Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Serving in obscurity...

Some Franciscan saints led fairly public lives; St. Catharine of Bologna (1413-1463) represents the ones who served the Lord in obscurity. Catharine, born in Bologna, was related to the nobility in Ferrara and was educated at court there. She received a liberal education at the court and developed some interest and talent in painting. In later years as a Poor Clare, Catharine sometimes did manuscript illumination and also painted miniatures.

At the age of 17, she joined a group of religious women in Ferrara. Four years later the whole group joined the Poor Clares in that city. Jobs as convent baker and portress preceded her selection as novice mistress.

In 1456 she and 15 other sisters were sent to establish a Poor Clare monastery in Florence. As abbess Catharine worked to preserve the peace of the new community. Her reputation for holiness drew many young women to the Poor Clare life. She was canonized in 1712.

Appreciating Catharine's life in a Poor Clare monastery may be hard for us. "It seems like such a waste," we may be tempted to say. Through prayer, penance and charity to her sisters, Catharine drew close to God.

There is just something about the idea of "serving the Lord in obscurity" that seems so right. To cling tightly to our crucified Saviour in hidden places, like ivy; to go on without asking for rewards, or recognition, or thanks, just serving. That's real contentment, real joy: to live for him, and not for what he might do for me. How I long to be like that - how far from it I am! God grant me the grace truly and simply to do what I am given to do...

(St Catharine's details courtesy of Saint of the Day)


  1. Thank you for this, MIke! You know my affection for the Poor Clare life, as well, probably, as my desire to serve in obscurity (I will not become a lector for this reason, though I have been asked).
    The Poor Clare life, or any monastic's or hernit's life, a life 'hidden in God' is never a waste. SO what that the world cannot see the good they (we) do? Is that what it's all about? An 'active apostolate' is not the only way.

    '"How I long to be like that!"' Indeed. So do I, do so I. I am horribly embarrassed, mortified, at attention of recognition.I really really do want to be just an obscure little wallflower. I was a shy child; my ability to give a lecture or such is simply acting, and it is painful. I am happiest in small obscure service to the Lord, which is in direct opposition to the worldly exhortation to 'make something' of oneseld and to have 'achievements'.

  2. A Nun in Ireland2:10 pm

    Define "obscurity" such thing in Jesus. Leave the world's ideas behind.

  3. Now there's a challenge, Sister! Unpack it a little, would you? I'm feeling a little dense I think... but as for my definition of obscurity I can only refer you to the last paragraph. It's a feeling as much as a concept, or more than...