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St Catherine of Alexandria


“Let all of us who love to honor the martyrs form a great choir and praise the most wise Catherine, for she preached Christ in the stadium and trampled the serpent, despising the art of orators.”

-Kontakion for the feast of Great-Martyr Catherine of Alexandria


Are we preaching Christ Jesus everywhere we go?

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

St Catherine of AlexandriaSaint Catherine of Alexandria whom we honor today in our liturgical memory. For centuries the church had listed Catherine on the ordo but with the liturgical renewal and revision following the Second Vatican Council she was removed from calendar; in 2002, John Paul returned her to the ordo. Her importance for us is what tradition says of her, namely, that she climbed Mount Sinai, the place where Torah was given, and an image which prefigures calvary when Jesus died. A journey each disciple of the Lord is called to make. Our more contemporary theological view of Catherine is that she is the bridge for the work of unity among Christians. Saint Catherine is a saint honored by the Eastern Churches and her memory is highly esteemed in the West. Hence, we, the Churches of East and West, are united in Jesus Christ through the person of Saint Catherine.

The reliability of the historical sources on Catherine is questionable, but liturgical legend is not to be dismissed. How the Churches came to know, love and reverence the holy disciples of the Lord is to be honored and studied. Historical accounts are not always that important: the witness, the experience, the faithfulness is what moves our heart. What is meant by legend does not mean fiction and nor is it an idea from a vigorous imagination. Legend in the Church is received wisdom. We consider her to be learned that, once converted to Christian faith, she defeated in debate fifty pagan philosophers working for the Roman emperor. Her defense of the truth of the Gospel and reality of the Church was reasonable enough that opened the door for the philosophers to accept Christianity themselves. Centuries later a famous monastery on Mount Sinai acquired both her relics and her name. Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in Egypt on February 26, 2000.

Saints beget saints. After the year 1000, devotion to Catherine  was widely accepted in the West.  It is said that Catherine was both honored as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers to whom the faithful asked to intercede for them before the Throne of Grace; and in the 15th century Catherine was one of the saints who appeared to Saint Joan of Arc, giving her God’s mission. It is a similar mission we receive when we are Baptized, it was the mission of Daniel and his friends seeking to be faithful in a foreign land, the mission of the poor widow and her little coins, the mission to witness to Jesus Christ as Catherine did with the philosophers.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Born of a noble family, Catherine was committed to her faith in Christ and made the claim she was his bride; she therefore refused the marriage proposal of the emperor. Defending her decision before 50 philosophers by making a superior argument, she was tortured by being splayed on a wheel and then beheaded.

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The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking good pearls, who, when he had found one of great price, gave all that he had and bought it.

With the Church we pray,

O God, Who did give the law to Moses from the top of Mount Sinai and did  miraculously convey there by Thy holy Angles the body of blessed Catherine, Thy Virgin and Martyr; we beseech Thee, grant  that by virtue  of her merits and intercession, we may attain to that mount which is Christ.

 Poetry can be a great way of understanding life. Here is a poem by Saint Ephrem,

 In Praise of Virginity

Blessed are you, virgin, with whom
the comely name of virginity grows old.
In your branches chastity built a nest;
may your womb be a nest for her dwelling place.
May the power of mercy preserve your temple.

Blessed are you, heavenly sparrow
whose nest was on the cross of light.
You did not want to build a nest on earth
lest the serpent enter and destroy your offspring.

Blessed are your wings that were able to fly.
May you come with the holy eagles
that took flight and soared from the earth below
to the bridal couch of delights.

Blessed are you, O shoot that Truth cultivated;
He engrafted your medicine into the Tree of Life.
Your fruit exults and rejoices at all times
to drink the drink of the Book of Life.
Blessed are your branches.

Blessed are you, O bride, espoused to the Living One,
you who do not long for a mortal man.
Foolish is the bride who is proud
of the ephemeral crown that will be gone tomorrow.

Blessed is your heart, captivated by love
of a beauty portrayed in your mind.
You have exchanged the transitory bridal couch
for the bridal couch whose blessings are unceasing.

Blessed are you, free woman, who sold yourself
to the Lord who became a servant for your sake!

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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