Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
and her visions of Purgatory
It is the Sixteenth Century. We are again at a time of struggle and crisis in the world and in the Church. A priest will cause many innocent lambs, not aware of his disobedience and betrayal to the Church, to stray. As always, when the Church is under attack and things look hopeless, God raises up a powerful Saint to save His Church. Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was one of those Saints. She was born in Florence, Italy, into a very prominent and most influential family; both sides of her parents’ families were close friends of the ruling Medici family. They would be responsible for contributing, down through the history of Florence, many highly acclaimed statesmen, but none whose mark would be so profoundly and everlastingly felt on the Church and the world, as a Carmelite Nun from their ranks who would far surpass their fleeting fame.
She was baptized Catherine after Saint Catherine of Siena. From her earliest years, she showed an affinity for the religious life. When her father was appointed Governor of Cortona, Catherine was placed in a convent school there and learned to love the prayerful and holy life, she saw so authentically lived out each day. When she made her decision to enter the Carmelite Order, at first her family objected; they had plans to marry her off to another leading family, uniting the two families into one major entity, a dynasty more powerful than either had been before.
But when her family saw that none of the suitors who asked for her hand in marriage, could dissuade her from her intended plans to become a “Bride of Christ,” Catherine was finally allowed to enter the Convent of Saint Mary on the Feast of the Assumption. On January 30, 1583, she received her habit and Catherine received the name Sister Mary Magdalen. At the vesting ceremony, the priest placed a crucifix in her hands, with the words: “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As he pronounced these words, her face became radiant, the overwhelming desire to suffer for Christ filling her heart and mind. This yearning never left her, nor did the pain that accompanied it. When her physical pain became evident to one of the other sisters, she asked Sister Mary Magdalen how she could bear so much suffering without crying out. Pointing to the crucifix, she exclaimed:
“See what the infinite love of God suffered for my salvation. That same love sees my weakness and gives me courage. Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ and who offer up their own to God through His Passion find their pains sweet and pleasant.”
After this, the sisters helped her to the infirmary, and Sister Mary Magdalen went into an ecstasy lasting an hour. But with the ecstasy came the agony. She not only suffered physically, but she experienced great spiritual dryness. The devil attacked her, every way imaginable. Although she fasted on bread and water alone (except on holidays and Sundays), she had to fight the sometimes almost overpowering craving she would have for food, and it took all the strength she could summon, to resist devouring everything in sight. No sooner did she conquer this temptation, the enemy hit her with impure thoughts that drained her as she battled to wipe them from her mind. She turned to the Blessed Mother and Our Lord Jesus.