If they weren’t women…

“Without a spine she [Teresa of Jesus] couldn’t be a woman and if she wasn’t a woman, she couldn’t be a saint.”

-Dr. Peter Kreeft

I studied abroad in Spain in the fall of 2008. At some point in one of my literature classes, my professor (a middle-aged man who was quite proud of being Spanish) began waxing poetical about how Teresa of Avila was the first female Doctor of the Church. I’m pretty sure that he also called her the only female doctor of the Church. My Good Catholic Girl hand shot up. I told him that he was wrong. She wasn’t the first. She isn’t the only. But she is super important. He asked me who the others were. I told him about my darling Catherine of Siena and the excellent Therese of Lisieux.

Over the past fifty years, the Catholic Church has elevated four women to the rank of Doctor of the Church-the three I told my professor about and Hildegard von Bingen a few years after that conversation. They’re an oddly diverse grouping, and I think that each of them is a good role model for women in her own way.

St. Therese of Lisieux is the only of the four to have lived in the age of photography. We have paintings and such of the other three, but we have photos of Therese. Intellectually, I know that she died young. But it’s one thing to know a fact, and another to look at the face of a young woman who died at the age of 24 and realize that she is a Doctor of the Church. She is someone whose wisdom I respect. And she became that person in a relatively short amount of time.

That sort of thing doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of two things: the action and guidance of God and an openness on the part of the individual to God’s action. Therese of Lisieux could have died at the age of 24 and done nothing to matter to anyone outside of her family. She could have lived a mundane life. She could have lived her life guided by her own desires and choices. But she didn’t.

Instead, she said yes to God in big ways and small. She chose to allow God to overcome her natural selfishness and her other human failings. She chose to allow him to make something truly great out of her life. She became a Doctor not on her own power but because of what she allowed God to do with her.

“When we are expecting nothing but suffering we are surprised at the least joy, but then the suffering itself because the greatest of joys when we seek it as a precious treasure.”

-St. Therese of Lisieux

That can be said of each of the four female Doctors. They didn’t become Saints or Doctors on their own merits. They became what they were because they allowed God to use them. When I ramble about St. Catherine of Siena, I often refer to her as the person who brought the Papacy back to Rome. But she didn’t act on her own power. And she didn’t force the Pope to do anything. Under divine inspiration, she wrote to him, and he returned-acting under divine inspiration.

God used each of these four women in unique ways. He gave each of them different gifts, and he gave them different circumstances. He worked through them in different ways. But he was only able to do that because they allowed him to. He gave them gifts, but he never forced them to use those gifts. He worked with them as they were open to him.

NB: This post was supposed to have published on March 30 for the end of March as both Reading Month and Women’s History Month. However, I didn’t get it published before going to Church, so instead I’m publishing it for April 12 because it seems as good a day as any.

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A People, Not a Place

Several years ago, I came across a quotation from St. Therese of Lisieux that resonated quite strongly with me. It’s probably one of the most significant things that I’ve ever encountered in my life with Christ, and yet it’s one of the simplest things that I’ve ever heard.

The world’s thy ship, not thy home.

I read that some years ago, and it stuck with me. In fact, for a good while, I’d forgotten who had even said it. I just carried that sentence around inside of me.

I’m going to put three quotations on a similar theme here, and I want you to read them.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis)

“For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

“Asgard is not a place. It’s a people.” (Thor: Ragnarok)

I’ve talked previously about my love for a Lewis quote similar to the one above, but this Holy Week and Easter season have found me looking at these quotations again and with a deeper significance.

I’m not a point yet where I’m able to talk about the specifics of this, but I’ve been going through a spiritual season of wandering in the wilderness. When the author of Hebrews talks about the holy ones of the Old Testament, he describes them as strangers and sojourners. That’s really struck me lately. There are some things going on in my life (both internal and external) that make feel like I’m wandering around almost aimlessly. I sometimes wonder what it’s all about.

(Side note: I really don’t know WHAT I’m going to do if it does turn out that the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about after all.)

I know that I feel like I’m a stranger in a strange land. I know that I feel like I’m sojourning without a clear vision of my destination. I wonder about the purpose of my life. Sitting on the brink of thirty with a job that I love but a great deal of confusion and uncertainty in most other areas of my life is stressful. I find it really difficult to find hope and peace when I don’t know if or when certain questions in my life will be resolved. Simply put, when you’re in the wilderness, it can be hard to believe that the Promised Land exists.

This morning, as I was driving to work I found myself praying. I told the Lord that I know he is there and he loves me, but I don’t feel that. I feel completely alone. I feel empty. I feel spiritually void. I know that feelings can be crap and all. I know that God is there even when I don’t feel him. But I could really use a reminder that my life isn’t without value. It’d be nice to know that my life will not have been useless or in vain.

But the purpose of my life is not limited to this world. In fact, this world is not my home. I may not have the things that I want in the here and now. But my life should not be lived focused on this world. I need to live my life with an eternal perspective. Last fall, I made some pretty major changes in my life because I want to live my life more fully for God. I want to live my life in such a way that will help me to draw closer to God and to serve his kingdom more fully. But in order to do that, I had to let go of some things that have long been a part of my life. I had to leave some places behind myself.

This was (and honestly still is) incredibly difficult for me. It was stressful and painful. I have grieved for the losses this decision incurred. While I am confident that I made the right decision, I am not completely at peace with the situation I left behind me. There are temporal matters that cause me pain and keep me from experiencing peace. But the Kingdom of God is not bound to this world. And the Body of Christ, the Church, is not a place; it is a people. And it is a people who are living not for this world but for the world to come. This world is our ship. It is a place where we are living, but it is not our ultimate home.

There is a moment in Thor: Ragnarok where Thor realizes that Asgard, the home of the Aesir, actually contained within the Aesir. Asgard lives in the hearts of the people who inhabit it, not in the physical location-the buildings and streets and bifrost. On Holy Thursday, I had a realization that the Church is the same way. God inhabits the hearts of his people. A church is the building in which those people gather. We as Christians need to meet together and pray together. We do that in a church building. But that building is not the Church. That is the people. The Body of Christ is in the human beings who call themselves Christians.

I am not alone because I am loved by a faithful God but also because I am part of a people who were purchased at such a great price. (I Cor 6:20)  I may feel alone, but I am not the only one wandering through the wilderness. There is some sorrow and struggle inherent to the life that we lead in this world. We as humans live in a fallen world. We live among brokenness. That inherently leads to sorrow and pain. But as Easter reminds us, this world is not the end. When we die, it is then that our lives will really begin. Another world awaits us. “All will turn to silver glass” and then…oh, what joy awaits us when our voyage on this ship has ended.

Be of good cheer. In the world we will have trouble, but Christ has conquered the world. (John 16:33) By death, he trampled Death. This world is merely our ship. We were made for another world, for a better world. We were made for the kingdom that is to come. And in the meantime, we have the people of God to uphold us and support us.

A Better Plan

On Sunday, I put my Jesse tree ornaments on my Christmas tree. My flatmate is Lutheran, and I didn’t want to put the ornaments on the tree until Advent had properly begun for all of us.

As I put the ornaments on the tree, I found myself thinking about the people depicted on the ornaments. They are the great heroes of the Old Testament-David, Abraham, Samuel, Miriam, Moses, Elijah etc. They are people who lived their lives with great faith in a God whom they could not see. They were given a promise, but the promise was not fulfilled in any of their lifetimes. But that did not keep them from faith.

As I put up the ornaments, I found myself thinking about Hebrews 12 saying “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…run to Jesus.” Ordinarily, I think of this in terms of the Saints of the Church-St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Cecilia, etc. But as I looked at the ornaments, I realized that these Old Testament figures are just as much a part of that cloud of witnesses. Samuel is no less a member of that great cloud than St. Nicholas. They had a different vision of holiness, but they each lived a life of holiness and sanctity according to the knowledge that they had in their day and age.

And as I kept thinking about that, I found my mind traveling to the end of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) On this side of paradise, I have a limited understanding of the Divine Plan. I don’t know why exactly the Messiah had to come when and where he came. I only know that it happened because it was God’s plan.

While the timing or the place might not make sense to me, the reason is simple. God had a plan. It was a better plan than a plan to send the Messiah at the time of Samuel or Nehemiah or the Maccabees. It was a plan that somehow included us in a way that another plan would not.

And that’s a really beautiful thing. God sent the Messiah into the world at time that would benefit us. He thought of us. From all eternity, he chose to send the Messiah into the world at a time that would be the best time not only for the people of that time but for the all people in all times. The Incarnation was not for one time or one place. It was for all times and all places. It happened in one time and one place, but it happened in such a way as to impact all that had come before it and all that would come after it. The time was perfectly chosen from all eternity.

I find a great deal of hope and encouragement in this. Like any normal person, I struggle with understanding God’s plan at times. I don’t get why things do or don’t happen. I don’t always understand his timing. I know that his ways are perfect and his times are perfect. But that perfection does not automatically mean that I understand what is happening. A few years ago, I went through a very bitter and confusing season of life. In the moment, I could not understand it. Even now, I occasionally look back on it and wonder why that had to be a chapter of my life. I know that I’ve come out the other side, and I believe that both my life and myself as a person are better for that season. But I don’t fully understand why it happened. Regardless, I know that God had a plan for that season as for all of my seasons.

I don’t have to understand that plan today. I don’t have to understand it next week or next year. I may never know on this side of paradise. But I do know that I was guided through that season by a good and loving God. I know that I came out the other side because of God. I know that while I have plans for my life he has a better plan.

As I’ve been meditating on St. Joseph this Advent, I’ve been struck by that thought. Joseph, a humble carpenter from Nazareth, had some plans. He probably figured that he was going to marry a nice girl. They’d have a few children and grow old together. Instead, he married the Theotokos, the Mother of God. The only child he ever raised was not his biological child but rather the Son of the Living God.

God interrupted St. Joseph’s plans in order to bring about a more perfect plan. He spent much of the Old Testament interrupting Moses’s and David’s plans for a quiet life and elevating them to greatness. God interrupted the Israelites’ plans for a warlike king as Messiah with a humble servant crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. God will interrupt our plans whether or not we want him to. The great saints throughout history teach us that our only real option is to get out of the way and allow him to act.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2

An Inconvenient Blessing

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

-G.K. Chesterton

On Saturday, I had the great blessing of attending the Beatification Mass for Blessed Solanus Casey. The Mass was celebrated at Ford Field in Detroit. Because of the stadium’s security guidelines, I didn’t take my purse in with me, but I just stuck my cell phone and drivers license in my coat pocket. (In retrospect, I should have put my drivers license in my pants pocket. Oh well!) When I got back to the car, I discovered that I’d lost my drivers license at some point during the day.

My natural high maintenance inclination is to panic, but for some reason (probably because I’d just left Mass) I found myself with an overwhelming sense of peace. I tried to call Ford Field, but I quickly learned that path would be useless until 10am on Monday. So I said a quick prayer asking St. Anthony, the finder of lost things, to help me. And then I asked Blessed Solanus to pray for me.

Thank God ahead of time.

-Blessed Solanus Casey

And then I did something that was decidedly of divine inspiration. I took a piece of advice from Blessed Solanus. I took a minute to thank God for however he was going to work through this situation. I then took advantage of a few methods of social media to contact Ford Field since I couldn’t leave a message via phone. (They responded this morning; they don’t have it but they’ll let me know if they find it.) And I prayed a bit more.

The weekend continued on, and no one seemed to have any idea where my license was. But I just found myself feeling calm and entirely unlike my usual self. To be fair, every time I found myself thinking about the missing drivers license I asked the intercession of Blessed Solanus and then thanked God for however he was going to use this inconvenience in my life.

This afternoon, I left work a little early and went to the Secretary of State (or as I told a kid, the worst place in the world) to get a new drivers license. Again, it’s a place and situation that should have stressed me out, and I found myself feeling remarkably calm about the whole thing. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, but I found myself feeling really grateful for the peace I was experiencing.

Ultimately, the situation was easily resolved. I filled out a form, sat quietly in a waiting room for an hour, dealt with some paperwork, paid $9, allowed someone to take a bad picture of me, and replaced my drivers license. But I’m also well aware that smoothness of the situation was largely due to my prayers. It was a good reminder of the importance of prayer and the importance of seeking the intercession of other members of the Communion of Saints.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

And let me tell you. I’m now convinced of the great value of thanking God ahead of time. I’ll be doing it much more often. Thanks, Blessed Solanus!

And Blessed Solanus, pray for us!

Looking to St. Joseph

Every year, I try to find a focus for my Advent. Because Eastern Advent (or the Fast of St. Philip) begins on November 15, I start looking for something at the beginning of November. This year, something fell into my lap.

When I lived in Spain, I developed an odd but strong connection to Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. The chorus particularly struck me. On a recent November day, I was driving home from work feeling frustrated with life and I found myself listening to that song again. And again, the chorus struck me.

Father, show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. How can a man be father to the Son of God? Lord, for all my life, I’ve been a simple carpenter. How can I raise a King?

Show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. I have not been called to raise a king, but I have been called to a life that I don’t always understand. As I thought about that line and prayed into a bit, I found myself thinking of a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva:

“It is not given to everyone to imitate Teresa of Avila or Vincent de Paul, but each of us can easily follow St. Joseph.”

St. Joseph’s life has lessons for each of us. Joseph was called to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. And as I drove, I felt called to spend the Fast leading up to the Nativity focusing on St. Joseph and his lessons. A dear friend wrote a book about St. Joseph that I plan to reread.

My hope is that by focusing on St. Joseph I can learn to better live out the call to holiness in daily life. I believe that the Good Saint will pray for me to grow in this area, and I hope that by focusing on him, the Lord will guide me to a better understanding of living out the call to holiness in the midst of the challenges of daily life in the world.

For YOU Are GOD

Over the past several months, I’ve been struck time and again by one prayer during the Divine Liturgy. It’s a prayer prayed by the priest. It’s intended to be spoken softly. It falls at the beginning of the Anaphora, and I suspect that it is easy to overlook. But of late, I’ve found myself hearing it time and again. The prayer becomes clearer and clearer each time that I hear it. (All added emphasis is mine.)

It is proper and just to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in every place of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and ever the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your all Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for the manifest and hidden blessings that have been poured out upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though there stand before You thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings…

For You are GOD…as I prayed through Liturgy one day, I just found my mind hooking onto that phrase. This is God who has brought us to this Liturgy, to this Altar. We are here to worship Him. And what kind of a God is this whom we worship? A God who is invisible and incomprehensible. We can’t see him. We can’t fathom the depths of His very Being. He’s ever-existing and ever the same. He is boundless, eternal, and changeless-all claims that no mortal could ever make. You and Your Only-Begotten Son and Your All-Holy Spirit: We worship the Trinity, one in essence. We are drawn to this Altar, to this Supper by that God.

And what has this God done for us? He called us out of nothingness into being. He didn’t need us. He chose to make us. He chose to want us. When we had fallen, He raised us up. Heck, He created us knowing that we could fall. He called us into existence at a total risk to himself. And then he kept going-the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Church, and the promise of the Kingdom to Come. He has done so much for us out of an absolute love for us.

And what is our response? Boredom, frustration, anger, and so on; we humans too often ignore and neglect these amazing gifts. We have so many blessings manifest and hidden, as the prayer says, and we choose to overlook them in favor of our own desires or our own emotions.

But what is God’s response to our rejection? He continually seeks after us. He continually loves us. He pours out His love upon us so richly, and we ignore it. But He continues to love us. He continues to seek us. We may forget that He is God, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and ever the same. But He will not forget us. He will not abandon us.

We must return to Him from wherever we choose to wander. We must give Him right worship for all that He has done for us both manifest and hidden. For He is God. He is inconceivable, incomprehensible, ever-existing, and ever the same. He is also the Lover of our souls, and the One who desires and deserves nothing but the sacrifice of our humbled, contrite hearts in His service.

Rublev’s Trinity via Wikipedia

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

-John 14: 18-20

Happy Pentecost!

Paschal Joy

In the Eastern Churches, we spend the forty days between the Feast of the Resurrection and that of the Ascension greeting each other with “Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!” It is my favorite of all of our liturgical greetings because it is the most joy-filled. No matter how you say it (Christos Voskros! Christos Anesti! al-Masīḥ qām!) it is a message of enormous joy. Christ is Risen. He has become the first fruits of the dead. The grave has been despoiled. Hades is in chains. Christ is Risen!

I think that after the first few days of the Easter season, it’s easy to forget that we are still in the midst of the season. It is easy to get on with our lives and forget to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. To me, this is a mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make and one that I easily find myself falling into. But it’s still a mistake. We need to embrace the joy of the Resurrection.

Yes we have to go on with our lives. Yes, we have to go to work and school. We have to do the dishes and clean the bathroom. But Christ is Risen. We live in the world, and we must face the mundane realities of that. But we cannot allow cleaning a cat’s litter box or changing diapers to distract us from the fact that the Eternal Word of God is Risen from the dead. Death has been annihilated. Hades is in chains. Yes, we will still fall asleep in the flesh. But oh what joy awaits us after that!

And now, during these last days of the Easter season, embrace the joy of the Resurrection. For Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages.
Amen!

-St. John Chrysostom