“Although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.”
These opening words from today’s Gospel caught my attention…. the childlike.
That’s childlike, not childish—two very different ways of being for sure. Catherine, I believe, was childlike. She was a woman whose childlike qualities served her well in her journey of faith. The qualities of one who is considered childlike are being spontaneous, down to earth, open, frank, natural, and guileless.
I am pretty sure that most of us here are quite familiar with Catherine’s story, so I won’t dwell on her biography. What we do glean from her brief life, however, was that she was a woman of passion for her God and compassion for those in need. Her motivation was a love of God and love of neighbor. Spontaneous in prayer and action, down to earth in recognizing the reality of her times, open and frank, speaking truth to power, natural – she was who she was – or in her words whom God meant her to be and guileless, innocent yet straightforward.
Whether it be in her cell in contemplation and dialogue with her beloved Jesus, on the streets of Siena caring for the sick and poor with the women of the Mantellate, writing letters, or being physically present before popes, monarchs, and others of power in her time, Catherine was a force to be reckoned with, as well as a consoler, companion, and friend walking the journey of peacemaking and reconciliation both within and beyond the Church.
Sisters, Associates, and friends, tomorrow we celebrate a woman so precious to our Order and so revered by the church that we call her “Doctor of the Church.” She lived in times not much different from our own with wars, divisions, poverty, disease, and corruption in Church and society. Yet, trusting in God, she listened to the call to leave her cell and proclaim the Truth of the Gospel. As Dominican women, Catherine’s passion and compassion are the lifeblood of our calling. Her devotion to contemplation leading to action is in our collective DNA!
As Dominican women religious, what is she calling us to do and be today? Our reality, along with many other religious congregations in our hemisphere, is that we are living in uncertain times. The future is unclear. However, like our sister Catherine, we have been gifted with our Dominican call to contemplation and service. For almost 147 years we have responded like Catherine to Jesus’ call to walk on the two feet of love of God and love of neighbor. From the time of Alice Mary Thorpe, Mother Dominic, and standing on the shoulders of all who followed, throughout our history we have never given up, finding paths that help us respond to that call in many varied and creative ways, through many challenges that we have faced as a congregation
Most recently, we’ve used the term, “facing forward” and emerged from our last Chapter with a 2022 Direction Statement that responds to those words in a beautiful, yet challenging way. I believe that if Catherine were here in our time she would respond in the same way because that’s who she was, how she thought, loved, and served – facing forward. Just look out the sacristy window and there she is, not looking back inside at us, but facing forward, encouraging us every time we pass to do the same.
From her Dialogue, we are blessed to have many often-quoted words – some very familiar such as:
“Be who you are meant to be, and you will set the world afire.”
These words may cause us to reflect upon whom I am meant to be at this time in my life or even who are we meant to be as a congregation at this time in our journey.
But for today, for us as Sparkill Dominicans, at this time facing forward toward an unknown, but Spirit-led and emerging future for religious life –I offer these words of Catherine, which spoke to me, and I hope you can bring them to your place of reflection today. She said:
“To the servant of God, every place is the right place, and every time is the right time.”
My dear sisters, associates, and friends, since our founding we have been called to many places – whether institutions of learning, social service, healing, advocacy, and other ways we have preached with our lives of service. We also believed and trusted in God’s plan that we were in the right place for that time in our history. Are we called any differently today?
What does Catherine’s life of contemplation and service call us to today? How are we living Dominic’s vision of an Order of itinerant preachers, if not with our feet, is it not with our hearts? Think of how far your heart traveled each time you donated food or pajamas or cycled around this balcony to raise funds for peace. Through such acts of service, you are facing forward and preaching Good News beyond these walls!
So, in this time and place in our history, let us continue to trust, as Catherine expressed, we are in the right place (whatever that means for you) and time that God needs us to be, as we journey together into the future.
– Sister Nancy Richter, OP
Sister Nancy serves on the Leadership Team of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill after a career in high school youth ministry and education.