For Lent this year, I committed to completing Vinita Hampton Wright’s Set the World on Fire: A 4-Week Personal Retreat with the Female Doctors of the Church. It was an incredible opportunity to get to know four powerhouse saints who are also Doctors of the Church: St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Hildegard of Bingen. The fact that they were all women made the idea of engaging in a four-week personal retreat with them even more attractive. I have varying degrees of familiarity with each of these women- I wrote my 40-page honors thesis on St. Therese of the Little Flower as a Doctor of the Church in college, I’ve read several of St. Teresa of Avila’s works over the years, and I knew next to nothing about St. Catherine and St. Hildegard. I was excited about the prospect of drawing closer to each of these lovely women.
I am very glad that I decided to participate in this particular personal retreat. Saturdays were dedicated to providing biographies for each saint, while Sundays allowed the participant to spiritually and prayerfully prepare herself for the week ahead. Each weekday had a morning and evening period of prayer, each of which was a mix of the author’s words, the saint’s words, Scripture, prayers, and reflection questions for journaling. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the words of the saints, and my biggest complaint about the book was that I wish there had been more excerpts taken from the saints’ actual writings. By the end of each week, I felt that I knew each woman better, and I now feel as though I can call them friends in a way I didn’t before. The personal retreat was a wonderful reminder of why I had chosen to write on St. Therese in the first place and why I enjoyed reading St. Teresa so much. It left in my heart a strong desire to know St. Catherine better by reading more of her works, and now I know more about St. Hildegard than just her name and the fact that she’s a saint and a Doctor of the Church. It’s wonderful to have so many wonderful women to emulate.
If you’re looking to get to know some female saints better, this book is a great opportunity to make new friends in prayer. Set the World on Fire really makes these women come alive, and it’s a wonderful testament to the beauty of our Church who has given us the examples of so many incredible women. I would highly recommend it to any woman looking to better understand her role in the Church as a woman, whether she be single, religious, or married. It is a wonderful example of the beauty of our God-given femininity, and definitely a worthwhile read for all.