Endow Weekly

St. Catherine of Siena | Setting the World Ablaze – Week 3

Week Three: Service in Siena

“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”
–Jesus, Luke 12:49 

A little bit of history

Chapter Three begins, “When Saint Catherine of Siena joined the Dominican Third Order…she was participating in what amounted to a revolution in religious life.” In traditional religious and monastic life, “lay and religious generally lived separate lives, physically as well as spiritually.” 

This changed with the rise of the mendicant orders of the 12th century; particularly the Franciscans and Dominicans. These new movements were less about a retreat from the world and more about advancing into the world for service. Unlike traditional orders which planted themselves in one location in the countryside, the new orders moved around from city to city depending on the needs of the towns. They have come to be understood as mendicant or “begging” orders because they were especially committed to living a life of radical poverty. 

As a Third Order Dominican, St. Catherine was able to live a life of poverty and service in the world, in her hometown of Siena, in a stunning manner. 

For more information, about living life as a lay Dominican, click here. 

A little bit of theology

After a period of three years in the “cloister” of her bedroom, St. Catherine was instructed by Jesus, by virtue of her vocation as a lay Dominican, to belong and work in the world for Him. She spent hours caring for the sick and dying. One woman she spent time caring for was a fellow lay Dominican named Palmerina who resented Catherine’s sanctity. But Catherine, regardless of how much she was hated by Palmerina, loved and served her. When Palmerina died, Jesus showed Catherine a vision of her in Purgatory and asked her, “Who would not suffer all the torments in the world to win so glorious a creature?”  (Wow.) 

Love, and love alone, is what saves souls. But not the modern conception of love which reduces its definition to mere sentiment or feelings. Instead love is defined as the ability to “will the good of the other.” (St. Thomas Aquinas) Not simply to feel good about the other.

St. Catherine kissed foul-smelling sores of a woman with cancer. She was “determined to master her senses” and forced herself to do it. The more she could overcome her senses and feelings, the more she was forming herself to love even more deeply than she was capable of before. In no uncertain terms did Catherine choose to embrace radical discomfort. (To learn more about the morality of the passions, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part III, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 5.)

A little bit of spirituality… 

In this section, I leave you with St. Catherine’s own words:

In the gentle mirror of God, (the soul) sees her own dignity; that through no merit of hers but by His creation she is the image of God. And in the mirror of God’s goodness, she sees as well her own unworthiness, the work of her own sin. For just as you can better see the blemish on your own face when you look at yourself in the mirror, so that soul who in true self-knowledge rises up with the desire to look at herself in the gentle mirror of God and with the eye of understanding sees all the more clearly her own defects because of the purity she sees in Him.”

Oremus pro invincem, (Let us pray for each other)
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.