In 1970, Pope St. Paul VI declared St. Catherine of Siena to be a Doctor of the Church and gave her the unique title Doctor of Wisdom. Her teaching is a total life experience that unifies belief, conviction, devotion and service within her profound mystical experience of God. Her spirituality is truly unique, bringing together intellectual and existential truth in her whole being.
St. Catherine of Siena was born in 1347 in Italy. She became a third order Dominican, learned to read and write, and was known for her service to the poor and her involvement in politics. She worked for the unity of the Church and was loyal to the pope. She died in 1380 at the age of thirty-three. Her best known spiritual writing is The Dialogue. Her quotes, though over six hundred years old, are still relevant today and can be an inspiration for our prayer life.
One of St. Catherine's principal teachings is self-knowledge, i.e., knowledge of oneself and knowledge of God. She adapted the Christian spiritual tradition on the subject and presented it anew using a number of ingenious images such as a well, a cell within a cell, a peaceful sea, a mirror. So important was self-knowledge in her life and teaching that she came to regard it as virtually prayer itself.
In contemplating God's love and beauty, she sees God's image and likeness in ourselves; we discover God's presence in ourselves and our presence in him "as the fish is in the sea, and the sea is in the fish." In Christ we see the virtues and then discover them also within ourselves and realize that they are meant to increase. We also see that we have no existence apart from God; everything that we have is his gift to us. As we contemplate God's love for us, we return love for love. We crave union with God, the ground of our being and supreme Beauty, and come to see that he too desires to be in a personal love-union with us in which he will share more fully his being and joy with us. As selfish self-love falls away, we grow towards union with God.
“My me is God, nor do I know my selfhood save in Him. My Being is God, not by simple participation, but by true transformation of my Being.”
Let us pray.
God of Wisdom
you made our sister Catherine burn with Divine love
in contemplating the Lord's passion
and in serving your Church.
With the help of her prayers may your people,
united in the mystery of Christ,
rejoice forever in the revelation of his glory,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.
By Fr Tomas
Illustration © Jan Hearn 2020