Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur reviews Vinita Hampton Wright's book that provides a personal retreat inspired by four female saints.
In the history of the Catholic Church, four female saints have been given the title “Doctor of the Church.” St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. Hildegard of Bingen were honored because their lives and works “added significantly to the Church’s understanding and practice of the faith. . . [Their] work is timeless, suited to the Church during any age or circumstance.”
In Set the World on Fire: A 4-Week Personal Retreat with the Female Doctors of the Church, retreat leader and spiritual director Vinita Hampton Wright invites readers to get to know these women and their work as well as learn from them in a personal way. The title comes from a famous quote from St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” These four women each made the most of the gifts God had given them. We are not meant to be any one of these women. God calls each of us to our own role. But these women do have much to teach us about a life lived in communion with God and others.
Wright doesn’t order these women in terms of chronology of when they lived or when they were proclaimed Doctors of the Church. Rather, she puts them in the order she feels offers readers the most spiritual benefit: St. Thérèse, St. Teresa, St. Catherine, and then St. Hildegard. Each week-long retreat begins on Saturday with a short biography of the saint and suggestions for learning more. Sunday is a day of preparation with a Gospel passage to reflect on, a quote from the saint, and a prayer for the week.
Monday through Friday provide the meat of the retreat with morning and evening readings, prayers, and personal reflection. There is space provided in the book to provide answers to the questions along with prompts for additional journal/art work. This is not a retreat to be rushed. One should set aside some quality time to spend with these saints. While it is a four-week format, one can take as long as one needs to progress through the material. There is no need to rush.
What can we learn from these Doctors? Through her Little Way, St. Thérèse, who was a Carmelite nun in the late 19th century, teaches us love, humility, and trust in God. St. Teresa, a Carmelite nun from the 16th century, urges us to deepen our prayer life and find God dwelling within us. She shows us to celebrate the gifts God gave us, to find good companions, and to keep our eyes focused on Jesus. St. Catherine of Siena, a Third Order Dominican from the 14th century, teaches us to have devotion to the Eucharist and to the Truth as well as to love others without judging. St. Hildegard, a Benedictine mystic from the 12th century, invites us to root our creative gifts in our faith and to then share them with others. She also demonstrates a great love of creation.
Set the World on Fire will help you spend time learning from these spiritual masters and applying their lessons to your own life. After reading and experiencing this retreat, one will probably want to dig more deeply into the life and work of whichever saint is most relevant to your life at this time.
Copyright 2022 Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
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About the Author
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has a master’s degree in applied theology and is the author of The Power of Forgiveness, Our Lady of La Salette: A Mother Weeps for Her Children, and The Life and Lessons of St. Zelie Martin. A mother of three, she is the editor of TodaysCatholicHomeschooling.com as well as a freelance writer and editor.