St Catherine of Siena:Church Doctor and Activist
Catherine of Siena lived in the 1300's and was considered a political activist for her day. She wrote letters to several public figures asking for civil reform in Siena. She also wrote much to Pope Urban VI whose papacy was part of a 35 year schism. While Catherine had great love and respect for the pope and his office, she was aware of his flaws and was not afraid to point them out to him with complete Christian charity.
Here are excerpts from two of her letters to Pope Urban VI:
I tell you in the name of Christ crucified that you must use your authority to do three essential things. You are in charge of the garden of holy Church. So uproot from the garden the stinking weeds full of impurity and avarice, and bloated with pride (I mean the evil pastors and administrators who poison and corrupt the garden)....Use your authority, you who are in charge of us!...
But just think, my dear father, how difficult it will be to do what I've been talking about unless you do the other two essential things: I mean your return [to Rome] and the raising of of the standard of the most holy cross [a crusade]. Don't let your holy desire falter on account of any dissent or rebellion you might see or hear about on the part of the [Italian] cities....
I beg you to hear and listen to what Frate Raimondo my father and my other sons who are in his company have to say to you. They come in the name of Christ crucified and in mine, for they are true servants of God and sons of holy Church. [2: pp.61-64]
This one was written several months before her death:
I am telling you, divine Goodness is complaining because... the new plants, who ought to be confounding vice, are themselves beginning to pick up and spread the very style! The blessed Christ is complaining that the vices have not been cleared out, and that your holiness is not as conscientious about this as you should be.... I don't want you paying attention to clothes or anything else, to whether these things are of more value rather than less; I am concerned only that these people be honest, that they behave uprightly and not falsely.
Listen with benevolence and a tranquil heart to those who fear God, who tell you what should and must be done, who expose the sins they know are being committed all around your holiness.... Temper a bit, for love of Christ crucified, the sudden impulses of your nature; give nature a blow with holy virtue. God has given you by nature a big heart; so I want you and am begging you to try to have a big heart supernaturally as well.
Forgive my boldness, most holy father, in presuming to write to you so confidently. I am compelled by divine Goodness and by the the obvious need and by the love I bear you. I would have come rather than writing, but I didn't want to weary you by coming so often. [4: pp.351-53]
As these letters show, this holy woman was on fire with love for Christ and His Church. She sets a fine example for us today as the Church endures the attacks of the modern culture. Her example shows that when we are secure in the Truth which is Christ Himself, we have nothing to fear for as Scripture tells us, it will be the Holy Spirit that will speak through us. Catherine certainly allowed the Spirit to speak through her.
One of the most beautiful expressions of love for the Church is this quote from her Dialogue. In the dialogue between God and Catherine, the Father assures her of His mercy, but as this excerpt reveals, she is not interested in only her personal salvation:
My Lord, turn the eye of your mercy on your people and on your mystic body, holy Church. How much greater would be your glory if you would pardon so many and give them the light of knowledge! For then they would surely all praise you, when they see that your infinite goodness has saved them from deadly sin and eternal damnation. How much greater this than to have praise only from my wretched self....
So I beg you, divine eternal love, to take your revenge on me, and be merciful to your people. I will not leave your presence till I see that you have been merciful to them. [p.49]
Catherine's teachings and doctrinal writings have earned her the title of Doctor of the Church.
Let us thank and praise God for raising up this holy and faithful virgin who was not afraid to speak for her Lord.
St Catherine, pray for us!