Today the Church remembers St. Catherine of Siena: a woman who lived long ago, but whose voice is still topical in our troubled times. In a historical context that wanted women socially, culturally, and religiously subdued, Catherine surmounted unbelievable obstacles, bringing every man and woman beyond all stereotypes and fears. Inviting the reader to study in depth her biography, we should remind first that Catherine’s reputation of holiness made her become the protagonist of an intense activity of spiritual advising for many categories of people despite her semi-illiterateness: noblemen and politicians, artists and ordinary people, consecrated persons and clergy, including Pope Gregory XI who at that time resided in Avignon and whom Catherine actively and effectively exhorted to return to Rome.
Moreover, the letters she wrote to very influential people, admonishing those who did evil, contain precise rhetorical strategies such as the recurring expression “I, Catherine…”, demonstrating the strong will of a woman who asserted herself, enthralling, because she felt called by God to a great prophetic mission, as a guide for her brothers and sisters, thus practicing great female authority.
Catherine made every effort for the reform of the Church because she felt part of the whole body of Christendom, responsible for the ills that tormented it. She traveled a lot to solicit the interior reform of the Church and to foster peace between the States: today, St. Catherine is one of the Patron Saints of Europe, the Patron Saint of Italy, as well as a Doctor of Church. The basis of Catherine’s mystical doctrine, and that of social commitment, was “self-knowledge and knowledge of God” through the genuine recognition of the Lord and be able to recognize in Him the truth about ourselves and about our vocation, and reach a ‘genuine recognition of Him and in Him in our brothers.
From this “self-knowledge” (which we can hear resonating in “start from yourself” of contemporary feminism), from the concrete presence of men and women in the history of salvation, we can start to re-interpret our lives in a responsible way, illuminated by Catherine’s “feminine genius”.