Endow Weekly

St. Catherine of Siena | Setting the World Ablaze – Week 4

Week Four: Messenger for Peace

“The Eucharist is a fire that inflames us, that, like lions breathing fire, we may retire from the altar being made terrible to the devil.”
–Saint John Chrysostom 

A little bit of history

Chapter Four begins, Catherine’s “Italy was a tangled skein of City-States, rural regions, and papal territories, governed by different rulers of different nationalities, who were continuously at war with each other and their own people.” 

For a modern Catholic, the idea of a papacy maintaining temporal sovereignty and political power is strange. But in St. Catherine’s time, it was taken for granted that spiritual authority was essentially bound to temporal authority. 

During the reign of Pope Clement IV and following, the Roman Curia began to be dominated by French Cardinals. In 1309, the Popes began residing in Avignon, France instead of in the diocese of Rome. Anti-papal movements began to increase and the “political temperature reached a boiling point.” 

Who was called on, by both sides, to resolve the political crisis? A humble woman named Catherine.

A little bit of theology

Fast forward to 1371, Pope Gregory XI and the powerful noble Bernabo Visconti had been in battle for over a decade over control of Milan. St. Catherine wanted the Pope to focus not on political warfare, but on spiritual warfare. Here’s what she wrote to the Pope’s legate: 

“Take courage. Act like a man. Is it not a sad thing to see us at war with God through the countless sins which great and small people commit, and through rebellion against His Holy Church…?” 

Only a woman who truly loves can speak the truth as simply as Catherine did in this crucial moment in history. The unbreakable connection between charity (love) and truth is discussed at length by Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. You can not have love without truth:  

“Only in truth does charity shine forth…only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.” 

We also must remember that the truth must also be spoken in love as St. Paul encourages us in Ephesians Chapter 4:15.

A little bit of spirituality

While society was consumed with political battles and bloodshed, St. Catherine was focused on the blood that was shed by her beloved Spouse Jesus Christ. She writes in her letters:

“For in Christ’s blood we are made strong, even though weakness persists in our sensuality…Because our reason is made strong in Christ’s blood, we must drown ourselves in this sweet glorious ransom…” 

This week let us refocus our dedication to Jesus and to receiving as much grace as possible. As my late former professor, Fr. Mark Pilon, once encouraged me: “If you knew what the sacraments were, you’d run to them.”

His words encourage me still! 

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