Happy Feast Day to Siena

Today we remember a wonderful Saint who was a mystic and Doctor of the Church: St. Catherine of Siena. She is a Saint very near and dear to my heart. When I was in the second grade, I fell in love with her story after reading the popular TAN children’s book about her life written by Mary Fabyan Windeatt. In high school, I read the book Lay Siege to Heaven by Louis de Wohl, which is a more in depth exploration of her life. I came to respect and honor her as a true heroine, whom I aspire to emulate.

Some fun facts about St Catherine of Siena
– She was one of 25 children
– She cut off all her hair to protest her mother’s attempts to marry her off
– She often experienced visions of Jesus and Mary, even as a small child
– She was actually a third order Dominican (lay person) not a nun
– She persuaded the Pope to leave Avignon, France and to return to Rome
– She experienced the stigmata
– Her body was found incorrupt, and her severed head is on display at the Basilica San Domenico in Siena, Italy
– The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena is a published work containing her conversations with God, which were dictated to her secretary

My favorite quote of hers is: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”

My freshman year of college I had strayed quite a bit from my faith, and I hit a real low on the last day of classes. When I returned home, I was reminded of the beauty of the Catholic faith my parents had instilled in me. In a moment of prayerful penance, I pulled a “Catherine” and cut all my hair off hoping to rid myself of the vanity and sin that had been plaguing me. Not long after, I received an invitation from my eldest sister to join her on a pilgrimage to Rome that summer. It was quite the experience, and I learned a lot about myself thanks to the guidance of my sister and the awe-inspiring beauty that is Rome. We also happened to meet some wonderful women in the little Catholic group we were a part of who were going to hit the road and tour Tuscany. They graciously invited us along, and we seized this wonderful opportunity to travel and see some of the paramount Italian towns of the Catholic faith (Assisi, Orvieto, and yes Siena). Unfortunately we made it to Siena right after the Basilica had closed its doors, and I frantically ran around the building knocking on every window and door to try and get in. We were only in town for a few hours, and so I never did get to see inside. Well, that just means I will have to return one day to finally look upon the incorrupt body of my favorite heroine. I’m okay with that 🙂

I returned to Rome to study in the Spring semester following that summer. I didn’t have the funds to travel to Siena, but I came to feel as if Rome were my second home. I was incredibly blessed to be confirmed at the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore during that semester and my confirmation name was indeed Catherine Siena.

Fast forward two years, and I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter. I had no hesitation in declaring that I must name her after my favorite Saint. The only problem was that my sister had already taken the name Catherine for her daughter. So, my daughter was Christened Siena Catherine instead 🙂 I can’t wait until she is older (she is 4) so I can read her the story of this incredible Saint. I hope she feels as drawn to St. Catherine’s life story as I was because she is a true role model.

Have a blessed day! And if you don’t know much about this Saint, I suggest you take some time to learn more about her. She isn’t a Doctor of the Church for nothing 😉
Some Lessons from St. Catherine of Siena

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Will You Will His Will?

Peter Kreeft wisely contends, “We pray to obey God, not to ‘play God’. We pray, not to change God’s mind, but to change our own; not to command God, but to let God command us. We pray to ‘let God be God’. Prayer is our obedience to God even when it asks God for things, for God has commanded us to ask (Mt. 7:7).” When I’m not quite sure what to pray for, the one prayer I always pray is that I may know and have the strength to carry out God’s will. The two basic grounds for prayers to be answered are 1. Your intentions are compliant with God’s will 2. You have faith that your prayers will be answered. So, you can’t really go wrong praying to know God’s will. The phrase “God’s will” is sometimes carelessly tossed around like a football back and forth between Christians. Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, and God is Lucy pulling it away at the last minute, watching me fall on my butt. Obviously, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. But I can’t help feeling like I’m being pounded over the head with the idea, whether it’s while praying the Our Father or while seeking my mom’s sound advice whenever I am faced with a difficult decision: “Just follow God’s will, honey.” Thanks mom, that’s real helpful. Tell me something I don’t know (like what in God’s name is His will?!).

Life’s “forks in the road” are the times we are most aware of the importance of being in concordance with Gods will. However, God’s will isn’t just the big picture, it’s also in the little things that make up the big picture. After all, there is no big picture without first laying down the brush strokes. We need to seek God’s will in the small things, accepting that which is beyond our control and embracing our crosses which are indeed always blessings in disguise. Wait, she can’t mean ALWAYS, there must be a caveat in there somewhere. Nope! I said what I mean and I mean what I said. Trials, whether they are daily annoyances or blood-sweat-and-tears, make us who we are and make who-we-are better if we allow them (I suggest reading Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis if you disagree). They make us or break us. And even if they do break us, there’s no need to despair because we will continue to be handed opportunities (most likely in the form of more trials) to turn toward God and therefore encounter the joy awaiting us. God’s hand is always outstretched to us, no matter how often we turn away from Him. He will always come running after us, ever pursuing us despite an often unrequited love. All you have to do is take a look at Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. What did it take to finally bring him home? A famine and the humiliation of rolling around with the swine. The father not only welcomes and embraces him, but throws him a feast and gives him a robe and a ring. Once again, C.S. Lewis writes in Problem of Pain: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain is God beckoning our return to Him, while still respecting our free will. For, every time we sin, we are indeed turning our backs to Him. Man’s will, in actuality, is most free when it is intertwined with God’s will because He is our last aim and end, and if our will leads us astray, it is because it is enslaved by sinful habits.

Discerning God’s will doesn’t mean sitting on our hands awaiting a great big neon sign in the sky to point you in the right direction. We are scared to death of making the wrong decision, and walking down the wrong path. Or, we are afraid of the pain that is intrinsically laced with a certain decision, no matter how clearly we see it to be the right one. Fear is immobilizing, and it’s the Enemy’s favorite weapon. This is why C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity adequately describes its opposite–courage–as, “not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” If we give into fear, it’s implications are catastrophic. How many times in the Bible are we told not to be afraid or not to be anxious? (Just look at the subtitle of my blog page!) Well I’m not sure of the exact number, but it’s a lot. One such instance is Mt 10:28 where we are told not to fear those who can destroy our bodies but those who can destroy both body and soul in hell. So, there you have it folks: fear is a lie, and I believe if venturing in a specific direction scares you half to death, it’s probably a good sign it’s the right way to go. The Devil is clearly trying to steer you away from it. Never forget that God will spit out the lukewarm (Rev 3:16), so don’t buy into the great deception of our age that as long as you do no harm to others, you are all set. I’ve always been told that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Oh how he loves to distract us from our higher calling to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness!

If I may offer a seed of wisdom from Edmund Burke, which I’m sure you’ve heard before: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Stop doing nothing! The worst thing you can do when you’re unsure of what to do is not to do anything. I only know this because I have been guilty of it. Sometimes you just have to start doing, especially if you can’t bring yourself to pray. If you’re too depressed to get out of bed, read. If you’re even beyond the ability to read, look up talks by Christian speakers on YouTube (Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Matthew Kelly, Peter Kreeft, etc). I would suggest if you have a mobile device to download the Ignatius Study Bible app. It’s free, and they offer additional commentaries to be purchased for $20. Also, you can download almost any Lighthouse CD as an mp3 to the app from $2-$4, so you don’t have to wait for a CD in the mail. The key is to submerge yourself in inspiration because God will send some illumination your way. These are just some ideas from my personal experience, but just focus on taking any step forward in any direction. Things become more clear when you are in motion. Even if you momentarily traverse the wrong path, God will send you people and circumstances to slowly nudge you back in the right direction. I can’t remember where I heard it, but I heard that God’s will is like a GPS, and if we take a wrong turn, we will simply be re-routed. We won’t be doomed to never arrive at our intended destination. It just may take a little longer than we had hoped, but who couldn’t use some practice in patience?

After beginning this blog post, I read an amazing article, and it explained that when it comes to a big decision in life, always choose the path that best enables you to love and to serve both God and your neighbors. When it comes to the small decisions in life… Do whatever allows you to love God and your neighbor 🙂 (it’s not called the Golden Rule for nothing). Here is the article, which is much more articulate than my brain storm of a blog: http://nealobstat.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/furious-christians/

Finally, I will end with Phil 4:6-9 (my other favorite Bible verse)

Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

May God’s Positioning System guide your footsteps to His doorstep.