St. Catherine of Siena was one of the greatest saints of a tumultuous era. Like other great mystics, she enjoyed an intimate relationship with Christ. This was certified by a dazzling array of miraculous signs, which even in her lifetime made her something of a celebrity. What was distinctive about Catherine was the way she mediated through her own heart the burning love of Christ and the needs of her time.
Early in life she declared her betrothal to Christ. When her parents retaliated by forcing her to work as a household servant, she responded by erecting within her heart “a secret cell” of “self-knowledge” to which she could retreat from her daily drudgery. Eventually, while still living at home, she was permitted to put on the habit of a Dominican tertiary. But after three years she experienced a mystical marriage with Christ, which launched her on a new public career as she cared for the poor and sick and attracted a large band of disciples. As Jesus prompted her: “The service you cannot do me you must render to your neighbors.”
In 1374 she received a divine commission to help heal the world and the Church. She wrote hundreds of letters to the pope, monarchs, and other powerful men, counseling them on their duties to make peace and restore unity in the Church. She even traveled to Avignon on a mission to persuade the pope to return to his see in Rome. After a final vision in which she saw the Church, as if like a mighty ship, placed on her back, she collapsed in pain. She died soon after, on April 29, 1380.
In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church.
“All the way to heaven is heaven, because He said, ‘I am the way.’”
—St. Catherine of Siena