To remember historical events, people and places offers humankind an opportunity to ‘live life to the full.’ We recall significant events like the first lockdown due to the pandemic in March 2020; nine eleven; the first person who landed on the moon: Auschwitz; scientists and medical researchers who invented the vaccines for the coronavirus etc. Is there anything you can remember that is a life changing moment or significant in your life’s journey? Is there a person or group of persons you know that brings light to peoples’ lives? I think of the many charities such as Jack and Jill Foundation, Mary’s Meals, Trócaire, Simon Community, St Vincent de Paul Society, and Pieta House to name but a few. We know many people who worked for the common good, many of whom lost their lives all too soon. This week alone three Europeans – 2 Spanish and 1 Irish – were killed in an attack on an anti-poaching patrol in Burkina Faso, pointing to the unrest and the fragility of life to citizens. In these days, many people in India die with corona virus.
Today the church celebrates the feast of St Catherine of Siena, born on 25 March 1347 and died in 1380. Catherine was from a very large family. Her family lived in Northern Italy. Her father was a wool dyer and her mother took care of the children and the home. Catherine never went to school and had no formal education. At a young age, Catherine found quiet places to pray and talk to God.
At age sixteen, she had a vision of Saint Dominic, and she joined the Third Order of Dominican nuns. She wore the habit and lived in a small room in her parents’ home. Catherine spent three years in this room, praying. After this time, she served those who were sick and poor. People began to visit Catherine because they wanted to follow her example of living in God’s love.
In her lifetime, there were great changes for the world. The bubonic plague, a deadly and contagious disease often called The Black Death, ravaged Europe and killed one third of the population. France and England began the Hundred Years War. This fourteenth century was also a troubled time in Church life. The pope, who had always lived in Rome, was now living in France, which caused problems. Catherine wrote to the Pope and encouraged him to return to Rome to live, which happened subsequently. This time saw the beginning of the Renaissance, a revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning that began in Italy
Pope Benedict XVI said of Saint Catherine of Siena, ‘Even in the most difficult times, the Lord does not cease to bless his People, bringing forth Saints who give a jolt to minds and hearts, provoking conversion and renewal. Catherine 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.’ (Benedict XVI, General Audience, November 24, 2010).
Catherine encouraged people everywhere to use their gifts and talents because she knew that is what God desired. Catherine wrote letters to people who were poor, rich, or famous. People showed amazement at her letters considering she never attended school. She encouraged people to live in peace.
Catherine’s writings are among the classics of Italian literature. The advice and wisdom contained in her writings apply to life today. Catherine used her talents to have a positive effect on the world.
The Church canonised Saint Catherine of Siena in 1461. Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1970. She holds the titles of Co-Patroness of the City of Rome and of Patroness of Italy. She is Patron of Europe.
For the feast day ‘from the Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena, on Divine Revelation’, she addresses the eternal Trinity powerfully and uses natural images to describe the eternal Trinity. She says ‘the eternal Trinity is like a deep sea, in which the more I seek, the more I find; and the more I find, the more I seek you.’ She expresses the beauty of God’s creation in the light of God. She continues to describe the ‘eternal Trinity as an abyss, a deep sea, a fire ever burning, never consumed.’(Ch 167).
Catherine enjoyed a deep and close relationship with God. She showed her love for God in her love for others. In her writings, we read phrases such as:
- ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’
- ‘God sees you always.’
- ‘God is closer to us than water is to fish.’
The first reading proclaimed at Mass today (Jn 1:5-2:2) proclaims light, union and love. In response for the beauty that God gives and the poetic language by which Catherine describes the eternal Trinity, the assembly of people gathered can only sing out praise to God as they respond, ‘My soul, give thanks to the Lord.’ (Psalm 102:1-4, 8-9, 13-14, 17-18 R. v.3).
The Gospel proclaims (Mt 11:25-30) Jesus’ call to the lowly ones of this world to share his love and his teaching. St Catherine totally trusted and responded to the One who said, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.’
This is the invitation offered to each one today. Will I accept or refuse? God gives free will.
The Grow in Love/I nGrá Dé religious education programme nurtures the themes of love, trust and union with God. Online resources are accessible on the Grow in Love website.
- From your Bible read the comforting words of Jesus in the Gospel today (Mt 11:25-30)
- Read Psalm 102
- Glory be to the Father/ Glóir don Athar
- Act of Love/Gníomh Grá
- Find out some more facts about St Catherine of Siena
- Do you know anyone named Catherine? You might tell them about St Catherine for Siena and about much she loved God
- You might find a quiet place and time in your house today and say thanks to God.
Sr Anne Neylon