Saint Catherine of Siena was one of the greatest followers of Christ. Her ability to articulate to Gospel and her ability to charitably bring the papacy to reform are among the key reasons she is one of my favorite saints. My youngest daughter is even named after this amazing saint. Here’s five amazing facts about Catherine.
25 Kids and Counting
While it may seem astronomical to us, having 25 children was not insane back in the Middle Ages. Due to the low infant mortality rate and disease, families gave born to many children but unfortunately few survived to adulthood. Catherine was the 25th child born to her mother, but only half of her siblings survived childhood!
Still, it is incredible to think that if Catherine’s parents lived in today’s society, it would be very likely they would not have been as open to live of so many children. It is astounding that God works in miraculous ways to take one of the youngest of such a large family to grace her with the eventual title of Doctor of the Church!
None of the Nunnery
I always believed that Catherine was part of a religious order and lived in a convent similar to spiritual greats like Therese of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila. After reading more about her, I learned that she actually never spent time in a convent. Instead, Catherine joined the Third Order of St. Dominic. This permitted her to associate with a religious society while remaining within the confines of her home.
Gone too Soon
Why do the most innocent and vibrant of souls perish too early? From film stars to sports figures that perished at a young age, to maybe someone within your life that died too soon, it is natural to question the purpose of an early death. While I do not have the answer to that question, I found it interesting that Catherine of Siena died at the mere age of 33—the exact age that Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and buried!
Never Let Obstacles Get in Your Way
It would have been easy for Catherine to give up when she wrote the pope but she remained steadfast. Her persistence and charity were instrumental in convincing Pope Gregory XI to return from Avignon to Rome.
The stigmata are wounds certain saints received on their hands and/or feet. It is a sign of their closeness to Christ and was given to them as a reminder for Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. In the case of Catherine, the stigmata wounds were visible only to her. She accepted this unique suffering with grace and hope in God’s Providence.
God raises up holy individuals in times of great need. Saint Catherine of Siena is a perfect role model for Catholics in the 21st century in a world where it’s common to be less than enthusiastic about the faith. May we ask for her help to grow in love and devotion to God.
“Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
Editor’s note: Article originally published on March 28, 2019.
Healthcare has become a hot-button issue over the past several years. Is it a privilege or a natural human right? Should you vaccinate your children or allow their body’s immune system to fend off diseases naturally? Is surgery better or experimental non-evasive treatment better? The list of questions goes on and on. Because I am not a doctor, I will not be discussing healing of the body in this article. Instead, as a Catholic and student of theology, I will examine the best practices to combat spiritual sickness—sin!
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1501,
Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more nature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.
The Healing Mission of Christ and the Church
A common title given to Jesus is Divine Physician because he heals humanity from sin and death. While our ultimate trust focus on God as healer of souls, He has employed various men and women over the centuries to stand as great witnesses to the truth. Such saints are called Doctors of the Church.
Not to be confused with medical doctors, Doctors of the Church are, “certain saints whose writing or preaching is outstanding for guiding the faithful in all periods of the Church’s history. To view a complete and detailed list of all saints with this honor please refer to Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s Doctors of the Catholic Church—Complete List.
Saints Work for the Divine Doctor
Because of the incredible need for healing and hope in this fallen world, today will mark the beginning of a weekly blog series Spiritual Surgeons —Co-workers with the Divine Physician. Every week we will focus on a different saint. We will examine key themes and advice from their writings to help us root out sin and grow in our relationship with God and neighbor. St. Catherine of Siena will be the focus of this inaugural Spiritual Surgeons installment.
Corruption of Sin
Catherine lived in the 14th century during a period of grave clergy corruption. She famously wrote to Pope Gregory XI urging him to return to Rome and clean up the abuses going on within the Catholic Church hierarchy. At that time, the papacy succumbed to the powers of the world (France) and the pope lived in Avignon to appease the French rulers. Catherine petitioned to the pope by declaring, “But, I hope, by the goodness of God that you will pay more heed to His honour and the safety of your own flock than to yourself, like a good shepherd, who ought to lay down his life for his sheep” (Letter to Gregory XI). Her brave and consistent witness to the Truth even against those in power brings us hope.
Furnace of Divine Love
Along with Catherine’s teaching on the corruption of sin, she teaches sin decays the soul. Similar to how disease infects the body, so too, sin infects the soul. Physical surgery involves pain. Both in the actual procedure and the healing process afterwards. Spiritual surgery necessarily contains suffering as well. St. Catherine’s remedy includes the fire of God’s love.
Catherine warns against non-evasive spiritual treatments in fighting sin. According the Sienese saint in a letter to Pope Gregory XI, “If a wound when necessary is not cauterized or cut out with steel, but simply covered with ointment, not only does it fail to heal, but it infects everything, and many a time death follows from it.” Her advice matches what Jesus taught on the Sermon of the Mount. In Matthew 5:29-30,
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.s It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go to Gehenna.
Purification by Flames
Fire acts as a destructive or purifying agent. Catherine speaks of God’s love as a fire cleansing the soul from sin. The word fire occurs 94 times in The Dialogues of St. Catherine. Phrases such as fire of Divine love and fire of Divine charity occur 5 and 3 times respectively. Although the first man muddied himself with the disobedience of sin, Catherine reminds us that God became man to show us the path of salvation. She wrote in her Dialogues,
So that each man has in his own person that very same key which the Word had, and if a man does not unlock in the light of faith, and with the hand of love the gate of heaven by means of this key, he never will enter there, in spite of its having been opened by the Word; for though I created you without yourselves, I will not save you without yourselves…My only-begotten Son, the Word, come and taken this key of obedience in His hands and purified it in the fire of divine love, having drawn it out of the mud, and cleansed it with His blood, and straightened it with the knife of justice, and hammered your iniquities into shape on the anvil of His own body.
Catherine of Siena lived a profoundly holy life of faith. Her ability to correct clerical abuses with charity was second to none. According to St. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Three Co-patronesses of Europe, “Catherine addressed churchmen of every rank, demanding of them the most exacting integrity in their personal lives and their pastoral ministry. The uninhibited, powerful and incisive tone in which she admonished priests, Bishops and Cardinals is quite striking.” Learning from this great Doctor of the Church not only deepened my knowledge about God but strengthened my personal relationship with God.
The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena on April 29th. One of only four women Doctors of the Church, Catherine’s writings and life continues lead people to Christ.
Catherine has been particularly important in my life. When my wife was pregnant with our youngest child complications existed. Several times throughout the pregnancy we feared having a miscarriage. We prayed daily for the safety of our unborn child and asked for saints Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Gerard of Majella for help and intercession. Avila Catherine Geraldine was born in late 2018. She was healthy!
Since then my family continues to look to Catherine of Siena as a role model and guide to God. The Doctor of the Church provides mystical insight into the Gospel and demonstrates the depths of God’s love.
Fierce Defender of Truth
Few individuals have displayed such tenacity for the truth as Catherine did in her life. During the 14th century, the Catholic Church endured one of the most corrupt periods. Known as the Avignon papacy, the popes succumbed to worldly powers, specifically under the influence of the French monarchy. Catherine wrote frequently to Pope Gregory XI. An example of her boldness is shown in a Letter to Pope Gregory, “But, I hope, by the goodness of God that you will pay more heed to His honor and the safety of your own flock than to yourself, like a good shepherd, who ought to lay down his life for his sheep.”
Love is a Divine Furnace
Another key theme in Catherine’s writing is describing how God love burns away sin. God appears to be absent in our life. Suffering seems mysterious. That was the way I thought before reading the saint’s works. Her description of love as a divine furnace helped me better understand how God allows suffering to draw us closer to Him.
Reflecting on my past pains I realized how my prayer life actually bloomed. Having recovered from the contracting COVID19 a couple weeks ago, I rediscovered the importance of relying on God. At first I was angry for getting sick. I took all the precautions. Prayers started out as laments and ended in hope.
God was using my sickness to cauterize my sinful inclinations and renew my prayer life and trust in Him.
According to the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his General Audience on November 24, 2010, “Catherine (of Siena) is one of these and still today speaks to us and impels us to walk courageously toward holiness to be ever more fully disciples of the Lord.” Her intercession is powerful. I used to only think of saints as people too lofty to relate to. But reading the Sienese saint’s writings and her struggles I gained an intimate spiritual relationship with her—like a sister.
Her wit and spiritual knowledge helps me grow in holiness. Sanctity. That truly is the purpose of family. Catherine wrote, “There is no sin nor wrong that gives man such a foretaste of Hell in this life as anger and impatience.” Wow! Those words sound like they were written specifically for me. Parenting tests your patience. Daily. Hourly. And sometimes nearly every minute.
Catherine reminds me to trust in God. Her holiness shows through in her books and letters. I highly recommend looking to this Doctor of the Church for spiritual guidance.
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