St. Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the Church
(Acts 8:1a-8; John 635-40)
As glorious as the thirteenth century was for Western Civilization, the fourteenth century was calamitous. The Church was in disarray with the pope fleeing to Avignon. Continental Europe was being torn apart with the advent of the Hundred Years’ War (which actually lasted one hundred sixteen years). Nature itself seemed to rebel against humanity. The world plummeted into an Ice Age, and the Black Death wiped out approximately one half of Europe population, between 25 and 50 million people.
Yet there were beacons of hope in this especially dark period. Perhaps the leading lady of the century was a humble Italian girl named Catherine from the town of Siena. It is said that she never learned to write but by the sheer force of prayerfulness and personality she was able to correspond with everyone – princes, popes, and the common people. She evidently dictated a spiritual classic, the Dialogues, which tell of her conversations with the Almighty. Beyond caring for the poor and sick of the time, Catherine’s most famous accomplishment was convincing an Avignon pope to return to Rome. As a mark of holiness, she received the stigmata – our Lord’s wounds on her hands, feet, and side.
We might see Catherine of Siena as we do Philip in the first reading. Just as the likes of Paul before his conversion persecuted the Church in Philip’s time so internal dissension threatened it during Catherine’s time. Just as Philip, Catherine spoke with a powerful voice calling for reform and renewal. Not quite as wondrously as Philip but still very effectively, Catherine performed deeds of love for God and humans.