In 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.
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.
Reflecting on the influence of the Urbana Student Missions Conference, Billy Graham once remarked that fully half of all American vocational missionaries could trace their sovereign call to an Urbana conference.
In other words, when it comes to missions, Urbana is no joke.
This year’s Urbana, which starts this coming Saturday, will be my 8th Urbana and 7th on staff with InterVarsity. As with the last several Urbanas, I’ll do my part to make the conference go by directing the conference office. That means 18 hour (or more) days, serving anyone and everyone that comes through our doors (virtual and actual), and, oh yeah, driving the golf cart all over the Edward Jones Dome.
I can’t wait!
This year, in addition to all of that, I’ll also be leading a seminar. It’s called “Women in World Missions: The Untold Story,” and I have three goals for the seminar:
First, I want to tell stories of some amazing female missionaries from the last 2,000 years. And so I’ll be introducing the crowd to heroines such as Mary Magdalene, Lydia, Junia, Donata, Blandina, Lioba, Brigitta, Ann Judson, Mother Mary and more. The goal is to have students leaving with a new set of heroines they can admire.
Second, I’ll be calling out the villain. After all, I have to explain why these stories have been untold for so long, and that means I’ll need to exposit the tragic history of patriarchy in the church. So I’ll be talking about mis-translated Scriptures, misogynistic quotes from otherwise revered theologians, and the systematic usurpation of women in missions by male-dominated individuals and structures.
Third, I’m going to talk implications. Specifically, I’ll call students to check their hearts for bias, to level the gender playing fields in their contexts, and to recover and remember the stories of valiant women who have advanced the Gospel over the generations.
All of that in about 40 minutes, give or take. And then there’s time for Q&A.
If you’re the praying type, hook me up at 2pm (central) on Monday the 28th. And if you’d like to pray for Urbana as a whole, sign up for daily prayer requests here.
Born Wynfrith of Crediton in 675 and later known as Boniface, this Anglo-Saxon monk has been called the Apostle of Germany. Boniface is known to history for his many ministry achievements, including the work of conversion, church reform, propagating the Benedicine rule, and founding a number of monasteries, most notably the large one at Fulda.
Boniface had a long and fruitful ministry career. As quoted in Constants in Context, “still filled with missionary fervor as he neared eighty, he left his administrative responsibilities to others and went to work in Frisia, where he and fifty companions were martyred.”
Martyred at 80. Think about that.
Basically, what I’m saying is that Boniface was no joke!
On top of all of this, history tells us that Boniface was also an advocate for women. Again, from Constants in Context:
“It is quite significant that [Boniface] called upon women to share explicitly in mission on a wide scale for the first time in the post-Constantinian period. For example, Lioba (Leoba) was called from her cloistered monastery in England and became the abbess of such a women’s monastic-mission community at Bischofsheim.
‘She [Lioba] was learned not only in Holy Scripture, but in the works of the Church Fathers, in canon law and in the decisions of all the councils…Learning was no mere decoration, it was what made Lioba an abbess-founder, whose disciplines and daughter houses spread like good seed over new-plowed fields. Her learning, then, was an aspect of her holiness, for it was the very stuff of that good order, that rootedness in faith and tradition, which the biographer finds so worthy of her monastic foundations.'”
This is awesome, yes? Boniface goes to bat for women in his context, even in the period after Constantine, when the status of women in the church took a significant step back. Today, we need more men like Boniface in the church, men who will take their power and leverage it to raise up women like Lioba into leadership and influence.
And yet the story gets even better. Because evidently Boniface saw himself as a true partner to Lioba. The authors continue:
“Boniface requested that Lioba be buried in his tomb, so that as they had shared in the same missionary partnership, they might wait together for the resurrection. This seemingly strange request (and it was considered such by many of Boniface’s contemporaries) can be seen as a powerful symbolic statement regarding the collaboration and equality between women and men in mission, and as a challenge that, while not always met in mission history, certainly has resonance today. In this particular case, Boniface’s monks did not honor his request, but its significance still stands.”
Yes it does. What a picture of gender equality, partnership and reconciliation.
So, today, I honor my friend Boniface, advocate for and partner to women when such things weren’t cool, in his life and even in his death.