A Medieval Speaks to Moderns!

A medieval woman of the 14th century who speaks with eloquence and compelling authority to 21st century modernists, a mystic with feet on the ground, an apostle not an intellectual, a preacher not a scholar, a gifted, charming, graciousness, affable master of human affairs, a stupefyingly free spirit, and possessive of an explosive personality. Saint Catherine of Siena is a voice to be reckoned with. She’s like certain book– not attractive at first glimpse, but once you start to read her, she becomes contagiously adventurous.

Every worthy influencer has master ideas that constitute the fabric of her life. In the case of Catherine, it is freedom, self-knowledge, and shadow. I intend to summarize what she meant by these 3 terms.

If St. Francis of Assisi was married to Lady Poverty, Catherine’s spouse is Lady Freedom. her primary concern was people’s liberation. As an acutely student of human nature, most people are in bondage due to the evil of corruption, vices, pride, envy; they are addicted to success, honor, debauchery, power, ideologies etc. the principal reason for these bondages is fear: fear of what others might think, fear of ourselves, fear of being judged, rejection, fear of suffering, spiritual and moral failures. As she sees it, when these winds gather strength and start attacking us from within, we become trees of death rather than trees of life.

The power of free will

We must understand that the greatest gift given to humanity is freedom to choose. No one and nothing can take our freedom from us if we don’t allow them. no one can force us to commit the slightest sin. Our free will is like a pickaxe. It can overcome any difficulty. We have no excuse to sin. This godlike power was lost at the fall of Adam and eve, but wonderfully restored by Christ. By this power, we are masters of ourselves and the world. We are kings and queens, lords and ladies, a little less than God himself. Our freedom was given to lead to human flourishing. Its purpose is to empower us to choose the good and the true, a window of unity to God, and to serve others. But unfortunately, freedom is in chains/ bondage.

How to regain our freedom? She suggests something similar to St. Paul in Roman 7. It’s only the tender, pure, straightforward love of God revealed in Christ that can rescue us from the slavery of sins. We need to be a manly man who advances courageously to the battlefield. We must run to Christ crucified like a fearful child running to his mother’s arm. If we run our life on the grace of God, then we will become truly free. In her words, “if you want to be relieved of your burdens and infirmities, keep your eyes on the slain lamb so that the fire of his charity may warm your heart and soul”.

Catherine’s second master idea is self-knowledge. There are 2 sides in the journey to self-discovery. On one hand, we are made in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Christ. This is our grandeur and dignity. This makes us a little less than the angels. On the other hand, she discovers there is an ugly, stubborn, weak, stunted, and wretched side to us. we come to this clear-eyed discovery only by gazing both within ourselves and above and beyond ourselves i.e. into “the gentle mirror of God”. so, we are the middle between greatness and nothingness, earthly and heavenly, light and darkness, the angels and the beasts. Catherine understands this perfectly when God spoke to her thus, “do you know who you are and who I am?… You are she who is not and I am He who is”. This is true for all of us. That means just like “a nothing” cannot achieve anything, we – a nothing—cannot accomplish without utterly depending on God. as Catherine puts it,

“I am a foolish and wretched creature while you are supreme goodness. I am death and you are life. I am darkness and you are light. I am ignorance and you are wisdom. You are infinite and I am finite. I am sick and you are the doctor. I am a weak sinner who has never loved you [as you deserve].”

Without this “night of self-knowledge”, without the constant back and forth between knowledge of God and self-knowledge, there’s only confusion, and real freedom remains impossible. Also, the reality of our lives must be envisioned not within the lens of self, but within the infinite power, goodness, and love of God for we are dirty, but he is the ocean. The measure of greatness is the capacity to see ourselves in that mirror.

The third master idea from Catherine is “don’t be afraid to face your shadow”. Face your shadows, or else they will hunt you later. By shadows, she meant facing our past hurts and wounds, hidden faults, garbage and package we carry within from our childhood, breakups, divorces, abuse etc. When we fail to acknowledge our shadowy self, we project them on others without being aware of it. i.e. we overreact, we get angry for little to nothing, we think less of ourselves, we remain closed in, etc because deep down we are hurt. The reality is– hurt people hurt people. Catherine urges us to deal with them because they will emerge when we are least ready for them such as in marriages, jobs, ministry, relationships, etc.

How to deal with them

Bring them to Jesus in prayer i.e. revisit that situation and explain it in details to Jesus. Do it at least 3 times and let it soak in into the unconditional love and mercy of Jesus the physician. Second, bring them to spiritual direction. Sometimes, we need an experienced, well-versed person to open our eyes to what life can be. Third, bring it to counseling. A good counselor helps to name the problem and compartmentalize it, which makes it easily to deal with it.

Lest we forgot how difficult it could be to revisit past hurts, Catherine reminds us that to successfully confront the shadowy self is an achievement of its own.


33% of the world population claim to be spiritual, but not religious. That implies for them that they are not attached to a particular religious group. They describe themselves as “unchurched”, spiritually eclectic, religiously unaffiliated, freethinkers, or spiritual seekers. They give many reasons for refusing to subscribe to religion. The most common reason is religious leaders are not living what they preach. They preach the word of God not as God’s calling, but as a career. They don’t want to be confined to a system or structure, as if they are already part of a system. They claim scientism, as if science can explain everything like ‘why there is anything at all’. They argue that while religious’ substance may be good, they don’t like the style as if each believer is not responsible for his personal faith, in some way. I will not answer all these concerns for the sake of brevity. I will analyze whether or not it makes sense to be spiritual without being religious. Can someone have a deep, abiding friendship with God without religion?


I believe in human’s willingness to achieve phenomenon. I know that fundamentally human beings are created good. I know that each one of us has a deep desire to achieve the good. The reality is to know and desire the good does not mean having the capacity to achieve it. Morally speaking, we may learn the Nicomachean Ethics and the golden rule and be very convinced about it, but when it comes to applying it, we break all the rules. We know what to do, but when the occasion surfaces to act, we just fainaigue it as if we never knew better. The truth of the human nature is that we possess both a soul and a body. We are both human and animal. We vacillate between doing the good and the bad. We love the good due to the presence of the soul, but we do the bad because of the animal. As a result, we need to order our lives so the animal or the body does not rule the soul. You only need to read Plato’s republic to understand how we are built and what to do to properly order our lives.


We need light to enlighten our darkness. We need encouragement to stay on course. When crises strike, we just are not in our best, perhaps due to emotions, biases, fear etc. We need to constantly be reminded of why we need to stay on course. It is natural that the more we hear something, the more likely we are to act on it when need there is. It works the other way too. The less we hear something, the less likely we are to utilize it when we should. We need the “good news” to strengthen our good behavior and avoid stupidity. You only have to read Dostoyevsky’s Brother Karamazov to see how immoral someone can be when he starts fabricating his own moral codes without religious guidance.

That is where religion comes in. it is always there to remind us what it means to be human. It is constantly there to help us answer in the right way the deepest and most important questions of our lives that stir our hearts. What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of life? What is the right course of action? Why do we do bad things even if we want to do the good? What ought we to do? What’s our purpose? Where does suffering come from and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What is death? What happens after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?

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No one can answer these questions in a way that speaks to the depth, height, and breath of the human soul without turning to religion. No man can remove himself i.e. his emotions, fears, and biases from these questions unless he lets the God who reveals himself through religion speaks, the God who uses man to speak and yet transcends all men in time and places when speaking. These questions stand above any transgression man commits in the name of religion. They go beyond science, particular system, or style. They come from God and lead to God if properly answered.

Finally, no man is an island. Just as no one can finish high school without being committed to some kind of program or school, just as no one can become an engineer without going to an engineering school, no on can reach God without using the ladder of religion to climb to God. It is okay not to be the biggest aficionado of a ladder, but if God used it to condescend and speak to us, why should we despise it? Religion is the mean through which spirituality is built. It gives essence and sense to spirituality. It makes known the true God. Ask any respected anthropologist; he should know that. Religion informs spirituality. There’s no spirituality without religion. Spiritual always has to do with religion. When that is not the case, two things happen. Either a person creates his own religion so he can erect the God that pleases him, or he’s really not a believer at all. This theme, spiritual but not religious, is therefore an illusion.

That being said, the real reason why anyone would reject religion while claiming to be spiritual is really to be able to do whatever he wants without being judged by the standard set by the God of religion. These people want to do what any non-believers are doing, but they simultaneously feel guilty of renouncing God altogether. Their sensus divinitas and conscience bark at them. So they prefer to say that they are spiritual. None of them can answer what it means to be spiritual.