Light a Siena Fire

In our world today, it is boldness among the faithful which is the ingredient that we lack the most.

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Many Catholics are familiar with the words of today’s saint, Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Her call to become holy and live a life that is purposefully Christian has impacted generations since her death in 1380. In so many ways, her life was about being set on fire.

This can be viewed in her profound commitment to a life of prayer and to being a disciple above everything else. She deeply desired to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. This motivated everything she did. For this reason, Catherine was bold—very bold. That is what being on fire does to someone. 

In our world today, it is boldness among the faithful which is the ingredient that we lack the most (among many other things). Now, there are great and holy leaders in the Catholic Church. There are parishes and families that are bringing souls closer to Christ each and every day. Despite what you might hear from countless personalities online and on social media, Christ is still reigning victorious. 

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It is because Christ has the ultimate victory that we can and must be bold. This is why we can be confident in being set afire with the power of the early disciples. Catherine once wrote, “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.” In a world that does not like to hear the truth, we need her encouragement and advice more than ever before. 

In a letter to a married woman with whom she corresponded, Catherine speaks about enduring the fight against challenging times: 

Be persevering, then, and contemplate not what is done, but what you have to do. And what have we to do? To turn our affections constantly back toward God, despising the world with all its joys, and loving virtue, bearing with true patience what the divine goodness permits us; considering that whatever He gives is given for our good that we may be sanctified in Him.

Around 1372, Catherine began to write with the cousin of Pope Gregory XI, Gerard du Puy. She intended to have Gerard pass along her letters to the pope. However, the first letter we have from Catherine to Gregory is in 1375. Within it we can view her tenacity as well as her devotion to bringing others to know Christ and be known by Him. While her words were directed toward priests who were not leading the faithful to a life of holiness, her words can be helpful for all those who wonder if they should speak for the truth or not:

If he is a prelate, he does ill, because to avoid falling into disfavour with his fellow-creatures—that is, through self-love—in which he is bound by self-indulgence—holy justice dies in him. For he sees his subjects commit faults and sins, and pretends not to see them and fails to correct them; or if he does correct them, he does it with such coldness and lukewarmness that he does not accomplish anything.

These bold words to the leader of the faithful continue to ring true today inside and outside of our Church. We know that sin is rampant. We know that there are false philosophies about the human person being championed. We know that our parishes are experiencing weekly Mass attendance numbers that hover around 10-15 percent. We know that there is a need for renewal; but we can easily be worried about calling people to more. We know that there is a need for renewal; but we can easily be worried about calling people to more.Tweet This

This is human. People do not want to offend other people, especially when it comes to the subject of religion. However, we must learn from St. Catherine of Siena. We do not have to be afraid when we are calling people to know God. The specifics for how this is best accomplished cannot be covered in this short article. My mission in writing these words is to convey that St. Catherine, and all the saints, renewed their times by being bold about Jesus Christ, not timid. 

Catherine continues by providing her reason for why priests in particular and human beings in general do not act boldly in the face of sin: 

He (the priest) is always afraid of giving displeasure or of getting into a quarrel. All this is because he loves himself. Sometimes men like this want to get along with purely peaceful means. I say that this is the very worst cruelty which can be shown. If a wound when necessary is not cauterized or cut out with steel, but simply covered with ointment, not only does it fail to heal, but it infects everything, and many a time death follows from it.

These words are accusatory for our times as well, whether you are a priest or not. They are condemning toward me, as they force me to consider whether or not I am willing to speak up for the truth even when I might appear like a fool; even when it could hurt my image. Is there anything in your life or at your work that needs to be called out? Do you have the space to do so in a rational, measured, but bold fashion? Or do you keep silent simply because others might look at you differently?

Catherine of Siena was willing to write to the pope and be blunt about what she observed in the culture around her. Her observations were rooted in reality, justice, and holiness. As we navigate our tumultuous times, let us be convicted to operate in the same way. Then, the fire of Siena will continue to burn and light a path for deeper conversion for ourselves and our Church.


  • Thomas Griffin

    Thomas Griffin is the chair of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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