St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

August 9, 2014

"We bow down before the testimony of the life and death of Edith Stein, an outstanding daughter of Israel and at the same time a daughter of the Carmelite Order, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a personality who united within her a rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century.  It was a synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting…and also the synthesis of the full truth about man.  All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God" 
~Pope John Paul II at the Beatification of Edith Stein, May 1, 1987

Today is the feast of one of our patrons, Edith Stein or Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  I couldn't let her feast go by without honouring her, so pour yourself some coffee or tea and read about a truly extraordinary woman.  

Edith was born into a Jewish Family on Yom Kippur, October 12th, 1891, the youngest of 11 children. Her father died when she was 2, leaving her mother to run the large timber business he left and raise the children.  Somewhere along the line, Edith says she lost her faith - she "consciously decided, of her own volition, to stop praying", and she went on and studied German and history at university. Although German and history were her fields of study, her real love was for philosophy and women's issues.  Edith was very intelligent and after a short stint as a "radical suffragette", she transferred from the University of Breslau to Gottingen University and studied under two different philosophers, Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, who both directed her, in different ways, to Roman Catholicism.  

When World War I broke out, she worked nursing typhus patients in an Austrian field hospital where she struggled with the horrors of war and rampant disease.  After the war she took up her studies once again, passing her German and history degrees with distinction, yet continuing her education in philosophy - writing her doctorate thesis on the problem of empathy.  It was during this time that she wrote about an experience which had a lasting effect on her - she witnessed a woman entering Frankfurt Cathedral for a short prayer. "This was something totally new to me.  In the synagogues or protestant churches I had visited people simply went to the services.  Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation.  It was something I never forgot."

Not long after that, a dear friend was killed in action and Edith met with his widow, a woman of faith. Edith wrote that the visit was the moment when her "unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me - Christ in the mystery of the Cross."   

It was shortly after this experience that Edith, while visiting the country estate of a protestant friend, picked up the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.  She read the whole thing in one sitting saying "when I had finished the book, I said to myself, this is the truth."  

On January 1st, 1922 Edith was baptized into the Catholic Church.  "I had given up practising my Jewish religion when I was a 14 year old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God."  Immediately following her conversion she wanted to join the Carmelites, but was urged not to do so by her spiritual director and other advisors.  She began accepting speaking engagements on women's issues and wrote, "During the time immediately before and quite some time after my conversion I…thought that leading a religious life meant giving up all earthly things and having one's mind fixed on divine things only.  Gradually, however, I learned that other things are expected of us in this world…I even believe that the deeper someone is drawn to God, the more he has to 'get beyond himself' in this sense, that is, go into the world and carry divine life into it." 

When she finally realized that it was possible to "pursue scholarship as a service to God", she began to seriously approach academic work again, frequently staying at the Benedictine Monastery in Beuron to gain strength for her work.  In the next several years, she looked for (but could not get) a professorship, but wrote several books in the ensuing years.  Eventually she accepted a lectureship at the University of Munster and in and through her teachings, strove to lead all to the Lord.  

When World War II broke out, the Nazi's prevented Edith from teaching or lecturing due to her Jewish background, and she joined the Carmelite Convent in Cologne after visiting one last time with her mother.  When it became apparent to the Mother Superior in Cologne that Sister Teresa Benedicta would be sought out and harmed by the Nazi's, she was smuggled across the border into the Netherlands to the Convent in Echt, but to no avail.  Sister Teresa was arrested by the Gestapo on August 2nd, 1942 and, together with her sister Rosa (who had also converted and was serving the convent at Echt) and many other Jews and Catholics, was transported to Auchwitz and gassed a few days later - probably August 9th.  Until the very end, Sister Teresa Benedicta suffered and prayed for her brothers and sisters, both Jewish and Catholic, and Prof. Jan Nota, a dear friend, said of her: "She [was] a witness to God's presence in a world where God [was] absent." 

St. Teresa Benedicta was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1998 and is co-patron of Europe, along with Benedict of Nursia, Sts Cyril and Methodius, St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Catherine of Sienna.   

"Things were in God's plan which I had not planned at all.  I am coming to the living faith and conviction that - from God's point of view - there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God's Divine Providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God's all-seeing eyes."  ~ St. Edith Stein

**Information taken from Daily Gospel Website and Catholic Online

What I Wore (Last) Sunday

August 3, 2014

I got up last Sunday full of expectations of how the day was going to go.  And it didn't go that way.  I did, however, take the pictures, hoping to link up with Fine Linen and Purple once again, but they just didn't go anywhere after that.  So what follows is what I wore last Sunday.  Hope you don't mind….

Dress - Walmart
Shirt - Thrifted Gap
Shoes - Thrifted Clarks
Earrings - I'm forgetting which ones I wore

I've showed you this necklace (and jean shirt combo) before - I bought the necklace full price at Le Chateau, a place I rarely shop.  And the lady at the cashier, as I was paying said, "Oh my, these necklaces aren't very pretty, are they?"  Uhh…right.  That's why I'm buying one.  Because I want to look not-pretty.  

I disagree.  I love the colour of this puppy.  And the style.  It's sort of got a vintage-ish feel to it. 


On an unrelated note, Tess and I will be taking a bit of time off of blogging in August.  We will perhaps post something here or there, but there comes a time in a gal's life where she just needs some rest, and that time has come for us.  So get yourself some good ol' R&R - go camping, or glamping, or hoteling, or have a stay-cation, and we'll catch you on the flip-flop. 

Wedding Wednesday

July 29, 2014

Ok.  It's a cheesy title, I know.  But I just can't help it.

I used to think it was a stereotype that women were obsessed with weddings, but it's not.  Not only is How I Met My Husband one of our popular posts, but the other day someone had posted a picture of their wedding dress on their Facebook feed and that started an absolute deluge of others posting pictures of their wedding day/dress as well.

And I lapped. Them. Up.

Hi I'm Sarah and I eagerly checked out wedding pictures for at least 100 people I don't know.

I, however, did not post my own.  I thought, as something fun and lighthearted, I would post pictures of my wedding here, and invite you to do the same - either on your own blog (and leave your URL in our comments) or post the pic in the comments section (if you can do that?).  I'm already looking forward to seeing them.  Hey maybe you could include a funny story from your wedding?!  I like funny wedding stories almost as much as I like wedding pictures.

My funny story?  Two of my brothers were the MC's for the reception.  When it came time to introduce us to the crowd for the first time as husband and wife, my brothers introduced us by my maiden name, not by my husband's last name.  It was hysterical - the crowd burst out laughing - and the hubs is still irked to this day about it.  The funniest thing…my brothers hadn't meant to do that.  It was a total slip up, or so they tell me.  He he he…

It rained on our wedding day so our many of our pictures were indoors.
With parents and grandmas.
The rings (and flowers).

At the old covered bridge near the reception site.
The moment we were introduced…Jason's all like, "Ha ha.  Not funny."

It stopped raining just long enough to take this one.  The Church in the background is where my husband's grandmother had been baptized way back when.

Me in my wedding dress, 10 years later.
Although it's a *bit* tight, it still fits - YAY - and I still feel like a princess in it.

5 Ideas that Change my Life: The Feminine Gift Style

July 23, 2014

Jennifer at Conversion Diary and Jenna at Mama-luia wrote posts on this - five major ideas that have changed their lives.  Today I'm throwing my hat in the ring.  Here's my five, Feminine Gift style:

~ 1 ~

True Femininity isn't all barbie dolls and wedding dresses.  

One of the most important things I've learned since starting TFG has been that true femininity has little in common with what I think femininity actually is.  True femininity is much more elusive and enigmatic than, "It's when I wear makeup, jewelry and skirts all the time."  While I can't really define what true femininity actually is, I can tell you that it's tough - like Mother Theresa picking dying beggars up off the street tough.  Yet it is also soft, like hosting a tea party soft.  It's being loving and challenging, compassionate and unflinchingly honest and fair, and a truly feminine woman is weather-beaten yet un-jaded, all at the same time.  It means we women sometimes pick up the sword and at other times we pick up the broom.  And for me, this was revolutionary.  I could finally be who I was meant to be, no longer worried about whether being who I am was feminine - or feminine enough.  I can do what needs to be done in the moment, whether it's shovel the driveway, cook a gourmet meal or dig a ditch, with as much grace and poise as I can muster, and still be the lady that I am.  Can I get an Amen?  

~ 2 ~

True Modesty begins on the Inside.

In working with young adults it was surprising for me to learn that immodesty is primarily a heart-sickness, more than anything else.  Sure there are those folks who have merely been badly formed in one or two areas of their lives, but they've been the exception.  Anyone, man or woman, can act immodestly while their bodies are fully covered, and even nakedness can be modest. (Hiram Powers' statue of a Greek Slave is an amazing example)  Modesty is much harder, and much more work, than just putting on a longer skirt or a less revealing top.  Modesty requires us to master a whole list of other virtues and goods; like chastity, purity, patience, sensitivity, charity, moderation, decency, silence and discernment amongst many others.  It also requires us to guard against unhealthy curiosity and voyeuristic explorations of the human body.  Learning this has made me more discerning when faced with immodesty - in myself or in others - and has alerted me to my own immodest tendencies.

~ 3 ~

Meal Planning Works.

I don't know what I did before I planned my meals, but I know that I wasted a ton of money.  And time.  And food.  And energy.  And I had a whole lot of cereal for dinner.  Yes meal planning requires more work up front, but it cuts down tremendously on what I call the 4:30 panic.  My plans are rarely perfect - there's always a wrench thrown in here or there - but at the very least I'm not throwing out major amounts of food anymore and a good bit of my sanity has been preserved for other use.

~ 4 ~

Words Have Meaning.

Those who know me might describe me (depending on how you know me) as a bit laid back, and I suppose I am to a certain degree.  I tend to be uncaring about very specific matters sometimes, not worrying about finer details because doing so causes my brain to hurt.  Yet when I picked up a pen and paper to start "for reals" writing, that laid-back part of me went out the window.  Words, in general, began to mean something much different to me, as I couldn't say that I had, before that time, ever spent hours combing through a thesaurus for just the right word.  But that's become a regular occurrence, word-hunting, which is my reality these days, and it's not a bad thing.  Words have power.  They can build others up, or tear them down.  I've seen words eviscerate and humiliate.  And I've seen them make a woman glow with pride and admiration.  And we women are especially charged to use them well, as we tend to be a touch more talkative than our male counterparts.   The words we use matter - especially those we use to talk to ourselves.  The words we use in our self-talk are important because they are shaping our thoughts, which are shaping our actions/reactions, which are shaping our personalities, which is shaping our lives in one way or another.  When I realized this, I started talking a bit more sweetly to myself and to others.

~ 5 ~

Drink Your Water.

My spiritual director tells a (fictional?) tale about a woman on a life raft with her small child.  All water aboard the raft is strictly rationed and the woman is caught giving her small portion to her child.  The point of his story is that she will die, very quickly, if she doesn't drink her water (ie. take care of herself first) and after that happens it's very likely her child will die as well.

And so it goes for ourselves.  If we do not take care of ourselves and give our bodies, minds and souls what they need to not just function, but function well, it's simple.  We will physically, mentally and/or spiritually die.  Drinking your water means knowing what it is that gives you life, and what it is that sucks life from you and then saying yes to that which is life-giving and no to that which is life-sucking, whenever it's possible (and important) to do so.  We must do this, especially if we're caregivers (and all women are caregivers in one sense or another) or we will end up angry, resentful, tired and burnt out.   So drink your water.  Do it, or die.

The Question of Women and Work

July 22, 2014

The purpose of work

Why do we work?  Why is it important?

“Our work – whatever it is - should become a means to pursue holiness for ourselves and our families, and to model holiness to those around us.” Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

The Catechism teaches that from work we draw the means of providing for ourselves and our families (CCC 2428). At its most basic, a job brings income, and income allows for housing and nourishment and fun. Beyond that, work is occupation – it is ‘not-idleness’; it is labour and service. It is a means of fulfillment of the potential written within us by means of the gifts we have been given.

There is another, transformative, purpose of work. Edith Stein (Woman, 257) writes about how the very gifts of femininity (maternity, being concerned with the personal and relationships) can become unhealthy. We see this in over-doting mothers, in gossips and nosey-parkers. She writes that work – whether housework, a trade, science, or anything else – requires we submit the whole of our person – thoughts, mood, disposition – to it, and thereby we temper what she calls ‘hyper-individuality’ which very loosely is an over-emphasis on ourselves. Dying to self is another way to say it: work demands of us that we submit ourselves to something or someone beyond our own wants and comforts.

‘Work’ has become a sensitive subject in recent decades, a hot-button topic for those who believe a woman’s work is in the home, and those who argue a woman can do everything a man can do. Who is right?

A brief history

The concept of work, or at least our approach to work, changed with the onset of the industrial revolution. In the Middle Ages for example, much of the important work of the time took place in the home, performed or overseen by women. Women were the bakers, the weavers, brewers, distillers, preservers, and so on. Men either worked alongside the women, or they were away from home for war or business. Work was a family concern, integrating ‘home’ and ‘labour’. The arrival of factories removed industry from the home, meaning someone had to leave home to work. The result was that trade, or business, became more definitely separated from family life. Gradually, industry became the domain of men, and having a wife who didn’t need to work was a marker of success. (Dorothy Sayers. Are women human? 31-33)

We then went through a period of time when women were, as a group, thought to be suited only to home life (The Victorian period especially.) As always happens, the pendulum of opinion shifted from that position to that of erasing the lines between men and women completely, and from the work that men and women do.

I see fervent advocates for both views in the world today, and tend to believe, as Dorothy Sayers wrote, that a job should be done by the person best suited to it, which neutralizes the issue altogether. I particularly like this: “It is ridiculous to take on a man’s job just in order to be able to say that ‘a woman has done it – yah!’ The only decent reason for tackling any job is that it is your job, and you want to do it.” (Sayers. Are women human? 30)

The work itself

Certainly there are occupations that are traditionally feminine in that they address the personal rather than the abstract (teaching and nursing are two examples.) We tend to be comfortable with the idea of a woman in these fields rather than a more typically masculine line of work because these are maternal, nurturing jobs.

Is it the maternal aspect of a given job that makes it suitable work for a woman? Often yes, but not always. As Gertrud von le Fort tells us, “the professions of women are not meant to be the substitute for motherhood, but rather the application of the never failing motherliness that is in every genuine woman.” (The Eternal Woman. 80) She goes on to say that it is only when a woman betrays her maternal character that she goes wrong (her words are “have a fatal influence”). (Eternal Woman. 81)

Dorothy Sayers writes about the little girl who likes chemistry – but it doesn’t mean that every little girl should become a chemist; or the fact that most girls enjoy dolls – but that doesn’t mean that every girl will like to play with dolls. In other words, there must be room for individuality. There are certain things that are true about us because we are women… and there are other things that are true about us because we are a unique creature of God with an individual calling and the gifts to live it out. These two facts about us mean that with maturity and self-knowledge, we can be drawn to a profession with masculine traits, and transform it with our feminine gifts. (Edith Stein. Woman. 254,255)

What women contribute to the world of work

Women tend to want certain qualities in their work: they prefer it to be purposeful, humanizing, and personal, and, As Alice von Hildebrand writes, “our minds work best when animated by our hearts.” (Privilege of Being a Woman. 62)

If these qualities are lacking, she will likely find the work draining and even demeaning. Because these qualities are in keeping with her feminine heart, if the work itself doesn’t demand it of her, hopefully she can find scope to “humanize man” (Alice von Hildebrand. The Privilege of Being a Woman. 46) She can be a reminder of the need for balance: home and family as well as work. She brings her beauty, delicacy, charm, ability to relate to the personal, her creativity to the workplace. She is a reminder that not all strength is physical. Most importantly, she provides a feminine voice and a maternal heart to the public sphere.

“Woman’s intrinsic value can work in every place … completely independent of the profession which she practices … Everywhere she meets with a human being, she will find opportunity to sustain, to counsel, to help. … The motherliness must be that which does not remain within the narrow circle of blood relations or of personal friends; but in accordance with the model of the Mother of Mercy, it must have its root in universal divine love for all who are there, belabored and burdened.” (Edith Stein, Woman. 264)

The importance of discernment

Whether to work or not is just one question that needs careful and thoughtful consideration. Hopefully prayer and discernment is involved in the decision – for women with children or not, for married women or not. What field of work and the specific job also should be discerned: does it take away from higher priorities (especially family); is it morally and ethically sound; does it respect your dignity and that of others; will it enhance or diminish you as a person.

One thing to keep in mind is that ‘having it all’ is a lie. Saying yes to one choice means saying no to something else. It also isn’t possible to be always happy and fulfilled in every moment. Ask any working mother and she will tell you about the guilt she feels for leaving her children (and ask the woman providing care for those children and she will tell you of her gratitude for having a good job!) Ask a ‘stay-at-home’ mom and she will tell you about the days she longs to get out of the house. None of these scenarios is absolutely perfect or easy; we all make sacrifices.

Best advice?  Heed the wisdom of our Blessed Mother at the wedding at Cana: Do whatever He tells you to do.

“Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of "mystery", to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.”  (Letter of Pope John Paul II to women)
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