The Christophers: St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue with God
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.
On April 29th, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church who led a profoundly influential life in 14th century Italy. Catherine felt called to religious life at an early age, but rather than entering a convent, she joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic, a lay religious association, and lived at home serving her parents and many brothers and sisters.
Catherine had mystical experiences that inspired her devotion to God and her care for the poor and sick. Her service to those in need drew others who felt a similar calling to join in her efforts, enabling those efforts to flourish and for her to become a well-respected figure in society. Catherine leveraged her growing renown to influence the contentious politics of her day, at one point facilitating a return of the last Avignon Pope to Rome and lobbying the Italian City-States to remain loyal to the Pope during the time of the Great Schism of the West.
The “Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena” remains one of the towering achievements of Italian Literature. She dictated this conversation with God while in a state of ecstasy, and it provides insights that have inspired people of faith ever since. One of the recurring messages in her Dialogue is God’s call for us to love our neighbor. “There cannot be love for Me without love for neighbor,” Catherine is told by God in her Dialogue. “It cannot be otherwise, because love of Me and of her neighbor are one and the same thing…This is the means which I have given you, that you may exercise and prove your virtue therewith…This proves that you possess Me by grace in your soul, producing much fruit for your neighbor and making prayers to Me, seeking with sweet and amorous desire My honor and the salvation of souls.”
We see in this Dialogue the echoes of God’s age-old call dating back to the Ten Commandments to love our neighbors as ourselves. This call was renewed by Christ when He was asked about the greatest commandment and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
At the outset of her Dialogue, Catherine declares, “The soul is in God and God in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish.” What an amazing line that sheds light on the meaning of Christ’s statement about the closeness of love of neighbor and love of God. Put plainly, the more compassion we show to our neighbor, the more we honor God.
This is the simple yet profound wisdom infused in Catherine’s entire Dialogue. It’s a wisdom that touched her heart from an early age and led her to reverence God through service to those in need. And from those humble beginnings, she rose to be respected by the rulers of her time and influenced the Church at a pivotal point in history.
Let’s pray today for the intercession of Saint Catherine of Siena so that a new generation can set about the humble task of service to others and inspire those in the Church to a greater spirit of unity so we can all in turn influence the world for the greater good.
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