The second of four children, Caterina was born in Florence on the second of April, 1566, to Camilo de’ Pazzi and Maria Buondelmonti. In the comfortable setting of a noble family, that began to call her Lucrezia, after her paternal grandmother, the young girl grew up peacefully and with a certain sensitivity to the aesthetic side of her social condition. Her heart was open to God, and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, in great simplicity, which is something we can see in the way she might share her lunch pack with a needy person, out of compassion, or the way she would help the children of the poor by gently offering them the first truths of faith. Her mother’s deep piety, and the visits to her home by the Jesuit Fathers, that her parents invited regularly, helped to stamp on Caterina’s soul that sense of Church, “sensus ecclesiae,” that in later life would appeal so much to her conscience.
At eight years of age, she was sent as a pupil to the nuns at San Giovannino. The nuns, who noticed the contemplative nature of the child, prepared her for First Holy Communion and not many weeks later, Caterina was sufficiently mature to offer her virginity to God. She was ten years old, and now she didn’t need anymore to get the scent of Jesus, by standing near her mother when she had received Holy Communion, now she began to meditate on the humanity of Jesus. As she was learning to read she came across the Athanasian Creed, and she was very taken by it. In the same way she grew to like the meditations of St. Augustine, and the Lord’s passion by Loarte, whiche she read on the advice of Fr. Andrea Rossi who was her spiritual director.
She had not yet reached the age of seventeen when she showed her desire to be consecrated to God in religious life. Having overcome the initial opposition of her family, she entered the monastery in Borgo San Frediano, to join the Carmelite community of Santa Maria degli Angeli who were very happy to have her. They allowed her to begin as a postulant on the 8th of December, 1582. This community, that was well known to and highly regarded by the bishop of Florence, was attractive to the young girl principally because of the possibility of receiving Holy Communon every day.
Two months after entering, on the 30th of January, 1853, Caterina received the Carmelite habit, and with it, the name, Sr. Maria Maddalena. At the end of the novitiate year it was decided that she would put her profession back until there were other novices ready to join her. Maria Maddalena, however, got very sick in the following months, to the point of almost dying. With little hope of recovery – even the best doctors in the city had failed to diagnose what today we would call pneuomonia – the prioress decided to have her make her profession in danger of death, in articulo mortis.
About one hour after her profession, something happened to Maddalena. It was an experience of rapture in God. The sisters tell us that when they went to visit her in the infirmary, they came upon the young eighteen year old patient, transfigured, and looking very beautiful. From that day onwards, it was the 27th of May, 1584, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the Lord visited her every morning for forty days, and revealed the depth of his love to her. These frequent episodes gave rise to many misgivings in the young girl whose only desire was to live in the hiddenness of her life in Carmel, but it was obvious that this kind of grace had to be recognised and preserved. For that reason, the sisters began very soon to take notes, writing down what Maddalena would say while in ecstasy and what she would say, out of obedience, to the prioress and mistress.
Towards the end of that same year a new period of divine favour began for her. This time, Jesus, the “humanified” Word, held her in intense conversation (reported in I Colloqui) that revealed increasingly, the bridal relationship that Christ had formed with her. It was in one of those ecstasies that Christ brought her into his passion and death. It was Holy Week in 1585: her experiences included the stigmata impresssed on her soul, the crown of thorns, the cruifixion, and every scene from the Gospel was acted out as if it was happening live in that slender tormented body. Then, on the Sunday after Easter, she received from her divine Bridegroom the ring of her mystical marriage.
The manuscript titled, Revelazioni e Intelligenze, gives a faithful account of the communication of God’s grace, that in the days between the vigil of Pentecost and the Sunday of the Blessed Trinity, gave Maddalena an entry into the revelation of the inner dimensions of her Trinitarian life. What was communicated to her was what goes on between the divine persons, and how the human person can fulfil a supernatural vocation by allowing this mystery dwelling within to do its work.
The central element in this understanding, is the saving mission of the Word, Love, made flesh in the most pure womb of the Virgin Mary, and the intuition of “dead love” as the highest expression of the ultimate gift of self.
On the last day of this intense octave of Pentecost, Maddalena began to see with some clarity that the moment had arrived when God, as he had made know to her already on a few occasions, was about to take away from her the enjoyment of his presence. That was the beginning of five very difficulty years of torment and temptation, to the point where she felt like as if she had been thrown into the “lions’ den”, and reduced to “nothing”. In these interior trials, described in the Probazione, Jesus continues to support her, but without lessening the radical purification that striped her bare, made her more simple and extremely receptive to his visits. In the heart of the crucible, however, Maddalena also received lights from God concerning the condition of the Church of her time – so slow to implement the renewal sought by the Council of Trent – and she felt that she was being drawn by the Truth to be involved in a practical way in calling to order prelates, cardinals and even the pope, Sixtus V. The twelve letters that she dictated in ecstasy, in the Summer of 1586 are collected in the volume titled, Rinnovamento della Chiesa, The five years of trial restored to us a Maddalena transformed. The Lord had brought her through a divinising process, around which today she could well be considered a master and guide.
After Pentecost 1590, she returned to the normality of ordinary life, something she had always wanted. Apart from just a few, and important, moments of ecstasy (reported in the second part of the Probazione) her days passed quietly as she went about the jobs she had to do (on account of her spiritual maturity she was put in charge of the young sisters in formation), and all the other forms of humble service that she tended to seek. Then the experience of “naked suffering” took hold of her and this would unite her once and for all to the crucified Bridegroom.
The symptoms of tuberculosis began to appear in 1603. As her strength declined, she suffered the added pain of not being able to feel anything of the Lord’s presence. Just her presence in the community, in the eyes of the sisters, had become a vision of God’s work of art about to be completed. On the 25th of May, 1607, at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, Sr. Maria Maddalena, at the age of forty one gave up her spirit.