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 | By Sister Patricia Benson, OP, PhD

A Spiritual Exercise Inspired by St. Catherine of Siena

Feast Day: April 29

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

(St. Catherine of Siena)

St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate this month during the Easter season, is one of four women recognized as a Doctor of the Church. She based her teaching about the spiritual life on love, and she knew God’s love for her. In her book, The Dialogue, she has God call her “Dearest Daughter.” She based her teaching on growth in the spiritual life, and on the quality of one’s personal love, specifically, whether that love is selfish or unselfish. Since Catherine learned from the Scriptures and sermons, not from academic study, she was keenly aware of the commandment to love God and to love neighbor, and of the teaching in 1 John: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (4:20)

For this reason, she gave very  practical, not theoretical, advice, and urged her followers to walk on two feet: one with love for God and the other with love for neighbor. Although Catherine loved to spend time in prayer, she also walked on two feet. As a Dominican nun in the 14th century, she cared for the poor and the sick, including those suffering during the plague.

Perhaps one way to take Catherine’s teaching to heart in these weeks after Easter would be to spend a short time each evening looking over our day. Focus on one of the following questions for a few days and then move to the next.

  • Do any moments of love stand out?
  • Can you recall graced moments where you recognized God’s love?
  • Were there moments where another gifted you with love?

As we examine our interactions with families, neighbors, co-workers or strangers in these reflections, did we respond so that we would be respected or rewarded or did we reach out simply to the other’s need? According to St. Catherine, the greater the focus on the other and their need, the more unselfish is our love.

With this in mind, our challenge in this Easter season is to contemplate the idea of expanding our notion of “neighbor” to those outside our comfort circle and try to love as Catherine loved.