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ST. CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA,
HEROINE OF THE SPIRITUAL COMBAT

From a Lenten conference given by Father de la Tour to students

  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 methods:

  1. 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 Lord!

  2. 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.

  3. 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 and the wheel had sharp knives attached around it. But at her prayer the wheel was broken. Seeing this miracle, many of the soldiers became Christians.

  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 Spiritual Combat

  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.

  1. 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 devil.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.