Set the World On Fire

by | Apr 28, 2023 | Church, Prayer, Society

“Be who God made you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

This is the most famous quote of St. Catherine of Siena, one of three female Doctors of the Church. Catherine is my confirmation saint. I’ve read several books about her life, and I could honestly talk about her forever, but there is one story I’d love to share with all of you as we approach her feast day on April 29th.


Catherine’s Task

Under the reign of Philip IV, king of France during the late 13th and early 14th centuries, churches were being unjustly taxed to fund French wars. To consolidate his own power, Philip demanded that the papacy move from Rome to Avignon. Pope Clement V’s submission and agreement showed the Church that the Chair of St. Peter was no longer in command, creating vulnerability and disunity within Catholicism.

“You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build My Church.” Jesus’ words on the shore of Galilee were not meant to end with Peter, but to extend to every pope who took his place. God said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against our Church. But here was the pope bowing to a foreign king, allowing the abuse of his authority and Church, abandoning his flock in Rome, and showing himself to the world as a puppet of France.

For twenty years, St. Bridget of Sweden begged the popes to move back to Rome. After her death Catherine took up the job. Though she was writing to Pope Gregory XI in 1376 to try to convince him to reclaim his authority, her words apply to us all as we hesitate or refuse to carry our crosses:

“I beg of you, on behalf of Christ crucified, that you be not a timorous child but manly. Open your mouth and swallow down the bitter for the sweet.”

God called Catherine, a third-order Dominican who spent most of her life in private prayer, to demand that the pope, the highest earthly authority, rise up and be a man and fulfill his duties. She herself was swallowing down the bitter for the sweet. She came out of her quiet life, traveled from Siena, Italy, to Avignon, France, and wrote letters as instructed by the Holy Spirit, because she was illiterate.


What do we need to swallow down?

Like Catherine, each of us must swallow down the bitter for the sweet. God asks us not to be children trying to get our way, but adults who rise and take up our crosses. Catherine asked God for a life of seclusion; He demanded one of service. Asking her to follow in His footsteps, Jesus allowed Catherine a private life of prayer for a time before she ended her life in public ministry. Though she never formally learned to read or write, her intellectual contributions have made her a declared Doctor of the Church, alongside Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, John Chrysostom, and many others.

Catherine was who God made her to be, and she set the world on fire by helping restore the Pope’s authority and bringing him home to Rome. The entire course of Catholicism could have looked very different if papal authority had permanently moved to Avignon, and if the pope had remained a puppet of the French king during the revolution.

Most of us will never be responsible for changing the course of the Catholic Church. But each of us is called to strengthen our Church every day, in our own lives. We must answer God’s call, in whatever direction He asks us to go: to work, to school, to our homes, to our families, to our friends.

Be who God made you to be, and you will set the world on fire.


Read more – personal vocations:

Mom on the Workforce

8 Reasons to be a Stay-At-Home Mom

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Michelle C. Martin

Michelle graduated from Texas Tech University with her husband, Joshua, in May 2021 and married him in June on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She has a degree in Communication Studies and has loved growing in knowledge of healthy and authentic relationships during her time in college and adulthood. Michelle and Joshua currently reside in Lubbock, TX where he works as an architect and she loves life as a stay-at-home wife and mother to their children, Peter and Cecilia.

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