Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

February 28, 2009

Mary, Our Mother, Pray for Us

This was a discovery I stumbled upon while studying. When I saw it, I knew I had to share it with my sisters in Christ. I hope that it will be a tool in helping all of us to seek after Christ.

Image of the Blessed Virgin obtained from here.

Catholic Feminism Revisited

I'd like to share some more thoughts about being a Catholic feminist. Edith's post got me thinking, and I wanted to get my critical wheels turning to work out some things in my head. Like Edith, I question some women's motivation to define themselves as feminine precisely against what has been the traditional understanding for thousands of years. I think we should search to understand the good they are seeking: some of these traditional values have been used for the subjugation of women in absolutely despicable ways. (N.B. It's helpful to think of subjugation not only in the American sense but in the sense of barbaric treatment of women in other countries that is often unspeakable). However, when something traditional is written off, I think it's best for that group to critically examine what they are opposed to and not to write off the whole thing. After all, in my understanding, tradition is something (a belief or practice) which is passed along throughout generations because it touches on something real or true, even if it looks different in different eras.

I think it would be helpful for strong women of faith (and by strong I mean opinionated, engaged in the world, and fully alive) to understand the four waves of feminism, because we should not dismiss those who are defining themselves against our traditions because of our frustration with them; we should seek to understand so as to dialogue. Perhaps others' insights might help strength our own, either by strengthening our convictions or helping us to define our Catholic femininity more sharply.

First wave: Some of my favorite suffragettes (cue David Bowie, "Suffragette City") begin the movement. Our American foremothers spoke up for our ability to own property, to be considered equal in dignity before the law, and to protect ourselves in bad marriages. With the exception of Margaret Sanger's promotion of Planned Parenthood, I think we can say this wave supports Christ's demonstration of women's dignity and purpose, no? As a side note, not one of the first wave ladies supported abortion; they thought it was an affront to women's dignity.

Second wave: In general, this movement focused on ending discrimination against women in society and in the political sphere. Sounds fine to me! I do not pretend to understand the sociology of "sexist power struggles," but it seems to me that we have been granted so much more freedom because of this positive part of the second movement.

Third wave: And it's here that I start to shutter. Though there is an internal discrepancy about what this movement consists of, in general it seeks to challenge previous generations' definitions and concepts of womanhood. It seeks to explain and explore gender as a consequence of social conditioning and tries to redefine femininity in new ways. In many ways, they are a reacting to the first and second movements or are claiming they didn't go far enough or in the right direction. The question is, how do we speak with this group about gender as something with a real essence (this is me going metaphysical on you), something grounded in being, something in nature but also with a supernatural purpose? It is here that Catholic women have to tread carefully, to acknowledge sociological phenomena and their influence on our lives, but also to tap into sociology being part of the natural law and the precept to live in community (and how living in community touches on something both natural and supernatural). This is where we need to get our hands dirty and dialogue.

Fourth wave: Post-feminism. Some people say we're here; some people say we aren't (it's just the same stupid, silly debate in the academy that is not going away anytime soon). My scholarly Wikipedia source for you (ha!) cites Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones as examples of post-feminists. Two professional women, engaged in the world and in pop culture, enjoying their "sexual liberation," but ultimately seeking that traditional end of a boyfriend or a spouse with whom they will share a life and support one another.

Aside from the twisted understanding of true sexual liberation, I can kind of see myself in a Carrie or a Bridget. What a privilege it is to be single. Everyday is mine. Not mine to do exactly as I please; instead to sanctify my work, to serve those in the workplace, to be social with friends and to enjoy people and places and things. I am able to pursue the things that I am passionate about: to get a graduate degree, to teach in a prestigious school and work with the demographic that I am called to, to enjoy fashion (cheap chic!), and to feel satisfaction in supporting myself financially, etc. And at the same time, my single life is fully feminine. I feel so blessed to try to sanctify the world by being immersed in it and by taking advantage of all of the opportunities that I have to engage the world that were given to me by strong, beautiful women in the past.
God Bless America and God Bless Women!

February 27, 2009

Down in the Dumps

I need to vent so badly, and I don't want to leave my classroom to talk to anyone at school. It's so hard to confide in anyone here (besides Jesus of course in the chapel), because in a school of 500 women, no one can keep anything in confidence.

I've been so down lately, despite the countless blessings that are showered upon me. It's only the third day of Lent, and I'm already turning in to face myself and am failing to look out on Jesus who I promised to see and touch in those around me.

Today I side-swiped my car (poor Agatha was in the passenger's seat). It was a ridiculous thing to do, and I cannot stop beating myself up about it. I don't know how I'm going to pay for it.

Which brings up another point: I am not able to save in the city that I live in between my modest salary as a teacher and the expenses that this city demands (rent alone). I am wondering whether or not staying here is the best option for me.

Which brings me to another point: Why is there so much instability in the twenties? Why can't I find some firm foundation? I feel as if I am continually walking up the down escalator, trying to get to a destination but without any success. I can't see the road ahead of me, and even if I can, I'm not walking it with joy.

Which brings me to my final point: I cannot remain in the present moment. I cannot walk the road of uncertainty very well. I am impatient. But even when things go my way, I try to talk myself out of deserving them or pursuing them. I am always fearful of losing something or someone, and so I try to sabotage something good immediately (this especially is manifesting itself in the fact that I've been on two dates with a really nice guy but want to stop pursuing it, because I can't even enjoy or believe that someone wants to spend time with a nutcase like me, who can't even recognize the blessings around her).

Please say a prayer for me. I am extremely anxious and sad, and my students are testing my patience and my dedication to my vocation. I am so very much looking forward to spring, and working my way through the purgation of Lent.

I pray for all of you.

Online Dating's Meat Market

In her recent Washington Post column, Miss Manners answered a question about Online Dating Etiquette:
Dear Miss Manners: Do you have any "rules" for online dating that pertain to determining the person's character and integrity before continuing the relationship? …What is the real deal anymore? So many men seem to be just looking to hook up.

Gentle Reader: So Miss Manners has been told for the last millennium or two. Hardly something she can be expected to reverse with a few pithy words.

Let us therefore address only the aspects of the situation that relate to Internet dating. While undeniably making it easier to meet great numbers of people looking for romance, it has, as you say, made an always risky venture even scarier.

Before this method, people met through other people, whom they both knew.

No, wait. Miss Manners has skipped an era, possibly because she prefers to forget. Before the Internet, determined people were meeting in singles bars. And complaining that these were, as they so elegantly put it, "meat markets." What they meant was that an awful lot of people were there looking for something a bit quicker (and more quickly over) than romance.

And sadly, there were some ladies who misunderstood the concept of the one-night stand, believing that the traditional timeline could be reversed and that courtship would follow.

Meeting through introductions from those who knew both people never precluded such unfortunate misconnections. But it does offer certain protections.

One is reputation. The go-between, knowing something of each person's character and history, is able to vouch for them -- and, if wrong, to damage the reputation of anyone who behaved badly. The online equivalent requires accepting the testimony of people who are equally unknown, and being able to warn only other prospects, without reaching the offender's own circle.

The other protection is deniability. People who frankly declare themselves to be looking for romance are bound to encounter different interpretations of what may loosely be termed romance. But those who meet socially need not seem ridiculously -- if not fraudulently -- coy if they make up their minds about prospects slowly under the guise of mere acquaintanceship. They may plausibly become indignant at crude advances. As a bonus, they lack the paradoxically unattractive aspect of someone who is "looking."
Miss Manners is well aware that all this is little help to those who feel that long work hours and a demise in strictly social entertaining have given them no choice but to turn to strangers. She offers it only with the slim hope that it will encourage everyone to develop and cherish circles in which romance will flourish naturally, as it always has.
I just love her answer for so many reasons. She doesn’t moralize—that’s not her place—but she does talk about cultivating a culture of respect interest and genuine romance.

I’ve never done online dating—though I know of several very happy online-dating marriages. Still, I would never consider it, because it seems to me to be as much a meat-market (if not more) as a bar scene, or other similarly disgusting and objectifying experience. But the cultivation of Romance through friendship seems to me to be the best and (let’s be honest) safest way.

While I’m at it: there was a fascinating article in December in the New York Times about the end of dating:
It turns out that everything is the opposite of what I remember. Under the old model, you dated a few times and, if you really liked the person, you might consider having sex. Under the new model, you hook up a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider going on a date.

I asked her to explain the pros and cons of this strange culture. According to her, the pros are that hooking up emphasizes group friendships over the one-pair model of dating, and, therefore, removes the negative stigma from those who can’t get a date. As she put it, “It used to be that if you couldn’t get a date, you were a loser.” Now, she said, you just hang out with your friends and hope that something happens.
he cons center on the issues of gender inequity. Girls get tired of hooking up because they want it to lead to a relationship (the guys don’t), and, as they get older, they start to realize that it’s not a good way to find a spouse. Also, there’s an increased likelihood of sexual assaults because hooking up is often fueled by alcohol.

That’s not good. So why is there an increase in hooking up? According to Professor Bogle, it’s: the collapse of advanced planning, lopsided gender ratios on campus, delaying marriage, relaxing values and sheer momentum.

It used to be that “you were trained your whole life to date,” said Ms. Bogle. “Now we’ve lost that ability — the ability to just ask someone out and get to know them.”

Now that’s sad.

February 26, 2009

On the Virtue of Temperance

I've been on a 'virtue' kick lately -- probably as a result of immersing myself in the ancient political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle these past few months. I thought I'd meditate on the virtue of temperance today, especially since we all had to practice it on Ash Wednesday as we observed the fast (and I don't know about you all, but I certainly struggle with it!!) After all, temperance is the moral virtue that keeps our desire for the bodily goods in check. How easy it is to indulge in good things, to rejoice in the goodness of the created world that God has given to us.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, we naturally desire those things that are good for us and seem good to us. So why do we need temperance? Well, I'd like to consider this question by using a meditation on Christ's temptation in the desert by Father Thomas Rosica.

As you know, before Christ began his public ministry, he was tempted by Satan in the desert -- tempted to change stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, tempted to worship the evil one in exchange for power, and tempted to prove the Father's love for Him by casting Himself off the side of a mountain to see if God will send His angels to save Him. Each one of these temptations Christ overcomes through His faithfulness. So, what does this have to do with temperance??

Well, temperance is that moral virtue which gets us to curb our appetites. Now that's easy, we curb our appetites for food, drink, sex, etc. But consider the ways in which our appetites get in the way of our spiritual life. Consider how our spiritual lives can suffer if we are too busy inundating our lives with material things. Father Rosica writes:
"When and how do I find moments of contemplation in the midst of a busy life? How have I lived in the midst of my own deserts? Have I been courageous and persistent in fighting with the demons? How have I resisted transforming my own deserts into places of abundant life? "

Isn't that part of the purpose of temperance? That is, to turn those desert moments of our lives into an opportunity for grace, to allow God to give us His life more abundantly? Temperance disciplines us to put material goods in their proper place. And isn't so easy for women to get hung up on material goods? We love to decorate, shop, look fabulous, and give our surroundings that 'woman's touch.' And that's what I love about being a woman, but it so easily can dominate our lives and turn us away from God. Consider what Father Rosica says about the first temptation of Christ:
In the first temptation in the desert, Jesus responds to the evil one, not by denying human dependence on sustenance (food), but rather by putting human life and the human journey in perspective. Those who follow Jesus cannot become dependent on the things of this world. When we are so dependent on material things, and not on God, we give in to temptation and sin.

Temperance teaches us not to be dependent on material things and trains our minds and hearts to turn to God. Through it we realize as Father Rosica says, "that we must have some spiritual space in our lives where we can strip away the false things that cling to us and breathe new life into our dreams and begin again." That's what practicing temperance is all about, and that's what Lent allows us to do. Temperance prepares us to depend on God for our all, even in those moments we are tempted to despair. For in the midst of the desert, Father Rosica writes, we can "open our hearts to Him and allow Him to make our own deserts bloom."

February 25, 2009

The Reality of Sin

Here’s a great piece by the Colleen Campbell, author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy and Fellow at EPPC:
G. K. Chesterton once quipped that the doctrine of original sin "is the only part of Christian theology which really can be proved" because even the most confirmed skeptic "can see it in the street."

Obvious as the reality of sin may be on our streets today, many American Catholics have heard precious little about this politically incorrect topic in recent decades. Although intense interest in indulgences is not a trend I have observed among young Catholics I profiled in my book or most Catholics of any age, I do see a connection between the renewed emphasis on indulgences and a growing hunger among Catholics for deeper understanding of the mysteries of sin, grace and repentance.
…There is a sense among these young Catholics, and among those older Catholics who return to a more intentional practice of their faith, that the do-it-yourself, take-it-easy spirituality so popular today is a dead end. They believe in the reality of sin and they want salvation.

These "reverts," as they often call themselves, also want the Church. The distinctiveness of Catholic doctrine and devotions does not repel them; it attracts them. For individualistic Americans accustomed to hearing that salvation is a private matter with nothing in particular to do with the larger Body of Christ, the idea that one believer's acts of devotion, penance and alms-giving could alleviate the suffering of another believer awaiting full union with God in the afterlife is radical, even if it is centuries old. And the requirement that comes with any plenary indulgence -- of "complete detachment" from even small sins -- is a bracing reminder that the journey toward intimacy with God entails profound personal transformation, not merely the rattling off of the right prayers.

February 24, 2009

(not) Angry

Today I nearly broke down and quit my job. My boss put me in the middle of a terrible situation, had no apologies for it, and it was all his fault in the first place. Then, when we were done talking about it, he said "how are you?"--I nearly exploded. Instead, I ended the conversation as quickly as possible, and hung up.

As soon as I hung up, I shouted the most vulgar word I knew, and then looked up and realized I was in front of a Church.

Edith's post about reserving judgement is so important and inspiring. For my part, in dealing with this terrible job, I have been so caught up in anger and bitterness. Instead of seeing it as a chance to grow in grace, I've indulged in my "justified" anger. It's true, I'm getting better at executing the job, and I'm always offering it up, which helps some, but I am not getting better at bearing with it.

My prayer for lent is that I find a new job. My goal in lent is to let Christ calm that anger, at least a little bit.

What Are You Giving Up for Lent??

That's the question we were always asked by our peers in our Catholic grade school growing up. But what does it mean to deny ourselves something for Lent? I do the same types of things -- give up chocolate (I am a legitimate chocoholic), give up sweets, abstain from all those good foods that I love, etc. And fasting from good food is certainly something that we should do, but sometimes crucifying the flesh does not always benefit spiritually if we don't have the right orientation. So this year, I've decided to do something more for the Lord. I am crucifying my spirit and letting Christ root out those little vices I have within me.

Recently, I've been struggling with being judgmental toward others. Little thoughts about people, just things that are kind of mean. It's so easy to judge, to think less of a person to make yourself feel better about your own vices. But I just watched the Youtube clip of Danielle Rose that Julian just posted below. Wow!! What an inspirational woman!!! What a tremendous understanding of the Eucharist and the meaning of God's sacrifice! Christ did not die so I could sit here and justify my own faults by thinking poorly of others. He died and left us the Eucharist -- Himself -- so I could be united to all souls in HIM, so that He could give me new life and make me a new creation. And if He does it for me, He does it for all. How we could hold any bitterness toward each other knowing what Christ does for us?

This Lent, let's give up resentment toward each other. Let us work to right our wrongs and let Christ enter His light into our life in a more powerful, lasting way. Let us remember how to love again, in the most full sense of the meaning of love. I resolve to meditate on the meaning of the Holy Cross and to let the most beautiful words of the Prophet Isaiah (43:25) penetrate my soul: "I am, I am he that blots out your iniquities for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins."

February 23, 2009

Preparing for Lent

As we prepare for Lent, I think it might be a good time to think about what it means to be women of Christ traveling with Him on the road to Calvary. I immediately think of the women of Jerusalem to whom Jesus says, "Do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and your children." (Lk 23:28). On Good Friday I cannot help but weep for my Lord. Yet His is right; the nails are also driven into his mystical body, to those who belong to Him and those souls for whom He is still yearning.

When we pray, fast, and give alms this Lent, let us as women notice where it is that we might wipe Jesus' face, clean His wounds, and give Him drink by serving those around us. Let us get one another to Paradise.

A quick note: I always find Danielle Rose's CD on the Mysteries of the Rosary so moving, especially during Lent; I like to listen to her meditations while praying the rosary (pending I have more than 15 minutes!) For more information on her, go here and here. Her Cd's (there are three I think) are all available on iTunes. Oh, and here is a beautiful clip of her on YouTube.

Blessings to all of my sisters and to our friends and readers.

February 21, 2009

On the Virtue of Courage

I just read a great news article on the Bishop of Scranton, PA, who has threatened to close down St. Patrick's day celebrations if any pro-abortion 'Catholic' political officials are honored at the celebrations. Awesome. Be sure to check out the story. How we need such courageous bishops, who are not moved by concern for human respect but instead unwaveringly stand up for the truth.

Anyway, it inspired me to reflect on the virtue of courage. Courage is typically considered a manly virtue, not one that we women should readily exhibit. But we know that's wrong. To that effect, if you get the chance -- I must recommend the recent German film Sophie Scholl: Die Letzen Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Last Days). Sophie Scholl was a student in Nazi Germany who, along with her brother Hans and several other students began the resistance movement the White Rose Society. They were murdered by guillotine by the Nazis on February 22, 1943. Tomorrow is the anniversary of their death... Wow, the film was so powerful and was based upon recently discovered interviews Sophie had with her Nazi interrogators. She was so brave, and I hope that she will inspire me with some of her courage to take up the fight for human dignity that she begun under the Nazis.

Anyway, on the virtue of courage. As you know, it is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit conferred upon us at the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines courage as "the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life." It is the virtue that enables us to conquer all fears, even the fear of death. Courage gives us the strength to heed our Lord's words and "pick up our Cross and follow Him."

Our church is full of some of the most fantastic women of courage! St. Edith Stein, St. Agatha, St. Cecelia, St. Agnes, Bl. Mother Teresa, and the list goes on and on. In some ways, I think feminine courage is even more beautiful than the masculine display of this virtue. Courageous women reveal Christ in a unique way to the world. It takes courage to trust in the Lord in all that we do. We must be brave, we must be willing to face so many obstacles when we seek to do God's will. But we do practice courage, we seek to do God's will because we love Him. And as St. Edith Stein, one of the most courageous women I know of, says, "No spiritual work comes into the world without great suffering. It always challenges the whole person".

February 20, 2009

Catholic Feminism--Biblically Considered

I thought I might post a little meditation on the subject of 'Catholic Feminism' brought by Julian a couple days ago. Of course, we have named this blog after two great Biblical women, Martha and Mary. But I want to consider a lesser-known (and unnamed) woman from the Scriptures. The synoptic Gospels tell of the healing of a woman -- St. Peter's mother in law. You can find the story in Mt. 8: 14-17; Mk 1: 29-34; Lk 4: 38-41. You should be familiar with the story. Jesus has begun his public ministry of healing, and he enters Peter's home to find his mother in law sick with fever. He touched her hand, and she was healed. She immediately rises and began to attend to their needs.

Now the typical radical feminist might be irate at this story. The first thing Peter's mother in law does is wait upon Peter and his friends when she is healed?? I mean, really, couldn't she just have a break -- shouldn't she have gotten something to eat first?? Shouldn't they have attended to her needs? There's a nagging little radical feminist tucked away somewhere thinking that, I promise you. Because (and you might find this incendiary), deep down inside radical feminism, I think there is an inordinate selfishness and lack of charity toward a sense of otherness. I know that's quite an accusatory judgment to make, but just consider that the icon and theme song of radical feminism today is the right to choose an abortion, and you might just catch what I am getting at.

But I think this story so spectacularly gives us an example of a Catholic feminist. What an honor it would be to wait upon the Lord, to attend to His needs, to serve Him and the men He personally chose to spread His Word to all nations!!!! (An aside: I think here of a song written by a Christian singer Brooke Fraser. She writes in a song called 'You'll Come' with these lyrics: "I have decided, I have resolved, to wait upon You, Lord. A Mighty Deliverer, our Triumph and Truth, I'll wait upon You, Lord." Though Brooke is not a Catholic -- she is with a large Evangelical church in Sydney, Australia called Hillsong -- her music is full of amazingly Biblical and Catholic themes. I'd recommend her song "Lead Me to the Cross" -- it's one of my favorites!) I would JUMP at the opportunity to wait upon Christ. And what better way to show one's gratitude for healing and love for Christ than to serve His every human need. How lucky His mother was to be able to nurture him as a child, to nurse the King of kings and Lord of lords. Sometimes, I feel more affinity with Martha than with Mary. Making guests comfortable, being conscientious of their needs, and attending to them makes me happy.

And isn't that part of embracing our feminine spirituality? Attending to others, serving them, making them happy - deep down, don't we all spiritually desire that? Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so. To deny women the fulfillment of their greatest spiritual desire destroys the root of who they are. I think that a critical element to an authentic feminism is the recognition that women are by nature 'other' oriented, and to attend to the needs of others fulfills them. So, I guess the question we will need to ask ourselves -- How, as Catholic women do we contribute to this understanding of an other-oriented female spiritually? How can we articulate it to other women, to encourage them to take action in a world that very often has denied them this fulfillment? How do we show women, as Julian so eloquently put it that "Christ - in fact expands the meaning of our womanhood beyond what it is in the natural realm?"

February 19, 2009

(don't) Leave Us!

There's a beautiful post by Amy Welborn that deals with the spiritual difficulties dealing with the sudden passing away of her husband:
My favorite story from Jesus’ life, one that I have relied on and been nourished by for a decade, rather intensely. The Gerasene demoniac.

You know the story. The man is possessed and lives among the tombs. He is as if dead. A legion dwells within. Jesus drives the demons out. The villagers come and see the man, clean and healed.

They turn to Jesus, and what is their response? Thank you? Do for us what you did for him? Heal us? Help us? Drive out our demons, less in number and quieter, but demons still? Make us whole, as he is?


“Leave us.”

The reason that has resonated with me so much over the years is that I think it characterizes so much about the spiritual journey. Mine at least. Grace surrounds us. The witness of good, holy people surround us - joyful. The fruit of love is as clear as day, the spoiled fruit of selfishness and indulgence is also as clear as day. The power of Jesus is right here. He waits, in love.

And we say, more often than not, fearful of the changes, fearful of what will be lost, “Leave us.”

In a rush, the connections came, it knit together more quickly than I could process. Immediately. God Alone. Leave Us.

There are stages, there are layers, there are bridges. There is a void, my best friend in the world is just - gone. But in this moment I am confronted with the question, most brutally asked, of whether I really do believe all that I say I believe. Into this time of strange, awful loss, Jesus stepped in. He wasted no time. He came immediately. His presence was real and vivid and in him the present and future, bound in love, moved close.

And Amanda Shaw, at FT, has some lovely thoughts about this as well:
I am reminded of Fr. Neuhaus’ story from As I Lay Dying, in which Father describes one of his early encounters with death. The man’s name was Albert, and, as the two of them prayed the Our Father together on a hot summer evening, he suddenly widened his eyes, looked intently at the pastor by his side, and said, “Don’t be afraid.” And that was it.

It is a wondrous thing when those who are suffering teach us how to rejoice, when those who are dying teach us how to live.

February 18, 2009

Catholic Feminism

What a title, right?  Can these two words be placed next to one another? 

For a long time I have considered myself a Catholic feminist.  Yet many feminist circles would tell me that I cannot be one as I am a Catholic, and many Catholics have told me that feminism is opposed to our faith.  I disagree with both sides, as I really do believe that I value and care about the flourishing of women in society, which I believe is ultimately explained to us in Christ - in fact he expands the meaning of our womanhood beyond what it is in the natural realm.  

Anyway, this is the beginning of food for thought.  Please, please comment, and I'll be bringing this up later.  We can talk about JPII's writing, but I'd be really interested in original thoughts and writings of other figures.  Let's get going, women! 

On another note, Papa B kicks some a** 

Sorry, I swear sometimes.  

Thoughts for the Godmother

I was at the baptism where Julian became a Godmother, and I have to admit, I was praying more for her than for little E.

A few years ago I attended another baptism, and afterward the baby, Peter fell asleep in my arms. His mother took him from me after he woke up (he was so small it didn't bother me at all and I held him for over an hour), and she looked at me with wide eyes and said: "Isn't that exciting? A saint fell asleep in your arms! I am always amazed by that!"

The gospel reading at the baptism, which was administered by a jolly deacon in the local parish, was (fittingly) from Mark's Gospel:
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Julian's goddaughter is a living saint now, too--beautiful, sinless, and full of grace. May her innocence witness to us, and teach us to be like a child in the lap of our Heavenly Father.

In the rite of baptism we pray for the Godparents:
--Make the lives of his (her) parents and godparents examples of faith to inspire this child. Lord hear us.
--Keep his (her) family always in your love. Lord hear us.
--Renew the grace of our baptism in each one of us. Lord hear us.
Renew that grace in us, Lord! Renew it in her parents and god-parents most of all!

(Painting: Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Meby Lucas Cranach the Elder)

February 16, 2009

Always a Godmother, never a God

Yesterday I had the honor of witnessing my first godchild's baptism. E was so precious and beautiful in her gown. I think the most poignant moments were when the deacon blessed her with her mother and then her father. Shortly after, he brought the baby to the Blessed Mother and then to the crucifix while he prayed with her. I was tearing up at the thought of this little one entering into Christ's life and being protected by a mother, father, and savior in heaven.

As I held little E at the party afterwards (it's always a good, Catholic party when there is plenty of food and drink!), I thought of how blessed I was to be a "spiritual" mother to her: to pray for her many times throughout the day, to offer up my actions for her, to give her over to the care of the Virgin Mary and to the sacred heart of Jesus. I'm going to pray that God inspires me in many ways to nuture little E in the unique role that I have been given.

The baptism was also importat for my faith life. For years now I have been in a spiritual "dry spell." In fact, when the book about Mother Teresa's "dark night" came out, I instantly related to her. After about 6 years of theological and philosophical study, God became an object to me, and I still find it harder and harder to have a personal relationship with the Trinity and Our Mother. And so my prayers have become mechanical, and I think that my life becomes my own. I take control of it (or so I think) and try to "play God." I want to manage my vocation to marriage, control my classroom, and orchestrate my relationships. (Of course I am getting spiritual direction, so no fear! Keep praying for me to daily renew my life with Christ, because those of you who are praying for me should know it's working!). This is, of course, an illusion and a falsehood, and yesterday helped me to see more clearly God's hand at work in my life.

When the deacon was asking me to renew my baptismal vows, he wrapped up by saying, "This is our faith; this is the faith of the Church." I remembered how simple the tenets of our faith are, and more importantly, how simple God is. Seeing E, so small and innocent, reminded me to "put on" such a simple, uncomplicated attitude like Christ's and to work on this during Lent. God is simple. And as Jesus insisted, we only need to look at the face of a child to know this.

February 13, 2009

Agatha's super-duper cure for Valentine’s day blues

So you don’t have a significant other, but to be cynical and “down-with-love” isn’t your style on a holiday—so you don’t want to get together with the girlfriends for a bitchfest. What shall you do with yourselves?

I propose you have dinner with some of your good married friends. I’ll bet many of them aren’t doing anything terribly special on this day of love—and there’s nothing better than hanging out on the feast day of the patron of marriage that hanging out with those who really witness to a good happy and healthy marriage themselves.

Maybe I’m strange, but I love hanging out with my married friends. I am lucky enough to have one of the couples I adore staying with my on valentine’s day—so I’m making a nice festive dinner (complete with a chocolate wine sauce for the beef), but not going over the top.

And, since we’re catholic: let’s not forget that tomorrow is also the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodious—who are awesome. So there are lots of reasons to celebrate. Don’t be lonely, and blue. Have fun. Wear Red. Celebrate love!

February 12, 2009

Saving Money!

I just had to share this with you all! I was watching the news this morning and there was a story on these women who pretty much have coupon clipping down to an art. They have strategies on layering coupons with sales, rebates, etc. They even got $370 worth of groceries FREE with a $6.00 back rebate just by using these strategies! Seems unbelievable, but it's true. They offer 'coupon parties' and have a website with their blog and coupon printouts called Whether you are married or single -- you can always save money! And less money on groceries means more money for shoes :-)

February 11, 2009

Movie Review

Single ladies: go see He's Just Not That Into You!  It was kind of predictable, but wonderful nonetheless.  I adore Ginnifer Goodwin; what a lovely new "American sweetheart."  I think some of the points were dead-on about trying to read a guy (or a woman), the awkward process of dating (in the sense of going out on a date), and figuring out this love stuff.  Anyway, I highly recommend it and hope you all enjoy it as much as I did! 

February 10, 2009

Forgive and Forget

I have a colleague at work making it nearly impossible to be a Christian.  She really has it out for me for numerous reasons, primarily because I abide by the teachings of the Church (and she has made it clear to me that this is problematic for her).  But she has begun to slander my name, and today I had a complete meltdown and then was filled with anger.  I trust that I have done nothing wrong to her and that she is picking on me as she is very aggressive, but I'm having so much trouble forgiving her time and time again.  I know I will forgive her, but I don't know how to forget.  Where does the forgetting come in? Is that just a contemporary phrase or did Jesus say to forget??? 

Thanks for your prayers.   

On the Feast of St. Scholastica

Today is the feast day of a great female saint, St. Scholastica, who is the twin sister of St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine rule. She lived near her brother who was in Monte Cassino, Italy. They met only once a year, and there is a famous story of their last meeting:
Scholastica having passed the day as usual in singing psalms and pious discourse, they sat down in the evening to take their refection. After it was over, Scholastica, perhaps foreknowing it would be their last interview in this world, or at least desirous of some further spiritual improvement, was very urgent with her brother to delay his return till the next day, that they might entertain themselves till morning upon the happiness of the other life. St. Benedict, unwilling to transgress his rule, told her he could not pass a night out of his monastery, so desired her not to insist upon such a breach of monastic discipline. Scholastica finding him resolved on going home, laying her hands joined upon the table, and her head upon them, with many tears, begged of Almighty God to interpose in her behalf. Her prayer was scarce ended when there happened such a storm of rain, thunder, and lightning, that neither St. Benedict nor any of his companions could set a foot out of doors. He complained to his sister, saying, "God forgive you, sister; what have you done?" She answered, "I asked you a favour, and you refused it me; I asked it of Almighty God, and he has granted it me."

She died in 543 and is known as an intercessor for nuns, children, and bad weather.

February 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers--soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundred-weight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she was naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her innermost spirit shone through her clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye.

But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

‘Is it?... is it?’ I whispered to my guide.

‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’

‘She seems to be... well, a person of particular importance?’

‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.’

‘And who are these gigantic people… look! They’re like emeralds.. who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’

‘Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.’

‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’

‘They are her sons and daughters.’

‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.’

‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.’

‘Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?’

‘No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.’

--C.S.Lewis, The Great Divorce

February 7, 2009

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of ...Winter?

The female brain. Mine goes about two miles a minute, and it's powered by guilt. Does anyone else suffer from this complex? I was out with two friends last night for dinner and a movie, and all I kept thinking about was the long checklist in my head of things that I need to get accomplished for work and at my apartment this weekend. My head was SPINNING. I hate the fact that I can hardly ever be present with people, or with myself. I dreaded waking up today because of the amount of things that I need to do, and the fact that I have to squeeze them in between two other weekend outings.

Whoah, Julian!

You have been blessed with THREE opportunities to see friends this weekend and to kick back and take your mind off of work.

(Back to the first person...) I don't know why this happens everyday. Why do I spend my life rushing around from one task to the next? Why is down time so hard for me? Why do I feel so guilty when I haven't accomplished each task with 100% effort behind it?

No wonder I'm having a spiritual dry spell these days. I can't even slow myself down to enjoy friends without guilt, let alone to sit and say hello to God. I could use suggestions for creating some white noise in my head and in my heart...

February 5, 2009

St. Agatha

Since today is the feast of St. Agatha, my patron, I thought I'd share with you all a little bit about her life, and about why I picked her as my patron on this blog. It's a little difficult for me--I picked her for very intangible reasons--but what is this blog for if not for soul searching and sharing?

Agatha--the names is Greek for "Virtuous" or "Good"--is one of the great Virgin Martyrs, and shortly after her death there arose a great cult honoring her saintliness and virtue. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, there is no turly verified account of here death, but the story goes that:
Agatha, daughter of a distinguished family and remarkable for her beauty of person, was persecuted by the Senator Quintianus with avowals of love. As his proposals were resolutely spurned by the pious Christian virgin, he committed her to the charge of an evil woman, whose seductive arts, however, were baffled by Agatha's unswerving firmness in the Christian faith. Quintianus then had her subjected to various cruel tortures. Especially inhuman seemed his order to have her breasts cut off, a detail which furnished to the Christian medieval iconography the peculiar characteristic of Agatha. But the holy virgin was consoled by a vision of St. Peter, who miraculously healed her.
Eventually, after repeated torture and assault, she died.

I first heard the story of St. Agatha as almost a joke--in iconography she is almost always represented with a plate on which stand her breasts. In the Medival church they were often misinterpreted--and she became the patroness of Bell Ringers. In Sicily they celebrate their great saint with little minni di Sant'Aita, which are breast shapped cupcakes. (Some think this incredibly vulgar. I think it's awesome...and weird...anyway, they've been doing it for a long time.)

Anyway, in Christ's resurrected body, the wounds were glorified, right? So why not celebrate her own wounds of martyrdom. As a matter of fact, as soon as I stopped laughing, this is what made me love her most. Because in living the life of a Virgin, one needs to give up everything for Christ. In the office of readings for today, St. Methodius of Sicily says:
A true virgin, she wore the glow of pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb’s blood for her cosmetics. Again and again she meditated on the death of her eager lover. For her, Christ’s death was recent, his blood was still moist. Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ. It bears the indelible marks of his crimson blood and the shining threads of her eloquence. She offers to all who come after her these treasures of her eloquent confession.
If one is called to the single life--which, if not forever, I certainly am called to right now--then I must be dedicated to Christ body and soul. So the single girl must practice modesty of dress and manners for the sake of Christ.

Still, I am a woman, and modesty does not mean denying those things that make me a woman. At my alma mater there were a group of girls planning to enter the religious life, and so they dressed in long skirts and sweatshirts--covering up everything so that they would be "modest". This seemed to me to follow the letter of the law, and not the spirit--for they looked like slobs, were inattentive to their femininity, and had no outward grace. Yet, the Carmelites who lived, cloistered, up the street from me were the most feminine and graceful (and beautiful! and ageless!) women I had ever met.

Agatha, it seems to me, represents this struggle so well. In giving herself entirely to Christ, she lost some of those bodily signs of her womanhood (and motherhood!), in a glorious and heroic way. Thank goodness we are not all called to endure torture, but we will all suffer for and struggle with our femininity, and in that, we can all find a patron in St. Agatha.

St. Agatha is also the patron of those who has suffered from sexual assult, those who have breast cancer, single lay-women, wet-nurses, torture victims, and (I don't know why) against earthquakes, fire, and volcanic eruptions.

February 3, 2009

Secular Sex

I need help! 

My self-declared atheist student, a fine young woman who just got into MIT early decision, has started to confide in me and come after school to argue philosophical and religious points back and forth - the confiding and bantering I equally enjoy.  She has recently come and confided that she is worried that our generation is using sex to express the fact that they are profoundly lonely and that they feel it's the only way to experience intimacy.  She says that some of her friends (which may in fact be her) think that they want to have sex just to say that they aren't a virgin before going to college, some of them admittedly don't want to feel anything and are numb from depression, and others just want to see how it is with someone they like or wouldn't mind giving it a go with.  She is concerned, and wants advice.  She also asked me to help her craft a non-religious argument as to why premarital sex is "bad," or at least harmful for the parties involved.  Now, in our sexual ethics course we have covered this head to toe with psychological statistics, philosophical reflections, and science to back up the Church's claims that the best sex takes place in the safe and intimate context of marriage.  But this doesn't seem to be enough for her.  Can you please help me (by tomorrow afternoon), formulate a strong argument for her?  She desperately wants to know.  And please pray for her.  She is too smart not to be a follower of Christ...she has the intellectual capacity to be a doctor of the Church, but she is still resisting grace.  She is so special; I just love her.  Okay, thanks! 

February 2, 2009

Response to V-Day

Thanks for the great subject matter, Edith.  A few years ago my alma mater banned the V. Monologues from being performed onstage, although the work was still permitted to be read in class, so as not to jeopardize academic freedom (even at a Catholic institution), which I respected.  We were one of the first colleges in the country to do so, and I'm proud to have been there when the decision was made.  Of course it was controversial, and many women genuinely argued that silencing their performance would only contribute to the neglect of the horrible abuse that so many of God's daughters endure.  

If only it were a play that truly did justice to presenting the reverence and awe of womanhood which should be protected and safeguard in its carefully crafted and delicately constructed physical structure by God.  I understand the concept (at least in a postmodern world of literature and philosophy that we live in) of focusing on the physicality of the woman and locating the center in the place in which violation dreadfully occurs but when the vagina is speaking FOR the woman, then all of Edith's concerns ring true.  

Violence against women might be better prevented by cultivating wonder of our mind and body's gifts and all that we bring to the table.  I'm not sure if the Monologues are actually accomplishing this when the most intimate part of the female body, which is something so special around which we should remain reticent, is exposed in front of an audience.  It seems so counter-intuitive.  

Let's pray for all of the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, especially some of our friends and family.  

The Good Mass

So much to say! There have been so many good posts lately, and it's just my luck that I haven't had time to do anything but work for the last two weeks. I especially want to respond at length to Julian's post about Motherhood and the Single Life.

But for now, a humbling note. Yesterday started out wonderfully. I got a lot of things done, felt refreshed and ready for the week. I was still stressed about a few things, notably about my friend Helen (not her real name of course), who is dealing with divorce and faith crises, and about my job situation (both that I have too much work, and that I hate it!) As the afternoon wore on, I was in a bit of an emotional state, and finally I got to mass only to be greeted by...


Seriously. The Hymn of the Prayer of St. Francis was done to a Cha-cha beat, and I nearly wanted to scream. From there on the mass was up and down. Or should I say, my engagement with it. The Gloria, even though it is one of my least favorite settings, was jubilant and stirring. The Mass Readings were powerful, and the sermon was good, if a bit rambling. But then there were the ad-libbed additions to the Mass, and the almost flippant recitation of blessings and prayers.

I was fuming by the time I left, and took it out on poor Julian. I said I was sorry before, but I really mean it now, dear! Why? When I got back home there was a text message from Helen. "Have a good mass. As if mass could be anything else."

Mea Culpa.
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