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Nov 01, 2022 242 Shalom Tidings
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Wisdom & Courage

Venerated as one of the fourteen Holy Helpers (intercessors invoked especially against diseases) Saint Catherine of Alexandria is a virgin martyr of the late third century and early fourth centuries. Though there are no primary sources that attest to her life, there are many traditions about her kept alive over the centuries, including the fact that Joan of Arc claimed hers as one of the voices that spoke to her.

Born around 287 in Alexandria, Egypt, a cultural and educational center of the ancient world, she was of the noble class and a very gifted student. She embraced Christianity at age 14 after seeing a vision of Jesus and His blessed mother.

A precocious young woman, she didn’t hesitate at the age of 18 to challenge the emperor Maxentius when he began to cruelly persecute the Christian community. The emperor was so impressed by her wisdom that, rather than execute Catherine, he ordered her to debate his best philosophers, whom she easily bested. In fact, the philosophers were so taken by her wisdom, that they and some 200 soldiers embraced the faith. Sadly, all were immediately martyred.

Frustrated by Catherine’s amazing resilience, the emperor ordered that she be jailed and tortured. But even her brutal scourging did not cause Catherine to give up her faith. So, the emperor tried a novel approach: he offered to marry her and make her an empress. Already wedded to Christ and having dedicated her virginity to him, Catherine refused the emperor.

Enraged, the emperor ordered that she be executed on a spiked wheel, an especially brutal means of torture. But when Catherine touched the wheel, it miraculously shattered. Finally, the emperor commanded she be beheaded.

Especially popular during the medieval period, devotion to Catherine spread during the crusades and she has remained popular in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Celebrated in much renaissance art, Catherine is the patroness of students and teachers, librarians, and lawyers. Her feast is celebrated on November 25.

May her courage and her wisdom in accepting death rather than abandoning her faith in Christ inspire us and give us hope. 

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.

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