This morning, the last of our pilrimage participants arrived and our journey officially began with a visit to the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where St. Catherine of Siena is buried.
There are so many good reasons to begin our pilgrimage by praying with Catherine of Siena. Despite being a woman in the fourteenth century, Catherine was involved in the great controversies and conflicts of her time -- both in Church and society -- and brought a prophetic voice and healing touch to them. Rooted in a life of deep prayer, she found wisdom, truth, and strength through her relationship with God. Add to that the fact that she is the patron of Rome, a doctor of the Church, a feminist shero, and a peacemaker and it only makes sense to start with a visit to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva to join our voices in prayer with hers.
I must confess that prior to preparing for this pilgrimage, beyond the few famous quotes, I wasn't familiar with much of Catherine's writings. And so I began to read through her Dialogue on Divine Providence to get a better sense of her and her spirituality. What immediately emerged for me was that Catherine had a profound longing to know God ever more deeply, and through that knowing to better understand herself and how best to cooperate with God in the building of the kindom. I think an excerpt from the dialogue which appears in the Liturgy of the Hours for her memorial (April 29th) expresses this longing well:
You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are . . . I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. . .You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me. . . Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth.
And so, as we prayed with Catherine of Siena, I invited all of us into a moment of quiet to reflect upon what longing brought us to this pilgrimage. What truth do we seek to know more deeply? What light did we hope to find? What coldness could the fire of God's love dispel?
After we ended our visit at Santa Maria Sopra Minverva, we walked a block to the Pantheon to continue the day's brief itinerary before heading back to our guesthouse for Sr. Chris's lecture on some basic principles of studying women in early Christianity.
Before Sr. Chris began her lecture, we gave everyone an opportunity to share their earlier reflections with the group. Their responses were moving and a powerful way to enter into our journey together. Noting the current pain and despair in our Church many expressed a longing for God to kindle the fire of hope and wisdom through the lives and witness of these early women. Others added that they hoped to a better understanding of our past would open new pathways for a brighter future. Still others longed to be able to see themselves in our tradition, to have open and fruitful conversations about women in the church, and to celebrate the women past and present who are so indispensible to the handing on of the faith and the work of the Gospel.
This is indeed an amazing group of women and men who have come from a place of deep love for God, for our church, and for their sisters and brothers. I have no doubt that God's light will shine brightly for, in, and through all of us in the enlightening and prayerful days ahead.