A fourteenth century woman, a saint or our own times!

Icon by Robert Lenz


Today is the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, the 24th child of a prosperous Sienese wool dyer. From childhood she felt called to a life dedicated completely to spiritual pursuits and resisted all efforts to push her towards marriage. She became a habited Dominican tertiary when she was 16 years old, and after three years of solitary prayer, took up a life of apostolic work. She worked at first as a nurse among the sick of Siena.

She became renowned as a peacemaker and was able to mediate between squabbling individuals, families, political factions and even city states. A group of disciples gathered around her. As she traveled through Italy, crowds came to meet her, and many changed their lives for the better.

Between 1377 and 1378 she dictated her Dialogue, a compendium of everything she had learned about the spiritual life. This work was written in Italian and has a concrete, earthy flavor.   Her spirituality is distinguished by her abandoning herself to Christ as his loving bride. She would sometimes begin her prayers, "O Divine Madman!" She wrote of God as pazzo d'amore, ebro d'amore " - crazed with love, drunk with love for us.

The last years of her life were devoted to trying to re-establish peace in the Roman church. Several weeks before her death as she was praying before a mosaic in the original St. Peter’s Basilica, she saw Peter’s fishing boat leave the mosaic and land on her shoulder. In the icon above she is shown with a mighty ship on her shoulder, a symbol of how St. Peter’s ministry had been changed by the medieval papacy. As she carries that ship, so did her prayers carry the hierarchy of her time. She is a patron for all those who feel crushed by religious institutions, as well as a great teacher for those drawn to a life of mystical prayer. (Icon available and text from: Trinity Stores)

Catherine makes a strong patron saint for our own times in the world, in the Church. There are so many ways in which the ship of the Church's life is born on the shoulders of women.

Take some time with Catherine's marvelous imagery for the Trinity and Eucharist in her own reflection:
And I shall clothe myself in your eternal will,
and by this light I shall come to know
that you, eternal Trinity,
are table
and food
and waiter for us.

You, eternal Father,
are the table
that offers us food,
the Lamb, your only-begotten Son.

He is the most exquisite of foods for us,
both in his teaching,
which nourishes us in your will,
and in the sacrament
that we receive in Holy Communion,
which feeds and strengthens us
while we are pilgrim travelers in this life.

And the Holy Spirit
is indeed a waiter for us,
for the Spirit serves us this teaching
by enlightening our mind's eye with it
and inspiring us to follow it.
And the Spirit serves us charity for our neighbors
and hunger to have as our food.


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