A Visit with Saint Catherine of Siena

I took one step into the chapel. As my second foot crossed the threshold, I felt it. It was as if someone had taken an invisible marker and drawn a line straight down the middle of my body, from my head to my toes. The left-hand side of my body was completely tingly, like my foot had been asleep, except it was the whole side of my body. The other side was completely normal. What was going on? Was I having a stroke? I moved my hand. It was fine. I took another step. I was fine. I was just totally tingly on one side. I moved through the chapel, taking in the spirit of the room. Something was going on here. I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer.

My closest friends know that I've been struggling for the past few years. Without getting into the details, I've felt like I've been at the bottom of a hole, trying to claw my way out. Every time I could get a foothold, something would knock me back down again.

So, I stopped and took a second to pray about the brokenness in my own life, the struggle I feel to let go and surrender control to God, and the faith that I lack to be able to jump without seeing a net. I took a good, deep breath and stepped back through the door.

When I had taken two steps out of the chapel, my left-side stopped tingling and I was back to normal. I turned wide-eyed to my husband. "Um, did you, um, feel anything in there?" I asked. "Not particularly. Why? Did you?"

Thankfully, my husband is not one to think someone is crazy if they tell him that one side of their body got all hot and bothered in a chapel. "Hmm," he said, "That's interesting." He went on, "Energetically speaking, your left-side of your body is where feminine energy supposedly lives. It's not surprising that you would respond to that here. St. Catherine was a strong feminine spirit and it sounds like you reacted to that."

We hadn't planned to be there that day. It wasn't on our list. A few minutes earlier, we had been meandering through the streets of Siena, looking for souvenirs for family members and walking off our gelato, when a storm rolled in from seemingly nowhere and the sky opened up directly above us. After laughing at the ridiculousness of our circumstances and dancing down the street à la Gene Kelly, we ducked into an alcove tucked away in the corner of the piazza that we stumbled into.

We wiped the rain from our faces and looked around. Where were we? Archways lined the paths, the floor was inlaid marble in a checkerboard pattern, and a little plaque on the wall read, "Casa de Sta. Caterina." So, this was St. Catherine's house.

I didn't know much about St. Catherine of Siena, other than that her head was on display at the Dominican church down the street and I didn't have much interest in seeing that. (Too Episcopalian for the relics!) But, walking out of that chapel, I can tell you that I found God through St. Catherine there.

After the experience in the first chapel, I assessed that I wasn't having a stroke, and we continued our tour of the space. We went into another chapel; this one seemed to be a working church. (No tingles here.) Then we spent time in a basement room that was covered in frescoes depicting scenes from St. Catherine's life. With my limited knowledge of Italian, I was piecing together bits and pieces of who she was. I gleaned that she cut her hair at a young age and that she married Jesus in heaven. There had to be more to the story.

We left through the gift shop, where I purchased a rosary for a Catholic coworker, and headed back into the damp streets toward our car.

When we got back to the house, we were pretty drenched. I changed clothes and took an adult dose of NyQuil. I had been sick from the minute we arrived in Italy and had brought what seemed like an entire pharmacy in my suitcase from Texas, just in case. (You never know what you'll be able to find. What's Italian for Robitussin?) Having landed the day before, this was our first full day overseas and I knew we'd be jet-lagged. I hadn't taken any other medicine that day, knowing that sometimes Sudafed can keep me awake, and that sleep would be the best way to kick this thing. So, when I took the NyQuil at 7:00 that evening, I wished everyone sweet dreams and figured I'd be in dreamland within minutes. I hardly ever take medicine, so, when I do, I know it's going to knock me out.

Well, minutes ticked by. After settling into bed and finding myself wide awake, I thought, "Hmm. I've had this book idea rattling around for a couple of years. This might be a good chance to get some of it down on paper." I took out my laptop and started to write. My husband came in, surprised to see me awake, and fell asleep within minutes. I kept typing. I finished the book. I still wasn't drowsy. I outlined a second book. Still wide awake. I wrote three blog posts for the weeks ahead. Nothing. I read a novel that I'd been trying to get through for a year. With its beautifully dense prose, I'd fallen asleep just about every time I'd picked it up. Wouldn't you know it that it chose this particular moment to get interesting?

At 3:00 a.m., I decided that enough was enough and that I would just have to count sheep or something. I listened to some kind of bird of prey catch something squeaky outside of our window and finally dozed off around 4:00 a.m.

When I woke up, I was in a total medicinal fog. I tumbled out of bed and into the bathroom to splash some water on my face when my husband came in, totally covered in sweat from what looked like a long run. "Aha! She lives!" he proclaimed. "I went on a two-hour hike and you didn't even know I was gone. It's noon!" Whoa. "By the way," he added with a wink, "you might want to google Saint Catherine of Siena."

So, after I pulled myself together, I pulled out my laptop and did a little research. Wow. She was really something. Seriously, if you don't know who she is, check her out. Known for her writing in particular, she was boldly speaking "truth to power" before that was a thing. In addition to being a doctor of the Church (one of very few women to hold that title), she's now the patron saint of journalists, media, and communications professions in general, among others.

I'm not sure exactly what happened in the chapel that day, but I know that, in the weeks that followed, I felt like I was finally operating again at full power. So, thank you, Saint Catherine of Siena, for the boost. Sometimes you need a kick in the pants to get yourself off of dead center. Given her feisty spirit, I'm not surprised that she was the one up for the job.

Side note: I gave the rosary to my coworker. She thanked me and looked at it strangely for a minute before telling me that it reminded her of a friend that she had recently lost unexpectedly. I expressed my sympathies and then she told me that her friend had died on July 25, but that she hadn't found out until recently, and had missed the funeral. I was in Siena on July 25. Given that I was eight hours ahead, it seems that I bought it around the exact time of her death. That rosary brought her closure and comfort. The Lord does, indeed, work in mysterious ways. Thanks again, St. Catherine.

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