This weekend I wanted to tell you about my favourite saint – St Catherine of Siena.
Catherine was born in the year 1347 and lived till 1380. She was born the youngest of a very large family. From early on in her life Catherine experienced visions and practiced penances. As early as the age of seven she consecrated her virginity to Christ and by 16 she had joined the third order of the Dominicans. Catherine had really desired to enter the Dominican convent but had felt God instruct her not to do so. For three years during her teenage years Catherine retreated to her room for intense prayer and mystical encounters with Christ, whereupon she immerged from her room to serve and assist her family, the sick, the poor and the un-churched. The era of the 14th century in which she lived, was a troubled time within the Church and socially. Her life was one spent dedicated to prayer and penance, serving others in charity. God recompensed her charity to the poor by many miracles, often multiplying provisions in her hands. When the fame of her sanctity started to spread, she was inundated as a spiritual guide personally and through her letter’s to people of all position; politicians, nobles, ordinary people, artists, religious, etc, the most notable being Pope Gregory XI who responded to her challenge to go back to Rome and leave his exile in Avignon.
Back then there was severe unrest not only within the Church itself, but between Church and state leading to a civil war between Florence and the Papal states.Catherine travelled a lot in order to try and encourage reconciliation and peaceable solutions even risking her own life.
Another renown characteristic she was famous for, was when hardened sinners would come to her aggressively and angry, but at the mere sight of her, and looking into her eyes which had such depth of love for them, they would be converted. In fact three Dominican Priests were commissioned by Pope Gregory XI, to hear the confessions at Siena, of those who were induced by the saint to enter upon a change of life; these priests were occupied, day and night, in hearing the confessions of many who had never confessed before. Most notably two famous assassins going to die with blasphemies in their mouths, and in the transports of rage and despair, were suddenly converted and repented in their last moments, by the saint’s prayers.
Catherine wrote her greatest spiritual work, ‘The Dialogue,’ (still available today) in which through prayer, she had a conversation with God – were she petitioned Him, and shared the mystical revelations she received back. Through this and her other notable writings she became a Doctor of the Church. And in 1999 she was made co-patroness of Europe by Blessed John Paul II, who quoted one of her most famous lines during his Pontificate ‘If you are what you’re meant to be you’ll set the whole world on fire.’