Completely occupied with good deeds …

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church
April 29, 2023

Today’s Readings

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we prayerfully remember one of the great women of the Church, Catherine of Siena.

Catherine of Siena, TOSD (1347 – 1380) was a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. She was a mystic, activist, and author who had a great influence on Italian literature and on the Catholic Church. Canonized in 1461, she is also a Doctor of the Church.

Three genres of work by Catherine survive:
– Her major treatise is The Dialogue of Divine Providence. It is a dialogue between God and a soul who “rises up” to God.
– Catherine’s letters are considered one of the great works of early Tuscan literature.
– Twenty-six prayers of Catherine of Siena also survive, mostly composed in the last eighteen months of her life.


The beauty of Catherine’s life and spirituality has blessed the world for nearly seven centuries. Still, it has never grown old because it was fully rooted in an eternal God.

Catherine’s sanctity was born of:
transcendent FAITH,
uncompromising TRUTH,
and overarching LOVE
for God
and God’s Creation.

Our first reading today introduces another, much earlier, woman pillar of the Church – Tabitha, sometimes called Dorcas. She was so important to the Christian community in Joppa that they sent for Peter upon her death. They needed his intervention in order to hold the community together in the face of this profound loss.

Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha
(which translated is Dorcas). 
She was completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving. 
Now during those days she fell sick and died,
so after washing her, they laid her out in a room upstairs. 

Acts 9: 36-38

St. Cyprian, writing in the 3rd century, implies that Dorcas merited Peter’s miraculous intervention because of her Christian generosity, her being “completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving“.

Dorcas, Raised from the Dead by Peter – Jacob Jordaens (c. 1655)

Though little is given to describe Tabitha’s position in the community, one might imagine that she was a woman of some means. Many widows achieved a certain status living on the accumulated wealth of their deceased husbands and the dividends of their recovered dowries. This generous women seems to have gathered around her a community of less fortunate neighbors who came to depend on her for their livelihood.

In Tabitha/Dorcas, we find a model of women’s discipleship repeated through the centuries and into our own times.

  • She is aware of the needs around her and of her own capacity to meet those needs.
  • Inspired by the Gospel, she builds a community to embrace both the needs and the strengths she recognizes.
  • She acts FOR others, especially those who are in need, in imitation of Christ.

In the 14th century, Catherine of Siena manifested a similar pattern of discipleship.

Catherine of Siena – from Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s
Golden Book of Famous Women (1919)

Catherine saw the whole Church as her community and recognized its need for reconciliation and unity. She confronted fracturing political allegiances and destructive ecclesiastical egos to advocate for the Roman Pope’s sovereignty over the global Church, thus influencing the entire flow of European history.

My sweet Lord, look with mercy upon your people
and especially upon the mystical body of your Church.
Greater glory is given to your name for pardoning a multitude of your creatures
than if I alone were pardoned for my great sins against your majesty.
It would be no consolation for me to enjoy your life
if your holy people stood in death.
For I see that sin darkens the life of your bride the Church
– my sin and the sins of others.

from A Dialogue on Divine Providence

Catherine, whose profound spirituality was laced with miracles and mysticism, nevertheless taught an attainable spiritual discipline in her writings – a practical spirituality demonstrated, as was Tabitha’s, in generous acts of love:

The love which the soul sees that God has for her,
she, in turn, extends to all other creatures. . .
she immediately feels compelled to love her neighbor as herself,
for she sees how supremely she herself is loved by God,
beholding herself in the wellspring of the sea of the Divine Essence.

Letter to Raymond of Capua, dated February 17, 1376

In our Gospel, Jesus has just finished telling the people:

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

They respond to this “hard saying” with hesitancy and “shock”. Jesus tells them that he knows that this level of faith is impossible to reach on one’s own and so…

“For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”

John 6: 64-65

Tabitha and Catherine of Siena, by the power of the Holy Spirit granted through our Creator, attained a beautiful faith expressed in generous works for their communities. As we pray with them today, let us ask God for the grace of such faith for ourselves and for our whole Church.

Poetry: Consumed in Grace (Catherine of Siena) – from Daniel Ladinsky’s “Love Poems from God”

I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age.
The cheeks of the sun were pale before Him,
and the earth acted as a shy
girl, like me.

Divine light entered my heart from His love
that did never fully wane,

though indeed, dear, I can understand
how a person’s faith
can at times flicker,

for what is the mind to do
with something that becomes the mind’s ruin:
a God that consumes us
in His grace.

I have seen what you want;
it is there, a Beloved of infinite

Music: The Mystical Ecstasy of Catherine of Siena – from the opera Santa Caterina da Siena by Marco Enrico Bossi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s