We live in a world where violence has become commonplace. Perhaps it has always been so, but we are certainly more aware of it now than we might have been in times past. Modern media allows us to see what is happening in the streets of Mosul or Ferguson or virtually anywhere in the world, as it is happening. One problem with such instant awareness is that it may lead to a short-circuiting of thought. We react rather than reflect. Today’s feast, of St Catherine of Alexandria (more properly, Katherine), is interesting because it provides us, inter alia, with a different perspective.
Let us concede, right at the start, that the St Catherine of hagiography is probably a conflation of various holy women; but that has not made her cult any less significant. She is one of the great virgin martyr saints who fulfils all the ideals of Late Antique Christianity. High-born, learned, beautiful, courageous and eloquent, she is credited with having opposed the Emperor Maxentius, winning the debate with his philosophers on the question of idol-worship and converting many to Christ. And all this without a single blow being struck, without any compulsion. It is easy to see why in the Middle Ages she was ranked as one of the fourteen most helpful saints in heaven (a lovely idea, isn’t it?). I myself would rank her as a good role-model for Christians today. Whatever one thinks of her mystical marriage to Christ, or the various elements of her cult some find uncomfortable, she remains an example of courage in the cause of right; of non-violent protest; of conviction and daring. She is very much a saint for our times.