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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Catherine Of Alexandria

June 28, 2022 saints No Comments


Catherine of Alexandria, Egypt was likely a pagan princess. She lived long ago, in the third century, and converted through a vision of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child. Catherine pledged her virginity to Christ and, according to legend, become His mystical spouse.
Alexandria was the center of learning in the ancient world, and Catherine was intelligent with her wits about her. When Emperor Maxentius persecuted Christians, she determined to confront him and tell him the error of his ways. He found it hard to condemn such beauty, and instead summoned fifty philosophers from his kingdom to debate her. During the session that followed, her points were so well-argued that she ended up converting many of those whom she had debated. This naturally infuriated the emperor, who arranged for the swift execution of those souls she had just saved.
Still, he could still not quite bring himself to execute Catherine. She was so lovely! He made the capital error of asking her to become his mistress. Not only did she say no, but she also went on to convert Faustina, his wife. Things could hardly be worse! He had her imprisoned and tortured, and he arranged for her martyrdom. She was to die via “the wheel.” This meant she was to be tied to a spiked wheel which would break her limbs.
Whatever the case, the concept did not work because when she approached, the wheel shattered at her touch. Maxentius instead had her beheaded. She was only 18, and the story says a milky substance instead of blood flowed from her body. Angels (another name for holy monks) carried her body to Mount Sinai where she was interred. By the sixth century a great monastery was on the site, built by Emperor Justinian. This became a major Catholic pilgrimage site for a time, and it still exists, but now is run by the Eastern Orthodox Church (whose members also honor the saint).
St. Catherine had a huge following in the Middle Ages. She was even named one of the “14 Holy Helpers,” invoked against the plague and other illnesses.
However, according to Butler’s Lives, there is no evidentiary proof of any of the above biography. When we say she lived in the third century and died likely sometime between AD 300-325, we are copying what others said but without any original sources. She did live almost 1,800 years ago. Yet we still have tradition, even if no original sources. Even more interesting is that the young saint so often portrayed in art next to a wheel, the intended instrument of her martyrdom, was seen by two other saints in visions. These were Saints Dominic and Joan of Arc.
St. Dominic was in his dormitory when he looked up to see three regal women approaching, bearing holy water, with one holding a bucket and the other sprinkling holy water, as in the “Asperges me” that precedes the Latin Mass rite. The most elegant woman sprinkling the water was the Blessed Virgin, who explained she was accompanied by Saints Cecilia and Catherine of Alexandria. St. Catherine apparently featured in a couple of other Dominican visions, too, and remains a patroness of the Dominicans, the order of preaching friars.
Even more interesting to me is that the saint who mentioned her repeatedly over 1,000 years after her death was Joan of Arc. Joan stated three voices gave her support and advice: St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Margaret of Antioch, and St. Michael the Archangel. From private examinations related to her imprisonment and trial, we learn that she helped guide St. Joan for years in driving the English out of France, choosing her flag, taking the city of Orleans and comforting her when she was taken by hostile forces.
Some of Joan’s words are quoted below:
Joan: St. Catherine and St. Margaret told me that I was to take my banner and to carry it boldly. . . . The Standard was commanded by our Lord, by the Voices of St. Catherine and St. Margaret, which said to me: “Take the standard in the name of the King of Heaven”; . . . I had this figure of God and of two Angels done; I did all by their command.
Q. Has your Angel never failed you in the good things of grace?
A. How can he fail me, when he comforts me every day? My comfort comes from St. Catherine and St. Margaret.
Q. Do you call them, or do they come without being called?
A. They often come without being called; and other times, if they do not come soon, I pray our Lord to send them. . . . I have never had need of them without having them.
Q. This Voice that speaks to you, is it that of an Angel, or of a Saint, or from God direct?
A. It is the Voice of St. Catherine and St. Margaret. Their faces are adorned with beautiful crowns, very rich and precious. . . .
Q. How do you distinguish them?
A. By the greeting they give me. It is seven years now since they have undertaken to guide me. I know them well because they were named to guide me. . . .
I was quite certain of raising the siege of Orleans; I had a revelation of it. I told this to the King before going there. . . . I was wounded in the neck by an arrow or a cross-bolt; but I had great comfort from St. Catherine, and was cured in less than a fortnight. I did not interrupt for this either my riding or work. I knew quite well that I should be wounded; I had told the King so, but that, notwithstanding, I should go on with my work. This had been revealed to me by the Voices of my two Saints. . . .
St. Catherine has told me that I shall have help; I do not know if this will be to be delivered from prison….The help will come to me, I think, in one way or the other. Besides this, my Voices have told me that I shall be delivered by a great victory; and they add: “Be resigned; have no care for they martyrdom; you will come in the end to the Kingdom of Paradise.” [Joan understood martyrdom here as temporary suffering in prison; she did not know she would die a martyr.]
Pope St. Paul VI removed the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria from the liturgical calendar, but Pope St. John Paul II thankfully put it back, the date now being November 25. She is the patroness saint of many things, including philosophers.
We end with this prayer and ask that when called upon to argue the case of Christ, we may be as adept as St. Catherine of Alexandria:
“Thus, O Catharine, thou didst employ thy science solely for the truth. Thou madest ‘the majesty of Jesus Christ so visible, that His presence dissipated all the errors of philosophy, and the truths it had usurped acknowledged Him for their Master, or rather were gathered up in Him as in their center.’ Let us learn from this holy example to bear witness to the truth and to make it triumph over the world, employing all our light of knowledge in the fulfillment of this duty. O holy truth! I owe thee the testimony of my words, of my life, of my blood: for the truth is God Himself” — Bossuet, Panegyric on St. Catherine.

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