St. Catherine and
the Turmoil of the World
A Review of
Setting the World on Fire:
The Brief, Astonishing Life of St. Catherine of Siena
Reviewed by Christiana N. Peterson
A few nights ago, before I turned off my lamp to go to sleep, my iPhone screen lit up to the news of another mass killing. In Nice, France, a man used his truck as a weapon to murder over 80 people who were celebrating Bastille Day. The next morning, there was news of a military coup in Turkey.
My heart dropped, my anxiety rose, the tears flowed. I turned to my husband and asked him, “Is this it? Is this the end?”
Many of us who are Christians, even if we aren’t apocalyptic leaning, find ourselves wondering–in the rising grief of the last few months of mass shootings, unarmed black men killed by police, the killing of policemen, and political strife–if the end is nigh. In our terror, we even seem to long for it, calling, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Lately, when I am torn up with grief, when I wonder when God will make all things new, I have been reaching for the Christian mystics, who have been able to offer me a little humility, solace, and perspective.
Shelley Emling’s book Setting the World on Fire: the Brief, Astonishing Life of St. Catherine of Siena, is a highly readable introduction to the life and times of the saint and mystic, Catherine of Siena, whose Medieval world was as turbulent (if not more than) ours. Emling carefully weaves together a narrative of this complex patron saint of Italy along with details about the political and social contexts that shaped and moved her.