Courage and perseverance are two traits that I admire. The latter is a characteristic that not many people have, is hard to teach, and one that is imperative for success. In my classroom of 2nd graders, I try to remind them to “not give up, but try again and again.” When they become frustrated with challenging work or difficult friendships, they stop wanting to try again. They start to give up - but I tell them, “Keep trying!” and “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake!” Hopefully, one day my students will grow to recognize how courage can help them persevere through anything.
People who do extraordinary things should be recognized for their courage and conviction. Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday, is a woman whose contributions to the Church, taking action in times of need and exceptional theological writings, sometimes can be overlooked. Born in Siena, Italy in 1347, Catherine spent her life doing the will of God. She began receiving visions and praying to God from a very early age, even seeing in one in which Christ reassured her with an armor of courage that could overcome anything that tempted or threatened her.
St. Catherine lived her entire life in prayer and was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI on October 4, 1970. She along with St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux are the three women to have been bestowed with such a title. St. Catherine worked to return Pope Gregory XI to Rome, from Avignon France where the Papacy had been residing for 67 years. Her determination to see this mission through was a testament to her unwavering courage to do God’s will.
In her many philosophical letters, prayers, and the Dialogue, St. Catherine reflected on four theological concepts with which she considered while in ecclesiastical mysticism. The first was a Treatise of Divine Providence, the second was a Treatise of Discretion, third was a Treatise of Prayer, and finally a Treatise of Obedience. Throughout her courageous writings, she discusses the goodness of a person’s knowledge of God and his unending love for his children living on earth.
Because of this prayerful life she led, in 1375, St. Catherine was blessed with the Stigmata on her hands, feet, and side. Her wounds reflected those of Christ’s and were only visible to the naked eye upon her death in 1380 at the young age of thirty-three. Found incorrupt in 1430, St. Catherine is now buried under the altar of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome and a sculpture of her body is on display there, too.
Throughout the year, let us strive to be like St. Catherine of Siena and take courage and persevere. Unshaken by those who challenged and doubted her, she remained steadfast in her commitment to Christ, His Church, and His people. You don’t have to be a saint to follow God’s call to courageous witness, but prayer and perseverance can lead you toward holiness in Christ.
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
“Faith Seeking Understanding” is the motto of St. Anselm of Canterbury, whose feast we celebrate today, is a reminder to all Christians to seek God not only with our hearts but with our minds as well. St. Anselm, a Benedictine monk who lived during the 11th century, was known throughout Europe for his mind. He was a great scholar and strategist, having often put his wits against those of the English monarchy to try and preserve his own life and the life of the Church in England.
However, his exercise of intellect during his life is not the “understanding” that his motto would prompt us to seek, nor that which lead him to be canonized a Saint. Rather it is the knowledge which Pope Francis spoke of in his general audience on May 21, 2014
“When we speak of knowledge, we immediately think of man’s capacity to learn more and more about the reality that surrounds him and to discover the laws that regulate nature and the universe. The knowledge that comes from the Holy Spirit, however, is not limited to human knowledge; it is a special gift, which leads us to grasp, through creation, the greatness and love of God…”
This kind of knowledge, the knowledge of God, is far more precious than any other. How then do we obtain this most precious knowledge? St. Anselm would probably quote the words the founder of his order, St. Benedict, by saying “ora et labora” (pray and work). Indeed prayer and work, focused on God, will help lead someone to better understand God. Pope Francis, in that same audience on May 21st, gives us a possible focus for that prayer and work: creation. The Holy Father noted that although God gave the gift of His creation to man, that does not make mankind the “masters of creation.” The Holy Father continued by saying that “creation is not some possession that we can lord over for our own pleasure; nor, even less, is it the property of only some people, the few: creation is a gift…”
All around us, especially as new life comes forth during this spring season, we can see God’s creation in its majesty. We must work then to care for it but also reflect and pray upon it. We must always seek to understand God so as to better conform our own lives to His will. Faith is a gift, and having faith is not the end of a journey but the start of a new one. St. Anselm teaches us that we must use our faith to seek understanding of the world around us and of the God who created us!
Patrick Burke is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.