6 New Friends From “Radical Saints”

Note: I received a copy of “Radical Saints: 21 Women for the 21st Century” in exchange for an honest review.

I love learning about saints.

Well, I love learning about people, and saints are holy, inspiring people, so they’re my favorite.

I especially love learning about female saints — people who struggled with the challenges and lived with the joys of being a woman, just like I do. That’s why I was so excited to read Melanie Rigney’s new book, “Radical Saints: 21 Women for the 21st Century,” published by Franciscan Media.

At 139 pages, including appendix and notes, the book doesn’t go into depth or detail about any of these women, but that’s not really the goal. Rather, it’s a brief introduction to 21 women, many of whom you probably haven’t heard of (I hadn’t!), along with a story of how their wisdom is lived out by other, modern women and some questions for reflection.

There’s a saint in there for every woman, and I encourage you to read the whole book. Here are six of my favorites (excluding the ones I already loved, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, whose feast day my fiancé and I picked for our wedding, and St. Katharine Drexel, whose philanthropy I would love to emulate if I ever have enough money!):

1. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

I love the Carmelites and have ever since I chose St. Thérèse of Lisieux as my Confirmation saint (although, like she does with many people, she really chose me). Every time I learn about another Carmelite, I fall more in love with the über-contemplative order whose spirituality seems to be simultaneously what I need and what I am bad at.

I heard about St. Elizabeth of the Trinity recently but still didn’t know much about her before reading “Radical Saints.” Now, I know that she, like Thérèse, died in her 20s but not before inspiring others by her great love and her ability to suffer well. I also know that, as Rigney writes, “Elizabeth went from being a strong-willed child, given to tantrums, to a young woman who was patient with her mother’s objections to her vocation” and then “a thoughtful spiritual director and writer.”

I was a strong-willed child, and I am now a strong-willed adult. I try to embrace my crosses but do not always succeed. And I certainly don’t pray as I should. I pray that, as St. Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote, I can “receive every trial, every annoyance, every lack of courtesy in the light that springs from the Cross.” After all, she continued, “that is how we please God, how we advance in the ways of love.”

2. St. Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad

St. Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad was a Lutheran woman who lived in Sweden during a time when Catholicism was outlawed. She immigrated to the United States, where she worked in home nursing and met her first Catholics. Rigney writes that when Elizabeth accompanied a family she worked for, the Cisneroses, to Europe, she had a conversion when she saw the Eucharist in a monstrance. “In Rome, she was moved to pray when she saw the site, by then a Carmelite convent, where St. Bridget of Sweden had lived most of her last twenty years.”

A couple of years after she converted to Catholicism, Elizabeth explored becoming a Carmelite but couldn’t due to health problems. She then received a papal dispensation to become a sister of the Order of the Most Holy Savior, or the Brigidines, “even though few adherents remained,” and took the name Maria Elizabeth. She reestablished the Roman community of Brigidines and helped bring the order back to Sweden.

Rigney writes, “While Maria Elizabeth sought to convert souls to Catholicism, she had learned that inclusion and hospitality are the first steps to evangelization, covert or overt.” That belief ultimately “led her and two other sisters to hide at least twelve Roman Jews in their convent for about six months as the end of World War II approached,” around the tie that over 1,000 Jews were taken from Rome to the death camp Auschwitz.

St. Maria Elizabeth, pray that I may be so hospitable and inclusive of others that I show them Christ’s love.

3. St. Anna Schäffer

Anna Schäffer wanted to be a missionary, but after she fell into boiling water at the laundry where she worked at age 19, her extensive injuries kept her confined to her home.

“For two years,” Rigney writes, “she struggled to see the purpose in this tragedy. With time, she adjusted her thinking, and she began to see her disability as a cross to be picked up and carried daily.” She said that her tools for evangelization were her suffering, her needle, and her penholder. She did embroidery, sewing, and knitting for people, churches, and chapels. She journaled about her suffering and responded to letters and prayer requests with her pen. “Anna came to realize that she was indeed a missionary, just in a different way than she had expected.” She also received the Eucharist every day and received stigmata.

I have two chronic pain conditions. I do not suffer nearly as much as St. Anna did, yet I do not suffer nearly as cheerfully as she did. May I use my own crosses and my own pen (or laptop) to bring souls closer to the Lord, as she did!

4. St. Gianna Beretta Molla

I’m cheating a little with St. Gianna, because I did know about her before I read this book. But I’d been wanting to learn more about her, and Rigney made me want to even more! St. Gianna was a wife, mother, pediatrician, and business owner. When she was pregnant with her sixth child (the two previous pregnancies, sadly, ended in miscarriage), she was diagnosed with a non-cancerous uterine tumor. She could have had a hysterectomy; it would have removed the growth, and since it was not purposefully ending the life of the baby, it would have been morally permissible in the eyes of the Church. However, she opted to remove the tumor and continue the pregnancy despite the risk of complications.

The baby was a healthy girl, but Gianna died one week after the birth due to an abdominal wall infection (which, had she been alive today, probably would have been curable). Today, she is known for her self-sacrificing love for her children, her devotion to them as a working mother, and her surrender to God’s will. In 2004, she was one of the last saints canonized by Pope St. John Paul II, who said, “The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.”

St. Gianna, pray that I may be a devoted wife and mother like you, and pray that I always surrender to God’s will for my family and for me.

5. St. Josephine Bakhita

I’d heard of St. Josephine Bakhita before but never to the extent that I have in the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last month. So, it was timely to read about her in “Radical Saints.”

Josephine was born in the Sudan and enslaved as a child. The people who took her beat her so much — as a child! — that she forgot her own name, and she was later cut and scarred across her body so badly that she couldn’t move for three months.

After Josephine was “given” to a Venetian businessman, she accompanied his daughter to a boarding school run by the Canossian Sisters, where Josephine began learning about Catholicism. She refused to return to the family who “owned” her, and an Italian court eventually determined that since Italy did not recognize slavery, she was free. “Two months later,” Rigney writes, “Bakhita received a different type of freedom: she was initiated into the Church and took the name Josephine Margaret Fortunata.” (“Bakhita” was a cruel nickname given to her by enslavers after beating her; it means “fortunate one” in Arabic.”)

Josephine eventually became a Canossian sister. When asked what she would do if she came across the people who had beaten and tortured her, “she was quick to answer that she would kneel and kiss their hands. If it had not been for them, she said, she would not have been a Christian or a Canossian.”

I pray that I may have the grace to forgive like that!

6. María Natividad Venegas De la Torre

St. María was also a new-to-me saint. She was a nurse, pharmacist, accountant, and hospital director in Mexico, as well as a member of the lay Daughters of Mary, an association “dedicated to doing good works” whose members “consecrated themselves to purity under the Blessed Virgin’s guidance.”

After joining the Daughters of Mary, María, with the help of her spiritual director, discerned a calling to religious life. She joined a new community of women at the new Hospital of the Sacred Heart. That community became the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Guadalajara. María was the superior general and hospital supervisor from 1921 to 1954. She led the hospital during a period that saw the enforcement of anti-Catholic provisions of Mexico’s constitution and an uprising called the Cristero Rebellion, which led to the death of 90,000 people in three years.

When the uprising came to the hospital, Rigney writes, “instead of engaging with the government soldiers in a way that would heighten the tension (and risk the hospital’s doors being closed), Madre Nati met them with courtesy and hospitality.” She had completed the constitutions (governing documents) of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Guadalajara shortly before the Cristero Rebellion, and the community was formally approved one year after it was over.

What an example of feminine leadership!

Who are your favorite female saints? Leave me a comment to let me know.

I Talked to a Therapist Last Week. You Should, Too.

Therapy Blog

I put on my headphones and logged on to the platform my therapist’s practice uses for tele-therapy. Soon, I saw the face of the therapist I hadn’t seen — hadn’t needed to see — in almost a year.

I’d been putting off making the appointment for a week or two, but after two meltdowns and a few almost-meltdowns, it was time. Encouraged by my fiancé and my mother, I contacted my therapist and asked for a virtual appointment.

The reason for the virtual appointment is, of course, the same as the reason for the appointment itself — the same as the reason that many people are seeking help from therapists right now and that many, many more should be.

The coronavirus is raging across the United States after wreaking havoc on China, Italy, and other countries. Many of us, including in my home state of North Carolina, have been ordered to stay home. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to do so are working from home and continuing to make money. But we don’t know what’s going to happen next, we don’t know how long the danger will last, and we don’t know who it’s going to hit — or how hard.

When my tele-therapy call was over, I felt a mixture of relief, resolve, and anxiety. Mostly, I felt like I had a plan, or at least as much of a plan as I could have, given the uncertainty. I had a list of strategies I could use the next time I felt panic, and I had a better understanding of what I was feeling and why. It might sound simple, but it made a huge difference.

I started seeing my therapist once weekly in 2016 for social anxiety disorder. It was the first time that I’d been fully committed to therapy, the first time I’d fully accepted that I needed some help, the first time that I cut myself some slack for needing that help, and the first time I’d seen a therapist I really connected with. All four of those factors made therapy, this time, a success. Eventually, I moved to biweekly appointments, then monthly appointments, then “appointments as needed.”

It took a lot of work. I can’t emphasize enough how hard therapy is, both in sessions and on your own between sessions. But I also can’t emphasize enough how much therapy changed my life. I am happier, I am more open to connecting with other people, I am more able to manage when my anxiety hits hard, and I understand myself (and other people) so much better.

I share my own experience with therapy neither to pity myself nor to congratulate myself. Rather, I share because while I always believe that most people could benefit from talking to a licensed therapist, I believe it’s true now more than ever.

You don’t have to go into an office and expose yourself to the virus; there are many, many therapists who are doing virtual sessions now. I found my therapist through the Psychology Today directory, but you could even start by googling “therapist” and your city. If you don’t connect well with a particular therapist, don’t give up; look for another one. Sometimes it takes a while to find someone you mesh well with.

If you’re feeling particularly stressed, anxious, tired, worried, or depressed during this pandemic, you are far from alone. And you don’t have to deal with it on your own, either. Make that phone call. Send that email.

It’ll be hard.

But it’ll be worth it.

Eating to Live, Not Living to Eat

Eat to Live

“Your grandfather always says, ‘We eat to live; we don’t live to eat.'”

So my mother told me when I was 15 and became hypoglycemic. I don’t think I really appreciated this wisdom, which came from my diabetic grandfather, until last year.

I was diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis after a decade of suppressing my hormones on the birth control pill. Last summer, I had surgery to diagnose and remove the endometriosis (hallelujah for modern science, BTW), but I’ve been treating the PCOS mostly “naturally.” My doctors recommended that I go off gluten, dairy, and processed sugar, and what seemed like an extreme diet has become a lifestyle change.

I’ve now been on this diet for a year, and I feel so much better that I often forget how bad I felt before. I’m much less tired, my cycle length is almost always within a normal range, and my mood is (usually) better. I’ve also lost about 30 pounds.

People often tell me, “I could never give up [delicious-but-bad-for-you food].” I usually laugh and agree that it’s hard, but the truth is that when you are so improved that other people notice how much better you’re feeling, you will do whatever it takes to stay that healthy. Eating a cookie is nothing compared to having energy. Enjoying a pizza is just not as great as being able to cook on Thanksgiving without needing to rest your hands and your feet after standing up and peeling enough potatoes for 15 people. And giving up bread is … well … a piece of cake compared to knowing that my body might actually be functioning well enough that I’ll be able to have a baby with my soon-to-be husband.

I have occasionally cheated a bit on my diet. But honestly, I’m rarely tempted. I still have some foods (not to mention red wine) that I can enjoy, and I do enjoy them. But moderation is better for my soul, and the gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet is better for my body. It’s easy to say, “I could never give that up!”, and it is hard sometimes to deny yourself something delicious. But when the payoff is a body that doesn’t constantly feel like it’s attacking you?

I’ll take that tradeoff any day.

The Best Love Story Is Your Love Story

Love is patient

“Intense love does not measure, it just gives” (St. Teresa of Calcutta).

On Saturday, my boyfriend proposed to me.

I was expecting a proposal sometime this fall, but I was not expecting it on Saturday, so I was very surprised. It was a simple, sweet proposal, and I said yes as soon as I recovered from the shock.

As a 30-year-old woman, I’ve heard quite a few proposal stories in my life. Some were quiet; some were funny; and some involved elaborate planning and scenic views. Each one was different, and each one was perfect.

In only a couple days, we’ve told our proposal story many times already. And I wouldn’t change a thing about the way my boyfriend (sorry, my fiancé!) proposed to me. It was a beautiful scene in our (hopefully) long story together.

In a blog post, Spoken Bride’s editor-at-large writes, “The private and intimate moments throughout your life contain a sweetness that a quick shot on your iPhone can never contain.” A proposal is (usually) a very private and intimate moment. If you’re called to marriage, it’s one of the sweetest moments of your life. It’s also just one of the sweet moments.

Maybe it’s a taste of what’s to come  a foreshadowing of the many events, large and small, you will celebrate with the person you love more than anyone. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said: 

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. (Genesis 2:21-24)

Developing a Rosary Habit

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I’ve always wanted to have a devotion to the rosary. It was a combination of factors that drew me in, from photos of beautiful rosaries on the internet to the idea of the prayer being, in the words of St. Padre Pio, “the weapon against the evils of the world today.”

I’ve also always had a hard time meditating. I got bored, my mind wandered and I started thinking maybe it wasn’t the prayer for me. But every so often, I’d get out my rosary and try again.

Recently, when my boyfriend mentioned he was going to work harder on praying a daily rosary, I asked if I could join him, and we started praying it together. Every evening, if we’ve been hanging out, we sit together before parting and pray the rosary; if we are at our own homes, we FaceTime. We miss the occasional evening, but it’s become a regular practice. He even gave me a Rugged Rosary for my birthday–a rosary that feels indestructible and that has medals of St. Joseph and St. Jude (two saints who are special to my family and me) and a gorgeous Celtic cross that includes both a chalice and a dove.

There are two primary gifts this new habit has given me. First is the gift of the rosary itself. I am still not great at meditating. My mind wanders a lot, especially for the more abstract mysteries (what exactly am I supposed to be imagining for “the proclamation of the kingdom”?), but Zach always reminds me that “bringing your focus back is the point, not a failure.” Recently, I find I’m improving, and imagining the events of Jesus’ and Mary’s lives is bringing me closer to both of them.

Imagining the events of Jesus’ and Mary’s lives is bringing me closer to both of them.

The second gift is that praying the rosary with my boyfriend helps us in our mutual goal of helping each other toward holiness. We reflect on thoughts that come up while praying or share our struggles to stay focused on the meditation. It’s also a commitment we’ve made to each other (we even have it scheduled as a recurring appointment on our calendars). And, hopefully, it’s a foundation we can build on together.

A 2011 study by Florida State University researchers found links between “couple prayer and trust” as well as unity. In other words, couples who regularly prayed together reported higher levels of trust and unity with each other afterward. The researchers suggested several potential reasons for this correlation but missed one: A strong romantic relationship requires a third person: Christ.

A strong romantic relationship requires a third person: Christ.

In the book “To Light a Fire on the Earth” (written in conversation with journalist John L. Allen, Jr.) Bishop Robert Barron says, “Once hooked by the beauty of the faith, people will be more receptive to the idea that such beauty is inextricably connected to a way of life.” The rosary is beautiful, and that beauty, as is often the case, drew me closer to something important: Our Lady and her Son.

My Next Decade: Turning My Focus Outward

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When I was six years old, my cousin turned seven on April 7, excited about her “golden birthday.”

I remember being jealous, because my golden birthday would be my 30th  and, of course, by then, I’d be too old to enjoy it.

I am 30 today, August 30. And I do not feel too old to enjoy anything. In fact, I wrote this post ahead of time, because I am spending my golden birthday at the beach with my boyfriend and some friends. (What else would you do when your golden 30th birthday coincides with Labor Day?) As you read this, I might be in the car, singing along to Spotify with Zach, or I might be sitting on the dock of a seaside restaurant with the whole group, celebrating the next decade of my life.

This is my fourth decade of life. My first was technically the one that included the most growth — after all, I learned to sit, stand, walk, talk, read, write and a host of other skills in those first 10 years. But my 20s could probably give it a run for its money.

In those 10 years, I changed careers three times. I started and left a master’s program. I became a godmother for the second, third, fourth and fifth times. I became an aunt. I was diagnosed with two additional chronic illnesses, and I spent hours in therapy working on my social anxiety. I made more friends than I ever thought I could — and kept a couple from my teen years whom I know will be with me forever. I met and fell in love with the best man I know.

I fell away from the Church and came back again. I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary, and I discovered new spiritual mentors (hello, Teresa Benedicta and Zelie Martin!) I learned the gift of the rosary, and I formed my mission of serving Catholic women through my writing — joining FemCatholic and Catholic Women in Business as writer and then editor. I started really understanding what it means to be a daughter of Christ.

In short, my 20s were a decade of self-exploration. I learned about myself, and I focused hard on improving myself. I hope that I never stop growing — certainly, I’ll never stop trying to grow — but in my 30s, I want a different focus. This decade, I’m turning my focus outward.

In my 30s, I will serve my family, my friends and my community. In my 30s, I will pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In my 30s, I will nurture my writing skills not for myself but for Christ and the people my writing might bring closer to Him. In my 30s, I will (God willing) become a mother. In my 30s, I will put my family first.

Last Sunday, my parish, Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral (Raleigh, NC), hosted Father Jesu Amal Raj, MOP, a Jamaican priest from the Missionaries of the Poor. He spoke about their charism, to serve the poorest of the poor like St. Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity. In his homily, Fr. Jesu said, “When you love Jesus whole-heartedly, you serve others whole-heartedly.”

In my 30s, I will love Jesus whole-heartedly. With His help, I will serve others whole-heartedly. And at the end of this decade, I pray, I will be 10 years closer to becoming a saint.

Please help me celebrate my birthday by donating to Birthchoice of Wake County ,a pro-life center for pregnant women in crisis.

13 Things Edith Stein Could Have Written Today

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Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was a philosopher, teacher, academic and then Carmelite nun. Born to a German Jewish family on Yom Kippur in 1891, she fell away from religion as a teenager, studied philosophy under phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, and converted to Catholicism after discovering (and staying up all night reading) the autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila, a Carmelite Doctor of the Church.

Edith Stein felt a calling to be a Carmelite, too, but she had to be content staying in academia for a while. She spent her days teaching, writing and praying, upping the praying up a notch as reports of Nazi oppression of Jews grew. She finally entered the Carmelite convent in 1934 and took her final vows in 1938. She was arrested in 1942, along with her sister, who had also converted and was at the Carmelite convent.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross offered her suffering at Auschwitz (where she died on August 9, 1942) for the Jewish people. In fact, according to the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, she is considered a martyr, “having offered herself as a holocaust for the people of Israel.” When she and her sister were arrested, she reportedly told her, “Come; let us go and die for our people.” Pope St. John Paul II beatified her in 1987 and canonized her in 1998.

I read Edith Stein’s “Essays on Woman” earlier this year, and it has informed and enriched the way I think, talk and write about gender. Repeatedly while reading the collection (which is full of underlines and margin notes), I thought, “She could have said this today!” — either because we haven’t learned or because she was ahead of her time.

In honor of her feast day, here are 13 such statements that are as true now as they were when St. Teresa Benedicta wrote them.

1. Everywhere about us, we see in the interaction of the sexes the direct fruits of original sin in most terrifying forms: an unleashed sexual life in which every trace of their high calling seems to be lost; a struggle between the sexes, one pitted against the other, as they fight for their rights and, in doing so, no longer appear to hear the voices of nature and of God (“The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace”).

“An unleashed sexual life,” “a struggle between the sexes” … sound familiar? In a #MeToo world that lacks respect for what sex should be and full of sexual violence that often seems to be accepted by the majority of society (pornography, TV and film) or, when it’s not, lacks serious consequences (Brock Turner), we really are seeing “the direct fruits of original sin in most terrifying forms.”

2. Since woman is mainly concerned with serving people and making provisions for them, she is able to function well in all educational and medical professions, in all social work, in the human sciences, in the arts which depict humanity, as well as in the business world and in public and parochial administration (“The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace,”).

We haven’t reached gender parity in all occupations, but we’re closer than we were in Edith Stein’s day. There is, at any rate, broader acknowledgement that women can succeed in business, in medicine, in education, in government … in short, anywhere.

3. Most illnesses are illnesses of the total human being even if they are manifested in only one organ (“Spirituality of the Christian Woman”).

Health care is becoming more integrated as we understand better the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit. I see this truth in my own life; my fibromyalgia and PCOS leave me with no question that to ignore one part of my body or my mind is to leave it defenseless. My hormones can wreak havoc on my body and my emotions, and my fibromyalgia creates a cycle of fatigue and pain, depression and anxiety that would make my life impossible if it weren’t for holistic treatment.

4. Women are needed to deliberate, resolve, and initiate laws in matters which are primarily their concerns (like legal protection for women, youth welfare, etc.) (“Spirituality of the Christian Woman”).

In the U.S., 23.4% of the House of Representatives and 25% of the Senate are women. It’s not enough, but female representation among our national lawmakers is at historic heights, and both of the major parties are starting to understand that for Congress to represent the people of the United States, it needs to represent both genders–especially when women are so invested in so many of the issues debated in Washington.

5. The faculty for this quiet must be there; otherwise, it could not be so profoundly practiced as it is, after all, by many women: those women in whom one takes refuge in order to find peace, and who have ears for the softest animist imperceptible little voices (“Principles of Women’s Education”).

Speaking of which, women are leading the fight to end abortion, giving a voice to the most voiceless. With organizations like Rehumanize International, New Wave Feminists, Feminists for Life, Students for Life, National Right to Life, the March for Life, Sisters of Life (naturally), the Susan B. Anthony List, the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and many others all led by women, it’s clear that to be pro-life is not to be anti-woman.

6. The development of intellect may not be increased at the expense of the refinement of emotion (“Principles of Women’s Education”).

Researchers, business leaders and educators are increasingly recognizing emotional intelligence as equally, if not more, important than technical or “intellectual” skills. The ability to understand and regulate your own emotions, and understand and respond with empathy to others’ emotions, is key to success but also to holiness.

7. What does our age demand of women? First of all, it requires most of them to earn their own living … It requires women who have a knowledge of life, prudence, and practical ability; women who are morally steadfast, women whose lives are imperturbably rooted in God (“Principles of Women’s Education”).

Today, most women must earn their own living. Many of us want to work, enjoy working and hope to contribute a great deal through our work. Others would prefer not to have to earn a living but would rather stay home with their children. The price of child care sends some women who want to work home, and low wages send some women who want to stay home to work. What’s best for the woman and her family? It depends on the family. What’s important is that we somehow find a way to support her so that she can do what’s best and, most importantly, imperturbably root her life in God.

8. There are so many theoretical requirements involved even in training for essentially practical vocations that many persons who have practical skills are excluded from them (“Principles of Women’s Education”).

High school teachers and counselors probably feel this one the most. Even as more and more jobs require a college degree, the cost of earning one is skyrocketing, and the truth is that not all jobs–good, meaningful jobs that pay well–require a four-year or even a two-year degree. Why aren’t we encouraging more teenagers to enroll in vocational and trade programs?

9. In the contemporary Church we may expect that increasingly women will be called to Church duties–in Caritas, in pastoral work, and in teaching … It seems that today [the Lord] is calling women in ever greater numbers for specific duties in His Church … It has been woman’s mission to war against evil and to educate her posterity to do the same (“Problems of Women’s Education”).

Once you get past the seemingly endless debates over whether women should be priests–which, frankly, I think are a red herring–you can see the growing opportunities for women to lead in the Church. As the Church faces evil in the form of the sexual abuse crisis, more people leaving the Church, and low numbers of men and women exploring a vocation to religious life and the priesthood, women must take up this call to fight evil and educate our posterity to do the same.

10. Radical feminists supported their views by insisting that both sexes shared the same nature and the same rights … There is a difference [between sexes], not only in body structure and in particular physiological functions, but also in the entire corporeal life … The most significant evidence of the eternal meaning and value to be found in sexual differentiation lies in the fact that the new Eve stands beside the new Adam on the threshold between the Old and the New Covenants … [The eternal order] demands rejection of a social order and of education which deny completely woman’s unique nature and particular destiny, which disclaim an organic cooperation of the sexes and organic social patterns but rather seek to consider all individuals as similar atoms in a mechanistically ordered structure (“Problems of Women’s Education”).

The two genders are unique. We share a lot, but we also differ in fundamental ways. Research shows this differentiation to be true, yet radical feminists more and more tell us that to be equal, we must be the same. True equality comes when women are valued as human beings with a unique value to offer to humanity. I have done some research on women in business and found a troubling contradiction: Advocates in this area simultaneously say that woman has great leadership strengths of her own and that there is no difference between men and women. If you look at the research, however, there are both physical and psychological differences that are important and also support the notion that God made us beautifully unique.

11. In order to be fair to [girls] as individuals, [the teacher] must guard herself against classifying them schematically in a fixed system of types (“Problems of Women’s Education”).

I’ve written about this one before; personality assessments can be useful, but they can also be destructive when we pigeonhole ourselves or others based on tests, especially those of questionable validity and

12. Mathematics and the natural sciences, as characteristic ways of intellectual activities, could be brought closer to human and personal concerns through the humanities (“Problems of Women’s Education”).

STEAM is a relatively new concept in education that takes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and adds A: art. Integrating the beautiful and good with the true enables us to educate the whole person and develop people who not only understand how to use technology but also how to use it well.

13. Mothers are probably the most important agents for the recovery of the nation (“Woman’s Value in National Life”).

Let’s hear it for the mothers–the physical mothers, the spiritual mothers, any woman who has ever cared for another human being in any small or large way. We were made to love, and while this statement was especially poignant, perhaps, in Germany post-World War I, we need mothers just as much today.

An Open Letter to My Godchildren

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In June, I became a godmother for the fifth time.

Upon hearing that I had another godchild, several people asked, “Do you have to take care of all of those kids if something happens to their parents?!”

Not logistically, but as a godparent, my role is to care for my godchildren throughout their entire lives. “For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism,” says the Catechism (1254). “For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized — child or adult — on the road of Christian life. Their task is a truly ecclesial function” (1255).

The word “ecclesial,” according to CatholicCulture.org, means “pertaining to the Church as the community of believers, with stress on their faith and union through love, and on the invisible operations of divine grace among the faithful.”

So, in other words, my task is to help my godchildren become part of the community of believers, to develop in their faith, and to be united with Christ through love and grace.

It’s a tall order but one that I would sign up for again and again. (Indeed, I have.)

With that in mind, here is an open letter to my godchildren. Most of them won’t be able to read it yet, but they say that what’s on the internet stays on the internet, so may they all reference it for years to come.

My precious godchildren,

At your baptism, I promised to support your parents in “training [you] in the practice of the faith … [in bringing you] up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.” This is not a promise I take lightly, and each time I become a godmother to a new child, I am reminded of this sacred relationship.

When I traced the sign of the cross on your forehead, it was a symbol of the cross that you take up as a Christian. I have a cross as well, and sometimes, it feels impossible to lift, let alone to carry. But what strength I have, with the grace of God, I will use to help you carry your own cross, from now until the end of my life – and then beyond, as I (God willing) pray for you from heaven.

Being a Christian is not easy. I can promise you that. But there is no other way to live; I can promise you that, too. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). At times, it may feel that you are losing your life — but I have learned that we can always find our way again if we turn back to Christ. Whenever you struggle to do so, just give me a call, and we will pray together.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). You were baptized into the same body that I was, and that body will always be there for you to return to if you wander away. This membership does not expire, and it comes with a lifelong coach: me.

I promise to love you, to pray for you and to help guide you–forever.

With all my love,

Taryn “Aunt T”

 

What Melinda Gates Gets Wrong About Birth Control

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Melinda Gates’ new book “The Moment of Lift” is subtitled “How Empowering Women Changes the World.”

It’s true. Empowering women can change the world. It has changed the world. It’s still changing the world.

But not completely in the way she thinks.

An entire chapter is dedicated to family planning. It’s called “Every Good Thing.” And just a few years ago, I would have been on board with just about everything she writes in this chapter. Absolutely, women should be able to choose when they have children! Absolutely, women should be empowered to feed their families! I was pro-life, but only to a certain point – contraception was OK, and the Catholic Church was just wrong.

“So I don’t see my actions as putting me at odds with the Church; I feel I am following the higher teaching of the Church,” Gates writes (p. 74).

Oh, that hubris. I know it well: Yes, the Church is great – except when it’s wrong, in those cases when know best. Then … well … I’m sure it’ll come around someday.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized that if you believe in the Church, you must believe in the Church. If you believe the Church is right on some things, but not on others, then you believe the Church is a liar when it says that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. And if the Church is a liar, then why are you a part of it?

Contraception is supposedly a women’s rights issue. If you are for women’s empowerment, if you are a feminist, then you are pro-birth control. But there are powerful feminist arguments against birth control (for just a few, see FemCatholic.com and VerilyMag.com). The bottom line of these arguments is that it is anti-woman to suppress a woman’s biology – and, in some cases, putting her health at risk – because her society tells her she “can’t” [work/have a good life/feed her other children] with a[nother] baby. In fact, contraception is a band aid. The pill is a band-aid for health problems that have causes that the pill can’t fix. But more broadly, contraception is a band-aid for social problems whose solutions are just not as easy as we’d like them to be.

For example, Gates writes, “Women have told me over and over again, ‘If I ask my husband to wear a condom, he will beat me up'” (p. 58). This situation isn’t an example of why we need to empower women to have their own forms of contraception; it’s evidence of a society that values women so little that it’s OK for their husbands to beat them.

In fact, here’s an idea: Instead of just giving women birth control and assuming that will solve their problems, why don’t we get their husbands not to beat them up?

“Some opponents of contraception conflate it with abortion,” Gates writes. “The simple appeal of letting women choose whether or when to have children is so threatening that opponents strain to make it about something else” (p. 69).

No, opponents of contraception (at least the ones I know) aren’t threatened by the idea of letting women choose whether or when to have children. We’re threatened by the idea that sex is just about using another person for pleasure. We’re threatened by the idea that people can rely on contraception, have it fail and then leave the mother on her own with a baby the world tells her she can’t handle. We’re threatened by the idea that women don’t understand their own health, because doctors put them on a pill without investigating their symptoms or teaching them how to track them. We’re threatened by the idea that the way a woman’s body is made is like a disease. We’re threatened by the idea that instead of giving poor Africans food, water and jobs, we’re giving them birth control.

Actually, scratch that: We’re threatened by the idea that western society thinks that Africans don’t know what they need and that we should push our values onto them, because we know best.

We’re threatened by a lot of things, sure. The concept of women’s choice is not one of them.

In fairness, Gates seems to genuinely believe that she is helping women. I don’t think her intentions are evil. But she has bought into the lie that the only way to empower women is to make them feel helpless in the face of their own fertility. Her ignorance on the topic is highlighted when she says that natural family planning is the same thing as “the rhythm method” (p. 85). It only takes a quick Google search to learn that the rhythm method isn’t – and hasn’t been for some time – the recommended method of NFP for most women (because for most women, it doesn’t work).

In fact, the Church is in favor of other, highly effective, forms of natural family planning when the situation is dire – as it is in the examples Gates shares. Absolutely, families should use NFP when having another child would put the health of their family at risk. Absolutely, families should use NFP when they literally can’t afford another child. The Church, after all, is not unreasonable, and the Church cares deeply about people.

The Church just believes that there are better ways to plan your family than to devalue both women and sex.

“I have felt strong support in this from priests, nuns, and laypeople who’ve told me that I am on solid moral ground when I speak up for women in the developing world who need contraceptives to save their children’s lives,” says Gates. “I welcome their guidance, and it’s reassuring to me that a huge majority of Catholic women use contraceptives and believe it’s morally acceptable to do so. I also know that ultimately moral questions are personal questions. Majorities don’t matter on issues of conscience. No matter what views others may have, I am the one who has to answer for my actions, and this is my answer” (p. 74).

We all must answer for our actions, and in no way do I think I am holier than Melinda Gates (partly because I don’t know her, and partly because I know that I am very much a work in progress). But when someone with as much power as Melinda Gates is sharing a message that can hurt so many women (and men), I am going to use my teeny tiny platform to speak out.

The Crown of Thorns

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The crown of thorns should not be beautiful.

Thorns, after all, are the ugliest part of a rose bush. They prickle and cut.

Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:29)

Jesus Christ did not have a crown of gold or silver. He did not have any crown at all, until just before He was crucified, when he wore a crown of thorns, stabbing into his head even though he had just been beaten almost to death and was about to be crucified.

Little did his tormenters know that this was exactly the crown He was looking for.

According to the University of Michigan’s “Online Symbolism Dictionary,” “Denoting sin, sorrow and hardship, the thorn is one of the most ancient symbols in the world.” This symbolism is apparent in the Old Testament and reaches fruition in the crowning of Jesus as he takes on our sins and dies to save us from them.

St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein (whom I discovered – and fell in love with – after reading “Embracing Edith Stein” by Anne Costa and then devouring Edith’s “Essays on Woman”), believed that dying as a Jew (she converted to Catholicism as an adult) in the Holocaust was a cross she could bear for Christ:

I told our Lord that I knew it was His cross that was now being placed upon the Jewish people; that most of them did not understand this, but that those who did would have to take it up willingly in the name of all. I would do that. At the end of the service, I was certain that I had been heard. But what this carrying of the cross was to consist in, that I did not yet know.

Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That includes suffering the sting of thorns, too.

Notre-Dame Cathedral burned today. As I write this blog post, no one has been able to confirm that the crown of thorns, a relic housed at the cathedral, has been saved, though unsubstantiated reports have said that it was. It would be a tragedy if the crown of thorns that once sat atop our Lord’s head have, after two millennia, burned. But the real tragedy would be if we forgot about them and what they stood for.