Saint Colette of Corbie: Virgin; Reformer of the Poor Clares and Unifier of the Church

Saint Colette is remembered for her holiness, but also for her initial resistance to the will of God, offered to her in visions. Upon overcoming her fear and reservations, and accepting the Lord’s calling, Saint Colette went on to accomplish great things in the name of God.
Born Nicolette Boellet, but called Colette, her parents were well-advanced in age. Her father, known throughout the region of France, was a well-known carpenter, having constructed monasteries and abbeys in the region. Her mother, over 60 years old, had conceived late in life, following devout prayer to Saint Nicholas, the patron of children.
Colette was orphaned at age 17, and promptly gave her inheritance to the poor of the region. She sought to enter the religious life, but had difficulty finding an order which matched her strict observances. She unsuccessfully entered the Bequines, the Benedictines, and the Urbanist Poor Clares, leaving each due to her perception of their relaxed rules on poverty and obedience. Colette subsequently became a hermitess for three years, living in a small hut adjacent to the church at Corbie, and at age 21, became an anchoress, having herself walled into a cell with only a small window which opened into the church. There she lived for some time in complete solitude, in prayer, fasting, and poverty.
It was while she was secluded that she experienced the great visions which would move her to action. In her first vision, Colette witnessed the moral destruction of the world, a vision which left her frightened and moved. Later, had another vision in which she saw Saint Francis of Assisi come before the Lord, and kneeling down, he begged, “Lord, give me this woman for the reform of my Order” (as the Franciscan Order had been part of Colette’s vision of a destroyed world). In the vision, the Lord bowed His head, giving ascent for her mission.
But Colette refused. She was both frightened and unsure of what she had seen. So Lord showed her another vision, this one of a great golden tree from which sprung other trees. Colette understood the vision as she being the first tree, and the nurslings representing the houses she was to found. And yet, in her heart, she continued to refuse. Given that she refused to listen to the Lord, she was struck deaf and dumb for three days, and her inability to see Him, left her blind for another three days. Understanding her physical manifestations as confirmation from God that this was her path, Colette allowed her heart to be changed, and willingly served the Lord.

Gaining permission to leave her cell, Colette walked barefooted, clad in rags, to an audience with the French-recognized Pope Benedict XIII, Pedro de Luna (at that time, there was a great schism in the Church, with three popes claiming authority. Colette would work with Saint Vincent Ferrer to reconcile the Church to itself later in her life). Benedict recognized her sanctity and bestowed upon her the black veil of the Poor Clares, charging her to reformation, and granting her the authority of Mistress over any community which she built or reformed.

Saint Colette set out across France, Belgium, and Spain, reforming and establishing more than 18 Poor Clare communities under the original Rule of Saint Clare. (These communities, for political reasons during the rule of Pope Urban IV, had been forced to adopt less austere ways of life). During her travels, Colette counseled peace between warring countries, miraculously crossing battlefields unharmed. It is said that every person who met her was changed for the better.

Within the communities of the Poor Clares, however, her road was much more difficult. She was treated with unkindness, ostracism, greeted with slander, and accused of sorcery and heresy. Saint Colette received these insults with humility and kindness, eventually meeting with success in her mission. The reformed rule returned the order to extreme poverty, the sisters going barefoot, and observing constant fasting and abstinence. The Poor Clares, some of which are still referred to as Colettines, grew in numbers and devotion under her leadership. They can still be found today in Belgium, England, Spain, Germany, and the United States.

Saint Colette, remembering the vision of the Lord depicting the moral decline of society and the Church, never ceased praying for the sanctity of the Church and it’s leaders. In response, she was continuously plagued by the Devil, who visited upon her torture and temptation. She was frequently surrounded by stinging insects, who swarmed around her, stinging her repeatedly. Decomposing corpses of criminals and heretics would miraculously appear in her cell, even while she was walled in. Saint Colette further would further undergo physical torture and the hands of demons, leaving her bruised, broken, and exhausted. Holy legend tells us that Saint Colette once complained to Our Lord that these demons and trials were keeping her from her prayers. The Devil is said to have responded to her, “Cease, then, your prayers to the great Master of the Church, and we will cease to torment you. For you torment us more by your prayers than we do you.”
And yet, Colette did not complain outwardly. In her own words, she viewed the days in which she suffered no insult for the Lord as the least happy of her life. Saint Colette was renowned for her sanctity and ecstatic visions of the Passion. She would fast every Friday, prayerfully contemplating the Passion, and following reception of the Holy Eucharist would enter ecstatic visions of Christ, lasting hours into the evening. Like Saint Francis, she had an affinity for animals, and demonstrated care for all of God’s creatures. She foretold her own death in her convent at Ghent, Belgium, on March 6, 1447.

Saint Colette serves as a Lenten reminder for us that times of struggle and suffering can lead to redemption and conversion. In her words, “If there be a true way that leads to the Everlasting Kingdom, it is most certainly that of suffering, patiently endured.” These words, modeled after the life of Jesus Christ, His suffering for us, call us to patience in this world, and life everlasting in the next.

Eternal Father, I wish to honor St. Colette of Corbie, and I give Thee thanks for all the graces Thou hast bestowed upon her. I ask Thee to please increase grace in my soul through the merits of this saint, and I commit the end of my life to her by this special prayer, so that by virtue of Thy goodness and promise, St. Colette of Corbie might be my advocate and provide whatever is needed at that hour. Amen.

St. Colette Patronage:
against eye disorders
against fever
against headaches
against infertility
against the death of parents
Poor Clares
Corbie, France
Ghent, Belgium
Women seeking to conceive
expectant mothers
sick children

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