Today, the Church remembers Catherine of Siena, who died on this date in the year 1380.
Let us pray.
Everlasting God, you so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena, as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior, that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church: Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ’s death, and rejoice in the revelation of his glory; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Gospel lesson appointed for today is select verses from Luke chapter twelve.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Whether it is coming from Bobby McFerrin or Jesus of Nazareth, “Don’t worry, be happy” is easier said than done. In what feels like the 10th year of Coronatide, I found myself getting viscerally angry at Jesus for these “words of comfort” to his disciples. As usual, Biblical texts taken out of context can be detrimental to your health. What seems like simple platitudes from our Lord are actually part of a much larger teaching by Jesus on the dangers of following him long-term. See, a crowd of many thousands had started to follow Jesus. The crowd was so large that, in order to hear him teach, they had begun to press in so close that some were being trampled. As Jesus looked at the crowd, he realized that many of them were there for the wrong reasons – thinking they had hitched their wagons to the next King of Israel and looking forward to a life on easy street.
The first time Jesus tells his disciples, and by extension the crowd, not to worry, he does so in the context of dying for their faith. “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” After the parable of the rich fool, who after a bountiful harvest built bigger barns rather than sharing his largesse and died that very night, Jesus continues with this series of warnings not to worry about earthly things, but rather, to remain focused on the greater things of the Kingdom of God.
Catherine of Siena was born in 1347 as the twenty-third or twenty-fourth child of her mother, Lapa and father, Giacomo. One of a set of twins, Catherine’s sister, Giovanna died shortly after birth. In all, her parents lost just under half of their 25 children at a young age. Catherine’s first few years were spent under the fear of the black plague that killed upwards of 200 million people in Europe between 1347 and 1353. As the plague came to an end, Catherine and a brother went to visit one of their married older sisters, and on the way home, at the age of five or six, she had a vision of Jesus seated in heaven with Peter, Paul, and John. By the age of seven, she vowed to give her life to God. For the majority of her life, Catherine lived under her own strict rule of life. As a third order nun, she did not live in the monastery with her sisters, but remained at her family home. Rather than enjoy the comforts of her family’s relatively well-to-do lifestyle, she was constantly giving away all of her food and clothing. Her only meal most days was the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Amidst all of this, she also found herself in the middle of not one, but two controversies involving competing Popes.
If anyone had reason to be prone to worry, Catherine of Siena did, and yet, she always chose the harder path. Whether it was becoming a nurse so that she could treat lepers or nearly being assassinated in a riot after the death of her friend, Pope Gregory the eleventh, Catherine set her hope on Christ, and found reason to have faith.
Maybe Jesus has a point. We have very little to do with the rain or sun or the yield of the harvest. Ours is not to worry about how much toilet paper gets produced in a week, but only to give thanks when the Kroger shelves are stocked and to share of our abundance when we come across a 24 pack in all its glory.