Monday, April 29, 2024

Saint Catherine of Siena Teaches Us to Trust in God

Today is the feast of the magnificent 14th century Saint Catherine of Siena. She was one of the most amazing women who ever lived, the youngest of 25 children, chosen to experience and communicate to the world the astonishing, relentless, mad love of God for every human being.

She spoke fearlessly to those in power, to the wealthy, the clergy, to anyone who would listen. She moved the hearts of popes, brought reconciliation to warring factions, served the poor and the sick, and prayed tirelessly for great sinners—many of whom converted and became her most ardent followers and collaborators. She was also sometimes humiliated, often misunderstood, and afflicted by abundant physical and spiritual sufferings and temptations, without ever wavering from her total abandonment in trust to the infinite mercy of God. 

Catherine was not only a “visionary” abounding in charismatic graces, but also a true contemplative, a mystical soul immersed in God’s saving love even while engaging with tremendous charity and courage the tumultuous circumstances of her times, which were marked by the many dramatic problems in ecclesiastical and civil life that characterized the emergence of early modern Europe. One of four women specially venerated under the title “Doctor of the Church,” Catherine left for all times and places a record of her testimony to her experiences of the mysterious embrace of Christ the Bridegroom of her soul. His love burned through her and made her 33 years of life an unforgettable fire whose embers still glow, warming our hearts and giving us hope even today.

She was a vital presence for me when I lived in Rome in 1993-1994, from her repose under the main altar at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and out into the church piazza, into the streets, into the air. Catherine, from Siena, from the Tuscan hills came to be the friend of the bishop and the people of Rome for nearly 700 years.

She held the fires of divine love in her heart and in her hands, and she continues to draw people near to Him—this humble woman, this “familiar friend” who helped me to begin to learn something of the steadfastness of the mercy of Christ 30 years ago in Italy, during a particularly beautiful and difficult time in my own life.

"I can do anything through Christ crucified, for I know truly that he does not lay a heavier load on his creatures than they can bear. So I want to leave the measuring up to him and, for my part, bear these things with true patience... I know that whatever God grants or permits, he does it for my good, so that I may be made holy in him" (Saint Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380).

I want to share a few more words from Catherine in the graphic at the bottom of this post. In these words she speaks powerfully about her desire for God. They can help us grow in understanding the fundamental truth about life, the direction and ultimate meaning of our own existence.

All of us have this infinite desire in the depths of our hearts—Saint Catherine’s mystical awareness of being made for fulfillment in the inexhaustible reality of God is true for each and every one of us. The longing for God is the “motor” of our heart that moves us every day. We search for goodness and meaning. We want “more,” and nothing in this world can satisfy us. Rather, the realities of this life open us more and more to that “mystery deep as the sea,” the One who makes all things and calls us to dwell forever in communion with Him, to see Him—face to face—in the superabundant fulfillment, the blessedness, of His infinite life forever. 

We have all been made for God. 

What Catherine experienced and communicated with a special conscious awareness is the truth for all of us. The happiness we all seek and hope for can only be found in God, and this life is our journey toward Him, where He prepares and enlarges our hearts by His grace and mercy for eternal life. 

Saint Catherine, pray for us, that we might not shut Him out of our hearts and close ourselves up in our false ideas of self-sufficiency. Pray for us that we will let Him open our hearts, heal us, and transform us in His wonderful merciful love.