At first glance, Saint Catherine of Siena seems completely unrelatable. Being called to extreme asceticism as a very young girl, seeing visions of Jesus and the Saints, and counseling or rebuking Popes are not things that most of us will ever experience. She is extraordinary; not to mention distant and medieval.
And yet, she is a Doctor of the Church—a distinction which means that the Church believes she is a relevant teacher for all times and peoples—someone we can all learn something from. Even more, she is one of only four female Doctors of the Church, which should intrigue all women, although she seems so very distant from our own way of life.
This is a strange call, one we may not completely understand, but also one that invites us into the details of a life that seems so very different from our own.
In some ways, this is the appeal of each of the Saints—initially we see their greatness, their sacrifice, their extraordinary differences from our ordinary lives. It is a struggle to remember that the Saints are named by the Church not just as paragons to admire, but also as examples to imitate in whatever small ways we can.
For this reason, we have to move past the greatness of this Saint, and dig into the details of a life spent in the service of others. More than anything else, this is what marks the life of Saint Catherine of Siena. While there is no denying that she lived extraordinarily, her path to Sainthood is also marked by stories of her struggle to see Christ in the individual—in ministering to the sick woman who she initially shrank from taking care of out of fear, or in couseling the party-going young man who came to her for advice on how to live a life of meaning.
Catherine’s life as a third order Dominican—essentially a consecrated virgin without a convent—gave her the opportunity for these and other encounters with individuals who saw her holiness and could not resist it. More than anything, her life and teachings are marked with compassion for the sinner; though she seemed above many of the sins of her time, she was given the special grace of immersion into the lives of others. She is a guide and mentor for many in her times—and her letters and teachings can be a guide and mentor for us as well.
Getting into these details of her life helps us begin to see why she was named a Doctor of the Church, but to truly comprehend the gift she is to each of us we need to delve into her teachings. Though she could not write for much of her life, she dictated many teachings and letters that help us to gain a clearer picture of God who revealed so much of himself to her—and to see how the gift of His Son continues to build a bridge between the sinners that we are and the life that He has ready for us in heaven.
While diving straight into these writings can be intimidating for someone on their own, an organization called Endow has an answer to this quandary. Through publishing study guides for Catholic women who wish to learn more about their Catholic faith, Endow has made Saint Catherine’s life and writings accessible to those who aren’t sure where to begin. This study guide helps to provide historical context, details about her life, and an introduction to her teachings, helping its readers to get to know this woman who can still teach us so much.
Best of all, this study guide is meant to be completed in small groups—read aloud and discussed—so that women can benefit from each other’s insights into the beauty and depth of this Saint. Hopefully this is enough to help pique your interest—to learn more about Endow, and see its offerings, please visit the website. To read the first chapter of the Saint Catherine of Siena study or to start planning your 8-12 week study, please click here. For any questions you may have about Endow, please email [email protected]
Saint Catherine of Siena, Pray for Us!