At the beginning of the week I began reading the Letters of Caterina Benincasa (better known as Saint Catherine of Siena), the 14th Century Christian mystic and stigmata that convinced the Pope to return from exile. As I read her letters to numerous people (and she didn’t just write popes and politicians) I was struck by her thunderous simplicity.
Her letters must be read in the context of the history of Italy during her time (and more specifically Siena which in modern times becomes part of the Italian region known as Tuscany). Catherine came along at what I refer to as an “Estherian” moment. I make reference to the Biblical Queen, Esther, who arrived at the Persian palace and saved Persia’s Jews from annihilation.
Caterina Benincasa was single-handedly responsible for recalling the Church of her day to holiness. She lived during a time in history that required saints and prophets rise up and recall Christians to the Church—to Christ. It doesn’t sound much different than our era (or any other era of human history, come to think of it). I believe that “Providence” gives humanity in all ages what it needs when and how it needs it.
Perhaps it will seem odd that as I have been reading Chronicles of Avonlea I feel compelled to draw parallels with St. Catherine’s day and the fictional world of the Canadian author L.M. Montgomery. She writes her stories drawing from her homeland experiences on Prince Edward Island, Canada. PEI, as it is known, is just off the coast of northeastern Canada between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
In Chronicles of Avonlea the characters are not living during a particularly trying time in human history. Late 19th Century North America was experiencing a period of boon, growth, and progress never seen before the Industrial Revolution. Yet I compare what I’ve read in a collection of fictional stories written for children to the time of the Medicis, Anti-Popes, and the Council of Nine? Well, quite frankly, yes.
I don’t pretend to be coming up with an original thesis that will draw parallels between 14th Century Europe and 19th Century North America. For this reason, I don’t cite examples from the text to make a case–that’s not my purpose. I am simply reacting to thoughts elicited by two different women writing for two very different reasons but with very similar ends: the sanctification of time. Through the writings of both these women I was able to experience something of the urgency and importance of living out one’s vocation with fidelity. Each writer struggled with the everyday (and not so everyday) circumstances of her time.
Catherine’s letters are certainly more historically important than Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing . But both St. Catherine’s letters and Lucy Maud’s writings are helping me to understand that holiness can only be lived out in the everyday circumstances of life. That it takes the action of a single person sacrificing her freedom (in the philosophical sense of the term) so she can paradoxically truly be free.