I’m sure you’ve already heard the argument why priests and bishops should look at St. Charles Borromeo during the COVID-19 crisis, However, I haven’t seen many Catholics talk about what a great idea it would be to also look at another great saint—and a Doctor of the Church, no less!—who I think we should all become BFFs with during our lockdown.
Just who is that extraordinary saint? None other than St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast day is coincidentally towards the end of this month (April 29th). While she is known for being a mystic and for the influence she had on clergy and even the pope, I think most people overlook the beautiful simplicity of her life. During this time of uncertainty and panic, we can all learn a thing or two from her way of living life.
Don’t believe me? Here are five reasons why you should make St. Catherine of Siena your new quarantine BFF.
1. She lived through a terrible plague and self-isolation
St. Catherine of Siena lived during the time of the terrible and deadly Black Plague. Not long after her first vision, when she was still a child, St. Catherine decided to became a reclusa, which is a laywoman who dedicated herself to prayer and fasting. She self-isolated herself in a little room at her home to do so. At the age of seven (yes, you read that number correctly), following her first vision, she made vows of perpetual virginity so becoming a recluse in her teens wasn’t a huge leap. (Side note: she also had a vision of Christ giving her a wedding ring and making her His bride which only enhanced her love for Him and doing God’s will.)
After receiving many visions in which she spoke to Christ, Our Lady, and many saints while in self-isolation, she was inspired to leave the confines of her home and get out to serve her community better.
Lesson to take away from this? Yes, we may not be in voluntary lockdown and self-isolation, but we can strengthen our faith and our beliefs so when this is all over, we can take that love and fire within our hearts to evangelization in whichever way we feel most comfortable.
2. Her lack of education didn’t hinder her ability to share her knowledge of the faith with others
Despite being known as a Doctor of Church to us, she never really learned how to read and write. It is believed that she perhaps learned some rudimentary basics when it came to reading and writing towards the end of her life, but had no formal education. The title of Doctor given because of her vast knowledge of the faith and the clarity of her explanations of it despite her education level. That’s right, those of you who cannot finish higher education at the moment—you don’t need to be book smart to do a lot of good for others, especially their souls.
Although we do have some of her writings, it is believed that she dictated her works to others which is why we now have access to them. You can check your local libraries eBook collection or get yourself either a physical or digital copy of it from your favorite bookstore. I highly recommend reading her famous (for good reason) Dialogues during this Eastertide (which runs through Pentecost Sunday).
3. She showed us how laity can have a deep and meaningful impact on clergy
At the age of 6-7, she had her first mystical vision in which she saw Jesus dressed as the Pope. This would inspire her to quant to serve the vicar of Christ in any way she could… and she did. Despite her shortcomings (e.g. lack of formal education and not being born into a lower-middle class family), she became a powerful figure in the Middle Ages. Kings, priests, and bishops all listened to her. Most notably, she was a counselor for both Pope Gregory XI and Pope Urban VI. Pope Gregory XI even listened to her when she went to Avignon (where he was staying) and implored him to return to Rome. He did just as she suggested and it has been the permanent papal residence since.
See? Even you can have an impact on our spiritual leaders. Just please try to do it with charity and not by demanding that they do what you think is right. Disagree with something they’re doing or saying? Take it to prayer and then reach out to them with an open and honest heart. Who knows, you can do a lot of good by doing just that.
4. She was considered a powerful woman despite her own humility
While she had her first mystical experience as a child—when she saw Christ dressed in papal robes—she never let her purity or her influence on others inflate her own ego. In fact, she did everything with great humility, placing others first and herself last. She embodied Sirach 3:20, “The greater thou art, the more humble thyself in all things, and thou shalt find grace before God:” (Douay-Rheims)
Don’t do what you’re doing for the glory or exaltation of yourselves. It’s so easy to want this: to inspire others to help and do more during this time while giving yourself a little ego boost in the process. Instead, do it for the love of God and thy neighbor. Do it as quietly and wholeheartedly as possible.
Her generosity should be emulated during this time
Despite the gravity of the Black Plague, she still had a selfless and charitable heart for the poor and sick. She helped take care of plague victims, not caring about contracting it herself. She cared more about others than her own health. There’s even a story of she took care of the most temperamentally difficult patients, showing them love, support, and selflessness even while they were being rude towards her.
I’m not saying you have to go volunteer at hospitals right now. Simply checking in on your family, friends, neighbors, and the elderly and immune-compromised during this pandemic is more than enough. Know of a friend struggling with isolation or having a bad mental health day? Reach out to them. Even if they don’t open up, trust me when I say that knowing that others care can have a great impact when you’re otherwise feeling low.
All of this is the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more to learn about and from this saintly woman. And, if all of that weren’t enough, St. Catherine of Siena is also the patron of sick people, against illnesses, and of nurses. If that alone doesn’t scream “Great Patron during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” I don’t know what does.
What are you waiting for? Get acquainted with this great saint ASAP! You won’t be sorry that you did.
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
Featured image: Wikimedia commons. Free for commercial use.