More on Catherine, My Theological Crush


I want to write more about my theological crush, St. Catherine of Siena. Last time I wrote about her life. This time I want to talk about a quote of hers. Now, I am particularly fascinated with the way Catherine talks about love, and the way she talks about the obligation of love. Remember, for Catherine, to love God and to love others is one and the same thing, and one is not possible without the other. The more you love God the more you love your neighbor, and the more you love your neighbor the more you love God.

To not participate in this love is to deprive yourself and others in the worst way. In her Dialogue she speaks from the perspective of God and says “you harm your neighbors by depriving them of the prayer and loving desires you should be offering me on their behalf.”

Imagine living like that: believing that loving others, praying for others, and doing good for others were not special deeds, but a natural obligation. We care for others not to be a good human being, but to simply be a human being period, because that is what a human being is. To choose to participate in this kind of love is not a journey toward any sort of advanced humanity, or enlightened humanity. We learn to become more simply human by loving others. And that means embracing all the ways you and others are not advanced and enlightened, and loving those parts anyway.

Think of the people that have been a huge source of love and support in your life. If you have gotten the opportunity to express your gratitude to them you usually find that this person was never looking for any sort of thanks or reward for loving and supporting you. And they usually persist that they’re no more special than anyone else even though in your eyes this person is obviously way more special than everyone else, and you wish more people would follow their example. The people that do seem to insist that they are more special than others, and that do strive for thanks and rewards are usually the people that we don’t seem to recognize as loving and supportive. It is the people who live as if loving others is the most natural obligation to being simply human that we recognize as true sources of love.

On my desk I have a post-it-note that says “PRAY FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING UNTIL YOU FIND YOURSELF PRAYING FOR MARS.” It’s kind of a hyperbolic message to myself to pray for everyone and everything you can think of—so much so that you find that there’s nothing left to possibly pray for except for the planet Mars. It began as a way to just remind myself to carve out time in the day to pray more since I found myself ending days wishing I had more time to pray.* It encourages me to think beyond myself.

Catherine would pray in her room for hours and hours every day. For Catherine praying for others was just as much of an obligation as loving others. Imagine living as if you believed that making petitions to the God of the universe on behalf of those you care about is a natural obligation to being human. I feel like that would radically transform the way you see others.

Catherine inspires me to choose love for the reason that it is simply what makes us human. And the ones I choose to love shall be chosen to love simply because they are human too. Living this way can shatter the boundaries and boxes we put people in all the time. As a member of society I am obligated to all sorts of identities and in-groups (which as we all know, in-groups are usually more defined by who is outside of the group than who is inside). However, as a Christian I should be obligated to love first, despite all the ways we say who’s in and who’s out.

I wish I knew people as radical as Catherine, and I hope that I can be just as radical myself. Now the word ‘radical’ come from the root word rad, which means root. It’s where we also get the word radish. This radical way of participating in a kind of love that flows between you, God, and others is actually the root of Christianity. This is where we should begin and end, and where all of our choices and desires should flow out from. Now, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?



*it’s kind of odd how so many of us talk about not having time to pray, because the first official clocks were the ones in the church that would ring the church bell each hour of the day as a way of reminding people to pray at those times. Then over time we found several secular uses for keeping track of time and ended up breaking it down to minutes and seconds. So you can’t fit prayer into your schedule? Well, schedules were invented to give you time to pray!

Catherine, My Theological Crush


I don’t know if it’s possible to have a theological crush on someone, but if it is then I have definitely have one for St. Catherine of Sienna. She was born in 1347 in Sienna, Italy during the plague. This is a woman who, as Suzanna Noffke described as “a mystic whose plunge into God plunged her deep into the affairs of society”. How does that description of a person not excite you? This is a plunge that desire to take. Catherine is a hero to me. Catherine: saint, mystic, philosopher, theologian, peacemaker, preacher, writer, missionary, monastery founder, Church reformer…bae.

This woman took a vow of virginity to God at age 7! I imagine the other little girls talking about their dreams of being a wife and mother one day and this sassy little girl Catherine sitting there like: “…that’s dumb.”

At age 15 her sister died and her parents tried to make her marry her sister’s husband but she refused, and even cut off her hair and fasted so that she can look less attractive. (…as you do.)

At age 16 she joined a female branch of the Dominican order despite much protest, since they had previously only accepted widows. She served in the Order from home and committed herself to prayer and serving the poor. She would stay in her room for hours praying, only leaving the house to go to Mass, and not coming back until much later. She gave away everything she owned to the poor, and would even give away some of her family’s possessions without asking permission. (“Honey, I can’t find the new silverware we bought last week. Do you—wait…Catherine!”) On top of this she would reject her parents’ food and say she preferred the table and meal she would have with her real family in Heaven (which sounds like the saintly equivalent to the modern day teenager protesting at the dinner table: “Mom! I told you I refuse to eat animal corpses! I’m vegan!”)

So this story begins with Catherine sounding a lot like any other rebellious teenager, cutting her own hair, stealing from her parents, always stuck in her room, going out too much and for too long, refusing to live out the life anyone want for her, and remaining stubbornly independent. But what do you do with a teenager who acts this way only because all they care about is dedicating their life to Jesus? What parenting book could possibly be of any help to her poor mom and dad? Geez.

Then at age 21 things get even more interesting. She took her independence to the next level, and left her family in order to seek a life of solitude. What’s interesting about this time period is that you saw several people choose to live out their divine calling by getting involved in society and surrounding themselves with people they can serve. Meanwhile, others chose to live out their divine calling by living a life of solitude outside of society in deserts and caves where they can live like a hermit in constant prayer and meditation. While Catherine had sought to follow the latter example in the confines of her room she decided to leave her city for the first time in her life and find herself a cave of her own.

Her desire to live as a hermit ended when she had a spiritual experience of what she referred to as a mystical marriage to Christ. Within this experience Christ told her to return to public life and serve the poor and sick. So she returned with a new swagger and a new commitment to the poor and sick in society.

This is what I’m talking about when we talk about a plunge into God that can plunge you deeper into society. It’s beautiful. Catherine believed to love this God meant to love people, and to love people meant to love God. Both were just as true for her. There is no separation. There is no fork in the road that many people of her time and ours that people create for themselves, of: “dedicate my life to serving and loving God”, OR “dedicate my life to serving and loving people”? It is one and the same thing and one could not be possible without the other for Catherine.

Personally, I’ve gotten to an interesting place in my life as a Christian. I’ve always been able to relate with people who rant on about how terrible “the Church” is today and how so many Christians are giving it a bad name. Totally. I know what you mean. I’ve seen it just as much as anyone. Yet, when someone acts like that kind of stuff is what Christianity is, I’m simply dumbfounded. I think of people like Catherine. I think of some of my family and friends who live the same way; who believe that loving God and loving people is the same plunge that Christians are called to fully jump into. And I think to myself “THAT is what Christianity is!” The stuff they’re ranting about hardly comes on my radar anymore. I simply don’t have time to worry about everyone else who is making a bad name for Christianity. The tradition is more alive than ever in places that you’d least expect.

I read the words of St. Catherine of Siena (which we’ll get to another time) and I just want to say “YES!” and give her the biggest hug, and serve alongside her. She emulates a type of faith that is beautiful and exciting and a type of faith that our world needs more than ever.