Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena. What a wonderful saint to reflect on in this Easter season. She was born in 1347, in Siena, Italy. She lived through the Black Death, famine and numerous civil wars. During her lifetime the papal residence moved from Rome to Avignon and back again, and the great western Schism pitted Pope against anti-pope. But what did she do? To be canonized a saint requires perfect holiness of life and to be a Doctor of the Church requires a body of written work whose truths have withstood intense theological analysis.
Catherine’s writings rank among the classics of the Italian language. We have three primary sources that inform us of her personality, her activities, and her inner journey. During her active life, she dictated several letters a day; almost 400 remain containing applications of her spiritual teachings to Pope and peasant alike. The boldness of her letters, even today, have a way of shocking the reader into reality. She deliberately told popes, queens and kings how to behave and counseled lay and religious alike with wise and practical advice. We also have a collection of twenty-six prayers that give us insight into the concerns Catherine brought to prayer and her concept of Divinity. Finally, the book length Dialogue is the mature fruit of her spiritual teaching written about three years before her death. It treats the whole spiritual life of humans in a form of a series of colloquies between God and the soul, represented by Catherine herself.
Catherine of Siena has much to teach us today. She lived in an age as violent and threatened as our own. She poignantly demonstrates how one’s search for holiness and the value of inner resolve helps one in responding to an uncertain future. Her spirituality of interior synthesis propelled her outward into the conflicts of her times to become a peacemaker, counselor, spiritual guide, and moral reformer in her medieval world. She affirms that interior spiritual development inevitably moves one from self-concern to social consciousness. In this she has much to teach us about being Easter people, resurrection people. As a fourteenth century woman Catherine had to push aside her fears of rejection, condemnation, possible persecution and failure. She models the joy of partnering with God in the very important mission of spreading the Good News.
We have finished Lent; the time for inner growth/change. We now are in the Easter season, a season for movement outward; an unending season to share the joy of the risen Christ. There is much more joy, much greater joy, much fuller joy when we push aside our fears for the sake of spreading the Good News. It's the only way to keep the resurrection experience of awe and glory alive.
Catherine died in 1380, at 33 after a prolonged and mysterious agony of three months. Yet her impact on her own society was so profound that Europe was unable to forget her. Only eighty-one years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Pius II. In 1970, along with Teresa of Avila, she was pronounced a Doctor of the Church. Her impact on us today is equally as great. The universality of her spirituality and of her search for holiness in everyday life is translatable to every time and place and very authentic to our own call to holiness and our own mission to fearlessly tell others how to find Jesus.
By Brigid Quinn Laquer