Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa. Catherine disappointed her mother by cutting off her hair as a protest against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance in order to attract a husband. Her father ordered her to be left in peace, and she was given a room of her own for prayer and meditation.
She wanted to enter the Dominican Third Order but wasn't allowed in because she was young and all of the other members were widows. She became very sick and, thinking she was about to die, she was allowed to join. Once she had joined the order, she quickly healed. She spent years in a room praying with a crucifix. After many mystical experiences she was told by Jesus that she should serve in the world, which she did.
She only lived to 33 but changed the course of history. She became a counselor to Popes and Princes at a time when Europe had been tearing itself apart She was instrumental in helping to start a process which would usher in a more stable continent.Along with St. Francis of Assisi, she is a Patron Saint of Italy, but also a Co-Patron of Europe itself. She was also declared a Doctor of the Church.
Her spiritual legacy still affects us in the twenty-first century. The two-fold truth as taught by Jesus to St Catherine was quite simply this: we are created, wounded and broken, yet we are also loved infinitely by Christ. Within these statements lies an important value, that of respect for all human life, and for each other. The legacy of St Catherine enables us to gain a clearer understanding of ourselves, and also the opportunity to know Christ. When this has been attained, then we may look with the loving eyes of Christ, learning to recognize in the other, one who whilst broken, is profoundly loved. St Catherine shows us, therefore, how to understand each other – to be merciful - and to love them with the love of Christ.