Let’s Be Like Catherine (To a Point, Anyway)

Catherine_of_SienaIn my quest to find new missionary heroines for my Urbana seminar, I came across a short biography of Catherine of Siena.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Catherine, a 14th century Dominican mystic and theologian. Catherine crammed a lot of life and ministry into her short 33 years of life. Among other things, Catherine is known for receiving visions from an early age, mercy ministry among the poor, and her vocal political activism (in one case, she lobbied the pope, then in Avignon, to return to Rome).

In the end, I decided not to use Catherine in my seminar. Why?

Well, because the best Catherine of Siena story was simply too gross to tell.

Too gross for my seminar, but maybe not too gross for a blog post. So, buckle up and check out this story about Catherine from the book Daughters of the Church, by Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld:

“There are many stories about Catherine’s selfless sacrifice toward others…one of these stories depicts her with a dying woman–Catherine gently swabbing the pus-filled sores, but nearly overcome by the sickening stench.

But then in an instant, Catherine was guilt-stricken by her revulsion. In a demonstration of love and identity with this wretched creature, she picked up the bowl of pus she had drained from the foul sores and drank it, later claiming that it delighted her taste buds as nothing else ever had.”


You read that right. Pus. The woman drank pus.

To demonstrate her devotion to serving others.

Out of reverence for Jesus.

Gross, right?

Now, truth be told, sometimes with saints like Catherine, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. It’s certainly possible that this story was, ah, crafted (or embellished) by some hagiographer along the way.

But let’s say it’s true, and, if possible, let’s put the pus aside for just a minute. Because we can learn a thing or two from Catherine. About serving the hard to serve. About devotion to Jesus. About soft-heartedness toward God with a willingness to repent.

And, most of all, about the importance of identifying with the poor and broken around us.

So here’s to Catherine of Siena, an example for us all…

…right up until the pus-drinking part.


** Picture of Catherine from here.

2 responses to “Let’s Be Like Catherine (To a Point, Anyway)”

  1. Marg says :

    Back in 2009 I read several books about Catherine of Siena. It was a wonderful couple of weeks of being immersed in her story.

    She certainly did some strange things and held to some unfortunate beliefs, but she was an outstanding woman compelled to serve her Lord the best way she knew how, with remarkable results.

    I wonder if it turns out that drinking pus has health benefits. (I gagged as I typed this.)

    Here’s what I wrote about this amazing lady: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/catherine-of-siena/

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