I have been fascinated by St. Catherine ever since I learned that an infamous Portuguese General dedicated a Cathedral to her. If you are wondering what I am talking about, I am referring to the Se Cathedral at Old Goa, which was a remote Portuguese colony at the time. I have been a history buff for as long as I can remember, and it fascinated me that a man could give so much to a lady he never met.
Another reason I wanted to know more about this mysterious lady was because her feast day and my sister’s birthday happened to coincide. Further, the book of saints that I went through, left me asking more questions than answering the ones I already had.
I wondered what about St. Catherine, could have pushed someone to show their enormous dedication and build a church as large and beautiful as the one standing to this day. Although there is a lot of beauty in the church, I found that it was put up as a symbol of victory after a bloody war against the Muslims who were ruling the state at the time. This however was the first ecclesiastical structure to be built in Goa, and with the Portuguese came evangelization and it paved the way for many more.
Saint Catherine, also known as the great martyr of the church celebrates her feast on the 25th of November. The reason I relate to her is not only that she was forced into a situation she could not control, but she stood by what she thought was right and did not waiver, even slightly. The Pagan emperor in the fourth century, Maximiam was completely against Christianity and Catherine refused to convert to Paganism. During the process, she also went about converting others to Christianity resulting in a lot of differences in opinion between them, leading to her being put to death.
Maximiam in his efforts to get Catherine to convert to Paganism organized debates and had other arguments between her and some of the most renowned and scholarly pagan philosophers in the land. She still managed to win the arguments and this proved completely counterproductive to what he had in mind, since many of the on lookers began converting to Christianity as well. He constantly tried to get her to convert to Paganism, hoping that this would get the people who changed to Christianity to do so too, but he kept meeting failure at every corner.
I personally relate to her here since I like to tell random strangers what I have learned from the scriptures. I don’t often get into debates but whenever I do, I can say that the only way I can make valid points and justify what I am saying is if I have Jesus with me. That’s why I always ask around to make sure that the information I am entering a debate with is accurate, I pray and go for it. My purpose is to say the right stuff and God handles the convincing part. I am actually fascinated how she managed to convince multiple scholars at the time. She also had a lot of the people listening to her and being convicted by her testimonies. I can imagine, listening to her, might have been an experience making the audience feel, ‘this stuff cannot be made up’.
She must have faced a lot of criticism for the way she was going about, not just because she led an exceptional life, but more since she was from a family that was taken into people of high regards. She was a princess during that time.
Maximiam reached a point where his wife converted to Christianity as well. Finally, desperate and in need of some results, he offered to marry St. Catherine.
She refused and told him that she already dedicated her entire self to Jesus Christ, implying that she would stay a virgin. Again, dealing with this like everything else, he had no choice but to have her sentenced to death. At the time, the gruesome method used was a wheel that was tied to people and it was spun until all their bones were shattered, but when they tried this on St. Catherine, the wheel shattered. This is why she is also referred to as ‘Catherine of the Wheel‘. She was later beheaded.
I find it very humbling that someone of a stature like St. Catherine managed to handle as much as she did, while being in the spot light the entire time. I, a random nobody, am so afraid of getting out of my comfort zone for the whole reason of what others might think of me. Here was a woman who had managed to stay in the gaze of everyone and still stood up for what she believed in and died without wavering from her path of evangelization and getting more people to Christ. She was punished for her beliefs, but it did not shake her since she was rooted in Christ. I want to be at a level where I can do the same, and I am working towards it.
Recently, I have been talking to a few people about religion and they have been impressed by how far I have come from where I was. I realized that I may not be able to convince people or convert them through all the debates and arguments that I have as the saint did, but what is more important is to convert them through the way I live. By changing myself into the person that God intends me to be, I can then be an example of his love and a beacon towards others to follow in this path.