I was visiting the website of a Boston parish when I noted that the page had a link to a PDF of the homilies preached by the priests. The parish is staffed by a North American order of priests and I know the parochial vicar rather well, going back to his days as a young seminarian.
While my friend is a good man and tries his best to be a good priest, he and I would regularly spar in matters of theology. Even after 20 years, the divide is still very wide.
I do not know who preached this particular homily, delivered during the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2012. That particular Good Shepherd Sunday fell on the Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena. Part of me suspects it was my friend who preached this. The style seems to fit.
He preached about the life of St. Catherine of Siena, telling the faithful about how, after much prayer and discernment, she served as a Papal counselor who vehemently urged the Pope (at the time) to leave Avignon and return to Rome. Eventually, he heeded her counselor and returned to where he was supposed to be. So far, so good.
The homilist then took a particularly bad turn when he brought up the issue of the fracas that is the Leadership Council of Women Religious.
SHE WAS ABLE TO CHASTISE POPES, BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY BY KINGS, CALL FOR THE REFORM OF THE CLERGY NOT BECAUSE OF ANY OFFICE SHE HELD BUT BECAUSE OF DEVOTION AS A RELIGIOUS WOMAN AND THE WAY THAT DEVOTION WAS MANIFESTED IN HER ACTIONS.
YOU MAY BE AWARE OF THE CURRENT SITUATION BETWEEN THE VATICAN OFFICE OF THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH AND THE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE OF WOMAN RELIGIOUS. AFTER A LONG INQUIRY INTO THE ACTIVITIES OF THE ORGANIZATION THAT REPRESENTS 80% OF THE NUNS AND RELIGIOUS SISTERS IN THE U.S. THE VATICAN OFFICE THAT USED TO BE CALLED THE INQUISITION HAS DECIDED THAT THE ORGANIZATION IS NOT ORTHODOX ENOUGH IN HOW IT REPRESENTS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
WHAT WOULD CATHERINE DO?
Yes, my dear friend, what would St. Catherine do? He listed a litany of things that St. Catherine had said:
She chastised and conjoled. She called the Pope Bobbo – Daddy.
She called the Queen of Naples a sick woman guided by her passions. She wrote to a group of cardinals that they should be fragrant flowers but instead their stench filled the earth.
She SPOKE TRUTH TO POWER WHICH I DON’T THINK WAS ABOUT PERSONAL COURAGE. I THINK IT CAME FROM HER PERSONAL HOLINESS.
Yes. She spoke the Truth because she prayed before she uttered or wrote one word. She spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament seeking the Lord's counsel before she gave her own. St. Catherine wanted her words to be Christ's words.
My dear friend meant to use St. Catherine as a means of chastising that "mean old Inquisition Office" for bringing the hammer down on the LCWR. Yet, his very words and observations defeat his own purpose.
Given St. Catherine's deep love for Christ and His Church, I seriously doubt that she would have condoned the grievous actions and quasi-heretical theology that the LCWR has adopted in recent years. Rather than come to their defense against the likes of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Gerhard Cardinal Muller, St. Catherine would have chastised the LCWR for "moving past Jesus and the Church." She would have upbraided them for not holding fast to the Truth of the Faith and sinking into near gnosticism with their adoption of "conscious evolution", or whatever the new theological trend is these days.
In Shakespeare's comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina refuses to yield to the authority of her husband, Petrucchio. Eventually, through a series of less than savory actions (some downright humiliating), he tames her into becoming an obedient bride. Finally, in a strange twist towards the end of the play, Katherina, literally manhandles (for lack of a better word), her very spoiled younger sister, Bianca, into submitting to her new husband.
At some point, the LCWR needs "taming". They need to realize that they are heading in the wrong direction. Contrary to the homilist's observation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not trying to beat these nuns into submission. The homilist fails to realize that the very souls of these nuns are at stake. When a group of women religious decides that they are moving beyond Christ and beyond the Church, they are willfully choosing to cut themselves from the vine. The LCWR needs a "Katherina" to come in and have a frank discussion with them, maybe to the point of grabbing the group by the arm and showing them right path.
So, I return to the the homilist's question: What would St. Catherine do?
St. Catherine would pray and spend significant time with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes we do our best thinking on our knees. It certainly worked for Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
After her time in prayer, St. Catherine would probably encourage the LCWR to do the same thing, maybe even asking them to join her before the Blessed Sacrament. She would then urge them to return to the roots of their calling, much as she urged Pope Gregory to man up and return to Rome, only she would have been more forceful with the nuns. Returning to Rome certainly takes on a deeper significance with the LCWR, because such a return is not about merely going back to a city as it is reconciling with Christ, with Peter and with the Church.
That is the real lesson of St. Catherine of Siena.