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Listening to Catherine

· ​Homily at the end of the conference ·

In entrusting to the Apostles the task of bringing salvation to all of humanity, Jesus does not take account of human guile, our potential capabilities or acumen for analyzing social processes. Christ chooses for himself a people with a mystery of predilection, but in sending his own, he entrusts himself to their frailty, and thus it is evident that the mission lives only through the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ wants to go out to meet the men and women of every era. Mission is his work.

This is why mercy, closeness, tenderness, to which Pope Francis always refers, are not “tactical manoeuvres” in a strategy for expansion, but are instead distinguishing traits. They are the telltale sign that it is Jesus himself, with his Spirit, who moves us toward the mission and nurtures it. Docility to the Spirit, the humble familiarity with the Trinitarian mystery, makes us fruitful and courageous. It renders us creative and free.

Celebrating the Holy Mass in this Basilica, at the conclusion of the days of study and dialogue on issues that touch upon the status of women in the present time, it is only natural to think of St Catherine of Siena. She, who with vertiginous intimacy contemplated the mystery of Trinitarian love, witnessed with her life that the pinnacle of docile participation in that mystery corresponds with absolute freedom. Christ freed us so that we would remain free, as she too was free when she turned to the Pope, to the “sweet Christ on earth”, with impassioned tones of filial submission, but without human adulation, to advocate the interior reform of the Church.

In her familiarity with the Trinitarian mystery, Catherine said that God is “mad with love” for his creatures. And his “madness of love” is called mercy: “with Your Mercy” — as Catherine wrote, speaking to God in the Treatise of Divine Providence — “You temper Justice. By Mercy You have washed us in the Blood, and by Mercy You wish to converse with Your creatures. Oh, Loving Madman! Was it not enough for You to become Incarnate, that You must also die?” (Chapter 30).

God’s love for each one of us is gratuitous and immeasurable: “I love you of grace, and not because I owe you My love”, Catherine says to God in her work; and she then explains that God, while desiring that the same love be exchanged with those who love us, is well aware that we are not capable of doing so, and thus He asks us to direct this love to our neighbour, to the poor, to the frail human creatures with whom we share the journey. For this reason, the standards by which we treat the poor will be those by which we shall be judged.

I hope that as you confront, in the light of the Gospel, the often burning issues which affect the status of women in our time, you may feel the bewilderment of grace and freedom which resounded in the spiritual motherhood of St Catherine, the unmistakable freedom of the Children of God. That bewilderment alone also enables us to perceive in our discourses the sweet victory of Christ offered to all, called to savour His mercy and to be happy.

Pietro Parolin




St. Peter’s Square

June 27, 2019