Today’s readings: 1 John 3:16-18 | Psalm 34 | Luke 12:32-34
This Mass was with the school children.
Saint Catherine was born at Siena, in the region of Tuscany in Italy. Catherine was the youngest in a family of twenty-five children. Can you imagine having twenty-four brothers and sisters?! When she was six years old Jesus appeared to Catherine and blessed her. Her mother and father wanted her to be happily married, preferably to a rich man. But Catherine didn’t want that, she wanted to be a nun.
And so, to make herself as unattractive as possible to the men her parents wanted her to meet, she cut off her long, beautiful hair. Her parents were very upset and became very critical of her. They also gave her the most difficult housework to do. But Catherine did not change her mind: her goal was to become a nun and give herself entirely to Jesus. Finally, her parents stopped bothering her and allowed her to become a nun. Her father even set aside a room in the house where she could stay and pray.
St. Catherine was very honest and straightforward with Jesus and sometimes she even scolded him when she thought he was not around to help her in her struggles and temptations. Jesus told her that because he was in her heart she was able to win her struggles by his grace. That’s important to remember because Jesus is always around, in our hearts, to help us with our struggles and grace too.
So eventually Catherine did become a nun. When she was eighteen years old, she entered the Dominican Third Order and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and works of penance. Gradually a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious. They all saw that Catherine was a holy woman with a special relationship with Jesus. During this time she wrote many letters, most of which gave spiritual instruction and encouragement to her followers. But more and more, she began to take note of public affairs. She would speak out on many topics and would stand up for the truth. Because of this, many people began to oppose her and they brought false charges against her, but she was cleared of any kind of wrongdoing.
Because of her great influence, and that she spoke out fearlessly to defend the truth, Saint Catherine was able to help the Church during a very difficult time. During this time, the Church had many problems. There were fights going on all over Italy. There was not just one, but actually two and then three men who claimed to be the pope! Catherine wrote letters to kings and queens. She even went to beg rulers to make peace with the pope and to avoid wars.
At one point, Saint Catherine asked the real pope to leave Avignon, France, where he had been staying in exile, and return to Rome to rule the Church, because she knew that this was God’s will. The pope listened to St. Catherine and did as she said, and even though it was difficult and there was still a lot of fighting to do, this eventually led to peace in the Church.
Saint Catherine never forgot that Jesus was in her heart. Through her, Jesus helped the sick people she nursed and comforted the prisoners she visited in jail. Even though she spent a lot of time in prayer, she was still able to reach out to those who were hurting so that they too could know that Jesus loved them just as much as he loved her.
Catherine is one of our most revered saints, because she wrote great works about the teaching of the Church and the spiritual life. She once wrote that coming to know God was like trying to see the entire ocean, because every time you go a little deeper, there is always more to see. God is like that too. Every time we see a little bit more of who God is, we know that there is still a whole lot more that we have to come to know. She wrote, “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.”
Saint Catherine is one of the most important saints of the Church. Besides being a nun, she has also been named a Doctor of the Church. This doesn’t mean that she cured people who were sick. That’s not the kind of doctor she was. The kind of doctor that Saint Catherine was is the kind of doctor who is very smart and has great insights and writes important things. Saint Catherine’s writings are still very important to the Church today. So that is why she was named a Doctor of the Church. There are about 33 Doctors of the Church, and just three of them are women, including Saint Catherine of Siena.
One person, boys and girls, can make a huge difference. Saint Catherine made a huge difference in the Church, helping to get through a very difficult time. She made a difference in the world, because she wrote to kings and princes and tried to help them make peace. She made a difference in people’s lives because she reached out the sick and those in prison to help them to know how much Jesus loved them. She still makes a difference for us today, because we can read the beautiful things she has written about God and help us to come to know him better.
Saint Catherine is a wonderful saint, because she loved Jesus and loved people and wanted to help people know God. We are all called to be the same kind of person that she was. We are called to love Jesus and love people and help people to know God too. That’s what God wants us to be, and we have Saint Catherine to show us how to do it.