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Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson Award 10th Annual Conference of Voice of the Faithful September 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 the world 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 long hours in her simple sleeping room in the once busy home of her parents, where her stone pillow sits even now beneath the stairs. I have been to the Basilica San Domenico in Siena where she vowed herself. I have prayed at her grave in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. I have attended mass there, in the room where she suffered death, at the age of 33. But, more than that, I have studied about and I have prayed both to and with Catherine about the church and the world in which we live today. How different is our world from hers? How different are we here this evening from the people of Catherine’s fourteenth-century Siena? She lived in times of constant wars among the principalities around her. She lived amidst the ravages of poverty and of plague. How did her church’s hierarchy respond? The cry of the people was for the Gospel, not for pomp, in their own circumstances. What did they get?
2 Catherine lived in times when preaching was often so bad, so irrelevant, that she decided at one point to cut her hair and disguise herself in men’s clothing and move far from home and become a Dominican friar, so she could speak the Gospel message. How like today! The only way she could be heard 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 well over a millennium were the only ones to speak. Only in the time of Saint Dominic, more than a century before the time of Catherine, did the Order of Preachers take up its work of preaching to argue against 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 Francis of 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 own accord--became a Dominican tertiary, a third-order woman who lived at home and ministered to the sick, to the poor, to the lonely, and to the abandoned. With other women she picked up the diaconal works that fell by the wayside as the priesthood absorbed the deacon’s charge and duties—as well as the 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 followers took 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 in our church and world would Catherine of Siena have worked with an iPad?
3 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, through which 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 structural change within the Catholic Church.” Like Catherine, you and I travel far and wide. We use what otherwise would be leisured late nights and weekends, we spend our earnings and our energies to challenge 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 were and can again be deacons. And so the preaching and the judging and the administration of church goods can once again be formally given over—at least in part—to women for whom the diaconate is a genuine 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 from the Lord it cannot be stopped and it cannot be denied. Don’t quit, because, like Catherine, your unique vocation is today right here in this grand ballroom to serve the church and all God’s people. Don’t quit, 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 the church. Raymond reported:
4 “And so the Lord commanded her ‘Remember that I have laid down two commandments of love: love of me and love of your neighbor. On these two commandments, as I myself bore witness, depend the Law and the Prophets. It is the justice of these two commandments that I want you now to fulfill. On two feet you must walk my way’.... Heartened somewhat by this reply of our Lord, Catherine [answered in these words]: ‘How shall this be done?’ And the Lord replied: ‘In the manner that my goodness shall plan and arrange.’ And she...replied ‘Not my will be done, Lord, but yours....But may I ask you, Lord, if it not be presumptuous, how can what you say be done? How can one like me...do any good for souls. My very sex, as I need not tell you, puts many obstacles in the way. The world has no use for women in such work as that....’ To this our Lord replied...’No thing shall be impossible with God... With me there is no longer male and female...Why then do you hesitate about the how?...At the present day human pride has passed beyond all bounds, especially the pride of those who regard themselves as wise and learned men. My justice can no longer refrain from putting them back in their place by a just judgment...I shall be your guide in everything it will be your lot to do.’” (The Life of Catherine of Siena by Raymond of Capua Tr. Conleth Kearns, 116-117) Ladies and gentlemen, pray with me, and with my predecessors who have accepted this award from you, that what the Lord promised Catherine will take place today. Let us pray that working together we may each and all create a church that Catherine would applaud, and that we can be proud of. And, most of all let us pray for justice in our church. Thank you and God bless you. Phyllis Zagano
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