Monday, August 29, 2005

Pennsylvania revisited

Hi, those of you who came over from Amy's blog. I went back home for a few days and I'm just catching up!

"Home"... that's southwestern PA, where both parents live, but not with each other. It's a workable distance from southeastern Michigan, if only the psychological, spiritual distance were easier to traverse.

Coming back, with six kids in the car, I had only a precious few minutes to feel sorry for myself about my parents' divorce. I thought of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. If you have never read this or watched the BBC miniseries, it is highly recommended. The family is broken: the patriarch, Lord Marchmain took off years ago and took up with an Italian woman. And all four children, as adults, are broken. The way Waugh writes it, not one has a fruitful union (only Bridey gets married, and his wife is too old to bear children). But, oh, the spiritual fruitfulness. Even Sebastian, a hopeless drunk, cannot stay away from the monastery. He lives out his vocation to celibacy in a broken fashion, but it is there, nevertheless.

I have thought about Brideshead Revisited many times over the years as I have pondered my parents' divorce and the aftermath. All the deeply Catholic stories are about sin and suffering and bearing the Cross to the end. I have raged against God because it just doesn't seem fair that Sebastian has to be a drunk at the end. Why must he suffer, and not his father? But, then, this is what makes it Catholic, that is, universal. Because we all have to bear each others sins. Parents have to bear their childrens' sins. And, mysteriously, children have to bear their parents' sins. And in the end this is fruitful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Real Simple, indeed

My brother-in-law over there at Godsbody keeps claiming that his blog is woefully behind the times. Well, I am going to do him one better. Tonight I am going to comment on an issue of REAL SIMPLE magazine from December 2004.

A thrifty mother can’t pass up a yard sale and that’s where I got nine issues of REAL SIMPLE for $1. Somebody (Aunt Cheryl??) had been singing its praises and I thought I should check it out. As I am reading through the issues, I find myself simultaneously engrossed and disgusted. Take December 2004. There are these great articles on winter skin care (yes, I have dishpan hands), how to find that elusive little black jacket (I yearn for the simplicity of it) and secrets for beautiful hair (I am open to putting a cup of mayonnaise on my head). But what sends me over the edge are the articles that are REAL SIMPLE’s trademark: things that your mother should have taught you if only she were acting like your mother….like how to hand wash sweaters, or how to pair a necklace with a ballgown, or, get this, how to have a life-long happy marriage. The latter article is a retrospective on a 35-year marriage between Diane and Bernie Bletterman. They survived hard times, two affairs and financial woes. And they stuck together and raised their boys with love.

It amazes me in that a story that is so ordinary is now extraordinary enough to rate a magazine article. It also fills me with what I hope is righteous anger. We are a generation that has not been mothered…and so we have to learn it from a magazine. Listen my child and learn the things that your mother never told you …because she was too busy actualizing herself, finding her inner child, getting a promotion, divorcing your dad.

And this brings me back to the mother’s role to foster the child’s contemplative relation to God. It is not a matter of being a domestic goddess a la Martha. It is a matter of preserving the sphere of love, of building it up through submission and suffering. I mean submission to the will of God, submission to the reality of marital union. So, concretely, it may (or may not) mean staying home, suffering a difficult marriage, living through financial difficulty or extramarital affairs. It is only possible in and through the Cross.

It’s news, folks: love and marriage are possible.

Monday, August 22, 2005

As promised, commentary

I reprint Fr. Gerald Vann's quote, for commentary:

"Of all the trends we have been considering as characteristic of the world today--the increasing loss of wisdom and vision, of stillness, of Nature, of the stability of home and family life, of symbol--it seems true to say that they represent something particularly alien to the nature of woman.... Our troubles spring from the overemphasis on the masculine in our world ... precisely because the nature of the psychological crisis through which we are passing is what it is, woman has an unique opportunity to redeem the situation. (From The Water and The Fire, 1954)

Let's start this way: what is the "psychological crisis" of our time???? Let's consider Mother Teresa's assessment: it is the failure of love of the poorest of the poor. And she saw the greatest poverty in America.

Where do we look now to marvel at creation: technology. We wonder at i-pods and cell-phones and plasma TVs and (so-called) precision bombing and cloning. Children here no longer die of hunger, polio or tuberculosis. The wounds are much deeper now: neglect, abuse, divorce, day-care. Where is the suffering now? It is in the family, in relationships. Where is the nexus of love, of relation: first of all in the mother-child relationship.

A few years ago I did a talk at a Catholic law school to would-be women lawyers. They wanted to hear about John Paul II's new feminism. I brought in the Icon of Our Lady of the New Advent. If you want to know what feminity is all about: here it is. The woman guards the mystery of life. She bears it within her. Her being is realized in relation to that mystery. So, she is linked, physically, with nourishment, protection, care of the smallest ones.

But we cannot reduce this to the biological. Because man is destined for an eternal destiny, nothing "biological" is simply that. Biblically, theologically, a woman is linked to what it is that builds up, protects, nourishes the child in relation to God. And so a woman is linked to "stillness," contemplation: for if a child can only grown in the quiet of the womb, so that child cannot encounter God outside of a sphere that is protected, contemplative. A woman preserves these spaces--the home, the garden. She protects these spaces--and so she must be a guardian of the media--TV, phone, computer, that threaten the psychological and spiritual growth for the child.

Next, on wisdom...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Seeking simplicity

While the rest of the Catholic world is tuning into World Youth Day, those of us who do not have cable are left to "keep watch and pray." Tonight, more reflections on Fr. Solanus. This amazing man, a Capuchin Friar, was ordained a "simplex priest," unable to hear confessions or give formal sermons. He was no simple man--a farmboy, born of Irish immigrant parents, he simply could not master the Latin and German that was required at the seminary at the time. Nevertheless, he had, apparently, complete acceptance of his superiors' decision to withold some of his priestly faculties.

Fr. Groeschel, who knew Fr. Solanus when Fr. Groeschel was a novice in New York, says that the seminary time was Fr. Solanus' dark night. His will to be entirely in God's will was unwavering. So, in this way, Fr. Solanus was certainly "simplex"--his soul was simple, that is, uncluttered, with his own will.

Tonight, after watching a video and reflecting on my visit to the center, I find myself surprised at my own will. When I think of totally abandoning myself to Him--saying, with Fr. Solanus, that my will is His--I feel my soul shrink back. What a great step, to truly trust God that everything that comes from His hand is truly good, MY good.

In my life, there is so much of me--my decisions, my needs, my wants. Even in the midst of my children, I still can assert my will with such ferocity--proof that a large family is in itself not enough for holiness. For there is this other thing, the total trust.

It is a curious thing: that I must not only trust Him, but that trust itself can only be based on Love. I start to imagine that if I give myself away it would mean that I will end up like Mother Teresa, in a forty year dark night. But, in fact, to take that leap, I need to have the conviction that even if I end up in the dark night, still His love is there...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

God's little grain of sand

Today, a visit to the Father Solanus Casey center. This priest was amazing--utter simplicity. Two gems: "Man's greatness lies in being true to the present moment." In other words, no nostalgia, no longing for the vanished past, or, worse, the what-might-have-been present.

Second: "God loves tiny beginnings..."

Well, there's another thing that seems to be forgotten in modernity: the tiniest things. The seed, the embryo. Women are the ones who care for the little things--we protect them, or at least we should.

This work flies in the face of the constant push for bigger and better. Let's manufacture a little embryo and sacrifice it for the grown ups!

Therese of Lisieux always wanted to be the "the little grain of sand."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Opportunity for women

A lovely quote courtesy of my friend Tom Sullivan. We may even say that what we have now is not so much the "overemphasis of the masculine," but really a warped masculinity. Commentary to follow after children are in bed...

Father Gerald Vann, from his 1954 book The Water and the Fire":

"Of all the trends we have been considering as characteristic of the world today--the increasing loss of wisdom and vision, of stillness, of Nature, of the stability of home and family life, of symbol--it seems true to say that they represent something particularly alien to the nature of woman.... Our troubles spring from the overemphasis on the masculine in our world ... precisely because the nature of the psychological crisis through which we are passing is what it is, woman has an unique opportunity to redeem the situation.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The matter with me

"Is 36 too young to be going through mid-life crisis?" I asked my friend Denise.
"No," she answered.

I asked my husband the same thing. "I thought women didn't go through mid-life crisis," he replied.

Well, I think I am going through it all the same. What else accounts for my propensity of late to weep every time I see a ballet dancer in her prime? Last night it was the beautiful Darcey Bussell, star of the Royal Ballet and star of my daughter's DK Ballet book. I quit my intense ballet training at the age of sixteen because I wanted a social life.

But, really, with six children, didn't I realize long ago that I wasn't going to be a ballet star? How long does it take one to be at peace with one's stretch marks? Apparently longer than this.

There is no doubt--it is written on my flesh: I have lived for an Other--six Others.

And isn't this the destination of all flesh: to be "for" an "Other"? There is today's feast day to make it clear: the sinless flesh of the virgin girl who never wanted to be anything else but "for an Other,"--her body alone stands as a testimony to the truth. Mary's body. For the rest of us, our flesh groans, awaiting fulfillment....

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What is the "matter"?

The woods up the street from us are no more. Bulldozers came and wiped them out to make way for more condos "starting at the $280's" I feel a pang when I drive by. The words of one of my children's favorite stories echo in my mind: " I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees..." But this is not a pang of environmentalism. It's a pang of motherhood. And it is important to know the difference.

From John Paul II's Memory and Identity: "In this [Paschal] mystery, not only is eschatological truth revealed to us, that is to say the fullness of the Gospel, or Good News. There also shines forth a light to enlighten the whole of human existence in its temporal dimension and this light is reflected onto the created world. Christ, through his Resurrection, has so to speak 'justified' the work of creation, and especially the creation of man."

OK, now just how do we view the trees and their roots and the ground they are in if we think they are "justified" by Christ (even in a qualified way). Are they ours or his? If everything tends toward Him, is justified in Him, then there is no purely "private" property.

That is not to say that we are paralyzed: it simply gives us direction for what to do. Man's dominion over creation is not restricted by Christ's dominion: it is perfected.

But we are hardly in a situation where this is taken seriously by anyone on any side of the question. ("private property" versus the EPA---neither respects the reality). No, we are in an age where men are manipulating genes in much the same way that my then three-year-old son attempted to jam a sandwich into the VCR. After all, it is just matter. Or is it "mater." Now we come to the pang of motherhood and why the bulldozers get under my skin. But more on that later...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

True motherhood????

It is not a brilliant name, but maybe it provokes. I just want to talk about motherhood in all its dimensions--children, childbirth, marriage, divorce, suffering, reality...most of all, I want this to be authentic. I am not going to romanticize. So, that's the "true part."