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The Prophetic Path - Love and Liberation
The Prophetic Path - Love and Liberation

A Female Prophet to the Church 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The mystic Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) models the radical traditionalism identified by Father Richard as central to the prophet. Joan Chittister describes Catherine’s powerful witness:  

When mysticism was veiled in mystery and wrapped in private ecstasies and personal devotions, Catherine’s mysticism plagued her with the worries of the world and plunged her into the very center of life.… 

When everything in the world around her was in chaos, in both church and state, Catherine refused to buy for herself an easy reprieve…. She would not call what was wrong right, what was intolerable acceptable, what was bad good, what was oppressive God’s will…. No, Catherine of Siena called the terrible terrible and the ungodly ungodly and in that act calls every century after her yet, still, and always, to do the same. Today, still, Catherine of Siena pours fire and ice into the human soul. She confronts us with what we dearly need even now if this church is to prosper and this world is to survive.  

The earliest biography of Catherine of Siena records her vision of Jesus’ call to instruct the “learned men” of her time:  

“How can I be of any use in the work of saving souls,” she asked the Christ who called her in visions, “for I am a woman, and it is not seemly for my sex to try to teach men, or even to speak with them. Besides, they take no notice of what we say.” … It was the Jesus of her vision who responded:  

All things are possible for God who has created everything from nothing. I know that you say this from humility, but you must know that in these days pride has grown monstrously among men, and chiefly among those who are learned and think they understand everything…. I have chosen unschooled women, fearful and weak by nature, but trained by Me in the knowledge of the divine, so that they may put vanity and pride to shame.…” [1]

Because of those heretical words of Jesus [to the society of her day], Catherine of Siena became spiritual mother, public figure, political prophet, Doctor of the Church. She read souls, guided priests, negotiated between city-states, chastised two popes, and became an emissary to the state from the Vatican….  

She calls men to recognize the God-given mission of women affirmed by Jesus, enshrined in the Gospels, and confirmed by the history of women in the church. She calls women to refuse rejections, to demand equality, to speak their spirituality, to give their God-given gifts, whether these gifts are called for or not, called holy or not, legitimated or not because no one, not even the church, has the right to deny the gifts of God or the God who works through the gifts of women….  

Personal sacrifice, Gospel insight, Christian feminism, and patient prophetism is the legacy of Catherine of Siena to the twenty-first century.  


[1] See Raymond of Capua, Life of Catherine of Siena, part 2, chap. 1. Translation here is from Sigrid Undset, Catherine of Siena, trans. Kate Austin-Lund (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954), 52. 

Joan D. Chittister, A Passion for Life: Fragments of the Face of God with icons by Robert Lentz (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 120, 122–123, 124. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Field of the Saints (detail), print. Taylor Wilson, Isha (detail), watercolor and cyanotype. Taylor Wilson, Ruah (detail), print. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Artist Statement (Taylor Wilson): This collection is an exploration of iconic visuals.… Playing and replaying with what the ancients already knew and then taking the responsibility of sacred knowledge forward through modern expression with the Spirit. 

Story from Our Community:  

I was deeply moved by Brian McClaren’s reflections about “Finding the Flow.” It included the line: “I feel echoes of Isaiah, speaking of God doing a new thing, something fresh springing forth, so that there will be good news for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the incarcerated and oppressed.” I love the idea of Isaiah trying to open hearts and usher in a new time, free from oppression. I feel that this correlates to the tremendous paradigm shift we are collectively experiencing today. I feel so encouraged by the Daily Meditations on this theme. I pray that we remain loyal and active in helping to herald the good news. —Julia T. 

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