Friday, October 30, 2009

The Authentic Catholic Woman

And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people: and God himself with them shall be their God. Apocalypse 21: 2-3

Having been bombarded with feminist literature in college, I have since made a point of avoiding books dealing with “women’s issues,” other than those that cover pregnancy and childbirth. I often thought that someday I would write a book about Catholic womanhood, based on Scripture, church teachings and the writings of the saints. Genevieve Kineke’s The Authentic Catholic Woman (Servant Books, 2006) is the book I would have wanted to have written myself. It is inspiring and current, but timeless, bringing the reader to the place where Heaven meets earth. A practical approach mingles with eschatology, making the church teaching applicable to the everyday lives of women.

It is a fallen world, and yet we are each called to reach our fullest potential. Genevieve’s book is a pondering of authentic femininity, of the ways in which women are called to model the Church as brides and mothers. Many books about women start from the point of view of radical feminism, judging women by the achievements they have made in professions which traditionally have belonged to men.

One of the most appealing aspects of the work is that Genevieve approaches the role of women from the high ground of Church doctrine, as well as from the realities of daily existence. It is taken for granted that even women with demanding careers are still the ones who oversee the running of the house, the care of the children, and arrange for the needs of elderly parents. Some women are more burdened than ever before. As the author points out:

….The final danger for women is to create for themselves unrealistic images of piety that no mortal can imitate….Many wrongly assume that authentic femininity means a blissful marriage, abundant pious (and well-mannered) children, a husband to rival Saint Joseph, an orderly home, a variety of community and parish activities, an even temperament, ample time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy, cheerful generosity toward extended family (also pious of course) and a prayer life patterned on that of any number of saints and mystics. This sort of conjecture can indeed be a woman’s worst enemy. (p.6)
Much of this mirrors some of my own experience of Catholic womanhood. We should all be striving for holiness, but many Catholic women take on too much. They are hard on themselves and on others. Ladies’ church clubs and home-schooling groups are too often pervaded by a nit-picking, critical spirit about one another’s homes, husbands and children. I have seen such attitudes (and the gossip which flows as a consequence) destroy relationships which could otherwise have been a source of moral and spiritual support for Catholic women alone in a pagan world.

We ladies need to start being sisters to each other and not in constant competition. That is why it is excellent that Genevieve recommends devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A true devotion to Mary fills the heart with joy and trust, helping the soul to move beyond all pettiness.

Mary is the first fruit and most perfect image of the Church. Truly, she is the pilgrim who walks before us, the perfect follower of Christ and the model of faith we should all revere. But more specifically she is the archetype of bride and mother who teaches all women how to live authentic femininity. From her acceptance of God’s plan at the Annunciation to her Assumption, she exemplified receptivity to the Father in a way that was life-giving and grace-filled for and all who know her. (pp. 67-68)

In the central part of the book, the author carefully builds a case as to how Catholic women are called to embody each of the sacraments, showing how every Christian woman is a living microcosm of the Church, the Bride of Christ. All are called to be mothers, on either the spiritual or physical level, or both. “Rather than being a job wedged among other responsibilities, motherhood is a vocation—and a powerful calling at that, since it speaks to the essence of a woman’s being.” (p 58)

Therefore, motherhood demands the “total gift of self” (p.58) We stand with Mary at the foot of the cross, in patience and humility. “This view of feminine love is a relief during times of trial, when we place the burden of concern at the foot of the cross where it belongs. Such is the vocation of mother; such is the Church that waits to embrace us all.” (p 85)

The Church as Bride and Mother is manifested in Sacred Scripture (pp. 87-103), and continues to shine forth to the world, as a builder and bearer of culture. (p.105) Indeed, “faith cannot endure without culture…. [the early] Christians built culture around their faith in order to nourish it.“ (p.107) Each Catholic dwelling, each home, is a “sacred space” and “should reflect the order inherent in God’s creation.” (p.108)

The home should be a place of beauty and peace, with art that lifts the heart to God, while avoiding clutter. Genevieve discusses how it is the special role of women to “enhance their living spaces” (p.109) through tasteful decorating; to create the ambiance of welcome, of safety, of fun, so that the house becomes a place where love can grow. This has less to do with money and more to do with prudence and thrift. What makes many homes unattractive is the overabundance of material possessions. (p.109) Simplicity is a form of beauty and sometimes less is more.

Family rituals and celebrations which reflect those of the Church add meaning and dignity to the everyday routines. “Children cling to ritual and are comforted by it,” as every parent and teacher should be aware. (p.111) The most important role for wives and mothers is to raise the children in their care to be good Christians.

Etiquette is an important part of this, for children need boundaries in order to thrive and build safe relationships. “The ultimate goal of etiquette is to enhance the dignity of the person. Etiquette can be a tremendous vehicle for ordering the culture along the proper lines. It certainly has the capacity for being abused or misunderstood when it becomes reduced to ‘manners’ and ‘protocol,’ or when it becomes detached from charity.” It should not be used to alienate others, but to embrace them. (p.114)

Modest and appropriate attire is also an integral part of building a sense of worth in our children. (p.115) It is crucial for adolescents to be guided in avoiding garments which over-sexualize, and can indeed build strength of character when our teenagers are encouraged not to go along with the crowd. (p116)

It is for women, in imitation of Mary, to build a culture of joy. None of our labors will bear fruit overnight. “God’s timing cannot and should not be rushed, and Mary reminds us to think about the future with trust.” (p.118) Culture is a “means to an end” (p.119) not an end in itself. Perhaps this is why the culture of our western civilization has so deteriorated, because over the years, especially after the secularization of the French Revolution, culture became an end in itself, rather than a means of giving glory to God.

The Authentic Catholic Woman offers a great deal of hope to women and their families. While exploring the pitfalls and challenges of modern life, the psychological damage caused by broken homes, Genevieve also emphasizes “the depths of joy that attend motherhood and its glories,” as well as the “risks of loving.” (p.123)

I think that many young women are told of the burdens and inconveniences that accompany having children, but they are not told of the great happiness that children bring, a happiness for which women of past generations longed and prayed. Love and sacrifice go hand-in-hand. To forgo the struggles of love, marriage and children, or the oblation of consecrated virginity, in favor of unfettered sex and total freedom, is to choose emptiness.

By modeling the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church, by overcoming fear and trusting in God, and by imitating the Blessed Virgin Mary, women can reclaim the world for Christ.

Every woman can do her part to restore the image of the bride. Women together can embrace motherhood in all its forms: nourishing, teaching, building bridges, healing, confirming the beauty in souls, forgiving, building Christian culture in a myriad of ways and radiating purity. Thus they give flesh to Holy Mother Church for the world to see. (p.150)
Sometimes, that means seemingly insignificant tasks, like taking clothes to the thrift shop, or sitting up all night with a sick child, or listening an to an old person repeat themselves. Such situations, which the world does not esteem, require a great deal of love and patience.

It is in those little ways, however, that we rebuild the kingdom of God, and prepare the way for Christ in souls. Men as well as women would do well to reflect on the deeper mysteries as presented in Genevieve's book, and seek the sublimity which too often is buried beneath the frantic quest for pleasure and wealth.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Piety vs Weirdness

Many Catholics now-a-days seem to confuse piety with weirdness. It is common for people new to the faith, or for young people, to have problems with scruples and the like. I am thinking of those who have been Catholics their entire lives and should know better. They seem to think that being "holy" dispenses them from basic kindness and courtesy. They are so holy they can violate the rubrics prescribed by the Church for the worship of God. They do not need Church documents because they are so "holy." They can indulge in lies and calumny but because they go to Mass everyday, it's alright.

Yes, we all have our sins, faults, and eccentricities. Being devout, however, is not equivalent to being an unsocialized crank. Holy feelings do not make a saint; sanctity is won by taking up the Cross. We are commanded to love, and to show love even to those whom we despise or who despise us. We are commanded to forgive injuries. The saints give so many examples of this; the Savior, of course, is the greatest example of all.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anglicans Return

A discussion on the latest amazing occurrences. More HERE.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mother Magdalen Taylor and Tyborne

Here is an article from Roman Miscellany about Mother Magdalen Taylor, the author of Tyborne, a novel about the English Catholic martyrs, and foundress of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God. I once stayed with those sisters in their house in Paris, while I was looking into a position of governess with a wealthy French family. The family lived on an elegant street near the Bois de Boulogne which the taxi driver could not find on the map. The apartment house had once been someone's palace, I think. At any rate, there were no numbers on the doors of any of the suites and it took me awhile to find the right one. They were a lovely family and the children had a nanny; they really just needed someone to speak English to their children all day. They had a house in Brittany as well. I decided not to take the job, however; there were reasons why I had to return home to America. However, it was an adventure.

There is also mention of the wonderful Mary Ward in the article.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mary Ward

Mary Ward (1585-1645) founded one of the first teaching orders of nuns, experiencing persecution from within and without the Church. She was one of the brave English Catholics who persevered in the faith in spite of the penal laws. Here is an account of her life from the website of the order she founded, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Mary Ward: Pioneer for Women in the Church

Over 400 years ago, Mary Ward was born into a world not unlike ours in difficulties, except that now the world’s disasters come to us instantly via satellite communications. Mary spent her life following God’s guidance in seeking something new. How contemporary with us was her foresight in championing women’s role in spreading God’s compassion: how many today struggle as she did for the triumph of truth and justice. For us, and we hope for you, she continues to share her zealous vitality.

This is her story.

Born in 1585 into a devoted Catholic family in Yorkshire, from childhood Mary Ward knew religious persecution, not unlike trouble spots in today’s world: raids, imprisonment, torture, execution. Frequently separated from her family for her own protection, Mary was inspired by their steadfast heroism. At age fifteen, she felt called to become a religious. Since religious communities had been dispersed decades previously in England and on the continent, cloistered life was the only option for women at that time. She left England to become a Poor Clare. Through special graced insights, God showed her that she was to do something different and would manifest God’s glory. Leaving the Poor Clares, she worked in disguise to preserve the Catholic Faith in England before founding a community of active sisters in 1609 at St. Omer in present-day Belgium. Without cloister, she and her companions educated young women, helped persecuted and imprisoned Catholics, and spread the word of God in places priests could not go. The Sisters lived and worked openly on the continent, but secretly in England to nurture the faith.

At one time, she was imprisoned in England for her work with outlawed Catholics. Many who knew her, from bishops and monarchs to simple people, admired her courage and generosity. In days before Boeing 747’s or even Amtrak, she traveled Europe on foot, in dire poverty and frequently ill, founding schools in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, and in today’s Czech Republic and Slovakia. Criticized and maligned for her efforts to expand the role of women in spreading the faith, she was imprisoned by Church officials who called her a dangerous heretic. Her work was destroyed, her community suppressed, and her sisters scattered. Never abandoning her trust in God’s guidance, she died in York, England, in 1645 during the Cromwellian Civil War. To the end, she trusted totally that what God had asked of her would be accomplished in the future.

Mary Ward taught by example and words. Act “without fear… in quiet confidence that God will do his will in the confusion.” Her unwavering fidelity to “that which God would” was nourished by deep contemplative prayer. To Mary, God was the “Friend of all friends.” She lived her fidelity with cheerfulness and a passion for truth. What may seem to us ordinary was startling in her time: she had no pattern to follow when she established her community for women, except the life and work followed by the Jesuit men. She sought to empower women to fulfill whatever part God called them to play, as did the women in the Acts of the Apostles, as women concerned for the poor. Mary and her companions established free schools, nursed the sick and visited prisoners. Even her Protestant neighbors attested to her love for the poor and her perseverance in helping them. Her concept of freedom for her community, externally from cloister, choir, habit, and rule by men, and internally in the ability to “refer all to God,” enabled her to live undeterred by adversity, never deviating from the way God called her. She invited her followers to “become lovers of truth and workers of justice.”

Not until 1909 did the Church finally recognize Mary Ward as founder of the IBVM. She was a pioneer for women’s role in Church ministry and a woman ahead of her time in shaping apostolic religious life as we know it today. Mary Ward expected much and believed with all her heart that, “Women in time to come will do much.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

St. Paul of the Cross

And the conversion of England. According to Scott Richert:

October 20 is the feast day of Saint Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), the founder of the Passionists. Though Saint Paul spent his life in Italy, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "For fifty years he prayed for the conversion of England, and left the devotion as a legacy to his [spiritual] sons." Almost 65 years after his death, the Passionists were first introduced into England, and the Catholic Encyclopedia declares that "They came in the spirit of Apostles without gold or silver, without scrip or staff or shoes or two coats," yet they "soon revived without commotion several Catholic customs and practices which had died out since the Reformation. They were the first to adopt strict community life, to wear their habit in public, to give missions and retreats to the people, and to hold public religious processions."

Father Pius Devine, in an 1882 manuscript cited by the Catholic Encyclopedia, remarks that the Passionist in England "gloried in the disgrace of the Cross, were laughed at by Protestants, warned by timid Catholics, but encouraged always by Cardinal Wiseman. Their courage became infectious, so that in a short time almost every order now in England followed their example."

All of this may simply be a coincidence. But considering Pope Benedict's sensitivity to the symbolism of dates, I don't think so. In any case, on this historic day, we can join Saint Paul of the Cross in praying for the conversion of England.

The Mystical Invasion

Fr. Mark has a spellbinding post on St. Margaret Mary, whose feast we just celebrated, and how the great mystics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries changed the world. To quote:
Saint Teresa of Jesus died in 1582. Sixty-five years later, in 1647, Saint Margaret Mary was born. The spiritual climate in Europe, following the Council of Trent, was one of extraordinary effervescence. Henri Brémond in his monumental Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France speaks of a "mystical invasion." Saint Teresa's Carmel had crossed the Pyrenees, introducing men and women of all states of life to the way of interior prayer. The Jesuits had launched their missions to North America or, as they called it, "New France." Men and women of God, too many to be counted, undertook great things for His glory. It was the golden age of great friendships in God. In 1610, the young widow, Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal, together with Francis de Sales, established at Annecy the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, declaring "that no great severity shall prevent the feeble and the weak from joining it."
The Choice of God
When Margaret Mary Alacoque entered the Visitation Monastery of Paray-le-Monial, it was assumed that she, like so many other women, would disappear into the cloister, leaving behind no more than the sweet lingering fragrance of another life given to Christ. But, as always, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor 1:27-29).
Contemplating the Pierced Side
The icy wind of Jansenism was blowing through the chinks in more than one cloister. It chilled the heart with the fear of a distant and vindictive God, eclipsing the mission of Jesus sent by the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, "to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Lk 4:18). While the hearts of many around her grew cold, Saint Margaret Mary fixed her gaze upon the wounds of Jesus Crucified. Like Saint John the Apostle, like Saints Bernard, Lutgarde, Gertrude, Mechthilde, and countless others before and after her, the humble Visitandine of Pary-le-Monial was compelled by the Holy Spirit to look upon Jesus' pierced Side. "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced" (Zech 12:10, Jn 19:37).

Saturday, October 17, 2009


It is the sign of being a Christian. Fr. Ray Blake has a moving story.
I am a survivor of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda 1994.

A large part of my family was killed while in our parish church. The sight of this building used to fill me with horror and turned my stomach, just like the encounter with the prisoners filled me with disgust and rage.

It is in this mental state that something happened that would change my life and my relationships.

Friday, October 16, 2009

St. Margaret Mary Alaqoque and her Confessor

The saint who helped a saint.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Our New Saint

Damian the Leper. From Rorate Caeli:

Damien was COARSE.

It is very possible. You make us sorry for the lepers, who had only a coarse old peasant for their friend and father. But you, who were so refined, why were you not there, to cheer them with the lights of culture? Or may I remind you that we have some reason to doubt if John the Baptist were genteel; and in the case of Peter, on whose career you doubtless dwell approvingly in the pulpit, no doubt at all he was a ‘coarse, headstrong’ fisherman! Yet even in our Protestant Bibles Peter is called Saint.

Damien was DIRTY.

He was. Think of the poor lepers annoyed with this dirty comrade! But the clean Dr. Hyde was at his food in a fine house.

Damien was HEADSTRONG.

I believe you are right again; and I thank God for his strong head and heart.

Damien was BIGOTED.

I am not fond of bigots myself, because they are not fond of me. But what is meant by bigotry, that we should regard it as a blemish in a priest? Damien believed his own religion with the simplicity of a peasant or a child; as I would I could suppose that you do. For this, I wonder at him some way off; and had that been his only character, should have avoided him in life. But the point of interest in Damien, which has caused him to be so much talked about and made him at last the subject of your pen and mine, was that, in him, his bigotry, his intense and narrow faith, wrought potently for good, and strengthened him to be one of the world’s heroes and exemplars.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Open Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hyde of Honolulu
[Letter by the Protestant writer in response to
the accusations of Dr.C. M. Hyde, Presbyterian minister in Honolulu]
Sydney, February 25, 1890

Our Lady of Madhu

The venerable shrine of Our Lady in Sri Lanka was in the news recently and it has an amazing history. Here are some stirring photos of pilgrims at the shrine from the BBC. More HERE. The Time article is quite compelling. To quote:
The statue had been in grave danger before. In the late 17th century, the Protestant Dutch tried to eradicate the Roman Catholicism brought to the island by the Portuguese. The Virgin Mother had been moved from the shrine then as well and secreted away. In the 21st century, the statue shared the fate of many Sri Lankans, becoming a refugee as it was carried from church to church until July 2008, when it was in a more secure spot. By November, it was once again at the shrine, ready for the outpouring of piety during this year's Feast of the Assumption. Last week, at a corner of the church, people kept filling bags, paper towels and handkerchiefs with earth from a small hole in the ground. The location is where Catholics believe the statue — miraculously hidden in a tree — was rediscovered by a woodcutter following the Dutch persecution.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another Look at Scandal

And its devastating effects. To quote Terry Nelson:
Scandal leads to sin and many times, loss of faith. One's faith can be shaken even when one claims to know one's faith. The bishops and priests who scandalize the faithful by their sins and or apostasy, they too know their faith - just as well if not better than the people they lead. And yet - they betray the faith, fall into sin, and sometimes apostatize entirely.
So we should never think we are safe from scandal because we know our faith. We shouldn't be too harsh about those who leave the Church because of scandal. Catholics have to understand that this is exactly what scandal does and means - to scandalize someone is to cause them to sin, to lose faith. If the accusations against Bishop Lahey are proven to be true, this bishop scandalized his people.
We need to pray for the real victims - the people who are scandalized and the victims of the pornography industry. As for the Bishop, if the charges are true, unless he repents and makes amends it would have been better if he had never been born.
St. Paul explains that our brothers and sisters in faith who are scandalized are weak - Christ refers to them as little ones - they have faith, but it is weak, and scandal can rob them of it.
"Extend a kind welcome to those who are weak in faith... we must no longer pass judgement on one another. Instead you should resolve to put no stumbling block or hindrance in your brother's way." - Romans 14. Knowledge of the faith is not a competition, someone who appears to be unaffected by a public sin because his faith is strong is not better than the believer whose faith is weak and suffers scandal. It is not the same thing as priding oneself upon scholastic achievement while disparaging the under-educated.
Little children (simple, ordinary folk) do not have to understand the faith in order to believe. In truth, anyone can have the gift of faith taken away or destroyed by those who cause scandal. Especially when the ones who cause scandal are those who know the faith, who understand the faith - those who have ears to hear, eyes to see, and so on.
People have to understand this and stop feeling sorry and making excuses for the [scoundrels] who take advantage of their positions to exploit the weak and give scandal to little ones. "Scandals will inevitably arise, but woe to him through whom they come. He would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than giving scandal to one of these little ones." - Luke 17

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Human Qualities and Apostolic Charity

It is not sufficient to love souls in the secret of our heart, working and sacrificing ourselves for them; this love must also be manifested exteriorly by an agreeable and pleasant manner, in such a way that those who approach us may feel themselves loved, and consequently encouraged to confidence and to trust. A rude, brusque or impatient manner might even cause some to go away offended, and perhaps, even scandalized. The apostle may well have a heart of gold, rich in charity and zeal, but if he maintains a rough and sharp exterior, he closes access to souls, and considerably diminishes the good he could realize. The saints, while being very supernatural, never neglected these human qualities of charity. St. Francis de Sales liked to say that, as more flies are attracted with a drop of honey than with a barrel of vinegar, so more hearts are conquered by a little sweetness than by rough manners. And St. Teresa of Jesus, who wished her daughters to be united by the bond of pure supernatural charity, did not believe it superfluous to make recommendations of this kind: "The holier you are, the more sociable you should be with your sisters...." (The Way of Perfection) This is very useful advice for anyone who wishes to win souls for God.

~from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saint Rémy

Genevieve reminds us that October 1 was also the feast of St. Remigius (Rémy) who baptized Clovis, the first king of France, at Rheims.

In Defense of Purity

From the writings of Dietrich von Hildebrand.
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