In honor of Saint Catherine of Siena (whose feast day usually falls on April 29), and in recognition of the fact that we are still in the midst of the Easter season, we here at WIT have received permission to showcase some amazing Easter preaching, inspired partly by Catherine of Siena, from our beloved Notre Dame professor Catherine Hilkert, from a few years back. Catherine is a Dominican sister, an original self-proclaimed “WIT,” (along with Beth Johnson when they were back in graduate school at CUA), and somebody who has taught most of us WITS about theological anthropology and feminist theologies at some point or another over the past few years. We are deeply grateful that Catherine has agreed to share this preaching with us; it provides a wonderful opportunity for meditation and slow, contemplative reading. Don’t skim it; let it sink in slowly if you can.
As a side note: the following year after this, Catherine delivered the Madeleva lecture, which became the book entitled *Speaking with Authority: Catherine of Siena and the Voices of Women Today* (Paulist 2001, revised with new introduction and foreword by Suzanne Noffke, 2008).
Preaching for feast of Catherine of Siena
on the occasion of the Madeleva Convergence 2000 sponsored by the Center for Spirituality at St. Mary’s College
April 29, 2000
Based on scripture readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20: 19-31
It is evening, and even as we gather to celebrate these Easter mysteries,
many doors remain locked;
doors of our church
of our country and world,
and of our hearts and imaginations.
Some for fear of authorities; others for fear of women, or immigrants, or the poor, or whomever it is we see as different from us.
And some we have locked–for fear of what will be required of us if we believe that
wounds can be transformed,
that God’s Spirit can fashion a community of courage out of disheartened disciples,
that the Body of Christ is more than we have imagined.
After all, it is John’s gospel that pictures the first apostle as a woman weeping beside a tomb.
Tonight’s gospel gives us a glimpse of the early church as a company of fearful disciples and reminds us that not everyone in that community had the same experience.
One was missing from their Easter gathering.
The joy and conviction of the others was not the experience of this “first dissenter.”
Earlier in the gospel, Thomas was the one who was willing to follow Jesus to the point of death,
but also the one who admitted frankly: “We do not know the way.”
Is this honest man with his questions and doubt not our brother? Our twin?
With all of their humanity and brokenness, Jesus trusted this fragile community enough
to leave his mission in their hands.
He left the future of the church
to those who doubt,
to those who had betrayed,
to a woman lost in grief,
to those who locked doors in fear.
To them–and to us (an equally unlikely community)–
Jesus offers his farewell gift:
RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT
RECEIVE THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH,
and he issues his charge for the new millennium:
BECOME MY BODY IN THE WORLD.
Many of us–like Thomas–find it hard to believe that the likes of us
are born of God,
that the Spirit transforms us into ministers of peace,
empowers us to loose bonds, to heal, to forgive.
I taught one of Thomas’s contemporary twins here during my first year at Notre Dame in a class on Jesus and salvation. He wasn’t doing well in the course and came to see me.
“You probably think I don’t care…actually I think about this course a lot…it really bothers me. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I don’t think the Incarnation was a very good idea!
…No, I’m serious.
If God has all this power and we are in such a mess…
to send one guy and leave it to the rest of us?
Maybe it’s because I’m a business major,
I JUST DON’T SEE IT.”
The Gospel tonight calls us to believe what none of us can see.
On this feast of Catherine of Siena, we are reminded
that that has always been the way of discipleship.
This uneducated woman who wanted to embrace a contemplative life of union with God
in the solitude of her home-
was called to see her neighbors in need,
was sent to speak a word of PEACE to warring city states
to a political prisoner at his execution,
to misplaced popes and divided cardinals,
to her own mother.
Like Thomas, she discovered the risen One in the WOUNDS OF THE WORLD
the black plague victims,
the poor on the city streets,
those desperate for her counsel and advice,
even the wounded church of her day.
She would have preferred the locked doors of her cell,
but she was sent into a world of conflict.
Like Thomas, she freely expressed her doubts about this mission,
including her doubts about her own vocation as a woman.
But in her mystical visions she received a clear response:
“Was it not I who created the human race?
Male and female I created them.
Isn’t it up to me where I shall pour out my grace?
With me there is no longer male and female
lower class and upper class.
Everyone is equal in my sight and
everything equally in my power to do.
To humble their pride I will send mere women…
whom I will fill with the power and wisdom of God.”
She was sent with the only pledge any of us receive:
“I will always be with you…and you will give proof of the Spirit that is in you.”
Empowered by Christ’s Spirit, Catherine,
like Mary Magdalene and Martha, like Peter and Thomas
CAME to believe,
learned to see beyond wounds and death and broken communities
into the heart of a God “who is mad with love for your creatures.”
We remember this doctor of the Church for her mystical wisdom,
But we forget that she, too, never saw her vision realized.
This peacemaker died heartbroken–with the Church in schism and the
Italian city states at war.
She, too, is our twin as we gather this night and this weekend
as women of faith,
called to speak a word of hope for a new millennium;
as women and men of faith,
called to make wise judgments for the college and asked to support risky ventures initiated by women of faith.
All of us called to embrace the wounded of our world and church,
and in it all, and asked to trust the SPIRIT OF GOD who MOVES IN OUR MIDST.
BLESSED ARE THEY WHO HAVE NOT SEEN–AND HAVE BELIEVED.
Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P.