Maybe it's the looks as you walk around campus, rocking an outfit that doesn’t blend in with the current trends. Maybe it's how your partner asks to sit out for a weekend as you go to yet another protest or plan yet another extravaganza. Maybe it's the obvious whispers you hear when you turn from the group you’d just been talking to at a party: “Wow, she’s a lot.” “Sometimes she can be a little too much.” If you’ve ever felt like a woman who’s “too much,” allow me to introduce you to St. Catherine of Siena.
St. Catherine’s Struggle as a Woman Who was “Too Much”
When she was a child, her family gave her the nickname “Euphrosyne,” which means “joy,” and can only hint at how boisterous she must have been. And to stand out so much among her 25 siblings, she might have been seen as a troublemaker. As a teenager, Catherine dramatically cut off all of her hair when her parents suggested that she marry her older sister’s widower. She refused to marry him, eventually got her way, and then begged to enter religious life at any cost.
Catherine’s parents didn’t want her to enter a monastery, so she chose her next best option and joined a group of religious laywomen that allowed her to do her work and prayer from home.
Perhaps to counteract the label she’d received as a child, Catherine walled herself up in one room of her home, refusing company, food, and gifts from her family, and she gave away family possessions to the poor without asking. After three years of this, Catherine had a change of heart, rejoining her family and public life.
St. Catherine’s Example for Women Who are “Too Much”
Catherine later wrote:
“What is it you want to change? Your hair, your face, your body? Why? For God is in love with all those things and He might weep when they are gone.” (The Dialogue 96)
“We’ve been deceived by the thought that we would be more pleasing to God in our own way than in the way God has given us.” (letter T 340)
Her writings suggest that she had come to terms with who she was, and realized the importance of being the woman that God created her to be – even if others still found her to be overwhelming.
Catherine began by aiding the poor and sick in hospitals, and sticking around when the plague hit, rather than fleeing like many others. Contemporaries described Catherine as a fiery spirit – someone of warmth and positivity, but also audacity and reason. Though people were attracted to these qualities of hers, she made as many enemies as she did friends.
Catherine soon got involved in politics. She wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion, even when other members of religious life disagreed: “Speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills” (Dialogue 114). She warned about the corruption and decadent lifestyles that many clergy and religious brother or sisters lived – and she even called out the pope. Catherine’s letter to the pope was the main reason why he returned to Rome during the Avignon Papacy. She negotiated peace between warring parties and was almost killed by the violence. And she spent the last part of her life in Rome to work on Church reform.
Catherine’s trust in herself wasn’t always perfect. She struggled with what we would now see as disordered eating that could have stemmed from her insecurities and caused her to pass away at the young age of 33.
Catherine also had many failures, but we don’t remember her for those. Rather, we remember her for the positive changes she created that wouldn’t have happened if she had been less of herself, afraid of being “too much.”
She has wisdom that’s relevant for us today, and perhaps especially for the women who are “too much”: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire” (letter T368).