March 25, 1347–April 29, 1380
Some of our most beloved saints wouldn’t take no for an answer. Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church and one of the most influential women in Catholic history, is one of those saints.
One of the first examples of Catherine’s gift of getting the other party to see her side in negotiation came when she was just sixteen years old. An older sister had died, and the family decided Catherine would marry his widower. Catherine had decided nearly ten years earlier that she would be the wife of no one other than Christ, and so she declined. (Her decision might also have had something to do with the way she had seen the man treat her sister.) When her parents persisted in pushing for the match, she went on a fast, a tactic she would use throughout her short life, and then cut off her hair. Ultimately, her parents gave in. They also acquiesced when Catherine chose to become a Dominican tertiary and enclosed herself within a room in their home for three years. Then, a mystical encounter with Christ prompted her to reenter the world, nursing and comforting the sick, the poor, and the condemned.
But her work did not stop there. When Catherine emerged, she quickly became a political force with which to be reckoned. Though she had no formal education and was not a member of a religious order, her letters to monarchs, Church leaders, and others were persuasive. Her activism may have had a role in returning the pope to Rome from France after nearly seventy years.
We know her best, however, for her obedience to the One to whom she would never say no, with whom she never bargained. Her Dialogues and other writings illumine a God who loves us and desires union with us, not a deity who seeks to punish capriciously or willfully. Catherine’s example inspires us to continue to talk and reason with those in our lives who seem intractable and stubborn—and to believe in the promise of the Resurrection and reunion.
“Start being brave about everything, driving out darkness and spreading light as well. Don’t look at your weakness, but realize that in Christ crucified you can do everything.”
Saint Catherine of Siena
Consider Catherine’s advice. If you can’t start by being brave about everything, identify one thing. Maybe it’s being a lector at Mass. Maybe it’s helping out at a women’s shelter. Maybe it’s running for city council. Resolve to spread the light.