Saturday, 19 April 2014

"The Deepest Longing of a Woman's Heart...."

The deepest longing of a woman's heart is to give herself lovingly, to belong to another, and to possess this other being completely. This is revealed in her outlook, personal and all-embracing, which appears to us as specifically feminine. But this surrender becomes a perverted self-abandon and a form of slavery when it is given to another person and not to God; at the same time it is an unjustified demand which no human being can fulfill. Only God can welcome a person's total surrender in such a way that one does not lose one's soul in the process but wins it. And only God can bestow Himself upon a person so that He fulfills this being completely and loses nothing of Himself in so doing. That is why total surrender which is the principle of the religious life is simultaneously the only adequate fulfillment possible for woman's yearning.

--Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), "The Ethos of Women's Professions" (1930).

Friday, 18 April 2014

Pick Up Your Cross and Follow Him

Today is Good Friday, and I feel well enough to go to church. Good Friday is a good time to remember that suffering is part of every human life.

Simone Weil, whom I will talk about at the Majówka (May holiday) retreat in two weeks, wrote a lot about suffering, and the indelible mark that comes from some kinds of suffering which she called "affliction." Weil actively sought suffering, so as to be more fully in solidarity with those who suffer privation: hunger, sleeplessness, discomfort, harsh physical labour, the humiliations of early 20th century factory work, the dangers of war.

Weil took things too far--one of her biographers talks of her spiritual anorexia, and Weil's fasting practices almost certainly made her physically anorexic. I am reminded of St. Ignatius of Loyola and how his early disciplines permanently damaged his health, leading to his veto of his Jesuits doing any such things themselves. But she, the compassionate daughter of a rich doctor, reminds me of how God Himself took on humanity and shared human suffering.

The Son of God chose suffering out of love for us--it is an awesome thought. And his sinless mother suffered, too. Any Catholic who does their best to be good and to live a pure life and yet suffers terribly would do well to remember all the sufferings of Our Lady. We can say (or beg, rather, as in the Dies Irae) that it our redemption was the reason for Jesus's suffering (so let it not be in vain!), but did Our Lady sign up for her suffering? Not exactly but--"let it be to me according to Thy will." And what could be worse than seeing, before your own eyes, your Son scourged and crucified, left to die in the hot sun?

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Back from church. This post looks very unfinished but....zzzzzz....

Thursday, 17 April 2014

It's About Service

Today is Holy Thursday, and I am at the blow-my-nose-every-45 seconds stage of my cold. I have overseas guests arriving in three hours, a paper on the Theology of Woman to write, and Holy Thursday Mass an hour-and-a-half by bus away. This is a bad day to feel this bad.

However, like real mothers, I dragged myself from my bed of pain to do what housework is necessary, and like women with 9-to-5 jobs, I will get down to writing my paper. What I am doing now is service that nobody has asked me (directly) to do but nevertheless ought to be done, which is to address Catholic Singles and Other Singles of Good Will about the Single Life from a Catholic perspective.

On Holy Thursday there is attached to Mass an optional service in which a priest washes the feet of twelve other priests or, lacking that many priests, twelve appropriate priest stand-ins. Most fittingly, those would be the "viri" demanded by rubrics, but some of us are just happy if the feminae selectae remember not to wear pantyhose. Incidentally, there is a fashion for women lay ministers to wash feet, too. My nose hurts too much to go on about what THAT does to theology of the ordained priesthood.

At any rate the contemporary, un-traditional and confusing involvement of laity is supposed to remind us that all Christians are called to service, which actually I can remember without watching a woman in the sanctuary whipping off her pantyhose as an alb-covered woman with a sponge waits politely. Service is not about rituals most fittingly done by and for priests but about being truly helpful. If stuck, see the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy.

But service is more than individual acts. It's about a shared way of life. It is about serving without expectation of human reward, serving for God's sake, or for humanity's sake, or serving's sake, no matter what your state in life or your chosen profession. If you are a salaried or by-the-hour professional server, paid for your service, you may not have enough time or energy to experience the true joy of Christian service, which would be unfortunate.

Mysteriously, there is something spiritually wrong with being paid for Christian service. I don't know exactly why it is so, but it is so. What is way better is being gratuitously rewarded, either in money or something else, for Christian service. Priests in my hometown are usually financially dependent on their bishop (and probably helped out by their families ), sometimes working around the clock, snatching sleep when they can, seven days a week. I don't think of them as working for a paycheque, exactly. Meanwhile, nobody pays mothers and fathers for being generous mothers and fathers, or childless marrieds for being substitute mothers and fathers, or singles for being generous with their time and talent on behalf of the community.

Sometimes these people aren't even thanked, although you may recall that of the ten lepers miraculously cured by Our Lord, only one went back to thank Him. And if nine people miraculously cured from a dread disease forget to thank the Son of God Himself, I guess it is understandable when someone forgets to say "Thank you" to me or his mom.

The Lord seems to expect us to do service for people who can never give us anything in return (and may forget to say thank you). I am reminded of His advice to one of His hosts "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:12-14). The emphasis here is that you profit from not being materially rewarded. And I notice that Our Lord suggested a service His host enjoyed and was good at--hosting.

I host a bit, and the good thing about opening your home to foreign students (if you do) is that almost all students are at least cash poor and because their homes are in foreign lands, it is less likely that they will have the chance to open their homes to you. Of course, it is very nice when they do, but you don't expect it, and it doesn't matter. Meanwhile, the Poles have a saying that I really love--"Guest in the house, God in the house." I think this is literally true in some mystical way.

Anyway, I am not feeling so brainy, thanks to my cold, so I will drag myself back to the point of this post and say that Single Christians are equal in dignity to Married Christians or Consecrated Christians in that Singles are equally called to service. Priests are always telling lonely bored Singles that the way to cheer up is to serve others, and I am not surprised if the Singles roll their eyes around the minute the priest's back is turned. I think I probably did. However, this actually turns out to be TRUE.

One of the intolerable sufferings of my PhD years was that I couldn't find any opportunities to serve; I had served a lot during my M.Div., and I really missed it. However, I finally hit on the strange notion of writing a blog for Singles, and it changed my whole life, and directly or indirectly brought me everything I have achieved or been given in the past seven years, minus my tiny nephew and niece (of course). So much reward for something that--let's face it--nobody asked me to do or paid me for. (Thanks, by the way, to anyone who ever sent me a donation over PayPal, which I no longer use, as it proved unworkable.) It's really amazing.

Christian service is voluntary and not on a cash-per-hour basis. Ideally, the service you do is something that you are good at and enjoy. Philosopher Simone Weil went to tremendous lengths to serve her countrymen long before she became a Christian, most effectively by giving them free night classes that helped them pass exams to get better jobs. Blessed Natalia Tułasiewicz went voluntarily into what was for other Poles forced labour in Nazi Germany so as to minister to them spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. Servant of God Dorothy Day wrote and protested on behalf of the poor, clothed them, listened to them, and made them coffee and soup. And what did all these ladies have in common? They enjoyed their form of service, even though Weil was killed (in part) by overwork and Blessed Natalia by the Nazis.

They were also all unmarried non-nuns. And they all flew in the face of the idea that you shouldn't do something skilled and worth something to others unless you are being paid for it. It is a beautiful irony that Blessed Natalia went voluntarily into forced labour in Germany--so that she could carry out an illegal (and unpaid) ministry among the forced labourers. Yet Simone Weil and Dorothy Day served by demanding better pay and better work conditions for workers.

Paid work and Christian service: two separate things. How nurses have the time to do both is a puzzle, but I am sure many must. And I hope whatever they are doing as unpaid service is something they deeply enjoy: motherhood, for example.

Update: To be fair to American Catholics women who have volunteered to have, or been pressured into having, their feet washed this evening, here is what the American bishops have to say about it. If I were a priest, however, I would get twelve men involved in lay ministries of whatever kind--choir, altar service, lectors, hockey team coaching--stuff them in cassocks and albs, and wash THEIR feet, as an example to little boys of how church is not just for one man and a whole lotta women.

When he was here, my eldest nephew was mesmerized by Mass, and I don't think it was the Latin. Nooooooo. I think it was because everyone on the altar was male and dressed properly. Just saying.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Making a Mess

Oh, deary dear. I reviewed A. N. Wilson's Unguarded Hours for Ignatius Press Novels, as it is the only religion-themed novel I have had time to read lately, and the fact I reviewed it has caused consternation among IP fans. It's not that I endorse the novel--I state clearly that it is not for the young or the sensitive--it's that I mention it AT ALL. And yet my Facebook critic would not have known that it was unsavoury in any way unless I had explicitly condemned it as such.

Wilson is rather Waughian in his tone, although (as I mention in the review), he picks not on modern society as much as on the clerical wing of the then-modern (1978) Church of England, which was full of atheist-socialist posturing and, not to put too fine a point on it, gay camp. The novel is devoid of faith in Christ, and the spiritual underpinning of the book is merely a fear that Christianity is all a crock, and all there is under Christian words and ritual is a bottomless nothingness.

I find that very interesting. I'd be wincing in humiliation if a disgruntled Catholic ex-seminarian exposed unsavoury elements in his training in that very British, mocking way. Catholics in Britain seem to think that would be dirty pool, though, and confine themselves to dinner party anecdotes. What I have heard about one Scottish prelate I would not care to repeat--although it would make a very funny... No.

Anyway, poor old Ig Pr is getting yelled at because of me, so would you all be angels and go here to respond intelligently to the review? I mean it. Two minutes out of your day to gladden the hearts of some good people. Before I got chucked out of a certain stuck-in-the-1970s Catholic newspaper, the editor suffered very greatly on my behalf, thanks to its "retired" editor, her mentor, who had kittens at such words and phrases as "Benediction" and "Sacrifice of the Mass." Oh, and while you are at it, browse the Ignatius Press catalogue and see if there's anything you'd like to give someone (including yourself) for Easter.

The critique is on the Ignatius Press Facebook page. If you feel like weighing in there, be nice to the weaker brethren.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Loves to Travel

The idea that men see "loves to travel" on dating websites and makes unpleasant assumptions about the girl who does has popped up in an earlier combox. So let's continue the discussion here. Respectfully, keeping in mind that men are Readers now.

Personally, I love to travel to other cities. (This usually means Toronto, Rome or Krakow.) Generally our travel money comes out of my earnings. Basically, that's where my writing money goes: Polish class and travel. Sometimes I travel with my husband. Sometimes I travel on my own. I am much better at travelling on my own because there is no-one for me to snarl at. I'm not a fantastic travel companion; nobody should ever have to fly with me. I'm okay in trains, though. Cars, ditto. There's just something about airplanes. Oh, and on holiday snoring turns me into a homicidal maniac.

I have never had a holiday romance in my--- I never had a holiday romance that did not result in me marrying the guy. Occasionally I have been hit on by locals, or by recent immigrants, while on holiday, and I have just ignored them, mostly. I did get a terrible reputation on my Contiki tour by chatting with a couple of cops from Napoli one evening. My Italian was very good then. Sigh. I do recall saying "Non piace alla mamma" (My mum wouldn't like it) a few times. ("Then don't tell her." "I tell my mother EVERYTHING!" When under pressure in Italy, invoke your mother a lot.)

Anyway, I have googled about looking for unpleasant associations with "loves to travel" and found this. Man, I wish men weren't so obsessed with money. Too many seem to have this idea that women are out for all the money we can get. But like the manicurist who had already paid $9000 towards her wedding to the guy who gave her that $50,000 engagement ring, most of us are employed and have our OWN money.

Update: This is rather amusing. Okay, apparently I don't love to travel. I travel three or four times a year, unless you count going south of Prestonpans to fall into rivers on hikes.

Update 2: Jeepers. Another guy who worries "loves to travel" = "I want a guy with money."

Update Three: The BBC suggests that "I love to travel" is a cliché, and you should leave it out of dating profiles.

Sun Sets on British Empire

This is what makes me so angry about modern British life. A woman names her cats and at least one child after her favourite football players. Clearly football players mean more to her than, say, her male relations or the man/men she has the children with. She calls one "Rooney" after Wayne Rooney, which is basically the English equivalent of a Canadian naming his son "Gretzky". (I doubt the English would call Rooney "the Great One", but he's what they've got now that David Beckham is retired.)

A friend of the woman goes to a chain chocolate shop and buys an Easter egg. The chain has a cool name-writing service I've used myself when buying B.A. an Easter egg. She (the friend) asks the guy behind the counter to write "Rooney." The server gets nervous because he thinks this might be a copyright violation. (Wayne Rooney has not given that company permission to sell goods using his name.) His solution is to write the child's complete name on the egg. First name, last name. Now it is clear that the egg is uniquely for the child, and not a way of profiting from Rooney's name.

The mother calls the press to complain.

The mother calls the press to complain.

The press plays up the non-story for all it is worth, making it seem as though mother and child were standing right there in the shop and the toddler was told to his little uncomprehending face that he couldn't have his name on his super-special and sacred Christian chocolate Easter egg.

As usual, my first thought is, "And what does the child's father have to say?" My second is, "Does the child HAVE a father?" My third is, "Four kids! Do they all have the same father?" My fourth is, "She gives her kids AND cats the names of footballers?" My fifth is, "Does she have a job? The guy behind the counter she's holding up for contempt has a job."

This is so terrible. I am writing a paper on Simone Weil, and after voluntarily working in factories for a year, she came to the conclusion that revolution could not begin with the proletariat, for factories made the proletariat submissive instead of revolutionary. But I think the British ruling classes didn't want to take any chances for they have arranged society, entertainment and education so that the proletariat is encouraged to become as stupid and trivial as humanly possible.

Update: In my head Simone Weil has just asked me when I last had any conversation with a proletarian, and I said that I did on Sunday. She has now said that doesn't count. She spend most of her spare time talking to the proletariat, and I don't know what I'm talking about. I said I didn't SAY the proletariat WAS stupid and trivial; I said it was ENCOURAGED to be stupid and trivial. And, anyway, I make my wages solely through my labour-
-piece-work, too--so according to some definitions I myself belong to the prolateriat, and thus there are forces conspiring to make me stupid, too.

Beyond Rubies

I am thinking again about my friend Calvinist Cath--dear me, how embarrassed she would be if she realized she was becoming an official Good Role Model--because of how she found a husband without doing anything. This is someone who completely rejects what the world says about women, looking instead to the Gospels and Saint Paul. She doesn't wear lipstick, let alone fake tan, and her clothes, though feminine, are modest, unpretentious and plain. No miniskirts on our Cath, ever. And if I remember correctly the only reason she never cut her hair short is 'cause St. Paul said women shouldn't. I assume she is as slim as she is because she doesn't overeat and she does a lot of walking, especially on Sundays, as she would never take the bus on a Sunday, as it would entail participating on someone else's wrongful Sunday labour. At any rate, I think we can safely say that Cath never practised any mean arts of attraction--as they would have been called in the 19th century--quite unlike your humble correspondent, who got her first lipstick at twelve.

But my friend is no shrinking violet. Naturally studious, she achieved a doctorate in a difficult field. Laudably hard-working, she won a good post. She is a pillar of her church community and corresponds with other members of her ecclesial community worldwide, expounding on theology and recommending theological tomes. She also serves in more traditionally feminine ways, until recently by helping her minister's wife serve Sunday supper to guests, which is how she met the handsome young man who has recently become her husband.

In short, she lived her life according to the tenets of her Calvinist creed, in total contrast to the great majority of Edinburghers her age, even when it looked like there may never be a husband on the horizon. Action and belief were totally consistent: Simone Weil would have admired her greatly.

Now, to shift to a Catholic point of view, if a Protestant lives with such integrity, who are we as Catholics to justify wearing immodest clothing or keeping bad company or "making mistakes" or stuffing our bodies with silicone, all in the hope of winning a husband? I see no reason to wear our skirts to our ankles, but perhaps the hem ought to skim our knees? And who are we to complain that the boys pay attention only to the girls who wear the trampiest costumes to the college Hallowe'en party? You wouldn't find Cath dead at a college Hallowe'en party.

Spiritually speaking, I am very lucky I was not a beauty in my youth, for I never had the opportunity to develop an addiction to male attention. However, from an early age, I certainly wanted to get it, which I thought I could do by wearing short skirts and a lot of make-up and cutting my unusual hair short and actually calling boys up on the phone and laying in wait for my crush objects after school at the bus station--poor little creature. Little did I know I would not meet the Love of my Life until I was thirty-seven. What a lot of expense, effort and sorrow I would have spared myself if I had paid more attention to Scripture and behaved more modestly.

Thanks to Cath's good example, I have given up blogging (if not emergency grocery shopping or taking the bus) on Sundays, but I don't think I will give up make-up. I enjoy the theatricality of make-up, even though B.A. thinks he likes me better without it. And I will continue to suggest that women choose pretty over plain clothes, and not feel that the calves need always be covered up. Short of bikinis and push-up bras (I am not a fan), I think a good rule of thumb is that if a piece of clothing would have been okay in 1962, it is okay now. But flying in the face of all my "You should look like this" and "You should do that" is the image of Cath, who did nothing but live her life as a Christian with integrity and service and attention to what St. Paul said about women's appearance and thereby, thanks to God's inexorable plan for her, found a husband.

Picture: That's Lady Jane Grey, who in this rendition looks surprisingly like Cath. Gracious! What a coincidence.

P.S. As far as I know, I am Cath's most frivolous Catholic pal. Two of the others became cloistered Benedictine nuns, which is a great comfort to my lipsticked self.