Saint Catherine of Siena
Part of the Easter season is a celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism. At each Mass, the Easter Candle is lit, and the baptismal font is placed front and center or richly decorated throughout the fifty days of Easter. In Baptism, we receive the gift of new life won for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection and we are called to a life-long mission – to be courageous witnesses to the truth of the Gospel.
In our day, it is not easy to stand for the truth. For many of us it means difficult conversations with family members and close friends about the meaning of marriage, human sexuality, and the public practice of our faith. It often means opening the newspaper and reading accounts of our faith and our Church that are sometimes hard to explain, defend, or refute – or are simply mischaracterizations of what we believe and why. In the face of this, we may be tempted to protect ourselves by becoming quiet about our beliefs, finding comfort in a circle of people who we know live and think like us. We can be easily tempted to hide the practice of our faith. Yet, this is not the way of the Christian. Courage is the mark of the disciple of Jesus.
Today, the Church celebrates the life of a woman who gave courageous witness to the truth. Her life paints a picture of the way we are to live our baptismal vocation in our homes and in our communities. Catherine of Siena is an unlikely Saint and Doctor of the Church. She was uneducated, lived only to age 33, was not trained as a public speaker or teacher or nurse and yet she undertook all of these activities in a way that changed the world around her. Her extraordinary life was simply the result of her desire to live fully her baptismal vocation. Catherine writes “You have made me a new creation in the blood of your Son…(The Dialogue).” Though Catherine had a desire to live a quiet life, enclosed in her family’s home and spending her day in prayer and adoration of the Eucharist, God had something else in mind.
In God’s plan, Catherine’s holiness would be a sign to the world of his truth and his love. Catherine gave courageous witness to the truth – through acts of love for neighbors and friends, in testimony in public forums, by calling for peace among Italian states that were embroiled in conflict and by admonishing leaders of a Church marked by scandal. Experts on Catherine’s life write that her courage sprang from her passion for “the truth of things.” She lived always close to Jesus, using Our Lord and his teaching as her reference for making sense of the rest of her life. Faithful to the truth of things, she not only found the courage to give witness to that truth, but the holiness of her daily life imbued her with an authority that influenced the leaders of the Church and even the Pope.
What is striking in Catherine’s life is how she did not worry about her lack of formal education or training or whether people would find her believable. She was faithful to prayer, to the reception of the sacraments, to a desire to live fully a Catholic way of life. Witness to the truth was one more expression of her fidelity to Our Lord and to the Church, one more way for her to prove her love for Jesus. Her authority and her “power” grew as people recognized the holiness of her daily life and her deep understanding of the truth. The strength of her influence flowed from the witness of her life. This is the mark of every Christian completely open to the graces of Baptism.