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"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

On Hearing Women's Confessions: To Father Alberto Ferrarese, Rome, June 29, 1555

Alberto Ferrarese had been in Venice but several months when he began to grow uneasy about the Venetian women coming to confession in dress that he considered immodest. Of the Jesuit priests in his community, he was the only one permitted to hear the confessions of women, since the Inquisition there had stipulated that only priests who had reached their thirty-sixth birthday could serve as confessors for women. Ferrarese was, at this time, forty-five years old, and the only one in the community over thirty-six. Hence all women's confessions fell to him. In his letter Ignatius tells him how to deal with women who dress according to the Venetian fashion. Ignatius' letter was written in Italian [Ep. 9:266-2167].


Beloved Father Master Alberto.

The peace of Christ.

From father rector's letter we learn that your reverence is uneasy about the dress and personal adornment of the women of Venice, and you are quite right, for in this matter they frequently offend both God our Lord and are the cause of others offending Him. Where the practice is common, however, and there neither is, nor appears to be, any excess other than the said practice, and no intention of sinning or of causing others to sin, it is not considered mortally sinful. Moreover, if any women should do this to please her husband, there would not even be venial sin.

On other occasions we have written on this matter as follows. Where there is no notable curiosity—nothing beyond what is common—and no bad intention, though there might be some vanity in a woman so presenting herself as to display her charms, and so forth, they could be absolved the first time with an admonition and a bit of advice. But if they return and again confess this, especially if they are frequent communicants, you must make them give up this vanity and put an end to this bad practice, as much as possible. Should they be unwilling to comply, you could tell them that you will absolve them this time but not in the future, and if they do not wish to give up their vanity they should go to confession elsewhere. Even though you do not condemn them as guilty of mortal sin, there is great imperfection, and if one does not wish to give up such imperfection the Society will have nothing to do with them.

Your reverence may be allowing your zeal to mislead you, and so, in such cases, you should be guided by the judgment of the rector, since it is possible for him to know, outside of confession, what everyone knows and sees. Do not be timid or scrupulous when he thinks you should not be.

I will say no more, except that charity and the desire to help souls is accustomed to make the members of the Society brave, and in this way God helps them. I beg of Him to bestow upon your reverence the abundance of His grace.

From Rome, June 29, 1555.
1. Ferrarese’s family name was Azzolini, but because he had been born in Ferrara (about 1510), his Jesuit brethren referred to him as Ferrarese. He entered the Society in Rome in 1552, had been rector of the college at Gubbio, and when that institution closed in 1554, he went to Venice. He died in Ferrara in April 1558.
I. In July 1521, a 30-year-old Basque knight, named Iñigo was brought home to recuperate after his cannonball experience in the battle of Pamplona—his watershed moment. The wounds on his lower limbs led to the first long lockdown in his life, about nine months, during which he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints, the only reading matter the Loyola castle afforded. He also killed time by recalling tales of martial valor and by day-dreaming about a great lady who captured his heart. Later when he was out of mortal danger, his attention was centered on the saints. This profoundly moved and attracted him that soon after he had barely recovered he resolved to do something about his many sins. To fulfill this he must embark on a journey towards conversion. He followed the holy austerities of the saints, eg Francis of Assisi, Onuphrius of Egypt and Dominic, that God sent as his first spiritual guides in his lifelong task towards holiness.
II. "That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life… The contemplation of these mysteries, as St Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, leads us to incarnate them in our choices and attitudes" (Gaudete et Exsultate—Rejoice and Be Glad 20).

St Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens c. 1622
III. "This spiritual poverty is closely linked to what St Ignatius of Loyola calls 'holy indifference', which brings us to a radiant interior freedom: 'We need to train ourselves to be indifferent to our attitude to all created things, in all that is permitted to our free will and not forbidden’ so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest" (Gaudete et Exsultate—Rejoice and Be Glad 69).