Compassionate Catherine

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I’m acquainting myself with the writings of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), the patron saint of our church. My pastor gave me a book of some of her prayers and I’ve slowly been reading and meditating on them. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve learned of this saint. I’m amazed by her passion and piety. I’ve really come to love this sister in Christ.The book of her writings that I’m reading is called Passion for Truth Compassion for Humanity, Catherine of Siena (Mary O’Driscoll, editor).  Actually, the word writings is a bit misleading, St. Catherine was illiterate by today’s standards. Her “writings” were dictated and recorded by others.

St. Catherine was raised in a society and time period where women were mostly uneducated. Her family loved God, His Church and the sacraments, and the saints. Among many things the Holy Spirit used her family and even her study and contemplation of the stained glass windows at her church in order to grow her faith. It’s interesting how in our society, where literacy is the “norm” and households have mulitple copies of the Bible, we place such an emphasis on reading Scripture (which of course is a good thing).  However, here is a prime and powerful example of how the Holy Spirit works through the hearing of the Word in Church and the oral faith tradition passed down in a family. It’s easy for us to forget that for much of Church history this is how the faith was taught and lived.

The wisdom and knowledge exhibited in St. Catherine’s writings are evidence of the power of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fact that God uses the weak things of the world to admonish and confound the wise. A great example of this is how the Lord used St. Catherine to admonish and encourage Church leaders (even the Pope) during a time in history when women were greatly limited in terms of their spheres of influence. 

There are so many facets of Catherine through which God’s love shines. Too many to share in this post. The title of this book though speaks volumes about who she is.  She is most assuredly passionate about truth and leading others to walking in truth and piety. But, that passion for truth was rooted in her compassion and love for others. I’m humbled and convicted by this compassion and her willingness to care for people who returned her kindness with cruelty.

One of her prayers Your Greatness is Everywhere, has spoken to me in many ways. I thought I’d share excerpts over the next couple of days…

O fire ever blazing!

The soul who comes to know herself in you

finds your greatness wherever she turns,

even in the tiniest things,

in people

and in all created things,

for in all of them she sees

your power

and wisdom and clemency.

For if you had not been powerful,

knowing,

and willing,

you would not have created them.

But you were powerful and knowing and willing,

and therefore you created everything.

O my poor blind soul,

You have never come to know yourself in him

because you have not stripped yourself

of your disordered will,

and have not clothed yourself in his will…

***

You know us Catholics, we believe in that whole “communion of saints thing,” so I can’t close this post without asking our sister in heaven to pray for those of us still on our pilgrimage here on earth.

Don’t freak out my Protestant friends. Let me assure you, this isn’t idolatry. I’m just asking a fellow sister in Christ to pray for us (not any different than asking you to do it, except she’s in heaven and probably won’t forget or get distracted by some menial task like we do here on earth – smile). If this belief troubles you because you think it’s not Biblical then click here and you’ll find a Biblical explanation for why we Catholics ask our brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for us. If you’re interested in Church history and what the Church Fathers thought about this topic this article might interest you as well.

St. Catherine, please pray for us, that we will come to know ourselves in Christ and in his blazing love. Pray that we will look for and see God’s greatness in all things, especially in others. And that we may be clothed in His perfect will.  Amen.

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