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Archive for February, 2011

Will left for the bar exam in D.C. early to attend the funeral of a dear friend and spiritual father  who would be mortified to hear himself spoken of in those terms. Tuesday afternoon I learned that a wonderful priest from my college days passed away  after a long battle with cancer. Please pray for the repose of the souls of Fr. James Brabandt, OFM, and Fr. Kurt Pritzl, OP.

Fr. James was a Holy Land friar. He had lived and worked in the Holy Land, taking care of our churches and our people, at not inconsiderable riskto himself. In fact, the reason he had returned to the U.S.  is because he had been injured in the line of duty. While taking some pilgrims to the Sea of Galilee, he slipped on a wet rock and badly broke his wrist and hand. The first thing he did was announce, in a thick Kentucky accent “Don’t come down here, folks! It’s a bit slippery.” He didn’t mention his accident until he was sure everyone was out of harm’s way, and then said “I think I might need to go to the hospital.”

He put himself last in everything. He was humble, humble, humble. He was kind and joyful. Will and I used to joke that when he went back to his cell the Blessed Virgin was there to greet him and have a nice chat. Fr. James heard my confession the day before my wedding. He gave me the Universal Prayer of St. Clement to pray in preparation. Fr. James loved the Lord, the Church, his people, and his order. He never spoke badly of anyone, even when it would not have been inappropriate. He cleaned up theologically sketchy material with a smile. He was a true son of Francis.  He liked to sit in the cloister, with his hood up, smoking a long -stemmed pipe that made him look just like Gandalf.  He was fine last Sunday morning, but didn’t come to dinner. He had gone back to his cell and the Blessed Virgin was there to greet him and take him home. He’ll be terribly missed.

I didn’t know Fr. Pritzl that well. I never had him for class. I knew him from a couple of confessions, and countless casual meetings on the CUA mall. The thing is, with holy people, one tiny encounter can alter your life. Fr. Pritzl always, always, greeted me with the kindest of smiles. One day, I was walking from the Shrine to the library, miserable. Life was just not good. Fr. Pritzl walked up one of the other paths and stopped briefly to say hello and how are you. He just smiled, and looked at me. Mother Teresa was right. A smile can change everything. That one little moment opened a tiny crack in my heart, and the love of God poured inside. He was a brilliant scholar, teacher, philosopher. More than that, though, he was an image of Christ. He showed me that I was uniquely loved by God, just by smiling.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

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Save Baby Joseph

As I was eating breakfast this morning, I stumbled across a Facebook group called Save Baby Joseph. I went on to read about baby Joseph and his family. He lives in Canada, he’s one year old, in a vegetative state with “no brain-stem function”, and the hospital is going to remove the life support system and “give him an injection” on Monday, against the parents’ wishes. They only want to  be able to take him home to die. They lost a daughter to the same illness eight years ago, but that time they were permitted to take her home.

Please, pass the word along, particularly to any Canadians you know.

Read about it here. Some of the comments are disturbing.

(photo source)

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Don’t let the title mislead you.

One of the best things I got to do on my vacation to the frozen mid-Atlantic was go out to dinner with two wonderful highschool friends. There was a lot to talk about, and at one point one of the girls, asked “Do you find it’s hard to distinguish between Lydia the mom and Lydia the wife or Lydia the woman? How do you do that?”

Now, that’s blog fodder.  Erin, you’re an inspiration. I’m going to answer your question (again!) because there’s nothing I like as much as waxing eloquent about womanly stuff.

The short answer is that there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a split between woman-as-mother and woman-as-wife/woman.  I believe that modern woman, far from being the confident image portrayed in “intelligent” television or magazines, is infinitely more unsure of herself and her purpose than her predecessors in spite of the vast improvements in education and employment. Modern mothers have an existential crisis. You have a baby and suddenly you’re not an accomplished, intelligent, sexy, beautiful woman. Like the SNL sketch says “you’re no longer a woman. You’re a mom!” This is how many women feel, and I admit I’ve succumbed to the temptation to feel somehow less of a woman because I am a mother. How twisted is that? 

This whole issue makes me crazy. It was invented by people who have a vested interest in keeping women dependant on their products (hello, fashion industry, feminist propaganda and self-help books). Ultimately, it was invented by marketers from hell. Literally.  We’re told that we have to  be mothers only when the time is “right”, that we have to “have it all”, and that we have to remain sexy, fabulous and fun all the while. It’s packaged in a way that compartmentalizes every aspect of womanhood, rather than embracing the wholeness of femininity. We have our modern marching orders, and, unfortunately, they’re so pervasive that even gals who know better fall into line with them.

Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of caving into the role dictated to us by who (or what) is in charge of attacks on the female person, we acknowlege that womanhood and motherhood go together? In fact, they’re completely linked and you can’t have one without the other. We may as well embrace reality.

We have a hard time thinking motherhood can be attractive or intelligent. We’re sold the “you’re not a woman! You’re a mom!” line every day. We begin to believe it, and that’s when the split occurs. A lot of women are divorced from themselves. They feel like one person around their children, another around their husbands, and another around their friends and co-workers. This disintegration of the  person is tragic. It’s so hard to see it any other way, though, if you’re fed the lie that says motherhood is merely biological, and your real worth comes in the material/intellectual/artistic attainments you may or may not ever achieve. 

When mothers anxiously say “I’m still a woman!”, they are nearly always talking  about feeling desired. Our world often sees motherhood as the result of a failure to take adequte precautions in the whole desire department. It’s okay some of the time, but not all the time, and you still have to be available to meet a man’s needs, or a corporation’s needs, so you  had better get that pesky fertility under control! Is it any wonder then, that so many women can’t be fully themselves in every differing relationship? If something that is literally part of your genetic makeup is bullied in such a way, how is that going to make you feel? Pretty messed up. We can feel like we’re never good enough for whoever we feel the need to please.

 I think that one of the healthiest examples of womanly goodness is belly dancing. Culturally speaking, belly dancing was never for men. It wasn’t to lure them in, or even to please them. It was a way for the wives and mommies and maidies of middle eastern cultures to unwind together. Ladies would gather round in the harem, kick all the men out and get down. It celebrated women’s bodies, letting them jiggle when they began to bulk up after a baby. It was sexy, but not a performance. It wasn’t designed to entrance a guy because it was strictly no boys allowed. It was an integrated expression of the frightening beauty of womanhood, instead of a performance-based checklist we neurotically tick to make sure we’re getting it right for our current audience.

Women who are mothers ought to see motherhood as an outworking of their own freedom to love and be loved faithfully.  It’s written in the fabric of our bones. There’s no need to feel split  into the womanly vs. motherly camps. It’s not either/or. It’s not even both/and, as though the aspects of womanhood were separate but equal.  It’s a whole, made up of the millions of a facets of personhood.  It’s all a matter of expression. To be a mother is to be a woman, and to be a woman is to be a mother, physically or otherwise. We bring life to the world because we are women, not in spite of it.

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, I threw myself a pity party. I like Valentine’s Day. I always have, even while single, because , as Simcha Fisher says, even ” . . . if it’s artificial to suddenly act romantic on a nationally-specified day — well, we need all the help we can get.” This year Philomena and I made glittery cards with contruction paper and glue. Glitter, by the way, is impossible to really clean up. I got all crafty and decided to make my husband a magnet (glue, glitter, cardboard, extra magnet from the fridge), since we couldn’t go out. I had promised Philomena strawberry shortcake, so I found a shortbread cookie mix, some overpriced strawberries and whipping cream at the market, and then, at the checkout, forgot to pick up my bag containing said goodies. It didn’t bode well.

I called my husband, up to his neck in bar review and worry.  He said he’d be happy to pick up the lost bag of groceries on his way home. Nice man, I  thought.

And then, things really began to go wrong. A lot of walking in the wrong shoes, alpha-female six year olds on the playground, a sinkful of dishes, a late dinner,  and forgetten groceries all began to weigh heavily on me. I began to be cranky. From cranky I dove into grouchy. At grouchy, Philomena decided it was time to have a tantrum. I got mad. And then, realizing that nearly-three year olds can’t really help it, so there was no point getting mad, I got mad about all my hard work and how I just KNEW I wouldn’t be getting anything for Valentine’s Day. I worked all day long, nothing got done, I give and give and give and everyone just takes. You know the script. Wasn’t I was wonderful, caring mother and wife? I did all these nice things, and then life just rears its ugly head and decides the joke’s on me: no tiny token of hallmark style romance today!

Will came home with the groceries (blessings be upon him), and I admit I looked through the bags to see if just maybe there was a tiny flower. Nothing. I put the shortbread in the oven and set out dinner, sulkily. I ate, sulkily. Will asked if anything was wrong, and I lied through my teeth. It’s just so embarrassing, being an intelligent modern young woman in a fuss because there were no flowers or cards or chocolates. Of course, it didn’t fool Will. So I told him. He was upset. He’d been working so hard, and he felt terrible there there wasn’t enough to go out to do something special. It’s natural he got upset. Anyway, we chatted a while, I put the baby to bed, and then, Will went out.

Why? Was he in a snit?

No.

He was on his way to the shop. He phoned and explained what had happened that day. He had been working and studying, and time got away from him. He had been planning to pick something small up on the way home, but the grocery run had taken an hour. He felt terrible, and he wanted to know that he appreciated me doing the little extra things for a silly holiday, and he wanted to show his appreciation in a small way. So, he did all the dishes and went out to pick up a little something.

He came home with some gourmet chocolate and milk. Which we were low on. He noticed.

I could have cried, and I think I did tear up a little bit. The pity party had been in full swing. I had been very ungrateful for the stuff he had already done, like the groceries and the dishes and the sweeping. And he, not out of a sense of guilt, but because he thought he could have done more and because he loves me, went the extra mile. He just wanted to see me smile on Valentine’s Day.

I shared the chocolate.

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