For starters, she had a vision of hell—and it was empty. She went on to sweetly tell the pope who’d left Rome, “your court stinks of sin.” Nothing intimidated her; she was bold as the red wine of her region. She warmed up by settling feuds in her own town, then resolved the papal schism that had split the church for 68 years. Disliking the typical, cloistered arrangements for religious women of her day, she launched into streets and prisons.
Stubborn, blunt, outspoken, Catherine of Siena is one of four women doctors in the church. The 24th child in her family, she believed heaven starts on earth, and probably pictured it as her large tribe, who called her “Mama,” laughingly passing pasta and pouring wine. Because she died at 33, Catherine packed a lot of living into a short time.
The fourteenth century was filled with violence, disease, war and deception. Against that background, Catherine stubbornly believed that God is madly in love with humanity, hungry for each person. She saw Jesus warmly as “bath and medicine, food and clothing, and a bed in which we can rest.” Not for her the tidy devotions that can make us feel rather proud of ourselves. She knew the messiness of ordinary lives. God’s words to her should reassure us: “You are never alone. You have me.”