Image: Pompeo Batoni, Ecstasy of St. Catherine of Siena
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, patroness of Europe, and this morning we were especially graced with a thought-provoking reflection from Father Tomas, complemented by another beautiful watercolour from Jan Hearn. Although this awe-inspiring woman walked the earth almost seven hundred years ago, she nevertheless has a great deal of wisdom to offer to our modern world. True wisdom is, after all, timeless and relevant to every generation. With that in mind, here are five quotes attributed to St. Catherine for you to ponder and reflect upon this week.
1. "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Christ has already perfected those who are set apart unto God (Hebrews 10: 14); St. Paul affirms this in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 3: 15). However, Paul also tells us to ‘forget the past and strain ahead for what is still to come’ (Philippians 3: 13), while making numerous references to spiritual infancy and maturation. Life in Christ, then, can be read as a process of growing into our true identity which has been bought for us by the shedding of Christ’s blood. If we do, promises St. Catherine, we will cast the fire on the earth that was the Lord’s earnest wish.
2. "You are rewarded not according to your work or your time but according to the measure of your love."
One positive to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is the way it has caused us to re-evaluate how we regard people’s work. As a former trade unionist I don’t believe in unskilled labour; nevertheless, we live in a society which values prestige and financial reward, and it can be tempting to find our identity in what we do rather than how we do it. St. Catherine reminds us that God is no respecter of persons and that regardless of how we earn our living, it is the amount of love we have for Him and others which will ultimately determine our heavenly reward.
3. "Preach the Truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world."
A look at St. Catherine’s wimple and veil might lead one to conclude that she must have been a nun, but this is not the case. Catherine did, at one point, discern the cloistered life, but God revealed to her that He wanted her to be out in the world, working for His Kingdom as a holy laywoman. It was then that she joined the third order of St. Dominic. The Dominicans – also known as the Order of Preachers – are committed to speaking the truth, whatever the personal cost. In an age of subjectivism where truth is generally accepted to be a matter of personal preference rather than absolutes, these words could not be more relevant. Silence provides the fertile soil from which injustice, oppression and the destruction of human life spring. Speaking the truth is not optional – it’s a moral responsibility.
4. "What is it you want to change? Your hair, your face, your body? Why? For God is in love with all those things and he might weep when they are gone."
Human beings are God’s highest creation, destined from the beginning to be suitable vessels in which He can dwell in all His fullness (2 Timothy 2: 21; Ephesians 3: 19). The enemy, however, does not want us to know this truth and will go to great lengths to prevent us from discovering it. I used to work with several young women who were naturally beautiful and yet couldn’t see it – all of them were dissatisfied with their appearance and most were considering having cosmetic surgery. This wasn’t their fault – they’d grown up believing that they had to match an impossible standard in order to be worthy of love. Yet St. Catherine would have us remember that with God, nothing is accidental and He is quite delighted with each and every one of us: ‘How beautiful you are, my love, how beautiful you are!’ (Song of Songs 4: 1)
5. "He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely."
God has a beautiful and unique plan for every human life, but it’s possible to lose a lot of sleep and peace if we try to realise that under our own steam. It can be an immense source of relief when we realise that God’s will for our lives isn’t something we have to try and make happen, framed within a narrative of success, failure and the following of dreams. Rather, it’s something to which we abandon ourselves, no longer striving to maximise pleasure and avoid suffering but wholeheartedly embracing our Cross. It’s something which will naturally unfold as we realise that the story is not about me but about Him who loved us. Paradoxically, it’s in this surrender and dying to self that we actualise the person God always intended us to be...
…which I think brings this post more or less full circle. St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
by Lucy Stothard