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

April 29, 2009

Feast of St. Catherine of Siena

I'd like to think the first time I encountered St. Catherine of Siena was in fact in Siena, Italy.  I was about 11 or 12, standing in a piazza with my family, and some eerie feeling came over me.  I can't really put words to the feeling, but I knew that something special had happened there, or something special was happening there.  On our tour of the city, the guide mentioned St. Catherine's name, but nothing really came of it beyond a passing acknowledgment.  

I met St. Catherine again during my college years.  In a Western Civilization course our class was studying the period of the Avignon papacy, and we spent time learning about St. Catherine's courageous efforts in healing the Great Schism.  I remember being struck by her moxie; here was a young, illiterate, Italian peasant girl, telling the pope(s) to get his act together.  Naturally, as an idealistic college co-ed, I found in her a role model who could teach me how to bring justice where I found injustice, and how to bring truth where I found falsity.  

But Catherine does not fit into a simple mold of an idealistic young, Catholic woman.  I encountered her even more intimately in graduate school during a class on Dominican spirituality.  In my study of St. Catherine's Dialogue, I learned not just about her but from her.  St. Catherine has taught me that I am a daughter of God.  Knowing this is something that has been life-changing.   In her intimate dialogue with God, he repeatedly calls her "figlia," or daughter.  He repeatedly refers to us as his children, and she addresses him as "babbo," or "daddy" in Italian.  It's so beautiful because God is communicating serious theological truths to her in gentle, familial language.  I think it is this gentle relationship with a God who is so awesome (worthy of awe) is what gave Catherine the strength to serve the poor, to serve the pope, and to care so deeply about Christ's Church, His Body.  And even though Catherine suffered her own spiritual drought (she has a whole dialogue with God on tears!), she never failed in her obedience or in her trust of Divine Providence (two other dialogues).  

Just a taste of the dialogue on Divine Providence (this is God speaking to her): 
I have also shown you how pleasing and dear to me such a soul is, and how I provide for her.  I have told you all this to commend this virtue to you along with the most holy faith that brings one to this marvelous state.  I wanted to make you grow in faith and in hope, to make you come knocking at the door of my mercy.  Believe with lively faith that I will fulfill your longing and that of all of my servants, along with great suffering even to the point of death.  But take courage and rejoice in me, because I am your defender and your consoler.

I have a very odd relationship with Catherine.  Though I love her dearly, I stay a little distant from her.  She is more of a role model for me, someone who has struggled with doubt, suffering, and anxiety.  I keep her at an arm's length because I admire her so much, but feel unworthy of speaking to her and asking for her intercession.  I hope that in the near future, I have the courage to ask her to be my friend.  I believe she still has so much to teach me as a young, lay, single woman with whom I share a deep love of Christ's Body, though this love is one simultaneously seasoned with struggle and hope.    

Making Lemonade from Lemons

"When life hands you lemons...." Or so the old adage begins. Well, it should come as no surprise to our readers that I do not approve of the Obama presidency, and I pretty much loath all of the administration's policies. Sometimes, it's hard for me not to overreact with anger against him personally. However, Obama is only a man, a human person (which may come as a surprise to many). And as a Catholic Christian, I do vow to treat each person with the dignity they have as a creature made Imago Dei.
Lately, I've been trying really hard to find the good in the president. Well, I've not found much, but I have been heartened by this news. Notre Dame students, in response to Obama's coming to campus, have organized a rosary to pray for his change of heart. And I join them. I don't wish evil on him; as a Christian I must hope to rejoice with him in eternity. It doesn't mean that I'm complacent in his horrific beliefs or that I support the 'changes' he wants to make in our country. It doesn't mean that I keep quiet. I must pray for his conversion.

On another note, posted this story today about Michelle Obama and her 'icon' status for the women of the world. The story basically discusses that Mrs. Obama really does give women hope, especially women of color in nations such as India, Vietnam, and in many nations of Africa. One quote I found interesting about women in India:
Heather Ferreira works in the slums of Mumbai, India, where she has watched thousands of women live under a "curse."

The women she meets in the squalid streets where "Slumdog Millionaire" was filmed are often treated with contempt, she says. They're considered ugly if their skin and hair are too dark. They are deemed "cursed" if they only have daughters. Many would-be mothers even abort their children if they learn they're female.

Yet lately she says Indian women are getting another message from the emergence of another woman thousands of miles away. This woman has dark skin and hair. She walks next to her husband in public, not behind. And she has two daughters. But no one calls her cursed. They call her Michelle Obama, the first lady.
I say if the wife of the most pro-abortion president in our history can inspire women not to abort their children, then we might just be on our way to having a little bit of lemonade. And that's something sweet that I can find joy in.

April 28, 2009

Doctor's Office Follow-Up

Hi Sisters! Just a little follow up to our many posts on going to the Doctor.

I took commentator Louis' advice: I went to, which linked me to a site called One More Soul. One More Soul has a list of contact for Catholic doctors by state and by type of doctor. It's a great resource!!

I found a doctor on there, and made an appointment. He was a great doctor, informing me of what vaccinations are currently made from aborted fetuses, and then told me that the Vatican has not officially stated any thing about the ethical and moral responsibility of receiving these vaccines. He also gave me information about classes on the Creighton method for when I may need it. In fact, even though I am not married, he told me that I could still attend these seminars and that it is a good thing to know how my body works. Anyway, hope these resources help you. Praise God for informative and faithful doctors!!

April 27, 2009


It is "Body Image Awareness Week" at the high school where I teach, which is perfect timing after my experience at the ENDOW conference.  I wanted to write just a little bit about beauty. 

Dr. Helen Alvare, the amazing scholar, wonderful mother, and witty lawyer (with degrees in theology AND law) gave the keynote address at lunch.  She was comparing and contrasting the two most recent pontiffs' takes on women.  One subject she touched on was beauty, and how both popes share a passionate love for the world - for music and art...for beauty.  They both recognize that beautiful things are sacramental because they put us in touch with the divine.  Beauty is subjective in that it affects the one experiencing it, and objective in that it IS a reality.  So, in my own words, it is not relative (or relativistic).  

But we no longer think of beauty in this way, right?  When I hear that word, I think of what this week at my high school is trying to dispel - a very limited idea of female physical "perfection." Beauty has now become something to achieve or to obtain.  It has become a commodity...something to be bought, something to be marketed, and something to be sold.  Beauty is thought of as what it is not...relative to the context in which it finds itself, instead of something that is universal and transcendent.  No wonder men and women have trouble finding joy and hope in their lives.  If we pursue things that are ugly (television, music, etc.) because we believe these things are attractive (when they really are not), how are we ever going to be able to recognize and experience the good or the true?  How are we, as young women engaged with the world, to help ourselves and others recognize what is truly beautiful again? 

What a Woman -- One Reply to the Notre Dame Scandal

Harvard Law Professor and former US Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon was to receive a Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame at its coming commencement, one of its most prestigious honors. However, in light of the Obama scandal, she has declined the award and written a letter explaining her position (hyperlinked above). Thank God for her witness and courage! What a woman for us all to emulate!!

On another note, another Obama induced scandal. President Obama spoke at Georgetown university on April 14th. At his request, the university removed the IHS letters of Christ. Where's the Mary Ann Glendon for this case? We Catholics sure do need to put our feet down with just a little more force....

The Goodness of God and His Mother

As many of you may know or have by now guessed, I am a graduate student. Every day for the past four years, I've been going to the same coffee shop. Outside that coffee shop every morning is this old man, pretty short, who sells prints of his drawings for $10 each. Now, he's a grumbling old man, usually spouting curse words under his breath and grumbling at the passers-by who don't stop to purchase one of his drawings (which, I might add are quite good - he does portraits.)

Now, being one who does not often carry much cash, I have not stopped to buy a picture, but instead every time I see that man, I prayed a 'Hail Mary' for him. He's not a religious person, and from what I had heard about him (there are always stories about neighborhood characters - and this coffee shop has plenty of them!), he was particularly hostile to Mary, so I prayed all the more. Well, last week I just happened to have exactly the price for a drawing. I saw him walking away from the coffee shop and went running after him. "Excuse me, sir! Are you selling your pictures today?" His face softened immediately as he took out his drawings. He lovingly showed me his portrait of Einstein and the Mona Lisa, both of which were quite good.

Then he said, "I have a Madonna and Child. I have a Madonna and the Child Jesus." As soon as those words left his lips and before I even saw the picture I replied, "That's it, I must have that one." He seemed a little surprised that I was so conclusive but I was so happy with it. And he dates each print when he draws it -- Virgin and Child had been done just this year. The painting is an answer to my prayers for this man -- four years of prayer. God really does place things in our hearts for a reason, and even though I don't entirely know this man's situation, I have been moved to pray for him.

Now, we say hello and chat each morning. Of course, he wants me to continue buying portraits, which I plan to do little by little. But today, I bought him some coffee and as I was leaving he said, "Someday, I'd like to draw you. Would you model for me?" I smiled - "Of course, I would love that." And I do.

Endow: Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women

This weekend I attended a FANTASTIC conference run by the group ENDOW. If you do not know of them already, I'm so privileged to introduce you to them! This group began in the Archdiocese of Denver by a group of women who felt compelled to put into action John Paul II's call for women to understand and know their dignity in the life of the Church and in the life of the world. Women get together in parishes and have intellectual, emotional, and faith-filled studies and conversation about important documents written on and for women. There is even an introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas! This program has spread throughout the United States and has even reached Australia. It's spreading the New Feminism around the globe!

The conference that I attended was called The New Springtime for Women, and it was exactly that for me...a springtime. I have been in need of inspiration in my life....inspiration to be me, inspiration to continue on living my life with hope and courage, inspiration to contribute to the life of the Church as a single woman even if it is unclear how I am called to do that. God knew precisely what I needed. I did not want to get out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but it was the best thing that I ever did. I'm so grateful for the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Most of my posts in the near future will be musings and accounts of what was discussed or brought up at this conference. I took diligent notes and even typed them up on my home computer so that I could share the fruitful ideas with you. In the meantime, be sure to check out the website!

If the Shoe Fits....

Yesterday I walked into DSW (my credit card always panics when I walk in here!) in an attempt to get some cute sandals now that spring has sprung. Now, I have a fairly awkward-shaped foot, but I'm always optimistic in this store because of the quantity and variety of shoes on display. However, as I was scouring the store, shoe after shoe, I began to panic, because I was not meeting any success. I literally began to sweat as I rummaged through boxes for sizes and styles that worked. And then it hit me...this is exactly how I feel about dating! I have the chance to "try on" different men for size, feel, and comfort. The flashy shoes (men) are always the most impractical, the practical shoes (men) can sometimes be boring. I desire a shoe (man) that is both stylish and versatile, practical and fun. Most of all, I just want it (him) to fit.

Yesterday I was about to give up, and I was really upset not only because I had made this parallel between men and shoes in my head, but because I was desperate for sandals to wear to work this week. And after all of the panic and sweat, just as I was about to walk out the door, I recognized an old standby brand that hit my eye...the shoe was both cute and versatile and something that fit my difficult and awkward foot (definitely representative of me!). I left with a smile on my face, filled with hope that this "shopping" around for the shoe that fits was indicative of meeting a man who'll fit, too.

April 22, 2009

Administrative Professional's Day

The delivery man walked up our spiral staircase, carrying a large box filled with two huge cellophane wrapped packages. "I'm looking for N. and N." he said, walking into my office.

"That's here," I said, looking at him strangely. He dropped a piece of paper on my desk ("please sign") and two big "bouquets" of chocolate covered strawberries. Then made a pitch about how I could order through him and receive discounts.

Thus began my morning. Our head department had sent over these two bouquets of chocolate covered strawberries for us to celebrate Administrative Professional's Day. And I must say, the thought counts. It really does. We work hard for the department, and it is nice to be appreciated.

But since I don't get presents on Mother's Day (yet), and won't on Father's day (ever), and I'm even farther away from Grandparents Day (though I don't know of anyone who celebrates that!)--a little part of me wishes that this day of appreciation had a slightly more glamorous title that "Administrative Professional's Day."

All the same, the strawberries are good.

Happy Birthday, Edith!

"Lay all your cares about the future trustingly in God's hands, and let yourself be guided by the Lord just like a little child."
--St. Theresa Benedicta (Edith Stein)

A very happy birthday to the beautiful, smart, amazing Edith Magdalene!!! 

All our love,
Julian and Agatha

April 20, 2009

Quarter Life Crisis??

Have you ever heard of the quarter life crisis?? You know, the one you start when you are graduating college and trying to figure what in the world you are supposed to do with your life?? Well, I started mine just shy of my 25th birthday (so a little over a year ago -- I'm on the cusp of 26 by about 33 hours!)

At that time, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to devote my dissertation topic to, something that a year later I am still working through. I fell in love, and I mean IN LOVE with a man who said he couldn't date me, but still hung out with me all the time. And I was suddenly confronted with just the truth about everything I had done in my life. I was face to face with all that I had sown, and I had to ask what did I sow? Have I sown good or evil? I was face to face with everything in me that is flawed. And I began to realize the ramifications of my flaws on other people in my life. I began to see how failed relationships had been largely my fault, how I hadn't maintained communication with people who meant something to me, how I hadn't set the proper limits to relationships or had severely limited my relationships with others. I knew I had to change, but I became so down on myself that I just was in a...well...crisis. I felt like God didn't care, He probably didn't hear me or understand--which is totally bizarre because my strong faith background has taught me the opposite. So why did I feel this way?

And then, I started dating that man I fell IN LOVE with, and we are still dating. And I thought maybe my crisis would work itself out. And to some degree it has. I don't think I'm in my quarter life crisis anymore, but I have been having some 'life crises' that have rehashed some of those same struggles. That's why, my sisters, I've been remarkably absent from the blog.

I'm getting through it and I know that my struggles are good, but the crisis is not of God. I've resolved to consider this time a period of growing pains. It's not easy to realize and to confront your habituated character flaws. Moreover, you feel so overwhelmed and consumed by them. You actually get mad at God for making you this way!!! And even moreover, you begin to feel like you are just utterly unlovable. (Or at least, I did). But I went to confession recently and was unleashing my anguish to this very old Polish priest (who personally knew JPII). He said in a thick but absolutely beautiful Polish accent and with a joyful tone, "Maybe you just need to ask Jesus to share this load. That's all He wants to do."

Wow. How simple. I thought, "Yeah, maybe that really is all He asks of me." Maybe the answer to my 10,000 kinds of crazy complication is really just to give it to Jesus and trust that He loves me. I think I got my answer in a passage from Pope Benedict XVI's recent book Jesus of Nazareth . He has a section on the meaning of the Gospel message regarding the Kingdom of God. He gives several interpretations, but this one resonated with me. He quotes ancient Church writer Origen's mystical interpretation of the Kingdom of God:
For in every holy man it is God who reigns [exercises dominion, is the Kingdom of God.]. . . Then let God stroll in in us as in a spiritual paradise and rule in us alone with his Christ." (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 50)
So simple, but what an idea upon which we should meditate!!

HPV Vaccine Part 2

Wow, Julian, I totally know what you are dealing with. TOTALLY!!!!!! And the Doctor's Office. I had similar experiences as my Magdalene sisters -- to the point where I refuse to go the gynecologist unless I absolutely have to -- which in all actuality is probably not the best thing for me. My interview with the doctor happened both during and after a very intrusive exam. During the exam: "Do you need a prescription for birth control?" "No, I don't need it." At the end of the exam: "Are you sure you don't need birth control?" "No, I don't need it." After the exam: "Are you sure you don't need birth control?" "I am not sexually active, so NO, I don't need any birth control." I began thinking -- what is this guy (problem number one -- male doctor!) thinking?? What is he trying to say to me. I was in tears.

With respect to the HPV question: I've been mulling over this exact same question too. But I am still skeptical about HPV vaccine. There's just something about vaccinating to prevent a disease that I can prevent by my behavior. And I DO NOT think it's appropriate to give this vaccine to little girls. What is that telling them about the hook-up culture?

But Julian brings up the main point -- for women who are trying to safeguard their virginity -- what about my future spouse who does have a sexual history? And men cannot be tested for this disease or immunized. I don't have the answer to this. I think I am not eligible for this vaccination anymore; from what I understand, you cannot be any older than 25 -- and I'm practically on the eve of my 26th birthday-I am so old!! This is an issue that women really, really need to consider.

I think a tremendous resource for women, especially women in the DC area is the Tepeyac Family Center, who have several Catholic gynecologists. Perhaps they could be a better mentor. It is a real struggle for us, because we women are the ones who ultimately suffer the worst effects -- cancer. HPV can devastate our reproductive systems. What are your thoughts, readers? Have any of you had to deal with this problem??

The Doctor's Office: A Chance to Witness

Nurse: I assume you use safe sexual practices.
Agatha: (flatly) I don't have sex.
Nurse: You know just because you don't get your period regularly doesn't mean you can't get pregnant.
A: I don't have sex.
Nurse: Yes, but they told you that you can still get pregnant when you don't have your period.
YES! But you can't get pregnant if you don't have sex!

Julian brought this scene up in her second post about being a vigin in a doctor's office (her first post is here. I don't have anything especially interesting to say on the subject. It is one of those common trials that those of us who try to live chaste lives confront often enough. I have a handful of stories myself.

Commentor Louis suggested a number of proactive ways to overcome this difficulty, but I have a hard time doing any of those things (besides pray, of course). I hate doctor's offices enough as it is, and don't really want to get into a debate with these people. But I do always try to stand firm on the subject, too. At least (for a brief moment), we are a witness to an older and better way of life.

HPV Vaccine: To Immunize or Not to Immunize

Gardasil: a vaccine which has raised many eyebrows in the Catholic world. I was initially staunchly opposed to the vaccine when it came out. "Why on earth would I put that in my body if I am practicing abstinence? Why the heck would parents vaccinate their children with something that is still not medically certain? Is the government going to mandate that children receive this like the measles vaccine? If I get it or parents immunize their daughters, are we 'okaying' the behavior by which it spreads?" These questions raced through my head, and I quickly made up my mind to dismiss the thought of ever putting it into my body.

But as I grow older and continue dating, I have begun to think differently. Certainly my commitment to safeguarding my virginity has not changed. But I wonder, what are the chances of winding up with another virgin? And because I don't limit myself to men who have not had any sexual experience and because HPV symptoms do not present themselves in men, I wonder if I should consider vaccinating myself. Those who choose abstinence are really no longer immune to the devastating effects of sexually transmitted diseases anymore, as they have been something of an epidemic in our culture. If I am called to marriage, then I very well may have to deal with the reality of a spouse who suffers from such a condition. And so, what I am to do?

The Arlington Catholic Herald, a diocesan newspaper, writes the following:

The Catholic Church teaches generally that immunizing against disease is an important and morally responsible action. There is nothing intrinsically immoral associated with providing or receiving the HPV vaccine. It is necessary to acknowledge the prevalence of HPV, the many deaths and other health problems it has caused, and the appropriateness of combating it. The four types of HPV that the vaccine is designed to prevent cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

The Catholic Medical Association says the following:

The fact that HPV is spread primarily by sexual contact does not render vaccination against it unethical. Healing and preventing diseases, no matter what their source, are acts of mercy and a moral good. Prevention of HPV infection is distinct from, and should not be construed as encouraging, the behavior by which HPV is spread.

Women, any thoughts? What's a Magdalene sister to do?

April 19, 2009

Noli Me Tangere (8)

by Alexander Ivanov, 1834-1836

This concludes my Easter Week series, but I will be posting more art, probably weekly, that has Mary Magdalene as its subject, in the future.

To the commentor who asked about art of the Resurrection, here is a fascinating article discussing relatively modern images of the Resurrection. It's true, it went out of fashion to show Christ Resurrected, instead the Early Christians moved towards the icon of the cross (perhaps as consolation during persecution). Still, there are often images of Christ the King, the judge, enthroned, or images from the gospel scenes following the Resurrection in churches, especially in carvings and stained glass windows. As painting became less devotional (after the renaissance), painters started to focus on some of the really rich scenes in the Gospel following the death of Christ. Two of my favorite examples, highlighted in the article, are Eugene Burnand's "The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre, and, of course, Caravaggio's Doubting Thomas.

Divine Mercy Sunday

May you know the unending mercy that our Lord has for us today!  I don't have enough time to blog about this beautiful feast on this day, but I will try to later this week.  I will pray for all of our readers today at Mass, that you might know the love and mercy of the Lord and experience His gentle hand sometime during this upcoming week! 

April 18, 2009

Noli Me Tangere (7)

by Titian, 1511 (I should have put this earlier in the week...)

The Doctor's Office

Last night I was talking with Agatha and another friend about going to the doctor.  I wanted to bring our conversation back to this topic, which I addressed way back when we started this blog. Why is is SO hard to go to a doctor and upon explaining that you are not sexually active you are treated as some sort of medical anomaly or a risk to your own health?  I just went to the doctor last week, and after she closed the door there was a poster for 24 different types of birth control methods (including IUD's, which quite frankly, scare me to death!).  Agatha told us about a recent experience in which the doctor REFUSED to acknowledge her abstinence as a preventive measure or foolproof way of practicing "safe sex."  How do we take back control of the doctor's office? 

April 17, 2009

Noli Me Tangere (6)

Antonio Correggio, 1525

April 16, 2009

Happy Birthday!

A big happy birthday to our Pope!  82!!


Noli Me Tangere (5)

Hans Holbein, 1524

April 15, 2009

Noli Me Tangere (4)

(my favorite) Fra Angelico, from the Convent of San Marco, in Florence. Circa 1440.

April 14, 2009

Noli Me Tangere (3)

Guariento di Arpo, circa 1344.

April 13, 2009

Easter Week Thoughts - on Youth and Vocation

Well, I am on an Easter high, that's for sure.  I had such a beautiful Triduum and Easter Sunday.  I want to blog on the experience of three different Eucharists: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but that post will have to wait for another day.  God is so good to have filled me with so many things to meditate on. 

Today I am preparing lessons for my students as we begin to wind down the year, and I just finished glancing over an interview with Pope John Paul II in which he is asked, "Is there really hope for the young?"  I thought it might prompt some discussion: 

What is youth?  It is not only a period of life that corresponds to a certain number of years, it is also a time given by Providence to every person and given to him as a responsibility.  During that time he searches for answers to basic questions; he searches not only for the meaning of life but also for a concrete way to go about living his life.   

If at every state of his life man desires to be his own person...during his youth he desires it even more strongly.  The desire to be one's own person, however, must not be understood as a license to do anything, without exception...

Clearly then, the fundamental problem of youth is profoundly personal.  In life, youth is when we come to know ourselves.  It is also a time of communion.  Young people know they must live for and with others, they know that their life has meaning to the extent that it becomes a free gift for others.  Here is the origin of all vocations - whether to priesthood or religious life, or to marriage and family.

But are those who are single are still at the origin of their vocations?  That doesn't seem universal to me.  How do we as single, lay, Catholic women use this time, responsibly, as the late pontiff insists?  This is the time to discern not only in our heads and hearts, but to actively discern our vocations through becoming gifts for others wherever we find ourselves.  What do you think?  Are we still in the origin if we do not yet have answers?  Or do we not know how far along we are if we do not even know the destination?  Do we assign ourselves a destination and wind up losing our way?   

Noli Me Tangere (2)

From the Magdalene Chapel, by Giotto, in the Lower Church of St. Francis of Assisi, in Assisi, circa 1320.

April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Oh behalf of the Magdalene Sisters, we wish you a Blessed Easter Sunday and continued joy during the Easter season!

Noli Me Tangere

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been.

And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him."

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him."

Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," 9 which means Teacher.

Jesus said to her, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and what he told her. John 20:11-18

Noli Me Tangere, by Duccio di Bouninsegna, 1308-1310
*During the Octave of Easter, I will be posting a different artists representation (in chronological order, oldest to newest), of this powerful scene of Easter Morning.

April 10, 2009

Don't Forget!

If you pray the Divine Mercy Novena, it begins today on Good Friday!

Here is the full novena.

"For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

April 9, 2009

A Beautiful Story

This past week, I went on a hiking trip with some friends. We got into a discussion about our faith, and one of my friends told me about this young child artist and poet, Akiane. She even let me borrow a book about her, and I've not been able to put it down and I've been sharing it with everyone since. Wow, just wow. This little lady was born to a self-consciously atheist family and at age 4 began to have visions and dreams of God, heaven, Mary, and the angels. God inspired this young lady to draw and to paint. He guided her progress from pencil sketches at age 4 to color paintings and poetry beginning at about age 7. She is now 13. Each painting has a poem to go with it and in her book, she describes each painting.

I have several favorites, but one of them is called "Resurrection: Prince of Peace." It is a painting of the risen Christ found here. She says that she painted half His face in light to show the glory of His Resurrection and half of it dark to show His suffering on earth. What's even more beautiful is the story of the model for this painting. Akiane had been inspired to paint God's face, but needed the perfect model. She prayed and prayed and finally a family friend brought over to the family house a man -- this man--who is a carpenter. Akiane knew he was the model. I fell in love with painting instantly.

Her portrayal of Mary is also so beautiful. She explains that Mary's role was so unique: she had to protect and raise the Savior. And I love the one of this African American woman and her child (seen above and found on the site here. Her caption to this painting?? She says: "So many children have been lost through war, famine, slavery, kidnapping, crime, disease, accidents, suicide, miscarriage or abortion. When a child is gone, the only joy left is the memories and faith that we will see them again, and we will."

Wow, just wow. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise...."

The Prayer of the Lord

I know I've posted on this before, but I have been praying this prayer of Christ before His Passion all Lent. It's brought joy to my heart, and I hope it will bring joy to yours too. So here's the entirety of chapter 17 of the Gospel of St. John.

1 These things Jesus spoke, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said: Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5 And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.

6 I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them; and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they have known, that all things which thou hast given me, are from thee: 8 Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me: because they are thine: 10 And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

11 And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled. 13 And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy filled in themselves. 14 I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world; as I also am not of the world. 15 I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.

16 They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;

21 That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. 24 Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. 25 Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.

26 And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them.

Image taken from here.

April 7, 2009

The Four Quartets - Holy Week

I know it is not yet Good Friday, but I can't help but share a part of my favorite poem, T.S. Eliot's The Four Quartets.  Each read is a spiritual exercise for me, and this Friday I will have these words on my heart: 

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part; 
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart. 

Our only health is the disease 
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse, 
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse. 

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire, 
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere. 

The chill ascends from feet to knees, 
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars. 

The dripping blood our only drink, 
The bloody flesh our only food: 
In spite of which we like to think 
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood - 
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good. 

The Alabaster Jar

Last Sunday we had the pleasure (and, lets be honest, pain) of reading the Passion of Christ according to St. Mark. It starts with one of the most powerful scenes in the life of our patron, Mary Magdalene*:

When he was in Bethany reclining at table
in the house of Simon the leper,
a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil,
costly genuine spikenard.
She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.
There were some who were indignant.
"Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?
It could have been sold for more than three hundred days' wages
and the money given to the poor."
They were infuriated with her.
Jesus said, "Let her alone.
Why do you make trouble for her?
She has done a good thing for me.
The poor you will always have with you,
and whenever you wish you can do good to them,
but you will not always have me.
She has done what she could.
She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.
Amen, I say to you,
wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world,
what she has done will be told in memory of her."

There is so much to unpack here, I hardly know where to begin. What strikes me about St. Marks' version today is the universal justness of honoring Christ.

A colleague, who has travelled extensively in Eastern Europe, showed me a bunch of her photographs of Orthodox churches and cathedrals. They were ornate, with onion domes and gilding--even the smallest of churches were full of architectural glory. She said to me: these are the poorest of the poor, and they put all their money into their churches. Then she said, "But I hated Rome. I have no time for Rome, when they sit their among their gaudy marble cherubims, and talk about 'poverty' and 'world hunger.' Sell one of those statues, and feed the poor." I invoked this story in the Gospel (it felt good to quote the bible to a Protestant, I must say).

The poor, indeed, are always with us, and we can always do good for them. I take this to mean two things: we can always serve the poor, and, no matter how many marble cherubims we sell, we'll never solve their poverty; there will always be more people who are poor.

Christ also says that it is good for us to honor him: "She has done a good thing for me...She has done what she could." This story, in the literal narrative, is a precursor to the mournful anointing by Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Joseph of Arimatheia, after Christ has died. Christ reminds us that he will not always be with us, to prepare us for his devastating absence after his death. Now we know, Christ IS Risen. How much more important is it then to honor him through our churches.

According to the old traditions of the Church, on Palm Sunday, the images of Christ, and the statues, and even the processional cross, are covered with purple cloth. The only thing I could focus on during mass was the golden tabernacle, the house of Our Lord. On Thursday, we will remove the Eucharist from that Tabernacle, and strip the altar, and on Friday, after journeying with Christ on the via crucis, the church is left entirely empty and dark. Then, at the Easter Vigil, we bring the light into the dark empty church to find it filled with glory--flowers and light and the statues are uncovered and it seems the entire world is celebrating the Resurrection. I am always so glad for the riches of the church at that moment.

The humblest and poorest of the poor scimp and save to build houses worthy of our Ressurrected Lord, and so should we. But we must also perpare our hearts. Poverty of spirit is not an emptiness (like the cold and empty church, or St. Peter's stripped down to its bones). May we practice a poverty of spirit in our hearts, so that when Christ does rise again we may honor him with full hearts.

*The Catholic Encyclopedia explains at great length the discussion of the identity of Mary Magdalene. The Greek and (for the most part) Protestant traditions count as three separate individuals Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (sister to Martha and Lazarus), and the "sinner" of Luke 7. But, the Roman tradition identifies these three women as all Mary Magdalene, and since Mary Magdalene is often represented with a jar of oil, I always identify her as the woman of this Gospel. One of these days I'd like to really explore this question of the identity of Mary Magdalene, but today is not the day for it.

April 4, 2009

A Response to Bra-Burning....

Thanks for your thoughtful, post, Edith!  May I just begin by saying how much I'm grateful for bras! :) 

I think your suspicion about the third wave of feminism's unintended contribution to the hook-up culture and our society's obsession with bodily perfection is dead-on.  Somehow our sex worked to "remove the shackles" of the home, of sexuality's natural consequences and its natural meaning (a move to "free us" from an outdated idea of womanhood) to a hyper-sexualization of women in which there is a new, limited idea of what a woman is (a sexual object).  [As a sidenote, I find the "short skirt" argument (that a woman should have the ability to wear short skirt and walk down the street without being subjected to whistles and stares) as pretty ridiculous.  If we reason things out, a short skirt reveals more legs, which are seen by men, and men are sexually excited by sight (whereas women are by touch).  It seriously boggles my mind...] 

I think there are three responses to this hyper-sexualization of women: 1) women from the third-wave who realize that we are now again enslaved to men's desires but somehow tricked into thinking that they are their desires for themselves; 2) the women who believe that they desire this physical perfection and sexual license; and 3) women like us who see the larger picture of how neither response is solving the very real problem of helping women to flourish in the face of adversity (which feminism is all about). 

I stand by my conviction that true freedom is freedom from within:  we need to strive to build a culture and a civilization in which each woman is free to choose what she recognizes her vocation to be, since Christian freedom is freedom to choose what we ought/what God desires for us, whether as stay-at-home mother, a professional, an academic, or a volunteer.  We have not succeeded in building this civilization, as evidenced by 1) the global subjugation of women and 2) the new enslavement to hyper-sexualization which prevents women from fulfilling their individual vocation and the universal vocation to humanize the world through our shared feminine genius.  

A Letter to the President

I'm not sure if anyone has come across this, but it is WELL worth the read.  Reverend Hugh W. Cleary, Superior General of the Holy Cross Fathers (the order that runs Notre Dame) wrote President Obama a rather lengthy, open letter regarding his honorary degree and invitation to speak at ND's commencement in May.  He sincerely congratulates him and challenges him at the same time.  I really respect what he has to say, and I will be going back to this letter to explore my involvement in the American democracy as a Catholic.  

I think his letter is not only written to Obama, but to American Catholics as well.  His words encourage real dialogue and an opening of our hearts, while maintaining steadfast faithfulness to the tenets of our faith.  Father Clearly cites Obama's own words which makes a very powerful case for the protection of life in social justice issues: abortion, immigration, welfare, the death penalty et. al.  He also tackles other major American issues like the media, voting, freedom, etc. I hope it brings you clarification on Christianity in the public square and inspires you to pray about how to be a faithful, American Catholic! I would LOVE to continue a conversation about what he says here... 

April 3, 2009

Talitha Koum

When I first wrote the description of this blog on the masthead, I described Julian, Edith and I as "girls." Julian pointed out that it ought to read "women" since most of our questions dance around the question "What does it mean to be a modern, Catholic woman?"

In the 2007 film Juno, Juno MacGuff nervously pacing in front of her parents, finally comes out and tells them "I'm pregnant." Her father, shocked, says "I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when."* She replies, "I don't really know what kind of girl I am." The movie, in a large part, is her finding that out.

Her words really resonated with me. Juno has the experience of "woman"--sex, pregnancy, childbirth--but then goes back to being a normal teenager, playing the guitar with her slightly dorky boyfriend on the front porch. I haven't had any of those experiences. And I still think of myself as a "girl." Perhaps this really is the question facing me as a young woman: what's the difference (besides experience) between the little girl I feel like, and the woman I ought to be.

This is an incredibly difficult question with regards to sexuality. As modern American mores increasingly define female maturity by her sexual license, being a virgin is thought childish. As our culture projects a more and more sexualized ideal woman (through fashion, film, music, etc.), it is more and more difficult to feel womanly and feminine without feeling immodest.

These sexuality issues are important, but they don't address the whole situation. St. Paul says "When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things." (1 Cor 13:11) Though our culture thinks virginity is childish, it's not; the real question is one of innocence. Though I am a virgin, I am not innocent.

Theoretically, I think innocence can be regained; once lost, it is not lost forever. Practically, I'm not sure how it is done, but paradoxically, I think innocence is fostered and cultivated through the acknowledgment of the father and child relationship between God and his creatures. I am God's child, and I don't see how I could go wrong, sheltered in the arms of my Heavenly Father.

The Gospel reading a few months ago told of the daughter of Jarius, who is dying. Christ comes to her and says, "Talitha Koum," which means "Little Girl, Arise!" I want to take these words to heart in my own search for innocence. I may not know what kind of girl (or woman) I am, but I know that Christ is calling me forward on a path of grace and virtue. I need only heed his call. Arise!

From Bra-Burning to Breast Implants: Feminism and the Hook-Up Culture

Just picture this scene. It's 1973. It's night time, and you are joining one of the protests. You can hear the intoxicating song rising from the droves of women around you: "I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore, and I know too much to go back to pretend...and I've heard it all before, and I've been down there on the floor, no one's ever gonna keep me down again......" You look around you in solidarity with all these brave women, casting off the yokes of the burdens keeping them down for so many centuries. The song continues, "Oh, yes, I am wise, but it's wisdom born of pain. Yes, I've paid the price but look how much I've gained. If I had to, I can do anything... I am strong, I am invincible...I am WOMANNNNN...." Suddenly you must join all the women around you. You throw your bras, make-up, high-heels and all other imprisoning objects into the large bonfire--and--join these amazing women in their protest, chant the theme song, and take up the cause with them...

Now imagine a very different scene. It's say 2009 and you are graduating high school soon. Your best friend is Jana J., who is the richest and prettiest girl in school. You are both so excited about college; you just cannot wait!! Jana J. is seriously in love with Johnny G. Like he's the guy for her. But Johnny G. likes with Suzie Q. and might even ask her to prom, omg! Jana J. is so jealous! "It's only because she has big boobs, that's it. And everyone knows what kind of girl she is. I mean, come on, she's sooooo not even pretty." But Jana J. has the perfect solution!! She's asked her daddy to get her breast implants for her graduation gift, and Jana J. always gets what she asks her daddy for. I mean, then Johnny G. will notice her, and he'll be sooooooo jealous when he sees how great she looks. And plus, every guy at the university will totally want her. I mean, omg.....totally perfect!!!!!!!

Do either one of these scenes resonate with you? I mean, sure they might be exaggerated, but how did we women get from bra-burning to breast implants?? Does the feminist movement make anyone else's head just spin?? I see the feminist impetus really taking off with the women's lib of the 1960's and 1970's. Equality in the workplace! Equal pay, equal rights, and most importantly -- equal in sexuality!! Women no longer need to adhere to traditional roles of wife and mother! A woman can work outside the home, do whatever a man can do, and have it all. And that means--most importantly of course--she too, can have sex with no strings like a man. Right??

Now, there are some things about this women's lib movement that I admit, I totally find attractive (I have a little radical lurking inside me who screams out sometimes unexpectedly). Who's not for equal rights, equal pay, and the ability to work outside the home? Yet, there's something in me that really wants to make a home too. I am starting to like home decorating magazines way more than even fashion magazines--and I cannot get enough HGTV. And I admit, when I see a pregnant woman, I can't stop staring in awe of the miracle in her belly. But I digress...

Doesn't it seem to anyone else that the women who were engaging in the radical women's lib movement of the 60's and 70's would just keel over by today's women (well, young girls actually) who feel that they need the perfect sized chest just to get men to notice them and to feel good about themselves? Or, do you think that somehow the radical movement might be responsible for the obsession with perfectly feminine bodies? I personally know two women who had perfectly lovely bodies who got implants, and several others who would if they just had the money. I have a hankering that the radical movement somehow contributed to the hook-up culture mentality we see today, even though that is precisely what it claims it sought to escape.

Does anyone else find this mind-boggling and quite ironic? If the more radical forms of women's liberation do not give us the answer, what does? Is the logical conclusion of radical feminism simply...hyper-sexualization?? Are we just doomed to being over-sexualized with poor body-images? Help!
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