November 25th marks the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
When we hear the name St. Catherine, we might first think of Doctor of the Church St. Catherine of Sienna, who did a lot of great work for the Church during the Middle Ages.
But St. Catherine of Alexandria was a pretty remarkable saint as well. She was an early Christian martyr who lived during a time of great persecution but faced evil with extraordinary strength.
St. Catherine of Alexandria is a wonderful example for us to look to when we’re in need of inspiration as we confront evil in our own day, and as we work to stay virtuous while we’re on the path to our vocations.
Her counter-cultural conversion
St. Catherine of Alexandria was born around the year 287. Her parents were pagans, and tradition says that she was of noble birth.
During her early years, she received a good education. As she matured, she was known to be intelligent and scholarly.
At age fourteen, Catherine’s life was changed radically when she received a vision of the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus. This vision affected her greatly and inspired her to convert to Christianity.
Though she was not brought up in the Faith in any regard and must have known that her choice to convert would be a dangerous one, she embarked courageously on the journey to become a Christian.
St. Catherine’s courage in persecution
It was not long after her conversion that the emperor Maxentius began a persecution of Christians.
It would have been natural for Catherine to fear this new danger and to hide or run away from the persecution. But instead, she traveled to visit the emperor and she boldly condemned his evil actions to his face.
The emperor could have had her executed on the spot for being a Christian. But he chose instead to make a fool of her first. He called fifty philosophers and orators to come and debate Catherine.
Catherine accepted the challenge and asked the Holy Spirit to use her and speak through her during this debate.
God rewarded Catherine’s faith and did indeed speak through her. Her defense of the Faith was so eloquent that pagan listeners were moved to immediately convert to Christianity.
Emperor Maxentius was not pleased with this. He ordered that these new converts be executed. Then, he had Catherine tortured through scourging.
Catherine suffered terribly from this scourging. Her body was full of wounds, but she held fast to her Faith and refused to renounce it. She didn’t even show fear or pain. Instead, she raised her eyes to Heaven throughout her scourging.
The emperor saw that this torture was doing nothing to move Catherine to renounce her Faith. So he next ordered her to be imprisoned and starved.
But while she was imprisoned, a dove miraculously brought food to Catherine every day. Jesus also appeared to her to comfort her, and angels came to tend her wounds.
Catherine’s courage in holding fast to her Faith and opposing evil ended up doing much more good than she could have originally imagined. More than two hundred people came to visit her after hearing of her courageous example, and many decided to convert to Christianity because of her example.
Holding fast to her vocation
St. Catherine longed for the closest relationship possible with Christ, and she felt called to dedicate her virginity to Him.
Soon, even this call of hers would be tested when the emperor realized his torture was still doing nothing to move her to renounce her Faith.
So he began a new tactic to move her: he proposed marriage to her.
Marrying the emperor Maxentius would have given Catherine great worldly power. She would have become an empress, and she would have had great riches.
But instead of giving in to the temptation to pursue worldly goods above Heavenly reward, Catherine refused to marry the emperor.
She told him that her virginity belonged to Christ and that she was Christ’s bride.
A courageous death for the Faith
This refusal angered the emperor. He ordered that she be killed in a torturous manner on something called a breaking wheel. This method of execution was normally only used for the worst criminals.
But as soon as Catherine touched the wheel meant for her execution, it inexplicably shattered.
When he realized that his plan for a torturous death for Catherine would not work, Emperor Maxentius ordered Catherine to be beheaded.
Like every other trial she had faced, Catherine met her beheading very courageously.
As we struggle to find the courage to stand up against evil in our own day, and as we try to hold fast to the paths that God is calling us to follow, let’s look to St. Catherine of Alexandria and ask for her intercession in our lives.
St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us!