Sanctity and Suffering

Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God, that we who celebrate the festival of blessed Catherine thy virgin, may both rejoice in her yearly solemnity, and profit by the example of so great virtue.

Traditional Roman Missal

How can we profit from the example of St. Catherine of Sienna’s virtue?

Born in an age of corruption and confusion, young Catherine was seized by a knowledge of the profound offensiveness of her own sins, those of corrupt churchmen, and those of the world at large.

In response, she implored God to purge these sins and restore order and peace to the world by punishing her not only for her own faults, but for those of her fellow sinners.

As Rachael Marie Collins explains her in beautiful book, Called by God, prudence dictates that most of us not ask God to send us afflictions, beyond what he in his wisdom has already chosen for us. Unless a competent confessor confirms that we are called to perform extraordinary penances, it is presumptuous to assume God will bless us with the fortitude to endure trials of our own choosing.

Still, we can learn from St. Catherine the value of embracing suffering for the sake of our own sanctity, and the sanctification of our neighbors and contemporaries.

In a sign that Christ intended to use Catherine’s penance for the betterment of his people, Butler tells us, he “gave her his heart in exchange for her own,” and “stamped on her body the print of his wounds.”

Christ proceeded to send Catherine on various missions of justice and peace. She “travelled through Italy, reducing rebellious cities to the obedience of the Holy See”; talked a fearful Pope into returning to Rome; and endured the scourging of devils to avert a popular rebellion against the Holy Father upon his return.

Though Christ may not be calling us to seek out suffering, crisscross the globe, or insert ourselves into in the world’s most explosive conflicts, the example of St. Catherine reminds us that when we embrace the trials and unpleasant tasks God does send us, we likewise enjoy the assistance of the Almighty, which he will not fail to grant those willing to help him carry his cross.

By virtue of Christ’s omnipotent love, there is no danger we cannot brave or hostility we cannot overcome in the service of his Kingdom.

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