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Phyllis Zagano's speech to the Voice of the Faithful gathering

Phyllis Zagano's speech to the Voice of the Faithful gathering

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: National Catholic Reporter on Sep 18, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Remarks on accepting theSt. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson Award10
Annual Conference of Voice of the FaithfulSeptember 14, 2012, Boston (Copley Marriott)
Thank you Pat, and thank you officers and members of Voice of the Faithful for allowing me to stand before you as your representative. I do believe that you are all—each and every one of you —“distinguished laypersons.” So I most gratefully accept this award on behalf of myself and also on behalf of each of you who carries the spirit of Saint Catherine of Siena forth to the church and to theworld so sorely in need of her—and your—direction, and healing, and consolation. I thank you for allowing me, in small part, to be your voice.I have a deep devotion to our sister, Catherine. I have visited Siena many times, and stood longhours in her simple sleeping room in the once busy home of her parents, where her stone pillow sitseven now beneath the stairs. I have been to the Basilica San Domenico in Siena where she vowedherself. I have prayed at her grave in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. I haveattended mass there, in the room where she suffered death, at the age of 33. But, more than that, I havestudied about and I have prayed both to and with Catherine about the church and the world in whichwe live today.How different is our world from hers? How different are we here this evening from the peopleof Catherine’s fourteenth-century Siena? She lived in times of constant wars among the principalitiesaround her. She lived amidst the ravages of poverty and of plague. How did her church’s hierarchyrespond?The cry of the people was for the Gospel, not for pomp, in their own circumstances. What didthey get?
Catherine lived in times when preaching was often so bad, so irrelevant, that she decided atone point to cut her hair and disguise herself in men’s clothing and move far from home and become aDominican friar, so she could speak the Gospel message. How like today! The only way she could beheard was to abandon her femininity! And, how silly.Of course she did not do that. But, the peoples of her time and space would not, could not hear the Gospel explained by a mere woman. Preaching was strictly controlled by the bishops, who for wellover a millennium were the only ones to speak. Only in the time of Saint Dominic, more than acentury before the time of Catherine, did the Order of Preachers take up its work of preaching to argueagainst heretics and to spread the faith. Only gradually did others—all men—join them. Concurrently,the real “preaching” was being done by those who followed Brother Francis, the deacon, Saint Francisof Assisi. The real “preaching” was not only with words. It was with deeds.Catherine’s church was a Dominican church. So Catherine—already vowed to God by her ownaccord--became a Dominican tertiary, a third-order woman who lived at home and ministered to thesick, to the poor, to the lonely, and to the abandoned. With other women she picked up the diaconalworks that fell by the wayside as the priesthood absorbed the deacon’s charge and duties—as well asthe deacon’s job of minding the church’s treasure and its stores.There was no other way for her. Women in public vows were enclosed in cloisters, their solicitude silenced by convent walls. So Catherine went out into the streets not as a woman deacon of the bishop, but as a third order daughter of Saint Dominic, to heal and to help, to visit and to console.And soon she earned a following. You know the rest. Her three young noblemen followerstook dictation and ensured that her letters traveled throughout Tuscany, that her writings went to Naples, and that her advice went to Avignon, until she moved to Rome. What work, what changes inour church and world would Catherine of Siena have worked with an iPad?2
Which brings us to today. Which brings us to the Voice of the Faithful.Like Catherine, you and I seek “To provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, throughwhich the faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church.”Like Catherine, you and I support the wounded, applaud the honorable, and seek to “shape structuralchange within the Catholic Church.” Like Catherine, you and I travel far and wide. We use whatotherwise would be leisured late nights and weekends, we spend our earnings and our energies tochallenge and to change what we see, that which only too clearly diverges from the Gospel message,that which only too clearly diverges from the Truth.Because I tend to parse Canon Law, I know that laypersons may “cooperate” but not“participate” in governance, and that “participation” in governance is legally—that is canonically--reserved to the clergy. I also know that deacons are members of the clerical caste and that women wereand can again be deacons. And so the preaching and the judging and the administration of churchgoods can once again be formally given over—at least in part—to women for whom the diaconate is agenuine vocation.Can this happen? Will it happen? Will any of the goals of Voice of the Faithful or the hopes of women for ordination be met? I would advise: don’t quit. Don’t quit because if what you do is fromthe Lord it cannot be stopped and it cannot be denied. Don’t quit, because, like Catherine, your uniquevocation is today right here in this grand ballroom to serve the church and all God’s people. Don’tquit, because what you are doing is right and it is just.Take heed of what Raymond of Capua, Catherine’s fourteenth-century confessor and Master of the Order of Preachers, wrote in his biography of the woman saint who kept the faith, and changed thechurch. Raymond reported:3

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