A catchy headline in the Washington Post or the cry of a faithful lay woman calling church leaders to task? It is a line written by Catherine of Siena to a priest of her day. It is the cry of a woman who loved her church and was heartbroken and angry at the scandal in which it was embroiled. The French cardinals in a power grab moved the papacy to Avignon and created a schism. Closer to home, parish priests were in many cases not living faithfully their vocation and political-religious scandals abounded. Catherine lived through some of the church’s darkest days and indeed, she had something to say about it.
Speaking the truth in love
Catherine was rallying for reform but not the kind of reform that so many women’s voices are calling for today. Catherine was not calling for the church to change, to come into the 15th century to adapt to the questionable norms of the day, Catherine’s rallying cry was for the church to return to its roots, to return to faithfully preaching and living the Gospel. What makes Catherine so appealing to me is that she was faithful to the church and its teaching , her daily life was steeped in prayer, daily Mass and service to those most in need . Though she would never call herself a teacher, in letters and in conversation she was a spiritual guide for people, she was committed to bringing the Gospel to bear on the political and social issues of the day. Catherine was also passionate and zealous about the church’s need to reform. What makes her the real deal as a reformer is that Catherine “spoke the truth in love.” Catherine was not bent on reforming the church in an image within her own mind but rather to reform the church in the image of Jesus’ teaching and the church’s very own tradition.
A model for the moderns
Today we celebrate the feast of Catherine of Siena and it seems now more than ever we need to read her life, study her writings and find in her a model of a person who that loves the church so much she is unrelenting in her prayer, service and fidelity to it.
Here are excerpt from a prayer that Catherine wrote on the feast of the Chair of Peter.
- To you, O heavenly doctor, my soul’s boundless love,
- I sigh mightily.
- To you, O eternal infinite Trinity,
- I the finite one cry out
- within the mystic body of the Holy Church
- For you to blot our by grace my soul’s every stain.
- And I cry out to you:
- wait no longer,
- but through the merits of this pilot of your ship—
- St. Peter, I mean—
- and with the fire of charity
- and the deep abyss of eternal wisdom
- come to the aid of your bride
- who is waiting for help.
- Do not scorn your servants’ desire
- but even now,
- O worker of peace
- guide this ship into the port of peace
- and direct your servants toward yourself
- so that the darkness may be lifted and the dawn may appear—
- the dawn which is the light
- of those who have been planted in your Church
- out of pure desire for the salvation of souls.
- So, listen to us
- as we pray for the guardian of this chair of yours,
- whose feast we are celebrating.
- Make your vicar
- whatever sort of successor you would have him to be to your
- dear elder Peter,
- and give him what is needed for your Church.
- I am a witness
- that you have promised to grant my desires soon;
- even with more confidence then
- I beg you to wait no longer to fulfill these promises, O my God.
- And you dear children, since we are committed,
- it is time to work for Christ’s Church,
- the true mother of our faith.
- So I urge you
- who have already been planted in this Church
- to be like pillars for her.
- Let all of us together,
- having cast off all selfish love and laziness,
- work for that in this garden of saving faith
- with the fervor of prayer
- and with our deeds,
- that we may perfectly fulfill the will of God eternal,
- who has called us to this for our own salvation
- and that of others,
- and for the unity of this Church
- in which is our souls’ salvation.