Solemn Mass for the Feast of St Catherine of Siena + Perpetual Profession of Adriel Bernice Moniz in the Marian Community of Reconciliation (Fraternas)
St Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Church, Lewisham, 29 April 2022
In a world with striking parallels to our own, a young woman named Caterina di Benincasa (1347-80) from Siena was called to apply her gifts in service of Church and society. Brutal wars not unlike that in Ukraine today were being waged in her day over territory and control. Climate change brought a rolling series of famines and starvation for many. Bubonic Plague more dramatic than COVID-19 claimed perhaps 200 million lives worldwide.
In such a time people needed the inspiration and care of the Church. Instead, venality and division reigned in many quarters, coming to a head with the Western Schism when there were two, even three, rival popes and Catholic allegiances (1379-1417). In her Dialogue of Divine Love and her letters, Catherine painted a graphic picture of the corruption of the Church, especially of clerics and religious! Lukewarm and ungenerous, ignorant and unprayerful, they abandoned the care of souls and devoted themselves instead to self-aggrandisement or popularity. Easy prey to flattery and bribes, they preached empty words and corrected no-one. Bloated with pride, gluttony, drunkenness and impurity, their sole concern was their own comfort. It was quite a catalogue and Catherine did not mince words! Many clergy and religious were, she thought, ‘the blind leading the blind’.
Catherine could have stormed out in disgust or founded her own sect. She chose to remain mainstream. All commentators on her life agree that Catherine was a deeply ecclesial woman. Schism, heresy and disobedience to the Church were to her terrible evils, as were scandalous clerics or laity who drove others away from the Church. At the point of despair about the state of the Church she once prayed before a crucifix and the corpus replied, “Turn around and see who I love enough to die for them.” And there she saw the whole line up of sinners and saints that is the Catholic people. Catherine then worked tirelessly until her death for Church reform and reconciliation.
Catherine was convinced that God would never abandon His people. We are, she said, God’s little darlings and He is pazzo d’amore—mad or drunk with love for us—even before He creates us. This divine infatuation brings us into being and sustains us. And He has great hopes for us. So, after receiving a vision of St Dominic in her younger years, and with eyes wide-open to all the Church and humanity’s deficiencies, Catherine joined a Dominican sorority of widows (known as the Mantellate),devoted to prayer and service of the poor and sick under the spiritual direction of the friars. She gave herself completely in prayer and preaching to joining Christ in saving the Church so that the Church could join Him in saving the world.
That meant hard hearts had to be converted. Niccolo di Toldo was a young Perugian—not Peruvian—on death row for the ‘treason’ of speaking insultingly of the Sienese authorities. Catherine was asked to visit him after he refused to see a priest. Talking to Niccolo gently and compassionately, she won his confidence. Leaning his head on her breast, he told her of his great fear and she consoled him. By degrees, as he experienced her loving concern and she spoke of Jesus’ great love for him, the young man came to contrition for his sins and his fears reduced. He asked for a priest and received the last rites.
Niccolo’s last request was that Catherine be present at his execution to give him courage and pray for him. As he was led to the block, she attended him and blessed him with the sign of cross. As he knelt down and stretched out his neck, she whispered prayers and words of encouragement in his ear. The youth died murmuring the names of Jesus and Catherine, for in the latter he had seen the face of the former. She caught his head as he surrendered his life to God. Catherine then had a vision of Niccolo being welcomed into heaven. Deeply moved, she set about writing and preaching against the bloody injustice of the Sienese authorities. And they didn’t dare charge Siena’s favourite daughter with treason!
Catherine’s CV wasn’t for the faint of heart: she advised and rebuked popes, princes, prelates and people; she converted mercenary war-lords, selfish aristocratic ladies, and thousands of ordinary people; she served the poor and produced a large volume of influential writings. Catherine believed that there was no corruption or division that prayer and fasting, reception of the sacraments and fidelity to the Church couldn’t fix. Even in her life-time she was counted a spiritual ‘mama’ and a living saint. After her death she rose to being co-patron of Europe and one of only four female Doctors of the Church so far—perhaps the Fraternas will give us another.
How was Catherine able to do so much in her short thirty-three years? Put simply, Catherine knew that if she placed herself at the foot of the cross, no amount of darkness could ever take away the light of Christ’s love poured out from that place. There she stood with Mother Mary.
Adriel Bernice Moniz came to Sydney to advance her studies in environmental management hoping to contribute to making the world a better place. But her plans took a different path after a fateful encounter at World Youth Day Sydney in 2008. There she decided to interrogate her faith more earnestly. In answer to her new questions, God soon put her in the way of a group of consecrated laywomen, known as the Marian Community of Reconciliation or ‘Fraternas’. She found their community, spirituality and mission increasingly compelling. After a mission trip to Peru, the birthplace of the Fraternas, Adriel was even more convinced of the joy that comes from serving the Lord and spreading His Gospel. Like St Catherine talking to the crucifix, it was in the silence and darkness after Good Friday Tenebrae that she was convinced of God’s love for her and humanity and of her call to serve both. She discovered that paradoxically the cross is the light yoke, the rest for the overburdened, that Jesus offers in today’s Gospel (Mt 11:25-30). In dedicating her life to serving God and bringing His peace to the world, Adriel will help reveal the Father’s love told through His Son. As the Fraternas were founded on the Feast of the Annunciation, soAdriel will live out her lifeas a “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38), vowing her full availability for the apostolate of the Marian Community of Reconciliation. We pray that God will now fill the heart of his daughter, purifying and inspiring it in his service, like the mystic St Catherine experiencing Jesus exchanging hearts with her.
Introduction to the Solemn Mass for the Feast of St Catherine of Siena + Perpetual Profession of Adriel Bernice Moniz in the Marian Community of Reconciliation (Fraternas)
St Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Church, Lewisham, 29 April 2022
Welcome to the church of St Thomas of Canterbury for this solemn Mass for the feast of St Catherine of Siena, the great Dominican lay woman, mystic, doctor of the Church and spiritual guide who is an on-going source of inspiration for so many consecrated and lay women and others to this day.
This evening, we also joyfully celebrate the Perpetual Profession of Adriel Bernice Moniz for the Marian Community of Reconciliation (Fraternas). I welcome especially Adriel’s parents Lancelot and Josephine who have travelled from India to be here for Adriel’s profession, as well as her Uncle Clifford and Aunt Mildred who are fellow Sydneysiders and other guests.
I acknowledge the presence of Alejandra Keen, Superior General for the Marian Community of Reconciliation, who will receive Adriel’s vows this evening, as well as other Fraternas joining us this evening and I know that those who COVID prevents from joining us physically are with us in spirit.
Concelebrating with me this evening are Fathers Roberto Keryakos, Gerard Woo Ling, Brendan Purcell and Richard Waddell; Dominican Fathers Laurie Foot OP, Pawel Barszczewski OP and Reginald Chua OP; and Verbum Dei Father Greg Morgan VDM. I also salute our several deacons. A very warm welcome to you all!