Today the Order of Preachers celebrates one of its lesser-known heroes, Blessed Raymund of Capua. This 14th-century Italian friar is perhaps best known as the confessor of St. Catherine of Siena, whose biography he authored. Raymund is perhaps less well known for ministering to the dying during the black plague, serving as legate to Popes during a time of schism, and initiating a reform of the Order of Preachers as its 23rd Master.
What I appreciate the most about Blessed Raymund is the fact that he saw it all. He witnessed firsthand both the hideousness of the Church in schism as well as the extraordinary graces given to St. Catherine. His life is the story of a man (with all his hesitancy and imperfection) surrendering to the grace of God. In her letters, St. Catherine continually exhorted him not to grow discouraged but to boldly fulfill the lofty tasks set before him.
One incident in particular crystallized Raymund’s surrender and was, I believe, a point of conversion to which he constantly returned. Towards the beginning of his relationship with Catherine, he began (like many) to doubt the authenticity of what she told him. Surely the Lord had not granted her such marvelous favors and revelations! One evening, he decided to put her to the test by asking her to obtain for him from the Lord an extraordinary grace of contrition for his sins, since such a grace could only come from the Lord and would act as a sort of litmus test. The very next morning, when Catherine came and spoke to him he was granted his desire:
She went on talking, and as she did so there came before my mind an unusual vision of my sins. I saw myself naked before the judgment seat of God, like a man facing sentence by the judges of this world. I saw myself sentenced to death. At the same time I realized the goodness and mercy of the Judge for, knowing that I should rightly die for my sins, he not only delivered me from death but dressed me in His own clothes, gave me food and shelter in His home, and, picking me out to serve Him, in His infinite goodness turned death into life, fear into hope, sorrow into joy and shame into a source of pride.
Raymund burst into tears and asked Catherine (whose discourse he had interrupted) if this was the special grace he had desired. She responded that it was, got up, and walked calmly out of the room, only stopping to tap him on the shoulder and say, “Never forget the graces of God!”
It is difficult to imagine the great reformer of the Order of Preachers and counselor of Popes curled up into a ball and sobbing on his couch. Yet, this is the image of a man surrendering to his divine vocation: “For when I am weak, it is then that I am strong.” As history shows, the Lord raised up Blessed Raymund of Capua as a shining light during one of the Church’s darkest hours, but not without first bringing him low and giving him a grace that he would never forget.
Image: Raymund and Catherine