Pope Francis: “the Lord has a special love for widows” (Fr. Z calls for an Order of Widows!)

While I think that we should be getting either all of Pope Francis’ little fervorini from his daily Mass or none of them (rather than snippets), today’s seems worthy of more note.  Some samples from the site of Vatican Radio.

(Vatican Radio) […] ListenRealAudioMP3 

Jesus has, “the capacity to suffer with us, to be close to our sufferings and make them His own,” said Pope Francis, who began his reflections with the encounter between Jesus and the widow of Naim, of which Tuesday’s Gospel reading tells. He pointed out that Jesus, “had great compassion” for this widow who had now lost her son. Jesus, he went on to say, “knew what it meant to be a widow at that time,” and noted that the Lord has a special love for widows, He cares for them.” Reading this passage of the Gospel, he then said, that the widow is, “an icon of the Church , because the Church is in a sense widow”:

“The Bridegroom is gone and she walks in history, hoping to find him, to meet with Him – and she will be His true bride. In the meantime she – the Church – is alone! The Lord is nowhere to be seen. She has a certain dimension of widowhood … and that makes me makes me think of the widowhood of the Church. This courageous Church, which defends her children, like the widow who went to the corrupt judge to [press her rights] and eventually won. Our Mother Church is courageous! She has the courage of a woman who knows that her children are her own, and must defend them and bring them to the meeting with her Spouse.” [There is a Patristic flavor to this.]

The Pope reflected on some figures of widows in the Bible, in particular the courageous Maccabean widow with seven sons who are martyred for not renouncing God. [Remember the allegorical exegesis of that passage by Ambrose.] The Bible, he stressed, says this woman who spoke to her sons “in the local dialect, in their first language,” and, he noted, our Mother Church speaks to us in dialect, in “that language of true orthodoxy, which we all understand, the language of catechism,” that, “gives us the strength to go forward in the fight against evil”: [“language of true orthodoxy… catechism”… interesting.]

“This dimension of widowhood of the Church, who is journeying through history, hoping to meet, to find her Husband… Our Mother the Church is thus! She is a Church that, when she is faithful, knows how to cry. When the Church does not cry, something is not right. She weeps for her children, and prays!  [And now reflect on how most Novus Ordo funerals are now, with their “celebration of life” foolery and white vestments and words of canonization of everyone who dies.] A Church that goes forward and does rear her children, gives them strength and accompanies them until the final farewell [i.e., DEATH] in order to leave them in the hands of her Spouse, who at the end will come to encounter her. [Who will come as “Just Judge” and “King of Fearful Majesty”.]This is our Mother Church! I see her in this weeping widow. And what does the Lord say to the Church? “Do not cry. I am with you, I’ll take you, I’ll wait for you there, in the wedding, the last nuptials, those of the Lamb. Stop [your tears]: this son of yours was dead, now he lives.”  [Watch some people pounce!  Ha!]

And this , he continued, “is the dialogue of the Lord with the Church.” She, “defends the children, but when she sees that the children are dead, she crys, and the Lord says to her: ‘I am with you and your son is with me.’” As he told the boy at Naim to get up from his deathbed, the Pope added, many times Jesus also tells us to get up, “when we are dead because of sin and we are going to ask for forgiveness.” And then what does Jesus “when He forgives us, when He gives us back our life?” He Returns us to our mother: [GO TO CONFESSION!]

“Our reconciliation with the Lord end in the dialogue ‘You, me and the priest who gives me pardon’; it ends when He restores us to our mother. There ends reconciliation, because there is no path of life, there is no forgiveness, there is no reconciliation outside of Mother Church. [NB you who think the Pope thinks the Church isn’t necessary: “there is no reconciliation outside of Mother Church”.] So, seeing this poor widow, all these things come to me somewhat randomly – But I see in this widow the icon of the widowhood of the Church who is on a journey to find her Bridegroom. [Which happens at a) death or b) the end of the world.] I get the urge to ask the Lord for the grace to be always confident of this “mommy” who defends us, teaches us, helps us grow and [teaches] us to speak the dialect.”

A few things.

First, the sermon seems to have had a nearly Patristic ring, stemming from his use of types and symbols.

Second, the widows the Lord encounters, such as the widow at Naim whose only son died were, in the ancient world, among the most vulnerable of all the “little ones”, in Hebrew anawim, the unprotected.  A woman without sons and husband was vulnernable and alone.  So too, today, is Holy Church becoming a widow in many ways, especially where she is being pushed to the margins and out of the public square.

Third, in the ancient Church there were “orders” of classes of people consecrated for work in the Church, especially having to do with corporal works of mercy.  For example, there was an order of consecrated virgins.  This order has been revived since the Council.  There was an order of gravediggers.  There was an order of widows.  They had to be 60 years old, of good reputation, and engaged in works of mercy.  The Church looked after them, especially through the ministry of deacons.

Fourth, contrast what the Holy Father says about these widows with his warning to modern women religious not to become “zitelle… spinsters”, which in Italian hints at sourness.

There has been some discussion of a revival of the Order of Widows.

I warmly and wholeheartedly support a revival of the Order of Widows.

May Pope Francis give close consideration to the work that has already been prepared concerning a modern incarnation of the Order of Widows.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    This would be nice and some of us were talking about this years ago when the Order of the Consecrated Virgins was re-instated. One would have to be, in the Order of Widows, a real widow, and not married, divorced and annulled. The Scriptures are clear about those women in the order having a high level of holiness and not be into drinking lots of wine. St. Ambrose has this to say about the Order of Widows from a treatise on this found here. Women who are in this position could help and encourage one another in good works.

    . So, then, a widow is not only marked off by bodily abstinence, but is distinguished by virtue, to whom I do not give commandments, but the Apostle. I am not the only person to do them honour, but the Doctor of the Gentiles did so first, when he said: Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let her first learn to govern her own house, and to requite her parents. 1 Timothy 5:3-4 Whence we observe that each inclination of affection ought to exist in a widow, to love her children and to do her duty to her parents. So when discharging her duty to her parents she is teaching her children, and is rewarded herself by her own compliance with duty, in that what she performs for others benefits herself.

    8. For this, says he, is acceptable with God. 1 Timothy 5:3-4 So that if you, O widow, carest for the things of God, you ought to follow after that which you have learned to be well pleasing to God. And, indeed, the Apostle somewhat farther back, 1 Corinthians 7:34 exhorting widows to the pursuit of continence, said that they mind the things of the Lord. But elsewhere, when a widow who is approved is to be selected, she is bidden not only to bear in mind but also to hope in the Lord: For she that is a widow indeed, it is said, and desolate, must hope in God, and be instant in supplications and prayers night and day. 1 Timothy 5:5 And not without reason does he show that these ought to be blameless, to whom, as virtuous works are enjoined, so, too, great respect is paid, so that they are honoured even by bishops.

    9. And of what kind she ought to be who is chosen the description is given in the words of the teacher himself: Not less than threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. 1 Timothy 5:9 Not that old age alone makes the widow, but that the merits of the widow are the duties of old age. For she certainly is the more noble who represses the heat of youth, and the impetuous ardour of youthful age, desiring neither the tenderness of a husband, nor the abundant delights of children, rather than one who, now worn out in body, cold in age, of ripe years, can neither grow warm with pleasures, nor hope for offspring.

    10. Nor in truth is any one excluded from the devotion of widowhood, if after entering upon a second marriage, which the precepts of the Apostle certainly do not condemn as though the fruit of chastity were lost, if she be again loosed from her husband. She will have, indeed, the merit of her chastity, even if it be tardy, but she will be more approved who has tried a second marriage, for the desire of chastity is conspicuous in her, for the other old age or shame seems to have put an end to marrying.

    11. Nor yet is bodily chastity alone the strong purpose of the widow, but a large and most abundant exercise of virtue. Well reported of for good works, if she have brought up children; if she have lodged strangers; if she have washed the saints’ feet; if she have ministered to those suffering tribulation; if, lastly, she have followed after every good work. 1 Timothy 5:10 You see how many practices of virtue he has included. He demands, first of all, the duty of piety; secondly, the practice of hospitality and humble service; thirdly, the ministry of mercy and liberality in assisting; and, lastly, the performance of every good work.

  2. wolfeken says:

    I wish traditional and conservative orders of sisters and nuns would once again open their doors to widows to become women religious, even in their 60s and 70s.

    Some of the best women religious — including many foundresses of orders — were widows.

  3. Tradster says:

    Those were beautiful, nicely phrased and comforting words. That said, either I’m missing an obvious point (quite likely!) or the widowhood analogy was stretched a bit too far. The Church is not a widow nor is Her Bridegroom missing. He promised to be with Her always, which He is in every tabernacle of the world.

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  5. McCall1981 says:

    I love this hearing this part:
    “The Bible, he stressed, says this woman who spoke to her sons “in the local dialect, in their first language,” and, he noted, our Mother Church speaks to us in dialect, in “that language of true orthodoxy, which we all understand, the language of catechism,” that, “gives us the strength to go forward in the fight against evil”.

  6. Fr AJ says:

    I think this is a wonderful idea. I wonder on a practical level, what would this order look like? Would they live together in a convent much like our own religious sisters and have an ordered life or would they live on their own in their own homes and get together to do good works?

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: “the Church is not a widow” — No, but “the Church is in a sense a widow.” Whenever somebody says, “in a sense,” it means that in some ways this is so, but in other ways it is not so. So the Church is not _actually_ a widow who is bereaved and alone, but in some ways she is in the same position as a widow who is bereaved and alone.

    Just because Jesus is alive and well now, and we’re happy about that, doesn’t mean that we don’t still mourn and lament His death and our complicity in it. And if Jesus being always with us in the Tabernacle was exactly the same as Jesus’ Second Coming, Jesus wouldn’t be having a Second Coming. He is present now Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity; but it is still better to be with Him in Heaven, and it’s better to be with Him in a resurrection body on the new earth and new heaven than to be in Heaven with Him, even. If there weren’t increasing levels of bliss, there’d be no need for all the eschatological things to come.

    So, in a sense, the Church is deprived and bereaved, compared to the wonderful things Jesus will do for His Bride upon His return, and compared to the radiance of her when she descends from Heaven, arrayed like the Bride she is.

  8. CatholicMD says:

    That was probably the best of the Holy Father’s fervorini that I have read (along with the one about God-spray, that cracked me up).

  9. rbbadger says:

    I think there are some orders that would consider it. The Abbey of Regina Laudis has women who entered in their 50s and 60s. My only other Catholic relative, Sister Mary Catherine Romney Cheney, OCD became a Carmelite. As sometimes happens when one spouse leaves Mormonism, she and her husband divorced. She entered the Carmel in Alhambra, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. Later on, part of that community would go on to found the Carmel in Holladay, Utah. Sister Catherine was an extern sister. She received her solemn profession in 1961, at age 61 and was the first Carmelite to receive solemn profession in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. She pronounced her solemn vows in the presence of Bishop Duane G. Hunt, himself a convert from Methodism.

  10. robtbrown says:

    My understanding is that the origin of the Dominican sisters (rather than contemplative nuns) was a group of widows who were tertiaries lived in community and wore the habit.

    NB: I’ll gladly defer to Fr Augustine Thompson op on this.

  11. PA mom says:

    St Jane Frances de Chantal was a widow. I have read that her order was originally constructed to allow women like herself both widowed, older and with children, enter for temporary periods of time and without strict enclosure.
    It sounded so sensible.

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  13. Precentrix says:

    Yes, restore it!

    I think some people here are confusing Religious Orders (and congregations) with the Order of Consecrated Virgins and the potential Order of Widows, which form an entirely separate category. The confused might like to take a look at canon 604 and at the website here: http://consecratedvirgins.org/

    Meanwhile, may I comment on the scarcity of priests who even know what one is talking about if one mentions consecrated virginity, as distinct from religious life or private vows. I assume the same would reply to consecrated widowhood, should it be restored.

  14. ByzantineAnna says:

    The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) has a group of consecrated widows. [Perhaps an informal one, in the sense that it is not yet something that Rome has established. Commendable, but we need a true revival.]

  15. benedetta says:

    This is very beautiful. I would love to follow these homilies in their entirety if available.

  16. Bruce Wayne says:

    This is a really lovely piece from Pope Francis.

    It makes me think that to some extent we have been so used to having two distinctly intellectual popes that it has been difficult to adjust to the style of Francis. I know that sounds so strange when speaking of a Jesuit, i.e., saying he is not an “intellectual”; but, that is frankly where the order is at and has been for some time. It just has not been producing many intellectual heavyweights in recent decades. I consider Dulles an exception to that unfortunate rule.

  17. Gratias says:

    No comprende Papa Francisco.

  18. Bea says:

    Papa Francisco no comprende? o Yo no lo comprendo?
    Porque yo NO lo comprendo. (I don’t understand the Pope).

    This statement:
    “because the Church is in a sense widow””
    “The Bridegroom is gone and she walks in history, hoping to find him, to meet with Him – and she will be His true bride. In the meantime she – the Church – is alone! The Lord is nowhere to be seen.”
    Is not understandable to me. Somebody enlighten me. Fr. Z?

    I thought Christ said He would not leave us orphans.
    I thought Christ was still with us in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
    I thought The Holy Spirit was with The Church and we were not alone.
    I thought He could be seen with the eyes of Faith, during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
    Indeed, how many Saints has He spoken to, how many have heard His Words or been enlightened in His Holy Presence in the Tabernacle. Thanks be to God, we are not alone.

    As to an order of widows:
    that’s an excellent idea.
    We have many widowed ladies visiting the Blessed Sacrament during the day.
    I firmly believe it is their prayers that have kept our parish from being one of the most traditional parishes in our diocese (though we have not yet achieved having the TLM).
    And it is their prayers that have brought about the most vocations in our parish (not counting the Mexican and African imports in the diocese).
    Widows make wonderful columns of prayerful support for priests and vocations.

  19. J.M.C. says:

    I don’t mean to sound too cynical, but I do wonder if trying to re-establish the ancient Order of Widows within the Church’s contemporary framework of consecrated life is really a wise idea at this particular point in time.

    I say this because I’ve noticed that there are still a lot of “growing pains” with the revived Order of Virgins—that is, there are still a lot of unanswered legal questions, difficult pastoral situations, and a lack of a universal vision as to how a life of consecrated virginity should be lived out concretely. Likewise, I think we’re also STILL working towards a proper understanding of the role of the (similarly restored) permanent diaconate in the life of today’s Church.

    I believe it would be a good thing if pastors encouraged a deeper understanding of the Patristic spirituality of widowhood, and I think that the more private, informal modes of living out a personal vocation to dedicated widowhood are very commendable.

    But, I think it might be more prudent to delay the re-establishment of a recognized Order of Widows until we have a lot more qualified thought, consideration, and scholarship on the possible canonical and pastoral implications of this kind of “new” public state of life within the Church.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    wolfeken, and others, religious orders, as I know from recent experience, are extremely rigorous and would be too difficult for most 60 plusers, as I found out the hard way. Plus, the charism of a religious order is very different from that of the old order of widows in the world, who were called upon to work with the poor and so on. To just expect women to fit into strict days of the hours and so on is not realistic and, there is a need for widows in the world to have community in the world. What a great witness it would be.

    As to the Order of Consecrated Virgins, and I know two, this is working out well in those two cases. I have written on that on my blog and it is a great idea. One must remember these calls are real vocations and not merely a club. One has a vocation to orders, not merely a place for people to go when older and widowed.

  21. joan ellen says:

    J.M.C. says: “I believe it would be a good thing if pastors encouraged a deeper understanding of the Patristic spirituality of widowhood, and I think that the more private, informal modes of living out a personal vocation to dedicated widowhood are very commendable.”

    J.M.C., I like the above sentence. In my widowhood, since age 63, I try to live “…out a personal vocation to dedicated widowhood…”. Joining an order which considers women in my age group, such as the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope, sounds good. It is not my vocation. Another Sacrament of Matrimony is not strictly off limits to me. A “dedicated widowhood” may be more to my liking, however. Why? Too busy with my “dedicated widowhood” to include a full time companion. As much as I like the idea of the companionship…support, encouragement, criticism, holding hands walking along the beach, eating together, asking for and receiving help, needing the male perspective, leadership and direction, and having someone to pray with on a daily basis while I offer the same with a female perspective of help.

    Supertradmum says: ” To just expect women to fit into strict days of the hours and so on is not realistic and, there is a need for widows in the world to have community in the world. What a great witness it would be.”

    Supertradmum, the need for “community in the world” is needed I agree. Most of the women I hang out with are divorced women or young un-marrieds. Most widows I know are with their many children and grandchildren on a daily basis, or do social things with other widows. Since my children do not live close by, I prefer to do social things, Church related, with much younger single men and women….to be like an Aunt to them. This mimics family life with the older, the middle ones, and the younger. Prayer, especially the Mass, but also the Rosary, Holy Hours, etc., is a key component in all of my social interactions.

    I really appreciate the Holy Father’s words re: widowhood of the Church. My experience as a widow teaches me that widows do enjoy graces (and blessings) that a married woman does not. It is much to be grateful for, though the loss of my husband is significant.

  22. J.M.C. says:


    Just to clarify, I think it’s wonderful that the Church re-established the ancient Order of Virgins. It’s a beautiful vocation, and also one with a lot of theological significance for the Church.

    And you’re right that there are many consecrated virgins who live out their vocation in an exemplary and inspiring way. But, even the most fervent consecrated virgins often suffer greatly due to a lack of basic pastoral support and clarity on certain canonical questions. (I remember even here on this blog, there was a story of a consecrated virgin who was told by her diocese: “We met and we decided that we do hermits, but we do not do virgins.”)

    My fear is that if the Church were to hasten to re-establish an official Order of Widows, but without doing some comprehensive theological and canonical “groundwork” beforehand, that this would setting up a whole new class of women for a lot of unexpected pain and struggles in their new vocation.

    I think efforts to revive an appreciation for a traditional spirituality of dedicated widowhood is an excellent idea. But, I think it might be better if this was given a chance to grow up more “organically” through things like personal, private commitments and less-formal groups—rather than rushing to create an officially recognized order or a new type of public status right away.

  23. Braut des Lammes says:

    J.M.C, this is exactly what I though. In addition: Pope Paul VI. did not exactly reinstate the Order of Virgins. iMHO, The Order of Virgins existied all the time since the beginning of the churche. Pope Paul reinstated the possibility for a virgin to live in the world (as many of them did in ancient times).

  24. BenedictineOblate says:

    Here is a question that is slightly off topic, but I do feel that it has merit here: Is there anyone who can tell me how a penitent woman might find like-minded women such as herself (me), women who don’t fit the virgin or widow calling, but who are and have answered the call to the single life for her Bridegroom Jesus Christ and have no real- or so it seems- place to turn? I have read and searched, however, there seems to be no place for someone such as myself. Can someone help?

  25. A.D. says:

    Whatever our past lives or circumstances, I believe there are many of us – not widows and not called to the Consecrated Virgin life, religious life, hermit life, or to marriage – who try to witness to the Kingdom of God by living, for the love of God, a single, chaste life in service to the Church. It can be a lonely life without the support of others of like circumstances and mind. We just don’t seem to fit in.

    If Father Z is willing, he may give you my email and we can chat.

    “That in All Things God May Be Glorified!”


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