Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Glory and the Horror

Writing my four lectures for the women's May retreat in Kraków ( sign up now!) was an intense experience. First I read my past work, and also work by and about Dorothy Day, Simone Weil and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). I reviewed my old notes and articles on Bl. John Paul II. And I made and reviewed notes on Blessed Natalia Tułasiewicz, painfully translating one long quote from her writings. I wrote my "brainy" lectures. The other two lectures are the "fun" lectures, in which speaker and listeners can just let their hair down and relax a bit.

Ha! What a shock to move from the sublime thoughts of saints and philosophers to the messages women get every day from pop culture. My paper on "The Role of the Single Woman in Family and Society" was not terribly depressing, although it acknowledges that pop culture's cardinal rule for women is be sexually attractive to others. But my paper on "Warnings from the West: Western Challenges to Femininity" is shot through with abject gloom.

Oh, I forgot twerking. I was going to mention Miley Cyrus and twerking. How to explain to Polish women that in American dance clubs one runs the risk of a complete stranger rubbing his crotch into your behind? Is there twerking in Poland? I asked a Polish girl, and she goes only to hipster bars where, if anyone twerks, they twerk ironically. Hipsters are hilarious.

Anyway, abject gloom. Part of the abject gloom is linked to the ab*rti*n rates in the USA, Canada and the UK. In Poland, it became very high (200,000+) in communist days and then dropped like a stone after 1989. In 2011, there were one million one hundred thousand ab*rti*ns in the USA, and only 669 in Poland. Naturally, we mourn the deaths of the 669, but as a matter of fact ab*rti*n laws in Poland are very strict, and most significantly, unless they belong to far-left parties, Poles don't want ab*rti*n.

The largest group of women who get ab*rti*ns in the USA, Canada and the UK are between 20 and 24, which suggests to me that from a humanist, not even a Catholic, point of view unmarried women should just not have sex before they are 25. Really. Honestly. Generations of unmarried women managed not to get pregnant before they were 25. Of course, that was before 1962. I would happily support a government campaign that said "Wait until 25", even if it got me into trouble with fellow Catholics who took a no-compromise approach and wanted the government to say "Wait until marriage."

My abject gloom deepened as I refreshed my memories of Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs" and checked the manosphere for tales of young American sex tourists sleazing their way around Central and Eastern Europe in their eagerness to bed women who are "still feminine" and "uncorrupted by American feminism." The only thing that makes me feel remotely better about such men is the suspicion that some Polish men try their luck with foreign female tourists. I am a bit old for such things, but if anyone hits on me, I will certainly let you know.

"Słuchaj," I will tell him. "This is for science and in the service of Almighty God. Are you hitting on me because I look foreign and you believe foreign women are easy? Or is it some other reason? And what are the factors in contemporary Polish society contributing to your behaviour? Wait--do you have a pen?"

To be fair, though, it will probably be because I looked at him. When I am in Poland, I like to look at Polish people, and occasionally young men do a double take and give me The Look. Maybe people don't look at each other in Poland. It is probably rude. Przepraszam.

Anyway, to cheer myself up, I will now think about the beautiful writings of St. Edith Stein which were adopted and developed by Błogosławiony Jan Pawel Drugi and taught by him in Mulieris Dignitatem, which we all, men and women, should read.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


No blogging or correspondence until I get my lectures finished. If you wrote me an email over the past four days, I've read it, but I can't answer until later this week. Thanks!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Easter Report

My Easter was very busy, full of church and writing papers for my retreat in Kraków on May 2-4. I sneezed and coughed and blew my nose a lot. Two more papers and some Easter baking to go. I am sorry I didn't get my baking done for actual Easter Sunday, but I had these papers, and my cold, and Easter is 40 days long anyway. Thank heavens.

Imagine if I had children on top of that. I don't know how working mothers do it.

I was too sick to go to Holy Thursday Mass, but I went to the Good Friday service, and then to the Easter Vigil (shorter in the Extraordinary Form, believe it or not!), and the next morning to Easter Sunday Mass. Then it was the usual Cup of Tea of Peace in the parish all, and then the Gin and Tonic of Brotherly Love, and an Easter Sunday Lunch Blowout in Morningside, featuring a large number of lifelong Singles, plus Mr and Mrs McAmbrose, who danced a waltz as the Master of the Men's Schola played the piano. We were totally outnumbered, as usual, but this strikes us as entirely normal.

Feel free to report on your Easter in the combox; I have to go back to writing papers and bewailing my inability to master Polish.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

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?

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.