the entire Order.

Raymond of Capua died in Nuremberg, while he was there promoting the reform. His body was later transferred to Naples. On the fifth centenary of his death, he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII.

(Source : Dorcy, Marie Jean. St. Dominic's Family. Tan Books and Publishers, 1983)

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