It seems rather fitting that with the gospel message of today, the universal church is also celebrating the feast of the early 4th century martyr, St. Catherine of Alexandria.
The Catherine we honour today is the lesser known of the two St. Catherines in the church calendar - the other being the much more famous St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast is celebrated on April 29th.
Today's Catherine was born and raised in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Born into a well-to-do family, Catherine received a good education. A non-Christian, Catherine's studies brought her into contact with Christianity, and when she received a vision of the Blessed Virgin holding the Child Jesus, she converted to the faith.
Under the reign of the Roman Emperor Maxentius, another of the many persecutions of Christians began. She herself went to the Emperor and publicly rebuked him. Maxentius had 50 of his best philosophers try to refute Catherine's position, but they were all silenced in the face of her wisdom and faith. Now imprisoned by Maxentius, Catherine was able to convert many people who came to visit her in her jail cell, including the Emperor's wife.
Enraged, Maxentius ordered her execution, by having her tied to a spiked breaking wheel. When she touched it, it broke, and so he then ordered her to be beheaded.
In today's gospel Jesus speaks of the fact that some of His followers will be persecuted, including imprisonment and forced to testify in the face of kings and governors. He then tells us not to prepare our defense in advance, for He, at the right time, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, will give us words and a wisdom that none of our opponents will be able to contradict at the right time. The story of St. Catherine of Alexandria, as well as the stories of countless other Christians, such as St. Joan of Arc, is proof of this.
St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us!