A recent survey among young people asked them to name
their heroes. Of the top ten persons they regarded as "heroes,"
nine were movie stars ―movie stars, persons often of loose
morals. No, these are not real heroes. It is good to have true
heroes, and these we find among the saints.
One of these is St. Catherine. Usually when we hear
this name, we think of St. Catherine of Siena, but there are
other saints who bear this name, and St. Catherine of
Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, is one of them.
This St. Catherine has been a very popular saint,
especially in the Middle Ages. In the 12th century the Crusaders
returning from the East brought back her story and introduced
devotion to her in Europe. She became patroness of maidens,
women students, philosophers, preachers and apologists,
wheel-makers and millers.
You will remember how, in the 15th century, St. Joan
of Arc was guided by voices she heard. She had apparitions of
the saints whose voices these were: St. Michael, St. Margaret,
and St. Catherine.
It was at St. Catherine's of Fierbois, a shrine to the
martyr, that St. Joan found her sword. She dug beneath the stone
and found the old sword used by Charles Martel when he fought
the Moslems, and which Joan would take in battle to free her
French people from the English invaders.
St. Catherine's Life
Catherine was a young girl of 18 who had attended the
schools of Alexandria in Egypt in the early days of
Christianity. She was both holy and learned. And she was also
brave. When she saw that Maximin, the local prince, was
executing Christians, she boldly went to him and reproached his
evil actions, shaming him by giving him many good reasons in
support of the truths of the Christian faith. Maximin was amazed
at her wisdom. He could not answer her arguments against his
gods, so he tried to get her to give up her faith. He used three
First, he gathered the most learned men from all parts of
the country and promised them a reward if they could refute
Catherine's arguments and lead her to give up her faith and
worship idols. The men got up to convince Catherine of how man
could be independent of the One True God. And what happened?
Just the opposite of what Maximin thought. Catherine explained
her points so well that many of the pagan philosophers who had
come to refute her were so struck by the force of her
reasoning that they became Christians ready to die for Our
When Maximin saw that his first attempt had failed, he
then tried to seduce Catherine by flatteries. He also promised
her many things of the world. "If you give up Christ,"
he said, "I will give you a fine house and riches." The
first attack had been directed toward Catherine's intellect.
Now, his second attack was more toward the passions of the
young girl. But it failed as the first did.
Then Maximin tried finally to conquer Catherine by torture
of her body. He had her scourged with whips which were tipped
with lead. And then he locked her up in prison for 11 days
without food or drink. Imagine 11 days without food! We are so
weak if we fast without food for just one whole day.
During this time an amazing thing happened. Maximin's
wife and Porphyrius, the leader of the army, went to see
Catherine ―maybe out of curiosity
―and were converted by her
ardent faith. Both of them later became martyrs.
Maximin was furious. He had Catherine brought to a
wheel -she is usually shown in pictures with this wheel
wheel had sharp knives attached around it. But at her prayer the
wheel was broken. Seeing this miracle, many of the soldiers
Maximin became more obstinate, and finally ordered to
have Catherine beheaded and be done with her. She offered her
head bravely to the sword, and at her death her soul went
straight to heaven.
Catherine as a Model of the
The life of St. Catherine illustrates well the
spiritual combat. She fought for God and won. We too have to
fight for God, and we too hope to win this spiritual battle. We
cannot avoid fighting against our enemies. The Holy Ghost told
us, "none shall be crowned who has not fought well." Yes,
life is a combat.
Our first enemy is the DEVIL who profits by our pride, our
desire for independence from God. This is illustrated in St.
Catherine's life by the pagan philosophers who tried to put
false reasonings in her mind. But she defeated her enemies
through HUMILITY. Let us imitate her when we practice
obedience to God and to the persons over us to whom God gives
His authority. Sometimes we think it is not so hard to obey
God, but it is hard to obey the persons He puts in authority
over us. But, by obeying them we draw humility from the meek
and humble Sacred Heart Himself, and we crush the head of the
Our second enemy is the WORLD which acts upon our
selfishness, our desire for worldly success. Maximin attacked
Catherine by flattering her passions. She overcame this enemy
through PRAYER. Her soul was steeped in the interior life so
she did not care for the world and all its riches. Let us
imitate her by acquiring a good spiritual life. Practice some
time of silence and recollection each day. This will be the
best means to keep our mind turned toward the things of Heaven
instead of getting wrapped up in the things of the world.
Our third enemy is our own FLESH, which draws us down
through our desire for comfort. We hear the voice of our
fallen nature, "Take it easy; don't be too hard on
yourself. To become a saint is too difficult; God does not
want you to go that far." Maximin tortured Catherine's
body, but she was victorious through her LOVE for Our Lord.
Let us imitate her in making an effort to be generous in our
love for Jesus, rather than selfish in our love for ourselves.
Love is the most powerful weapon against mediocrity. Love
renders all things easy. To deny ourselves will not seem so
difficult if we do it for Our Lord's sake.
So, during our life, let us be brave in the spiritual
combat as St. Catherine was. Let us fight our enemies: the
DEVIL, the WORLD, and OUR FALLEN NATURE with the weapons of
HUMILITY, PRAYER, and GENEROSITY.
And if we pray to the Blessed Virgin often as her
children, Our Lady ―Our Mother
―will give us the victory.