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The Festival of St Catherine of Siena
This being a lesser festival day, the reading is taken from the lectionary for the Common of the Saints; teachers of the faith and spiritual writers and I have chosen the following from Proverbs.
Proverbs 4:1-9 (NRSV)
Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight;
for I give you good precepts:
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, and my mother’s favourite,
he taught me, and said to me,
‘Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away
from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honour you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a fair garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.’
These words are how St Benedict introduces his rule for monastic communities in the prologue, “Listen, carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you: welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”
Catherine was born in 1347, the 23rd of 25 children, so I should think her parents prayed very hard for all their children to listen to their instructions. It must have been a rather noisy upbringing.
Perhaps because of that, from a very early age Catherine wanted to lead a life of prayer and penance, refusing marriage, much to the dismay of her parents. But she was determined to lead a life of solitude and joined the Dominican order as a Tertiary – that is a lay volunteer – at the age of 16. She stayed three years before feeling a call to leave her seclusion and work for the poor.
As she cared for the sick, men and women gathered to follow her and the group soon became known for their desire for reform of the Church and to focus on the crucified Christ. As the calls for reform went unheeded, Catherine became more and more involved in the political life of the Church, acting as a peacemaker between Church and State when relationships deteriorated. In 1380 rival Popes were elected, but Catherine suffered a stroke and died before the split was resolved.
She had to dictate all her letters as she never learned to write and as well as letters she wrote a Dialogue explaining her beliefs and her sense of devotion to Christ crucified. The following is taken from that Dialogue.
“Eternal Trinity, you are a deep ocean, in which the more I seek, the more I find; and the more I find, the more I seek. You satisfy my soul, yet leave it hungry, for in your depths my satisfied soul desires you still more and yearns to see you, the Light, in your own light.”
We are constantly learning and I pray that in your own spiritual life you may find that same desire that possessed Catherine. St Benedict’s rule also includes the exhortation to “prefer nothing to Christ”. Hold that thought before you as you seek and find and then seek some more. So we pray:
You inflamed Saint Catherine with divine love
as she contemplated Christ’s Passion
and served your Church.
Hear her prayer
and grant that your people,
united together in the mystery of Christ,
may always rejoice at the manifestation of his glory.
This we ask of you. Amen