The value Saint Catherine of Siena makes central in her short life, and which sounds clearly and consistently through her experience, is complete surrender to Christ. What is most impressive about her is that she learns to view her surrender to God as a goal to be reached through the course of a lifetime.
After a turbulent childhood, Catherine entered the Dominican Third Order at 18, and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer, and austerity. Her evident holiness of life attracted a group of followers who gathered around her: men and women, priests and religious, and eventually an active, public apostolate grew out of her contemplative life.
In 1378, the Great Schism divided the Church, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three popes, and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, praying for the unity of the Church. She was influential in persuading Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon in 1376. Catherine died on 29th April 1380 and was canonized in 1461.
Saint Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. In 1939, she and Saint Francis of Assisi were declared co-patrons of Italy. Pope Paul VI named her and Saint Teresa of Avila Doctors of the Church in 1970.
Though she lived her life in a faith experience and spirituality far different from that of our own time, Catherine of Siena stands as a companion with us on the Christian journey in her undivided effort to invite Our Lord to take flesh in her own life. Events which might make us wince, or chuckle, or even yawn, fill her biographies: a mystical experience at six, childhood betrothal to Christ, stories of harsh asceticism, her frequent ecstatic visions. And yet we need to remember that Catherine lived in an age which didn’t know the rapid change of life as we know it today.
The value of her life for us today lies in her recognition of holiness as a goal to be pursued over the course of a lifetime.
Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.