Catherine Of Siena’s Wisdom and Spirituality


imageCatherine of Siena’s Wisdom and Spirituality

by Nadine Foley

Spirituality Today Fall 1991, Vol.43 No.3, pp. 204-219


In 1970 when Pope Paul VI declared our sister Catherine of Siena to be a Doctor of the Church, he gave her the unique title Doctor of Wisdom. Doctors of the Church have traditionally been distinguished by their learning their personal sanctity, and the orthodoxy of their teaching,(1) and such qualities can certainly be attributed to Catherine. Still, compared to the great doctors of the Church in the patristic era and subsequent times, Catherine’s entitlement stands, along with that of Teresa of Avila, in marked contrast, not just because she is a woman, but because of the nature of her kind of legacy.

While doctors of the Church are no doubt singled out for the orthodoxy of their doctrine, and Catherine is not to be discounted on that criterion, I believe that as we look to her from our vantage point six centuries later we see her as exemplifying, more than doctrine, or teaching. Her doctrine, what we might call her preaching, is a total life experience that unifies belief, conviction, devotion and service within her profound mystical experience of God. God’s presence to her is so intense that God’s mind and will become her own as she looks out upon the people and events that make up her world. In that respect, then, Catherine’s contribution to our Christian and Dominican heritage is more than doctrinal orthodoxy found in her writings. It is a unique spirituality, an unexampled fusion of intellectual and existential truth in her whole being, one that we can profitably explore through the motif of wisdom.

A number of strains of thought and interest have come together in my reflections about Catherine: first of all, there is Catherine herself, a truly extraordinary woman for any period of time, but one who must be understood in terms of her own; (2) secondly, the emergence in our day of a remarkable interest in spirituality, evident in a variety of trends, notable among them the spirituality of women; thirdly, a focus in biblical studies on the Wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures and the personification of the Wisdom figure as Sophia; fourthly, the challenges, that face us as Christians in the global society and at our particular point in history. I think that Catherine can speak to these areas of interest.


There are a number of ways in which we can understand wisdom. Philosophically, we have understood it as the highest of the intellectual virtues, the goal to be achieved in a lifelong Pursuit of leaming. Theologically, it is the knowledge of divine things, a gift of the Spirit of God, whose beginning is found in faith and which directs the movements of mind and will (Summa Theologica, I-II, 68, 4, ad 5). Wisdom, in these senses, enables the one who possesses it to rise above the limitations imposed by divisions and categories of knowledge to see the integration and unity of truth ultimately in God – the Supreme Wisdom.

We can also understand wisdom in a mythic sense. Among the high gods of the ancient Asian religions there was always a figure distinguished by superior knowledge who was in possession of the divine plan of salvation. In Egyptian lore Isis and Osiris embodied this understanding, and their influence is found in the Canaanite and Aramaean forms which in turn influenced the Hokmah of the Hebrew scriptures. This feminine principle was originally understood as experience and skill gained in active contact with human beings and things. It had a practical bent and is expressed in the wealth of the often paradoxical maxims with which the Wisdom literature abounds. But in the post-exilic period of ancient Israel’s history the elements of revelation and divine gift were embodied in the connotation of Wisdom. Wisdom was endowed with the character of governance and careful guidance and became an hypostatis or personification endowed with divine insight and power.

In the Christian scriptures Wisdom is related to Christ. In the synoptic gospels words from the Wisdom literature are found on the lips of Jesus. Paul formally identified Jesus with divine wisdom (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:24 et passim). John’s portrait of Jesus as self-proclaiming teacher echoes in a striking way the portrait of Sophia in the Hebrew scriptures. (3) Christian instruction becomes “sapiential”; and preaching is the announcement of the manifold wisdom of God for which the spirit of wisdom and revelation enlightens the eyes of the heart. (4)

To reflect upon meanings of wisdom allows us to consider in what respect we may attribute to Catherine her title Doctor of Wisdom. It opens up as well the question of how we might characterize in a general way her contribution to the history of Christian and Dominican tradition. Others, Thomas certainly, are distinguished for us by syntheses of theology, marvelous systematic summations of theological truth to be studied and assimilated and through which we can come to grasp all of the elements of creation in relation to God. But such is not Catherine’s legacy. Hers is for us an entree into a medieval woman’s relationship to God in words that lead us directly into her experience of God and her relationships with people in many walks of life. While a Thomas may give us a framework within which to understand and to cultivate spirituality, Catherine bequeaths her spirituality to us in as direct a way as possible. She allows us to enter into her experience.

Catherine exemplifies truly what spirituality is, at a time when many of our contemporaries, many of us to be sure, exhibit fascination with spirituality, its history, the Christian mystical tradition and its contemporary expressions, particularly from a feminist perspective. I emphasize the latter because, while writings on spirituality are proliferating, they are particularly evident in the corpus of feminist literature. Exploration into what spirituality is continues to be a preoccupation both within and outside of established religious traditions.


What many are calling spirituality today is not the special preserve of persons who opt for a specifically religious way of life. It is not identified with one side of a matter/spirit duality that divides reality and calls for separatism, exclusion and privilege. It is not synonymous with asceticism or special kinds of spiritual exercises that were typical of Catherine and others. Rather as we look at the various efforts to define spirituality today we detect the constant elements of unification, integration,

relationship, self-transcendence. When spirituality is perceived within a religious faith tradition it includes the experience of the actualization of self-transcendence by the Holy. When the milieu is Christian, it involves the actualization of the human capacity for self transcendence through the experience of God, in Jesus the Christ, through the gift of the Spirit. Joann Wolski Conn says, “Because this God, Jesus, and the Spirit are experienced through body-community-history-influenced human life and symbols Christian spirituality includes every dimension of human life.”(5) Sandra Schneiders, in a similar vein, comments that “the term has broadened to connote the whole of the life of faith and even the life of the person as a whole including its bodily, psychological, social, and political dimensions” (679). It is “the experience of consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption but of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives” (684).

We look today, not only to define spirituality, but to find models of spirituality in persons who exemplify what it is in lived experience. Catherine of Siena uniquely offers us such a model. In her Dialogue we can enter with her into her intimate communications with God; in her prayers we can join in her loving response to God speaking to her in the scriptures; in he letters we can participate in her anguish and care for people, government and the Church in her day. Through these means and through her biographers we experience her spirituality and we can view it from the perspective of Wisdom, Sophia.


The wisdom of Catherine encompasses the philosophical, theological and mythical connotations of wisdom, but also the psychological, social and political integration that is the current ideal of spirituality. But if I have preference it is to see Catherine as reflecting the Hokmah or Sophia of the Hebrew scriptures as embodied in Jesus. This feminine principle in the Godhead is at the heart of the creative act, as well as the one who recreates and renews.

The whole of chapter eight of the Book of Wisdom speaks of Sophia’s qualities. She is the one who instructs, teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude, understands language solutions of riddles, signs and wonders. Throughout the Wisdom literature,

Sophia is called sister, wife, mother, beloved, and teacher. She is the leader on the way, the preacher in Israel, the taskmaster and creator God. She seeks people, finds them on the road, invites them to dinner. She offers life, rest, knowledge, and salvation to those who accept her. She dwells in Israel and officiates in the sanctuary. She sends prophets and apostles and makes those who accept her “friends of God.”

This summary of the characteristics of Sophia is taken from Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza who goes on to summarize pertinent biblical texts:

“She is but one but yet can do everything, herself unchanging. She makes all things new” (Wis 7:27). Wisdom sought a dwelling place among humanity, but found none. Therefore she has withdrawn again and “has taken her seat among the angels” (1 Enoch 42:1-2). She is a people-loving spirit (philanthropon pneuma, 1:6) who shares the throne of God (9:10). She is an initiate (mystis) of God’s knowledge, an associate in God’s works, and emanation of the God of light, who lives in symbiosis with God (8:3-4), an image of God’s goodness (7:26). (6)

In the Christian scriptures she is also the inclusive graciousness and goodness of God spelled out again and again in the parables of Jesus. The parables of the creditor who freely remits the debts of those who cannot pay, of the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, of the woman searching for her lost coin, of the laborers working in the vineyard all speak to the equality of all rooted in the gracious goodness of God. The God image in the parables and in Jesus’ relationships with people is always distinguished by mercy and compassion. Says Elizabeth Fiorenza, “The earliest Jesus traditions perceive this God of gracious goodness in a woman’s Gestalt as divine Sophia (wisdom)” (261-263). And in that respect Catherine’s frequent use of the word “gentle” in describing God is consonant with the images of God portrayed in the parables. (7)

Other scholars have studied the evidence of Jesus’ identification with Sophia in his manner of self-proclaiming teacher, in his words which often reflect the Wisdom passages, in his bearing the message of God. It is evident in texts from John, Matthew, Luke and Paul. That the Sophia tradition does not come through more explicitly in the New Testament is attributed to the gnostic controversy. “. . . the New Testament churches could not proclaim Jesus as Sophia directly or develop the figure of Jesus Sophia further without being identified with the gnostic rejection of Jesus’ humanity and crucifixion” (Cady, 52).

These insights into the Jesus Sophia tradition come to my mind as I re-read Catherine of Siena. I do not say that Catherine was preoccupied with this kind of biblical interpretation and criticism. It is quite clear that she was not. But I do say that Catherine, aware of God’s total possession of her in Jesus, reflects the Sophia strand of the Jesus tradition in remarkable ways and that we are entitled to look at her in such a way.


It is interesting that Catherine in her prayers consistently identified Jesus as Wisdom. Her Trinitarian formula initiates her prayer in a familiar pattern.

Power of the eternal Father, help me!
Wisdom of the Son, enlighten the eye of my understanding!
Tender mercy of the Holy Spirit, enflame my heart and unite it to yourself! (Prayers, 48)
And in a longer variation:
You, Godhead, one in being and three in Persons,
are one vine with three branches
if I may be permitted to make such a comparison.
You made us in your image and likeness so that,
with our three powers in one soul,
we might image your trinity and your unity.
And as we image so we may find union:
through our memory,
image and be united with the Father,
to whom is attributed power,
through our understanding,
image and be united with the Son,
to whom is attributed wisdom;
through our will,
image and be united with the Holy Spirit,
to whom is attributed mercy,
and who is the love of the Father and the Son. (Prayers, 42)

This prayer also reveals the three divinely bestowed powers of the soul as Catherine identifies them — memory, associated with power; understanding, with wisdom, and will, with mercy – reflecting the trinitarian image of God in the human person. These are qualities Catherine claims for herself as one bearing God’s image. We can see her memory of all that God communicated to her becoming the motivation of her entire being. We can see power being assumed by her in the authority she exercised in fearlessly pursuing the designs of God. And we can see God’s mercy reflected in her caring service of the poor and afflicted.

Catherine undoubtedly reflects Paul’s identification of Jesus as Wisdom and she says explicitly of Paul:

You joined your power of understanding with the Son,
the Word,
understanding perfectly the whole order
ordained by wisdom itself,
the Word,
the order that is to lead created things to their goal
and their goal is the same as their origin.” (Prayers, 42)

Strikingly, here Catherine’s words emphasize the order of the whole of creation and its ordering to its goal which is also its origin. Paul has come to his knowledge of that ordering through his power being joined to that of Jesus, she says. The concept elicits various resonances with the description of Sophia. “She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good . . . Yes, she is an initiate in the mysteries of God’s knowledge. She makes choice of the works God is to do.” (Wisdom 8:34)

What is all the more remarkable, it would seem, is that Catherine sees that what is possible for Paul is also possible for her, despite her often-proclaimed sense of nothingness in the face of God who is all, (8) and with seemingly no internalization of the notion that as a woman she is in any way circumscribed. Over and again Catherine claims her own authority, assumes a teaching, guiding and correcting role, exercises leadership in the arenas of church and state.

Catherine’s appeal to Pope Gregory XI to return from Avignon to Rome is forthright, persuasive and commanding in her own right. She writes in part:

Ah, my dear father! I am begging you, I am telling you: come, and conquer our enemies with the same gentle hand. In the name of Christ crucified I am telling you. Don’t choose to listen to the devil’s advisors. They would like to block your holy and good resolution. Be a courageous man for me, not a coward. Respond to God, who is calling you to come and take possession of the place of the glorious shepherd, Saint Peter, whose representative you still are. (Letters, 202)

She has the temerity, at least as we look at her from our vantage point today, to give the Pope lengthy discourses on who Jesus is, how God acts in our human affairs, what the demands of mercy, justice and charity are, what the role of the papacy is and more. She speaks in her own name but with the certainty that comes from her union with God whose interests she has made her own (Letters, 203-208).

When we read the description of Wisdom in Chapter 7 of the Book of Wisdom it is easy to think of Catherine.

For in her is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly.
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.
(Wisdom 7:22-23)
Catherine’s wisdom spirit with its own claim to personal authority is quite as evident when she writes to the political powers of her day, as in her words by letter to Charles V, King of France. Her directness is typical. She writes in part:
There are three specific things I am asking you, in your position, to do for love of Christ crucified. The first is to make light of the world and of yourself and of all earthly pleasures. Hold your kingdom as something lent to you, not as if it were your own….

The second thing I am asking is that you uphold true holy justice. Let it not be adulterated by selfish love for yourself or by flattery or by human respect. And don’t pretend not to see if your officials are inflicting injustice for money, denying the poor

their rights. No, be a father to the poor as a dispenser of what God has given you.

The third thing is to follow the teaching given you by this Master on the cross, which is exactly what my soul most longs to see in you: friendship and love between you and your neighbor with whom you have been so long at war.

Her ardent desire to win the Holy Land for Christ, and to extend his salvation to those who have never heard of him, is evident as she continues:

I beg you to stop being the agent of so much evil and the obstacle to such a good as the recovery of the Holy Land and of all those poor souls who have no share in the blood of God’s Son. You and the other Christian lords ought to be ashamed of such a thing. What a scandal, humanly speaking, and what an abomination before God, that you should be making war against your brother and leaving your enemy alone, and that you should be seizing what belongs to another and not get back what is yours! Enough of this stupid blindness! (Letters 238-9)

Of Wisdom it is said,

For she is instructress in the understanding of God, the selector of God’s works.
And if riches be a desirable possession in life,
what is more rich than Wisdom, who produces all things?
And if prudence renders service, who in the world is a better artisan than she?
Or if one loves justice,
the fruits of her works are virtues;
For she teaches moderation and prudence,
justice and fortitude,
and nothing in life is more useful [for men] than these.

It would be difficult to find a more perfect mirror image of Sophia, depicted in this way, than we have in Catherine.

But despite the identification of Catherine with the holy wars, something we can only understand in the kind of Christian theocracy that was an ideal for her in her medieval setting, she was also a paragon of mercy. Surrounding her were victims of the plague, of the petty wars between the cities and states, of pervasive poverty. We know of her compassion for suffering people. Mary Ann Fatula writes, “She served those whom no one else would touch: the leprous and reviling Tecca; the abusive Palmerina; the dying Andrea, still strong enough in her cancerous illness to slander Catherine’s reputation by accusing her of impurity” (27-28). And she could minister to one condemned to death, internalizing the terror of impending violence but sublimating it to the absolute certainty that a loving God awaited him in a glorious life beyond human comprehension.

She was the channel of God’s love in all of her ministrations to people and was consumed with the desire to make God’s mercy known to them through her. She prayed:

Eternal goodness,
you want me to gaze into you
and see that you love me,
to see that you love me gratuitously,
so that I may love everyone with the very same love.
You want me, then,
to love and serve my neighbors gratuitously,
by helping them spiritually and materially
as much as I can,
without any expectation of selfish profit or pleasure.
Nor do you want me to hold back
because of their ingratitude or persecution,
or for any abuse I may suffer from them. (Prayers, 102)

Such prayer reflected back to God what she had learned in her dialogues where God said to her in many ways, “. . . love of me and love of neighbor are one and the same thing: Since love of neighbor has its source in me, the more the soul loves me, the niore she loves her neighbors” (Dialogue, 36). Catherine was the extension of God’s mercy, a quality that she attributed, along with love, to the Holy Spirit. Praying to God in her usual Trinitarian modality, she concludes, “. . . And you gave us free will to love what our understanding sees and knows of your truth, and so share the mercy of your Holy Spirit” (Dialogue, 49).

Mercy, rahamim, “womb love,” is one of the qualities of the covenant between God and God’s people recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. The others are truth, justice, hesed or covenant love, and peace. Mercy among them is a uniquely feminine term, and certainly over time it may have become a quality expected of women. But it is, in fact, a quality of God and a quality necessary for the unification and strength of the people of God united in covenant. It is clearly evident in Catherine, although in her strength of conviction and assertiveness she is not to be stereotyped. Yet she prays plaintively:

… it is clear
that, though you created us without our help,
you do not want to save us without our help.
You want us, merciful and compassionate Father,
to look at your boundless compassion for us,
so that we may learn to be compassionate,
first of all to ourselves and then to our neighbors–
just as the glorious Paul said,
“All charity begins with oneself.”

Catherine claimed her personhood and inner authority from her inviolable sense of union with God. In the Prologue to The Dialogue she quotes Jesus from the Gospel of John (14:21-23), “If you will love me and keep my word, I will show myself to you, and you will be one thing with me and I with you” (Dialogue, 25). And as she prayed, remonstrated, cajoled, instructed, Motivated and lived, she did so with a profound sense of God’s identification with her, of God’s acting through her in Jesus. And as she does these things it is not difficult to see that reflection as Jesus Sophia.


Catherine of Siena can speak to our times in many ways and she does. She is a heroine to many, especially to women who seek models within the Christian faith tradition. Her strength, her courage, her conviction, her single-mindedness are attractive and inspiring. As a woman fully conscious of her power to effect change, a power rooted in her personal identification with God, she is unsurpassed. And as a woman reflecting the feminine side of God detectable in the Sophia strain she offers an alternative to the need felt by many to seek models of feminist spirituality in other than the Christian tradition. Her extraordinary penances, fastings, ecstasies and revelations are scarcely imitable by many but her self transcendence evident in her extension of herself, as emissary of Jesus, into the personal and social lives of the afflicted, be it peasant, king or pope, is a model for all in any age, particularly in our own.

It is that self transcendence, the ideal of so many proponents of contemporary spirituality, that is especially worthy of our attention. So profound was her experience of Jesus, admittedly a gift freely bestowed, that she was able to transcend all limitations — her youth at first, her family expectations, her socially imposed restrictions as a woman in medieval society, her initial propensity for contemplative encounter with God in solitude. And especially that she was who she was as a woman will never cease to be remarkable.

So often Catherine hearkens back to the creative act of God. Over and again as she begins her recorded prayer she addresses God with the reminder, “You made us in your image and likeness so that with our three powers in one soul, we might image your trinity and your unity” (Prayers, 42). Today there is some official questioning as to whether or not the image of God, or specifically of Jesus, can be in women. That was no question for Catherine. She was fully conscious that, as the creature and beloved of God, the trinitarian God was fully reflected in her, fully in possession of her. We know from her Dialogue that she knew of St. Thomas Aquinas (155, 339), and Mary Walter Flood points out how the doctrinal elements of her teachings reflect those of the Angelic Doctor (25-35). But if she knew of Thomas’ assessment of women (ST, 1, 92, a. 1-4), she surely didn’t believe it. Her own experience and her own inner authority assumed through the God who possessed her contradicted it.

But equally remarkable is the self transcendence in Catherine that reached out in response to the needs of her time. It would have been so easy for her to remain a recluse, it would seem. But that is not the way it was. She is an extraordinary model of a woman who entered into relationships of all kinds and who, in her pleadings with popes and kings, was an advocate of unity and community. In that respect the Pauline image of the Body of Christ was an obsession. And in that preoccupation her example is an antidote for the rampant individualism of our times that reaches even into the Church and into the life of religious groups committed to the mission of Jesus.

Recently Robert Bellah spoke to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at their June meeting in California on the subject of leadership. Bellah, well known for his book Habits of the Heart with its incisive analysis of individualism, juxtaposed the Lockean-based American society with the Hebrew notion of covenant that informs our theology of ecclesial community in his address to the bishops. He said in part:

… the covenant is not a limited relation based on self-interest, but an unlimited commitment based on loyalty and trust. It involves obligations to God and the neighbor that transcend self-interest, though it promises a deeper sense of self-fulfillment through participation in a divinely instituted order that leads to life instead of death. (219)

In describing the influence of Locke’s teaching, Bellah says that “‘it is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, ideologies ever invented…. It promises an unheard of degree of individual freedom, an unlimited opportunity to compete for material well-being and an unprecedented limitation on the arbitrary powers of government to interfere with individual initiative” (219). It is not my purpose to review how this ideal that has informed the history of our nation infects family life, the marketplace, all manner of social institutions including the academy, and the political arena at local, state and national levels. Suffice it to say that what is the prevailing ideology for our society also enters into our ecclesial communities. Mary Jo Leddy, whose book Reweaving Religious Life has been widely read by members of religious institutes in the past year, raises questions about the impact of individualism on religious institutes. While she organizes her analysis around liberalism, the import of her critique is compatible with that of Bellah.

For many of us how we become covenant communities as church and religious institutes is an overriding concern as we face the many alien influences that erode the foundations of our Christian faith communities. The times call for conversion and that need that seems to have been identified by so many: transformation.

To that end Catherine is an eminent model of what our times call us to be. She was an individual surely. But her individuality was not self-seeking nor self-serving. Her individuality is the expression of who she could be because of the God-life within her and it is extraordinary in its manifestation of self transcendence. She had no personal agenda other than that which she perceived to be God’s — healing, reconciling, unifying, re-establishing the order that God had put in place at the dawn of creation, always zealous for the integrity of the Christian community and its authority as she perceived them to be. That kind of self transcendence is the ideal of Christian spirituality today. It is the work of Wisdom, Sophia, the one who speaks in the words of Sirach, “I send my teachings forth shining like the dawn, to become known afar off. Thus do I pour out instruction like prophecy and bestow it on generations to come.” (24-20,31.) Such is the wisdom of Catherine of Siena.

Mahila: A Story Of Love – Eamonn Monson sac


महिला गरीबी Mahila


I prayed for her when I was 17, having glimpsed something of her sacredness on the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt – go sell everything. Everything! Anthony heard and acted immediately on the Word. As St. Francis did later. I heard and took my time but yearned as I yearn for the sea, as I yearn for God himself and sought her out over the years, associating with many of her companions along the way. But her I did not find for forty or more years. Mahila, Lady Poverty, Sacred Poverty in Person. Beautiful Simplicity.

And then, there she was in a church on a wet January evening when the cold darkness was deep and all pervading.

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Healing Cannot Be Delegated. Wounds Cannot Be Sanitised From A Distance – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin


Introductory address by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin Archbishop to Anglophone Conference 2014

Diarmuid_Martin_01“The Anglophone Conference is a unique gathering.  It is unique in the first place in that it does not have a website, almost a mortal sin of omission by today’s Conference standards!  The Anglophone Conference is an informal gathering, by its nature unstructured or at least under-structured.  And indeed that may well be its advantage.

The origins of the Anglophone Conference lie in an interest which arose among bishops from a number of English-speaking countries to come together informally to share experiences about how to address the problem of the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious.  It was an attempt to take a more coherent look at a phenomenon which, because it was an unspeakably dark part of the life of the Church, inevitably gave rise to the temptation that it be kept out of the limelight.  The result was often that the challenge of abuse was not addressed or was addressed in different ways in different parts of the word.  In the Anglophone Conference, Bishops came together to begin to trace a different path.

The Anglophone Conference may well have been from the start under-structured, but in time it became a real workshop of best practice, in which Episcopal Conferences could come together and explore what were the best ways of breaking taboos about the subject of child abuse by clergy and of developing solid norms of pastoral practice which could be addressed by Bishops’ Conferences in different cultural and juridical situations.

The Anglophone Conference was pioneering and trend-setting.  In these days we have come together to hear success stories of progress that has been made worldwide.  We are pleased to hear from those working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about the standards of good practice that are now rightly being demanded throughout the entire Church.

But it is important to remember that the Anglophone Conference was a pioneer in looking for coherent international norms and in anticipating much that has now become commonplace, at times facing negative reactions even within the Holy See.   Today we have moved beyond any climate of suspicion to one of cooperation and we thank God for the progress that has been made on all sides.  We also thank God for our ability to recognise that the road that we all still have to travel is long.  The greatest harm that we could do to the progress that has been made right across the Church is to slip back into a false assurance that the crisis is a thing of the past.

The Anglophone Conference is a unique event. It is not a conference of canonists or survivors, of psychologists or criminologists; it is not a simply gathering of bishops.  It is a forum for creative pastoral reflection, it is a gathering in which a wide ranging group of men and women from different backgrounds and countries try to draw conclusions regarding our responsibilities in addressing what has been a major crisis and stumbling block for the Catholic Church.

The crisis of the sexual abuse of children in the Church is not a chapter of the past history of the Church. Abuse can and does still take place.  Abuse will remain a wound in the side of the Church until the day on which every single survivor of abuse has achieved the personal healing he or she deserves.

My starting point in any personal reflection on the scandal of sexual abuse is always that what happened should never have happened in the Church of Jesus Christ.  We can argue that the sexual abuse of children takes place right across society and that it is unfair to single out the Catholic Church.  We can regurgitate statistics which will tell us that the incidence of such abuse is not significantly higher within the Catholic clergy than in society.  But if we come back and repeat to ourselves that what happened should never have happened in the Church of Jesus Christ then we have to put all the comforting statistics to one side and begin to think in a different light.

The sexual abuse of children on the scale in which it happened should never have occurred in the Catholic Church because Jesus himself tells us that children are a sign of the kingdom of God.  This means that our understanding of faith and of the kingdom is somehow measured in the manner in which we protect and respect and cherish children or in which we fail children.    We know well the strong words of Jesus about those who would injure or harm children.

We need to develop a new awareness that what has happened has wounded the entire Church and that now the entire Church is called to put right what has happened.  The entire Church is called to put itself right in its relations with the kingdom and with Jesus Christ.  Healing is not just a question for the counsellors; it is a theological and ecclesiological necessity.

The only Church response must be one which attempts to bring healing to a wounded Church through robustly responding to all those who have been wounded by abuse.  The healing of the Church comes through how the Church works to heal survivors.

The Church must not just be transformed into a place where children are safe.  It must also be transformed into a privileged place of healing for survivors. It must be transformed into a place where survivors, with all their reticence and with all their repeated anger towards the Church, can genuinely come to feel that the Church is a place where they will encounter healing.   We are not that kind of Church yet: and by far.

The Church which talks abut a preferential option for the poor must show unflinchingly a preferential option for those who have been victims of abuse within its fold.  There are still within the Church some who play down the realities of abuse, or who take short cuts with regard to established norms and guidelines.  In doing so, they damage the Church’s witness to the healing power of Jesus Christ.    There is nothing more hurtful to survivors than to find the Church proclaiming norms and then to find that they are not being followed.  I was struck to read in some of the National Reports for this Conference that there are still dioceses or Religious Congregations which opt out of National norms.

The Church can and should ensure adequate counselling for victims and their families. But it must do more.  Healing cannot be delegated.  The Church must become the bosom of Christ which lovingly embraces wounded men and women, with all the brutality and unattractiveness of wounds.  Wounds cannot be sanitised from a distance.   The Good Samaritan is the one who carries the wounded man in his own arms.

Bishops and superiors have to ensure that survivors are made feel truly welcome when they turn to Church authorities.  One survivor told me that while she was received by her local priest correctly, in the sense that all the boxes of the norms were correctly ticked, she still had the enduring impression that the priest would have much preferred that she had not come to him and that she we would go away as quickly as possible and that the counsellors would take over.

The words of Jesus about leaving the ninety-nine to go out to find the one who is lost, refers also to our attitude to victims.   To some it might seem less than prudent to think that the Church would go out of its way to seek out even more victims and survivors.  There are those who say that that would only create more anguish and litigation and that it would be asking for trouble and would be more than a little ingenuous. The problem is that what Jesus says about leaving the ninety and going out after the one who is lost is in itself unreasonable and imprudent, but, like it or not, that it precisely what Jesus asks us to do.

Jesus teaches us through parables that are all marked by exaggeration. They are all about something that we can never figure out within our own human categories:  the gratuitousness and superabundance of God’s love which always requires us to go the extra mile beyond what is humanly considered as prudent or appropriate or even the best.   It is however when we reflect that superabundant love of God in the way we live in the Church that we also see fruits produced which go beyond human expectation.  Remember those twelve baskets of food which remain after Jesus had undertaken the humanly unreasonable task of feeding a large crowd with meagre means.  Jesus’ generosity goes way beyond human prudence.

We have to reach out to all those who are involved in abuse.  We have a responsibility towards perpetrators to bring them to a realisation of what they have done and to make reparation through living a different life. Jesus is the one who shows mercy, but not cheap forgiveness.  Careful monitoring and support of perpetrators is a contribution to creating a safe environment for children within the Church as well as helping perpetrators to lead more healthy lives.

Our care must also reach out to the many who may seem only to have been marginally touched by abuse. I think of parish communities. I spent an evening only last week with a small parish community whose priest had recently been imprisoned for serious abuse.  It was a community whose trust in themselves and in the Church had been deeply wounded.

Our care must reach out in a special way to our young people who are hyper-sensitive to any contrast between what the Church preaches and what is done within its walls. Many young people have been wounded in their ability to come to know Jesus because of their disgust at what has happened to children in the Church.

The answers to all these multiple wounds will not come from slick public relations gestures or even from repeated words of apology.  They will come from creating a new vision of a healing Church.  A healing Church will not be from the outset a perfect Church.  The Church must first of all recognise within her own life how compromise and insensitivity and wrong decisions have damaged the witness of Church.  The art of healing is learned only in humility.  Arrogance is never the road towards healing. Healing is not something we can package and hand over safe and sound to someone else and then we can go off safely and happily on our own way.   Healing involves journeying together.  The healer needs humility and personal healing if he or she is to journey really with those who are wounded.  The duration of the process of healing is not measured by the time on our watch, but by the watch and the time of the other.

The crisis of the sexual abuse of children over these past decades has wounded the Church of Jesus Christ.  The response must come from the entire Church which will only attain the healing it desires when it welcomes our brothers and sisters who have survived abuse as Jesus would have welcomed them.  We are not there to tell the survivors what they have to do, but together to find new ways of interacting with respect and care.  I can say that I have never gone away from a conversation with a survivor of child sexual abuse without having learned something new, even if our encounter may have been marked by anger and aggression towards the Church.   My ministry has greatly benefited from what I have learned – and at times learned in a hard way – from survivors.  That is why I ask not just their forgiveness for what happened to them, but I am grateful to them for what they have done for me.


  • The annual ‘Anglophone Conference’, which brings together child safeguarding experts and representatives from throughout the English-speaking Catholic Church, takes place this week in the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.  This year the Irish Episcopal Conference is co-hosting the event along with the Episcopal Conference of Chile.

Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church


Catholic World News – July 04, 2014

The International Theological Commission (ITC) has released a study on the Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, exploring the relationship between the sense of the faithful and the guidance of the teaching magisterium.

The sensus fidei— the sense of the faithful—refers to “the personal capacity of the believer, within the communion of the Church, to discern the truth of faith,” the ITC document explains. That sense, the commission says, “is a vital resource for the new evangelization.”

Tracing the development of the Church’s understanding of the sensus fideifrom the Scriptures and Church fathers through the 20th century, the ITC emphasizes that this “spiritual instinct” is a gift of faith, and as such it is strengthened by prayer and active participation in the life of the Church.

While faithful Catholics have a natural instinct for the truths of the faith, the ITC says, the magisterium exists to test and guide those instincts. Acknowledging that at times the faithful may find it difficult to accept certain Church teachings, the document argues that the gift of faith, which gives rise to the sensus fidei, will impel loyal Catholics to seek a better understanding:

The faithful must reflect on the teaching that has been given, making every effort to understand and accept it. Resistance, as a matter of principle, to the teaching of the magisterium is incompatible with the authentic sensus fidei.

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July 4 – 38 Years


4th July 1976 – 4th July 2014

Friday 4th July marks the thirty-eight anniversary of the massacre of our five Pallottine confreres, Frs. Alfredo Leaden, Pedro Dufau, Alfie Kelly, and students Salvador Barbeito and Emilio Barletti. There will be several events in the Argentine to mark the anniversary.

 In Mercedes there will be a memorial service which will be held in the entrance to the parish church of San Patricio at 10.30. This service is organized by the Municipality of Mercedes, the Pallottine Community and the Municipal Commission por la Memoria (to keep alive the memory). The Municipality of Mercedes commissioned new plaques to commemorate them and they will be placed on the three streets that form part of the block in which the Church, Secondary School and Parish House are. Part of the tradition is to visit the cemetery of Mercedes for a prayer service at the graves of the three priests.

 In the parish of San Patricio, Belgrano, where the massacre occurred, a memorial concelebrated Mass will take place at 19.30.

 As a Province let us pray for our deceased confreres and accompany the members in Argentina as they commemorate another anniversary of the massacre.

Derry Murphy, SAC. Provincial Rector.

Calling Men To Be Icons Of God The Father – Devin Schadt


An interview with Devin Schadt, whose new book challenges men to recognize that fathers are not defined by their occupations but by their vocations

Devin Schadt is a husband, father, and speaker whose book, Joseph’s Way: Prayer of Faith (80 Days to Unlocking Your Power as a Father) was recently published by Ignatius Press. The book is the first of a two-volume series that seeks to “transmit the message of the glory, necessity, and power of fatherhood.” Devin is the cofounder of the Fathers of St. Joseph, an apostolate that works for the renewal of authentic fatherhood, and he lives in the Midwest with his wife and five children. He recently corresponded with Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about the family as an icon of the Trinity, the example of St. Joseph, and how families goes the way of the father.

CWR: What was the inspiration, or origin, of Joseph’s Way: Prayer of Faith? How did your own experience as a Catholic, husband, and father shape this book and the second volume, Prayer of a King?

Devin Schadt: Joseph’s Way was born out of crisis. Our third daughter, Anna Marie, was born at 28 weeks gestational period. After an emergency caesarian section, she spent a month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in order to develop her lungs and digestive system, and eventually returned home with our family. After five days she contracted the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a type of cold that attacks premature infants’ lungs, often causing death. We readmitted Anna Marie to the pediatric unit at the local hospital, but the team was not equipped, nor did they have enough experience, to care for a child that small. Due to neglect, and ten hours of apnea, Anna Marie suffered a hypoxic event, wherein not enough oxygen was transmitted to her brain. By the time the Medivac team stabilized her on life support and she had arrived by helicopter at a children’s hospital a couple of hours away, she had suffered three clinical death experiences and permanent brain injury. Because of this, my wife implored me to discontinue my participation in youth ministry and to focus on being a husband and father. At that time, I viewed fatherhood as a second-rate vocation, not capable of fulfilling the great commission given by Christ in Matthew 28. In fact, I sensed that fatherhood was essentially a way to dismiss oneself from following Christ and becoming one of His disciples. For years, I had lived in the tension of wanting to follow Christ, but also acknowledging that I was needed at home, and because of this I concluded that I was not called by God to be one of His followers. I went on a pilgrimage and confessed my interior struggles to one of the spiritual directors accompanying us. She said, “Go home and be Joseph.” Those words initially crushed me. Couldn’t she have said, “Go home and become St. Paul”, or “Go home and start a mission”? Who was this St. Joseph, not a word of whose is recorded in Sacred Scripture, and who, in so much of Christian art, is depicted as lacking vitality and youth? St. Joseph appeared to be an extra, a tack-on, someone needed to “fill in” and make the Virgin’s teenage pregnancy acceptable. I went home and, being consecrated to Our Lady, asked her to introduce me to her “most chaste spouse”—and she did. I started a writers’ group—not because I am a writer, but because my brother is an excellent writer, and had a couple of projects that he had been working on; I had hopes that the writers’ group would give him the accountability needed to complete his works. Each week, one of the members would share his latest writings. I was the odd man out, in that I was the only one among the men who was not a writer. When it was my turn to share, I would share brief reflections on fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph. At one of these meetings, my friend (aptly named Joe) turned to me and said, “You are called to write on fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph.” His words resounded in my being. I was leaving for a four day retreat later that day, and by the time I had returned, God had given the entire outline for what originally constituted four books, which now comprise the two volumes of Joseph’s Way. I originally wrote Joseph’s Way as a letter to myself, in hopes of discovering what it truly means to be a great father. Four books later, which now constitute two volumes, I sensed that God had given me something very special. Joseph’s Way is unique, in that it provides a theological vision of fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph. It is theological, yet practical—sometimes painfully practical. The books present a chronological, theological account of St. Joseph’s life—from his first step to fatherly greatness, returning to his vocation after originally fleeing from it, and embracing his role as protector of woman, Mary, to his commissioning of Jesus to be built into a temple of sacrifice. There are books written on the subject of fatherhood, and there are also books written on the subject of St. Joseph. But there are very few that offer an integration of fatherhood and St. Joseph in a practical, yet theological manner. Joseph’s Way accomplishes this.

CWR: There are two sources, in particular, that inform Joseph’s Way: Sacred Scripture and the writings of St. John Paul II. Can you comment on the importance of both for your work and thought?

Devin Schadt: St. Pope John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body had a profound effect on my life. It was through this Saint’s teachings that I discovered the true meaning of authentic masculinity, while also discovering a lens by which the entire Christian life, and the goodness of the human being, could be seen afresh. The Theology of the Body, coupled with John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer [Redemprotis custos], provided the foundational material and inspiration for Joseph’s Way. The Word always speaks, and to believe that the Word speaks through His Word, that is, the Sacred Scriptures, is essential to the Christian life. By praying over the Sacred Scriptures and asking God to speak His Word into my being, and being safeguarded by the balanced and inspiring Theology of the Body, I was granted a theology of fatherhood that has proved to be an essential guide in my rediscovery of the authentic glory of the vocation of fatherhood.

CWR: We all know, to some degree or another, that fatherhood is in a state of crisis. How would describe that crisis? And how does Joseph’s Way seek to address the root problems?

Devin Schadt: Research from the Baptist Press states that if the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability that the family will follow. If the father is the first to become a Christian, there is a 93% probability that the family will follow. Researchers at Columbia University state that if children have a strained relationship with their father, the children are 68% more likely to be involved in the use of alcohol, drug use, and premarital sex. A study from MSNBC demonstrated that fathers have twice as much influence as mothers in helping their teens stave off premarital sex. From a pragmatic perspective, this demonstrates that society goes by way of the family, and the family goes by way of the father. If you want to change the world—change the father. Fatherhood is like oxygen. We rarely reflect upon the necessity of oxygen, and yet without it, human beings cannot survive. Fatherhood, though rarely reflected upon, is like oxygen: without authentic fatherhood, society crumbles. Our identity as fathers shapes the world’s destiny. The family has been created by God to be an icon of the Holy Trinity, a reminder of our destiny. God is an eternal exchange of love—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and He has destined us to share in this eternal exchange of persons. The family is ordained by God to be an “exchange of persons” wherein family members give themselves away to the other so that the other may experience life to the full. Satan knows that the family serves as a reminder of our destiny, and therefore attempts to destroy this fundamental cell of society. But in order to destroy the family, he must bind the strong man and strike the shepherd of the family. In other words, he must keep the human father from realizing his identity as icon of God the Father. Indeed, if the enemy binds the strong man, then the evil one can plunder the goods of the house, that is, the wife and children. If he strikes the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. And if there is no one to lead, none will follow. If fathers do not lead the family from wrong, wrong will lead the family. Without St. Joseph, the Holy Family itself would not have been an archetype and human model of the Trinity, an icon that directs humanity to the glory of the Triune God. St. Joseph is not merely a tack on, but rather an integral part of the Holy Family becoming an icon of the Trinity. Joseph’s identity led to his family’s destiny. When Joseph encountered the Virgin, his wife pregnant without his cooperation, he initially fled from his vocational post. But God chased down Joseph and relentlessly pursued and called him to take up his post as guardian of the Redeemer and guardian of the Virgin. By doing so, God was teaching us that fatherhood is essential in the development of the family as an icon of the Trinity. Fatherhood is necessary, vital, and glorious.

CWR: The subtitle to this first volume is 80 Days to Unlocking Your Power as a Father. What is the significance of 80 days? How would you describe or define the “power” of fatherhood?

Devin Schadt: It’s funny, but the 80 days was simply an accident (or perhaps a God incident). True power can never be associated with selfishness. If one is selfish, then he is bound and mastered by his own passions and therefore cannot live the full reality of the freedom of the gift, of self-giving love. In other words, if a man is bound by selfishness he has no true power over himself. Love begets love and life. This is true power—to beget love and life. Satan does not have this power, but God has given human beings this power. In other words, “You use, you lose. You give, you live.” When a father begins to discover and use his power to set the pace of self-giving love, he discovers within himself the power to give life and love. A father has the power to set the pace of self-giving love—in fact, this is his essence, this is his power. It was Adam’s power, and the New Adam’s power. The first Adam neglected this power and allowed the serpent to have his way with his bride, thus bringing forth shame, blame, sin, and rupture in the body and spirit, and rupture in the relationship between man and woman. The New Adam sets the paradigm of self-giving love, self-donation, and the bride, the Church—throughout the centuries—lives her response to follow that pace. The human father has the power to set the pace of love within his domestic church, his icon of the Trinity, his family. He can either continue the paradigm of neglect, like the first Adam, or continue the heroic duty of self-donation like the New Adam. This is the human father’s power, his essence, and his call to greatness. Paul VI referred to St. Joseph as a type of Adam. Where the first couple, Adam and Eve, unleashed sin and evil upon the world, Mary and Joseph, by means of their “yes” to one another and their mutual “yes” to God, brought forth redemption and salvation for the world.

CWR: You note, near the start, that St. Joseph is known in the Tradition as “Light of Patriarchs.” Why is that title significant? How do the three patriarchs—Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David—shed light on the meaning and value of fatherhood?

Devin Schadt: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ lineage begins with the first father, Abraham—our “father in faith”—and ends with the last father, St. Joseph, the “just man” “who lives by faith.” By beginning and ending this patriarchal lineage with our father in faith and the most faithful father, God is calling particular attention to the fact that salvation is passed on by means of fatherhood. “Light of Patriarchs” is a title that is both mysterious and loaded with profound meaning. Joseph as the last and final father, in a long list of patriarchs, casts light upon the Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David, and upon their roles as husbands and fathers. This comparison unveils their experiences as husbands and fathers and allows us to see them in a new and profound light, which is then reflected upon St. Joseph, casting typological light upon his role as father of Jesus and husband of Mary. But this light is also reflected from Joseph and cast upon God the Father (the source of light), allowing us to see God the Father as He truly is, and to envision our fatherhood as it truly should be. By comparing St. Joseph with the Patriarchs, we mine deep into the divinely inspired wisdom of fatherhood that has been passed down throughout the ages and learn essential and invaluable lessons, which will aid us in becoming fathers of glory.

CWR: What are some of the deepest, perhaps even surprising, temptations that face fathers and husbands today? Can you provide an example of how St. Joseph points the way to overcoming a particular temptation or obstacle?

Devin Schadt: Ego, pride, lust, and avarice are among the many temptations facing the father of the modern age. Often, when a father does not receive the accolades, honors, and lauds that he desires at home, he may be tempted to seek such affirmation elsewhere. When experiencing the mundane, common, routine rhythm of family life, fathers sometimes surrender to the temptation to be noticed by men, rather than being known by God. When a man surrenders to this biting temptation, he flees from his vocational path to greatness and seeks a different path to glory, usually by means of work, or working for God outside his family. While both of these spheres of endeavor can be good, if they are used as a means of self-affirmation, or a way to obtain vainglory, they can cause a man to neglect his vocation as a husband and father. As one confessor said, “Do not become a street lamp in order for you house to go dark.” And another said, “You will become a saint by means of your vocation, not outside of it.” The human father is not defined by his occupation as much by his vocation. He is not defined by what he does as much as for whom he is doing it. At work the father is replaceable; at home the father is irreplaceable. God “needs” the human father, because our children need God the Father. The evil one is constantly tempting fathers to believe that their vocation as a father is not the true path to glorifying God and, by glorifying God, to be glorified. This is a grave trap and has tragic consequences for the family. In the “Flight to Egypt” account, Herod sought to murder the Christ child after ascertaining the time of His birth from the Magi. Joseph, being warned by an angel, secretly stole away with his family under the cover of night, and fled safely to the land of Egypt. Herod is a symbol of Satan who is always attempting to destroy the child. St. Joseph is a symbol of all fathers who are called to protect, feed, and teach their families. The night is a symbol of the secret, hidden manner of fatherhood, by which the family is saved in the midst of this Egypt, this land of exile. Joseph demonstrates that the family is not saved by means of pomp and self-asserted glory, but rather in the hidden and secret ways of fatherhood, which are unknown to this world. But as our Lord promises, “What is hidden will one day be revealed.” Our hidden, secret acts of love as fathers will one day be proclaimed by God as a participation in the salvation of mankind.

CWR: If a man was unsure about reading your book, and asked you, “Why should I bother with this? What will it do for me?”, what would you tell him?

Devin Schadt: If a man chooses to engage the principles laid out in Joseph’s Way, and begins applying them, he will experience a new knowledge of what it means to be truly a man, of what it means to be a great father, and of the first steps in his journey toward authentic greatness. Joseph’s Way is segmented into bite-size pieces. The reflection for each day is usually approximately three pages. By reading three pages a day, and by imitating St. Joseph’s example, I believe that your fatherhood will experience a new power, vitality, and strength. By reading Joseph’s Way a father will discover that his fatherhood is vital, necessary, and the path to true glory. The destiny of our world depends on you discovering your identity, in order that you and your family can achieve their destiny—which is nothing less than eternal communion and union within the eternal exchange of Persons in the Trinity. You are an icon of God the Father (see Eph. 3:15), a link between God and man, a link between the Father and His children. You are the face of the Father that your children cannot see, the voice of the Father that they cannot hear, and the touch of the Father that they cannot feel. Few people ever reflect on the reality of oxygen—yet without oxygen people die. So it is with fatherhood. You are called to greatness, and your path to greatness is by means of your vocation—not outside of it. Joseph, a most unknown father in his day, by embracing his vocation as his call to greatness, became the most known and revered father in all of human history.

CWR: How will the second volume, Joseph’s Way: Prayer of a King, build upon this first volume?

Devin Schadt: The first volume discusses the call to greatness that exists in the heart of every man and how to achieve this greatness by means of understanding and living one’s identity, which is to be an icon of God the Father and to set the pace of self-giving love. In volume II, Prayer of a King, a father will learn: first, how to establish a rich prayer life—for a man cannot give what he does not have, and can only give God if he has God. Prayer is the place in which God gives Himself to man in order that man may give God to another. Second, a father will learn how to assume charitable authority—the authority to lead by love, and love by leading—by protecting, feeding and teaching. Third, a father will learn to identify his child as a temple of God, to give his child the materials to be built into that temple, and to bless and charge his child to become that temple. If volume I, Prayer of Faith, describes the identity of a true husband, father, and man, Volume II describes how to live out this identity in a practical way, how to achieve one’s destiny.

About the Author
Carl E. Olson editor@catholicworldreport.comCarl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.