Saint Catherine of Siena is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Catherine’s particular prescription for holiness will help be more focused on the important things in life.
Catherine Benincasa was the twenty-fourth of twenty-five children born to her parents, though only about half survived childhood. From a young age, Catherine had mystical visions and felt drawn to give her entire life to God. But her parents had other plans. When they began to arrange a marriage for her, Catherine resisted and took up extreme ascetical practices to demonstrate her firm resolve. Her parents eventually gave up and Catherine became a Dominican tertiary, living the Dominican spirituality within her family home.
For three years, Catherine lived in silence and solitude in a cell in her family home. After a mystical experience of union with Jesus, Catherine felt called to leave solitude and began aiding the ill and serving the poor. Gradually, she began to receive attention for her holiness and requests for advice from many prominent people. She dictated at least fifteen letters to Pope Gregory XI, insisting that he move back to Rome from Avignon—and he eventually relented. Around this time, Catherine began work on her Dialogues, the book of her meditations and revelations. Catherine died in Rome after a three-month illness. She was only thirty-three. She was canonized in 1461 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
Catherine of Siena’s prescription: Think often about your salvation! Salvation comes through the blood of Christ.
Catherine reportedly died while saying “Blood! Blood! Blood!” It was a word she used often, over 1800 times in her writings. In using it she was thinking of the blood of Christ. The salvation of souls was of paramount importance to Catherine, and she knew that we are saved through the blood of Christ. She emphasized blood so that people would think about salvation more. She also stressed the reception of Christ’s blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Blood represents life, food, communion with Christ and with each other, and grace. It is a very rich concept and stands at the foundation of Catherine’s spiritual teaching.
Her love for Jesus spilled over into love for other people. Catherine could be found nursing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching others about the great love God has for them. Because of her extreme penances, Catherine might seem odd or strange. Her mystical prayer life contained many visions and supernatural experiences. But she always insisted that apparitions don’t make a person holy; only love does. While she was deeply involved in working for the reform of the Church and in helping others, she never let go of the ultimate goal: salvation. And that salvation comes through the blood of Christ.
Some practical things to do:
- Pray for the salvation of all people. Keep in mind especially those people who are wandering far away from God.
- Pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is a way of praying by offering the blood of Jesus to the eternal Father. Here are instructions on how to pray it.
- Perform one of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy as a way of showing love toward others.
Saint Catherine, in your life you did unusual penances and experienced mystical phenomena. But that’s not what made you a saint. You became a saint because of your great love, love for Jesus first of all and then love of your neighbor. You spent yourself in works of charity to aid the poor and the outcasts. Pray for us that we too might spend ourselves in love of neighbor by seeing Jesus in each person whom we meet. Help us to be authentic witnesses of the joy of the Gospel.
Feast: April 29
Patron: Italy, Europe, nurses and the sick; against fire, sexual temptation, illness, miscarriages
Selection from the writings of Saint Catherine
Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.
I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.
Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.
You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!
From the Dialogue on Divine Providence, chapter 167
By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP
Image Credit: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo via Wikimedia Commons