April is a month filled with great graces, as the Catholic Church dedicates this month every
year to the Holy Eucharist. This month we will be reminded of the joy and gratitude inspired in a life lived close to the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our lives as Catholics. We will do that this year in the midst of the great season of Eastertide.
It’s also the month in which the church celebrates the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, the
Third Order Dominican and Doctor of the Church. This is a perfect connection, because St.
Catherine received the Eucharist daily, and was known for her gratitude, total love of God,
and her pure joy.
As a little girl, Catherine was known as “Euphrosyne,” which is Greek for “joy.” Catherine was one of the last of 22 children, and at only 7 years old she dedicated her life to God. Later, when her parents wanted her to marry the widower of her sister, she protested by cutting off her long hair and fasting until the family accepted that she was set apart for God. She lived in solitude within her family home, and did many works of mercy for the people of Siena.
Catherine experienced a “mystical marriage” with Christ. She advised popes and even convinced Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon and return to Rome.
One image of her is the bark of Peter, the Church, resting on her shoulders as she bore the
weight of its challenges. She also preached brilliantly and wrote a great spiritual classic, the
Catherine tenderly comforted an executed prisoner as he died and had a vision of his soul
entering heaven. This prisoner was named Niccolo di Toldo and he asked Catherine to
promise to be with him as he died. Catherine wrote this about the experience:
“I waited for him at the place of execution … He laid himself down with great meekness; then I stretched out his neck and bent over him, speaking to him of the Blood of the Lamb. His lips murmured only, ‘Jesus,’ and ‘Catherine,’ and he was still murmuring when I received his head into my hands.”
When I visited Italy and toured the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena, where the relic of St.
Catherine’s head is kept, I was moved to write this reflection to explain the holiness I found there:
For Catherine of Siena
I stood before the relic of Saint Catherine,
her head, small and delicate, in a blue and white habit,
was held behind the gold grating of an elaborate reliquary.
I didn’t expect such an exchange as I gazed at her closed eyes
smiling cheeks, skin neatly stretched over bone,
remnants of her thirty-three years
tucked inside the folds of her face, behind her lips,
in the crevices of her cranium—
the host of her humanity still residing
in the tabernacle of her skull.
I didn’t expect more than curiosity as I met her sealed gaze.
How can I explain what it was that made me want to linger as the tour group walked on?
Why did I want to keep watch over that fragile skull, and lidded stare?
In the days Catherine’s eyes shone,
a young man sentenced to die asked her to walk at his side.
She stroked his face as it lay on the block—
When the axe fell—she took his head into her hands,
received the fragrance of his blood,
honored the liquid of his life and death
as though it were red roses staining her lap.
How could I not, then, be moved to remain?
How could I not want to cradle the thought-holder of Catherine?
To mourn and honor such eyes that saw beauty in blood,
lips that murmured comfort in death,
nostrils that breathed sweetness in stench?
Why would I not want to stay
even as the tour group — as the frenzied pace of the world — kept on?
Catherine’s confessor was Blessed Raymond of Capua, who also wrote her biography. Her
feast day is April 29. Let us listen to the advice of the beautiful St. Catherine of Siena in her
Tips for life from St. Catherine
Tip #1 — “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
The first tip for life based on the wise advice of St. Catherine of Siena is this: follow God’s will for your life, be faithful to His plans for you and you will not only become the saint you were
made to be, but spread the fire of God’s love in ways that shine forth to many.
To live this tip from St. Catherine, next time you attend Eucharistic Adoration, ask God what
He wants from your life; ask Him who He meant you to be. Offer Him your whole heart and
ask for His in return. Then, sit in trusting silence, and allow the Divine Surgeon to go to work
on your heart, making Him with each Eucharistic visit more and more after His own Heart.
Also, while praying the Our Father each day, ask God to show you how to courageously do
His will in your life. Pay special attention to the words, “thy will be done.”
Tip #2 — “Preach the truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.”
St. Catherine had to speak up when others wouldn’t. These words encourage us to always
respond to what is true and just, rather than sitting on the sidelines, like most do. It takes
courage to choose courage.
Add your signature to a petition for a worthy cause. Let your money “talk” by giving your alms to a charity that defends the voiceless, the innocent, or the downtrodden. Speak the truth of the Catholic faith with family and friends; not cowering if they disagree.
Tip #3 — “We are of such value to God that He came to live among us … and to guide us home. He will go to any length to seek us, even to being lifted up high on the cross to draw us back to Himself. We can only respond by loving God for His love.”
The best way to honor this advice from Catherine is to respond to the love and sacrifice of Jesus through going to frequent Confession. Pope John Paul II went every week and he was a saint … which do you think came first?
You need not have any mortal sins to go to Confession, but if you do have mortal sins it is imperative that you get to Confession as soon as possible. If your sins are venial only, the Church teaches us that confessing them brings great graces. Repeated, frequent confession can really help us to live out an understanding of our value to God as we respond to that value by our humility.
To celebrate the feast of St. Catherine of Siena in a holy way, try to get to Mass on the 29th,
which falls on a Saturday this year, and receive a worthy Communion. To bring the feast day home, enjoy a nice Italian meal themed for our April saint!
Here are a few reflection questions to journal that will help you journey more deeply with St.
Catherine of Siena this month:
St. Catherine recommends you have an inner cell. Do you have one? How can you cultivate
Have you become, do you think, the person God intended you to be? How can you bring this
Are you in a one-sided relationship where God does all the giving and forgiving? Or are you living your life in response to God’s love?
Do you realize your precious worth in the eyes of God? What can you do to pay more attention to this?
How can you challenge yourself to love God more this month?