April 30, 2010
Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives. --The Four Loves
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. --The Four Loves
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. --Mere Christianity
And finally (though I don't know the source):
You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.
April 29, 2010
"Now I invite you to weep, you and my other servants. And through your weeping and constant humble prayer I want to be merciful to the world. Run along this road of truth dead, so that you may never be reproached for walking slowly. For I will demand more of you now than before, since I have revealed my very self to you in my truth. Be careful never to leave the cell of self-knowledge, but in this cell guard and spend the treasure I have given you. This treasure is a teaching of truth founded on the living rock, the gentle Christ Jesus, clothed in a light that can discern darkness. Clothe yourself in this light, dearest daughter whom I so love, in truth. "
April 28, 2010
Death by chocolate is myth
This I know because I lived
I've been around for broken hearts and how
Lay your head in my hands little girl
This is only right now
Death by crying doesn't exist, though
The headaches feel a bit like it
You might explode
But you reach the end of the road
And you, little tree
I'm certain you will grow
Tears on your pillow will dry and you will learn
Just how to love again
Oh my weeping willow
Let your leaves fall and return
Oh darling the seasons are your friend
Death by anger this is true
Just let him go he can't hurt you
Oh little girl this is such a cruel cruel world
This is the first, of a million broken hearts
Tears on your pillow will dry and you will learn
Just how to love again
Oh my weeping willow
Let your leaves fall and return
Oh darling the seasons are your friend
Oh it won't be long you will grow strong
Up up and away
He's but a falling leaf, he's but a falling leaf, he's but a falling leaf
April 27, 2010
April 26, 2010
True to my promise in a post from couple weeks ago AND in reply to our commentator Anthony from my What Would Mary Do? post, I want to revisit the theme of femininity and masculinity particularly as they pertain to roles in the Church.
First let me propose Anthony's challenge to me in the aforementioned post:
So if I am reading this correctly, you are saying that women are NOT equal to men and are not WORTHY to lead the lay people in their faith in the way that men are?? You mention that feminists would be opposed to what Lisa Miller said, but I'm pretty darn sure Miller herself is a feminist, and I can't think of a single feminist who in her right mind wouldn't agree with Miller.Can I just say, Thank you, Anthony for bringing up this intriguing critique. You beg the burning question: Are men and women equal? Are the equally worthy to lead the Church? To at least that first question, I would emphatically answer YES, men and women are indeed equal in dignity before the Lord and very much equally human. I think that second part of the question is where I, and perhaps other women who are feminists of my thinking might have some issues. Let me explain.
Last year, Julian wrote a post summarizing a common interpretation of the feminist movement that posits four distinct waves of feminist thought. I won't go into too much detail about them here, but I will say that with few exceptions, I can say that the first two waves of feminism promoting women's suffrage, property rights, and equal protection under the law, are entirely acceptable to me. The problem is with that messy 'third wave,' which took a rather radical turn and, as far as I can tell, is internally contradicting itself. This third wave of feminism claims men and women are equal - equal rights for equal pay. Yes, I am on board there, of course, as long as equal work is really being done. But, then it goes on - Equal everything, women are just like men, we can do all things men can do without exception, etc. And yes, the abortion rights - absolute control of sexuality, birth control, sexual liberation, the "right" to have sex like a man - etc.
Here is where I find myself scratching my head and bewildered. Men and women are of course equal in many ways, but they are well...different, aren't they? So, should they be forced to do all things the way men do them? Well, you can think of some scenarios where that is probably not optimal. For example, friends in the military have told me that when a woman gets shot in military duty, it lowers morale of the troops significantly more than when a man gets shot. While that is anecdotal evidence, I think can we understand that, right. There's just something different about a woman being wounded than a man. In terms of sexuality - is a woman capable of 'having sex like a man' (Carrie Bradshaw's opening question in the Sex and the City series) or of being 'sexually liberated?' What does that really mean? Well, we can look at the fruits of it: increase in STD's,increase in divorces and unfaithful marriages, increase in teenage pregnancies, increase in abortion, low birth rates, etc. That does not seem to be liberating to either men or women, it seems to have merely enslaved us all our sexual appetites. I'd love to hear some other perspectives on my assertions here.
Now, what about women in the Church? After all, that is what Lisa Miller was writing about in her Newsweek article. Why should not women be priests? After all, I have asserted that we are equal in dignity before the Lord and equal before the law. Why shouldn't they be equally allowed to be priests (or priestesses). Here, I'd like to refer to my beloved namesake, Edith Stein, from her Essays on Woman. Regarding priesthood for women, she writes:
If we consider the attitude of the Lord Himself, we understand that He accepted the free loving services of women for Himself and His Apostles and that women were among His disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet He did not grant them the priesthood, not even to His mother, Queen of Apostles, who was exalted above all humanity in human perfection and fullness of grace.... It seems to me that such an implementation [of women priesthood] by the Church, until now unheard of, cannot be forbidden by dogma.I hope, commentator Anthony, this begins to explain my position in the previous post on feminism.
However...the whole tradition speaks against it from the beginning. But even more significant in my opinion is the mysterious fact emphasized earlier-that Christ came as the Son of Man.... Yet He bound Himself so intimately to one woman as to no other on earth; He formed her so closely after His own image as no other human being before or after; He gave her a place in the Church for all eternity as has been given to no other human being. And just so, He has called women in all times to the most intimate union with Him: they are to be emissaries of His love, proclaimers of His will to kings and popes, and forerunners of His Kingdom in the hearts of men. To be the Spouse of Christ is the most sublime vocation which has been given, and who ever sees this way open before her will yearn for no other way. pp. 83-84
To explain a man's view, I found this article from Inside Catholic particularly poignant. I'll give you a taste and hope you'll read the whole article (and I might write more on this later because I find it fascinating.)
The author asserts,
We may yet have a male-only clergy and hierarchy, but where the rubber meets the road -- in those mundane areas of church life where laity and institution most commonly interact -- the flavor is feminine. Whether you want to speak in terms of liturgy, ministry (lay and clerical), religious education, or sheer congregational numbers, official ecclesial power may not rest in the hands of women, but considerable unofficial influence clearly does, and has for some time. And we in the Church have been subject to its effects.The author brings up a point not often meditated upon: overly-feminized leadership in the Church keeps the men away from it. Sometimes we women can be so indignant about what we perceive to be grievances against femininity, that we forget that what we do as women, and especially as women within the Body of Christ, has a profound effect on men.
Not all these effects, as we shall see, have been bad. But one of the worst has been a subjugation of traditional masculine virtue: the concept of distinctly and properly manly Catholicism repressed, stigmatized, covered up, or otherwise forgotten for lack of practice. And the more "feminized" Catholicism thus became -- the more its pews became recognized as the province of wives, children, and the effete -- the more likely were men and their post-pubescent sons to stay away. All of this is making today's Church, according to Leon Podles, author of The Church Impotent, "essentially a women's club with some male officers."
Photo found here.
April 23, 2010
I can't let this week go by without recommending The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander. Agatha has introduced us to her before, and I was so excited to begin it for my book club. I'm only two chapters in and I'm recommending it, so take that into consideration before buying it...but definitely get it from a library!
Glorious Saint Joseph,
model of all who pass their life in labor,
obtain for me the grace to work in a spirit of penance
to atone for my many sins; to work conscientiously,
putting the call of duty above my own inclinations;
to work with gratitude and joy,
considering it an honor to use and develop by my labor
the gifts I have received from God;
to work with order, peace, moderation and patience,
without ever recoiling before weariness or difficulties.
Help me to work, above all,
with purity of intention and with detachment from self,
having always before my eyes the hour of death
and the accounting which I must render of time lost,
and vain complacency in success,
which is so fatal to the work of God.
All for Jesus, all for Mary,
all after your example,
O Patriarch Joseph! T
his shall be my watchword in life and in death. Amen
St. Joseph, patron of workers, pray for us.
Icon written by Daniel Nicholls
April 22, 2010
--St. Faustina (Icon written by Marek Czarnecki)
PS: Happy Birthday, dear Edith! So glad to spend this day with you!
April 21, 2010
And while we are on the topic of teen pregnancy, there is an 11 year-old girl in Mexico City, who, despite pressure from gaping feminists, refuses to have an abortion because she realizes that there is 'a life growing' inside her womb. There are no details about what happened to this poor child, but God has given her a heavy cross indeed, and she bears it with dignity - "out of the mouth of babes." In a follow-up article, Catholic News Agency describes the pressures many young women (and girls) face in Mexico City from pro-abortion organizations:
First they find a girl who has been raped and they keep her hidden and inaccessible to any kind of assistance. Second, they expose the case to the media without revealing any details of her clinical history. . . .Sound familiar? It should. It's the same type of strategy Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe) describes happened to her during Roe v. Wade.
Third, they center their media message on the idea that the legalization of so-called ‘therapeutic abortion’ is the solution for saving the lives of women. Fourth, they present themselves as the saviors of the life of the mother, and anyone who opposes their pro-abortion demands are quasi-criminals.
The real problem, according to Bristol Palin (well, apparently so) and the Catholic News Agency articles above is teenage promiscuity, and we might add, promiscuity in general. And for a humorous and irrational take on that subject, check what this Iranian cleric has to say...
April 20, 2010
When I heard about this commercial in the political gossip column of our local newspaper, I was really quite surprised. This seemed entirely wrong headed. Now that I see it, I must agree with Mr. Archibold (of Creative Minority Report) that it is not sending the right message. Or, that the right message is lost in everything else. This could be Jamie Lynn Spears saying "I'm rich and Famous so abstinence doesn't matter to me" and it would be about as effective.
April 19, 2010
April 17, 2010
April 16, 2010
Today is the Pope's 83rd birthday! Happy birthday to our Holy Father! In other news, the Pope's homily from yesterday is making headlines. In it, he referred to scandals as penance that is 'a grace.' Here is a quote from CNS linked above:
The pope said Christians know that "to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare oneself for forgiveness, to allow oneself to be transformed, the pain of penance -- that is to say of purification and of transformation -- this pain is grace, because it is renewal, and it is the work of divine mercy."You have given us lots to reflect upon, today, Pope Benedict! Let us pray for him especially today on the occasion of his birth (for which I am most thankful) and offer up our little sufferings to alleviate his!
In his homily, the pope also spoke about the liberating effect of obeying God, even in a world that likes to pretend that freedom means doing whatever the individual wants to do, but still insists on everyone conforming to what the majority believes and does.
Without a reference to God and to God's will for his creation, the final arbiter of right and wrong becomes majority rule or the dictates of the most powerful, he said.
Photo found at American Papist
April 15, 2010
Today is the last important deadline of adult life. Tax Day! Have you filed yours? I always wit till the last possible moment, even if I know I am getting a refund. I don't know why. I like to live dangerously, I guess.
Anyway, in honor of this day, I always try to watch my favorite film about a tax collector. Indeed, aside from the wonderful Caravaggio of the Call of St. Matthew it might be the best work of art about a taxman. It certainly is the best work of art about an IRS tax auditor.
In it we find Harold Crick, said auditor, who wakes up one morning hearing a voice narrating his life ("accurately, and with a better vocabulary"). Soon thereafter he learns (through the narration) that his life is about to end. After speaking with a therapist (see below) and a shrink, he eventually makes his way to a professor of English Literature, played brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman. Dr. Hilbert's advice is literary: try to find out if you are in a comedy or a tragedy, and let the plot come to you. Meanwhile he begins auditing the beautiful Miss Pascal's bakery, and is totally smitten, though she hates the very core of his being ("That sounds like a comedy; try to develop that.")
Here's a quick exchange between Miss Pascal and Harold when they first meet (in honor of the day:
Ana Pascal: That's right.
Harold Crick: Looks like only 78 percent.
Ana Pascal: Yep.
Harold Crick: So you did it on purpose?
Ana Pascal: Yep.
Harold Crick: So you must've been expecting an audit.
Ana Pascal: Um, I was expecting a fine, or a sharp reprimand.
Harold Crick: A reprimand? This isn't boarding school, Miss Pascal. You stole from the government.
Ana Pascal: No I didn't steal from the government. I just didn't pay you *entirely*.
Harold Crick: Miss Pascal, you can't just not pay your taxes.
Ana Pascal: Yes, I can.
Harold Crick: You can if you want to get audited.
Ana Pascal: Only if I recognize your right to audit me, Mr. Crick.
Harold Crick: Miss Pascal, I'm right here auditing you.
I don't want to give away too much of the film--I just want to tease you with its premise. Let me say this alone: it is funny, it is sweet, it is well-acted all around, and, most of all, it points to that cliched but enduring truth that life is not only stranger than fiction, it's better too.
April 14, 2010
As Edith mentioned yesterday, right now the three of us are FINALLY all together in Washington. This two week stint has been a lot of fun--encouraging, edifying, and rather silly. Last weekend we took the time to visit a remarkable exhibit here in Washington, called The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700.
The exhibit is small--less than 30 pieces. (The London Exhibit was twice as large.) There are as many pieces of sculpture as there are paintings; the sculpture is a special poly-chrome sculptures: painted wood, life size (for the most part) and active. I don't know how else to describe it--like all baroque art there is a tremendous amount of motion in these statues. We catch St. Francis just as he is raised in ecstasy, and Christ, covered in sores, bruises and blood, approach the throne of Pilate.
Each piece was stunning, and there was much debate about which was the best. But, I'm certain, we all fondly recall this statue of Magdalene. It was a total surprise, and the three of us stood in front of it for a good 30 seconds, together. I know I was praying for each of them, and it was so good to stand by their side, captivated, and lost in wonder.
April 13, 2010
First, I loved the article originally linked in Julian's first post, just linked above. I think commentator Paul is totally correct in saying that stereotypes are totally unfair. He writes:
These kinds of stereotypical narratives go along way to obscure the true nature of masculinity. We don't like it when femininity is abused by bad stereotypes and marketing campaigns, etc. Why do we tolerate it for men?True, very true indeed. But there is some truth even in silly stereotypes, right? For example, I notice that men are generally going to tell women they want to impress bad jokes. And to men, bodily functions are pretty much always funny. So, I think the key is to learn to appreciate those silly masculine qualities that make guys...well, masculine. I have been in the liberating position of having no desire whatsoever to date anyone, for obvious reasons. Don't get me wrong, I still desire to be married. The frustration is not knowing to whom, since marriage is always with a particular person. The pain is thinking that I did know, but was wrong. However, it is nice to just sit back and enjoy the company of young men without any wonder at what any one of them could be to me in my life. And then you can appreciate them for just being men, and seek to get to know the person for who he is. That is refreshing.
Agatha and I (and I am sure Julian too, I just have not asked her) loved the way commentator Paul ended his last comment:
I just want to say that it's so important to put persons ahead of manners/cultural conventions. Manners, etc., are for persons, not the other way around. And if we're talking about romance, the best ones are not a case of two perfect lovers finding each other, but of two imperfect people, learning to be perfect lovers together.That is true. Seeing a person as unique, the way God created him and intends him to live is crucial - it is what it means to love as God loves, which is precisely how we long to be loved.
The sentiments that Julian and all of us ladies I think can relate to is the utter frustration of having to put up with guys who don't always treat ladies with respect, and perhaps are not willing to learn, either. Maybe they just want to get a girl into bed or speak endlessly about how women fall over their feet to date them. Yes, that actually happens. It should not. And while men can learn, I think it gets tiresome to women to have to be 'the teacher.' Maybe that is part of the single woman's vocation - to charitably remind guys how to 'man up.' But that can have a backlash too, because one of the most common complaints is that we women are always trying to 'change' men. And I think it's a balance, not that I can say I have struck that balance...
It would be nice to live in a society where men opened doors and would refuse to let a woman pay for her meal on a date. But unless you live in the South, that just is not the case :-). I am being silly, but we don't live in that kind of society even if we should be. (And let's not forget that Agatha's point that great manners don't necessarily make a good man.) And women don't have to go out on another date with such a guy. Bad manners is usually a bad sign, but door opening is not the end of the world. And of course, we can place some blame on feminism, which skewed men's roles and often sent confusing signals about a woman's expectation. (Sidenote -- but one I want to develop more. Back in October, Agatha emailed this to me and Julian on the effects of feminism in the Church. It has some fascinating points related to this, so I will try to write another post on it!) Let's not forget ladies, when a man is seeking our attention, he wants approval and acknowledgment from us. And if he does not want that, then he is not interested. Women should tame men into gentlemen, and men should in return make a lady out of a woman. The key is a mutual self-sacrifice, certainly not easy (or, one might argue, even encouraged!) for the majority in the current dating scene.
So, suffice to say this: women are not from Venus and men are not from Mars, but we are different and we think differently about things. If we try to first of all respect each other as human beings, and as human beings differentiated as male and female - I think we will be facing the right direction in which we can walk together toward eternity and help each other along the way in whatever capacity our vocation demands.
April 12, 2010
4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/4 olive oil
2 leeks, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dried savory
1/2 c. white wine
1 cup GF chicken stock
2 heaping tablespoons minced fresh dill
Season chicken. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and sear bothsides of the chicken (about 1 minute per side). Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.
In the same skillet over medium heat, saute the leeks until soft (about 3 minutes). Add the garlic, savory, wine, and stock, and boil.
Lower heat, add chicken, cover and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until the chicken is done
Top chicken with the sauce, and garnish with dill.
April 10, 2010
April 9, 2010
Are we really taking our cues on what is masculine from the National Cattleman's Beef Association and Old Spice advertisements? I think skinny jeans are a dumb fad too but I would reject the idea that alternative is to reach for naive cliches.
As a man, I'm certain that masculinity is about more than this kind of nonsense. I open doors for my fiancee, I've got plenty of hair on my chest, but I don't eat beef since I'm a vegetarian. I also don't care for all the synthetic chemicals or artificial smell of Old Spice.
These kinds of stereotypical narratives go along way to obscure the true nature of masculinity. We don't like it when femininity is abused by bad stereotypes and marketing campaigns, etc. Why do we tolerate it for men?
No, this is not a rediscovery of masculinity, but an avoiding of the question by substituting nostalgia for all the crap that has been pushed by pop-culture in recent years.
I'll go out on a limb here (since every woman I know has been quoting this article and praising it left right and center), and say: Paul is right.
Don't get me wrong: I like to know guys who can fix cars, and who dress snappily (or ruggedly). I don't have much experience with metro-sexual guys--but I do know a lot of wimpy guys--guys who, when my battery died on my car, just stood there watching, totally unable to help. But more than that, I like guys who would open doors for me, who takes responsibility for their actions, and in whose presence I feel like a lady. I like gentlemen.
It is foolish to assume that just because a man smells like Old Spice and gets a straight razor shave that he is more of a gentleman. Miss Manners often confronts a similar predicament in her writings about manners. She never writes about mores; etiquette turns a blind eye to questions of morality, so long as immorality is discreet and mannerly. Now, Miss Manners would be the first to place etiquette in a substantial moral system, the two sets of principles dancing side by side in our lives--but she will not make moral judgements. Therefore, a perfect cad might also be a perfect gentlemen, according to the letter of the law of etiquette.
I see a similar thing going on here. People like McKay, who runs the Art of Manliness, seem to me to be on the right path: his blog encourages virtue as well as skill, prudence as well as courage. Their top posts in their "Relationship & Family" section are things like "Being the rock" and "How to Apologize Like a Man" and "How to be a Great Godfather"--not "how to avoid commitment" or "how to get some when she's holding out on me." This, it seems to me, is a good thing.
But to put that return to civility and gentlemanly (both in manners and mores) behavior in the context of fashion and "just another social movement" is a failure to understand what is really going on. If Mad Men is our barometer of masculinity, we're in real trouble.
Which is not to say that fashion doesn't have a role to play. The power suits of women in the 80s actually did what they set out to do: intimidate the male board members and vps enough so that women were taken seriously in business, rather than condescended to as just another skirt. (I am awfully glad that that road has been forged so that I can wear skirts to the office. I hate power suits, and don't really like pantsuits either.) But we'd be foolish to think that powersuits equal the worth of the modern woman. (And, for that matter, if I had to choose between a slightly chauvinistic Mad Man and the effeminate Rob Pattinson...I'd pick the one who can hold his whiskey and wears a snappy tie, for sure.)
In the article, McKay had my favorite line: "It's a man who looks to the past for inspiration about what it means to be a man, taking the best from that time and leaving the cultural garbage, like sexism, racism, and homophobia, behind." We can take Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant as our guides, certainly. And also St. Peter and the chivalrous knights and Dante and maybe a touch of Super Man, too. With all these men, take what is good and make it your own.
April 8, 2010
The headline of the article begins shockingly: " A woman's place is in the Church." Wow. A statement like that could get you butchered by some feminists. I think as a general rule, women don't really like to be told where their place is, even if by a fellow woman. Wouldn't you say, ladies? The article posits that the Catholic Church is nothing but a good ole boy's club, and that is why the recent scandals have come to take place. If women don't get to be priests, well, then, the whole Church will simply crumble. (We know better of course, as Christ promised us that even the throngs of Hell would not prevail against it). Miss Miller goes on to say that the problem with the Church is that it is stuck in a pre-modern era, one that does not value as she puts 'the supremacy of the individual.' She even goes so far to say that 'we in the West' don't 'get' Church leaders. And they don't 'get' us. Did someone fail to give her a simple history lesson wherein she should have learned that 'we in the West' have been formed by the Church? I was shocked at such scanty journalism. To be honest, I am shocked that the editor actually published such, well, to be frank, crap. Aren't we sick of being indoctrinated with this junk in our news? I am.
Miller claims that unless women are allowed to be ordained as priests, the Church will become less relevant to women, and they will leave the Church, "taking their children with them." Really... I mean really? Is that the best solution she can offer? The stats in the article are simply hearsay, and the sources she draws upon are the Gospel of Thomas - sources that are not even considered authoritative. She does not even mention Mary, except on a few remote points. Very poor work, indeed. So, what would Mary do? Well, Lisa Miller does not tell us, but Scripture tells us that she would point us in the direction of her Son, and gently tell us, "Do whatever He tells you." Let's hope that all of us start listening a little bit better.
April 7, 2010
And I love Philadelphia (my hometown).
And I'm loving this article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer entitled "Manning Up," an expose on the return of the "retrosexual."
I wish I could give each of you the print version, because it has a fabulous picture of a "Man Men"-type cartoon drawing of a man with little diagrams of everything from dating to grooming to chivalry. I'll leave you with a taste of a few of the characteristics of today's retrosexual man in this booming "menaissance," as the author calls it:
Diet: Eats beef, a lot. (Sushi is for wusses) At family gatherings, he always carves the family roast.
Grooming: Although he favors old-school straight razors (stubble is still welcome) and clean-cut hairstyles, the retrosexual rejects girlishly obsessing over his locks. And he would never step into a unisex salon, let along get his back waxed. Beneath his three-piece suit and Hanes undershirt is a full chest of hair. And like all real men, he smells of Old Spice.
Chivalry: No self-respecting grandfather would ever let a woman pay for dinner, and neither will this guy. Same goes for opening doors; these arms know it's the right thing to do. Turns out, manners are a turn-on.
Dress: Mad Man, yes. Skinny jeans? Can you get any less masculine? When he's not wearing his spectators, looking debonair like Cary Grant, he's looking rugged like Steve McQueen. You might even see him with a tool belt (for fixing things), a gun (for hunting), and a car jack (for rotating tires).
Kind of tongue-in-cheek, but kind of not.
I love it.
April 6, 2010
April 4, 2010
April 3, 2010
April 2, 2010
April 1, 2010
Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve done this column, but now seems as a good a time as any to resurrect it. Here’s how I came to discover this jewel of a woman. I admit it…after finishing a Jane Austen novel last week, I relapsed into Holocaust literature. But really, it is not depressing me! I find this particular work unbelievably inspirational, and in fact, a pretty good spiritual read for the end of Lent. I am reading Etty Hillesum’s diary and collection of letters of a concentration camp in Westerbork. I introduced Etty earlier this week as a young Jewish woman who died in the concentration camps. She reminds me, in many ways, of my own namesake, Edith Stein, who, as you know is a Jewish convert to Catholicism and one of the patron saints of Europe.
Etty Hillesum began her diary in 1941 at age 27….an age I am creeping perilously close to – ugh! She was a fascinating, shocking, and brilliant woman – single, living in the city of Amsterdam and working as a teacher of Russian and as a secretary. I am drawn to her writing, but I must warn any potential readers, however – she is extremely sexual at the beginning of her diary especially. She was secretary for a Jungian ‘psychologist’ named Julian Spier (we would call him a filthy womanizer) whose ‘specialty’ was ‘helping’ women to combat their problems by wrestling with them and touching them inappropriately. She might also be considered his patient and student. This is the atmosphere in which Etty opens up her explosive diary. I think it shows the spiritual sickness of the time – a time not unlike our own in many, many ways. (In fact, reading her writings about this, I could not help but again be grateful for John Paul II’s profound meditation on the theology of the body, but that would take me to an entirely new post).
But the beauty of it is that she changes so profoundly through her suffering and her heart opens up to God and His will for her. You can see throughout that in her heart she knows that what she is doing with her psychologist is wrong, but she falls in love with him anyway – drawn to him almost inexplicably. She often chastises herself for it, but continues to struggle with this and is ultimately transformed. The reader realizes that God’s goodness really does shine forth and conquer sin. She writes about her experience as a woman, and when I read this passage, I found myself both nodding in agreement and shaking my head at her:
I am an ordinary twenty-seven-year-old girl, and I too am filled with the love for all mankind, but for all I know I shall always continue to be in search of my one man. And I wonder to what extent that is a handicap, a woman’s handicap. Whether it is an ancient tradition from which she must liberate herself, or whether it is so much a part of her very essence that she would be doing violence to herself if she bestowed her love on all mankind instead of on a single man. (I can’t see yet how the two can be combined). . . . It’s typical that I always do end up wanting to be desired by man, but in fact it is only primitive instinct. Feelings of friendship, respect, love, for us as human beings, these are all very well, but don’t we ultimately want men to desire us as women? Pp. 33-34
It was my meditation this week on this passage about femininity and love that inspired my last post. She is a paradox, and she reveals the human paradoxes of living in the world with her experiences. She tries to reconcile her feelings of love towards one man with how she should love others. In the end, Etty feels herself drawn to love all mankind – she volunteers to go to the concentration camp, knowing it would be her fate soon enough. She writes:
I don’t think I would feel happy if I were exempted from what so many others have to suffer. They keep telling me that someone like me has a duty to go into hiding, because I have so many things to do in life, so much to give. But I know that whatever I may have to give to others, I can give it no matter where I am, here in the circle of my friends or over there, in a concentration camp. And it is sheer arrogance to think oneself too good to share the fate of the masses. P. 177As each privilege gets revoked from the Jews, such as shopping in the grocery stores, walking in public places, riding bicycles, Etty still manages to find joy, beauty, God in every day life. With a mix of both fear and courage, Etty writes the last words of her diary: “We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.” Her witness to act as a sacrifice of love for others is precisely the way we are called to live. She is a woman warrior to whom I simply cannot do enough credit here. I’d certainly recommend reading her diary and letters, but if you do so, keep in mind the caveat I mentioned above – she will indeed shock you, but she will also challenge and inspire you to the core.