Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

April 29, 2009

Feast of St. Catherine of Siena

I'd like to think the first time I encountered St. Catherine of Siena was in fact in Siena, Italy.  I was about 11 or 12, standing in a piazza with my family, and some eerie feeling came over me.  I can't really put words to the feeling, but I knew that something special had happened there, or something special was happening there.  On our tour of the city, the guide mentioned St. Catherine's name, but nothing really came of it beyond a passing acknowledgment.  

I met St. Catherine again during my college years.  In a Western Civilization course our class was studying the period of the Avignon papacy, and we spent time learning about St. Catherine's courageous efforts in healing the Great Schism.  I remember being struck by her moxie; here was a young, illiterate, Italian peasant girl, telling the pope(s) to get his act together.  Naturally, as an idealistic college co-ed, I found in her a role model who could teach me how to bring justice where I found injustice, and how to bring truth where I found falsity.  

But Catherine does not fit into a simple mold of an idealistic young, Catholic woman.  I encountered her even more intimately in graduate school during a class on Dominican spirituality.  In my study of St. Catherine's Dialogue, I learned not just about her but from her.  St. Catherine has taught me that I am a daughter of God.  Knowing this is something that has been life-changing.   In her intimate dialogue with God, he repeatedly calls her "figlia," or daughter.  He repeatedly refers to us as his children, and she addresses him as "babbo," or "daddy" in Italian.  It's so beautiful because God is communicating serious theological truths to her in gentle, familial language.  I think it is this gentle relationship with a God who is so awesome (worthy of awe) is what gave Catherine the strength to serve the poor, to serve the pope, and to care so deeply about Christ's Church, His Body.  And even though Catherine suffered her own spiritual drought (she has a whole dialogue with God on tears!), she never failed in her obedience or in her trust of Divine Providence (two other dialogues).  

Just a taste of the dialogue on Divine Providence (this is God speaking to her): 
I have also shown you how pleasing and dear to me such a soul is, and how I provide for her.  I have told you all this to commend this virtue to you along with the most holy faith that brings one to this marvelous state.  I wanted to make you grow in faith and in hope, to make you come knocking at the door of my mercy.  Believe with lively faith that I will fulfill your longing and that of all of my servants, along with great suffering even to the point of death.  But take courage and rejoice in me, because I am your defender and your consoler.

I have a very odd relationship with Catherine.  Though I love her dearly, I stay a little distant from her.  She is more of a role model for me, someone who has struggled with doubt, suffering, and anxiety.  I keep her at an arm's length because I admire her so much, but feel unworthy of speaking to her and asking for her intercession.  I hope that in the near future, I have the courage to ask her to be my friend.  I believe she still has so much to teach me as a young, lay, single woman with whom I share a deep love of Christ's Body, though this love is one simultaneously seasoned with struggle and hope.    


Margaret Perry said...

I think she'd love to be your friend, Julian. In fact, I bet she is yours, even if you don't know it yet. Happy feast!!!

fabulous said...

thanks for this julian ~

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