Today, close on the heels of the canonization of two popes, my Church celebrates the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena. Catherine died on April 29, 1380 and was made a saint in 1461, a rather extraordinary event for a woman like her in the fourteenth century. I say “a woman like her” because she was from a relatively small town in Italy, the 23rd of 25 children, who learned to read only in adulthood and only lived to be 33 years old. Her life was notable for two reasons, however. From an early age she had visions of Christ and consecrated her life to God when she was seven years old, never wavering in that decision. Preferring solitude as a lifestyle, she nevertheless became involved in Church politics and is remembered as the person who most influenced the return of the pope to Rome in 1377, ending what became known as “the Avignon Captivity”. Spending her last two years in Rome, she was counselor to and advocate for the pope, working tirelessly for church unity. This from a woman of 30 years of age in the 14th century! Quite a model for women today!

Her writings are replete with themes of joy, even in suffering, and of the love of Christ. She wrote over 400 letters (many dictated) to people as diverse as kings & queens, popes and ordinary village folk. Here is some advice from her for each of us today:

Start being brave about everything. Drive out darkness and spread light. Don’t look at your weaknesses. Realize instead that in Christ crucified you can do everything.