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Alyssa Azul Faith Formation Ink Slingers Relatable Vocations

A Heroine’s Journey

When I grow up, I want to be a mermaid.

That was my dream at five, immortalized in the pages of the kindergarten class scrapbook.

My parents would tell you that I had an unhealthy obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid, based on countless rewinds of the VHS tape, and hearing “Part of Your World” on a never-ending loop throughout the day.

If I could ask the child version of myself why Ariel was my hero, she would probably say, with the tiniest smirk on her face, “because she’s pretty.” Twenty-four year old me winces.  Ariel was a naïve teenager who rebelled against her father and put herself and her friends in danger. All for what? A boy? 

Yet, we can’t deny that the story was appealing. Disney princesses tend to dream of worlds away from their current realities. Ariel’s fascination with land had begun when she started collecting human paraphernalia from shipwrecks. She had developed a deep yearning to visit the surface. Seeing a human male in the flesh, Prince Eric, sealed the deal. But alas, as the daughter of King Triton, her options for escape from her reality as mermaid were limited. Ariel knew she had to find a way to be presentably human, even if it meant quite literally, making a deal with the devil (sea witch Ursula). 

We like heroines who bend and break the rules. We are captivated by women who defy the narrative and do not always do as they are told – sometimes going as far as sacrificing a part of their being. Heroes must make ultimate sacrifices in order to achieve the highest goal. If men embark on a journey to discover what it is that makes him human and masculine, then what can a heroine’s journey lead to? What makes us feminine? 

In her book Go Bravely, Catholic speaker and author Emily Wilson Hussem says, “I have found that bravery is the main component required for living as a young woman of faith in our world today. If you want to live virtue and proclaim a wholehearted faith in your words and actions, you have to be bold. You have to be brave.”

Authentic femininity requires fearlessness. So even heroines in secular stories might teach us something about being a woman in pursuit of her destiny in the face of setbacks.

Take Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries for example. Mia Thermopolis is another free-spirited teenager – but this one hailing from New York City.  It is discovered that by birthright, she is next in line for a life of service to a country that she has never been to. She struggles to adjust and prepare, with seething resistance to fitting into the role of a princess. An arranged marriage would surely be in her future. The idea of being put into a ‘box’ that has been created by generations of people before you has to be incredibly daunting, especially for a 15 year old. A decided future or fate incompatible with one’s present values might be a common fear or burden for women and men alike.

Like Mia, Ariel is a royal daughter. She is reprimanded and expected to behave with a level of propriety, which is a lot to ask from a rebellious teenager (er, mermaid) in love. So she sneaks away, chasing adventure, even if danger lurks around the corner. Ariel’s dream, after all, was to live life on land as a human. To do that, she had to sacrifice her most treasured talent, her voice, in exchange for legs, ie. her freedom. All this for the chance to woo Prince Eric. Careless perhaps, but laudable for what it was worth. We are allowed to desire true love, you know.

Pursuing our destinies will almost always be met with resistance or hardship. We will have doubts about whether it is even the ‘right’ calling. We can’t know what that is for certain, but it is better that we have the courage to seek for ourselves rather than to remain trapped by our circumstances. Emily Wilson is correct – bravery is necessary to leading a purposeful life.

Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet is a heroine we see contend with social conventions of women in the Georgian period in Pride and Prejudice. Her defiance against expectations of love, marriage, and success is impressive, which is typical of Austenian protagonists. Elizabeth was not one to hold back her thoughts, and was often prepared to respond to naysayers – some might even say she made sport of it. Her stubbornness suited her when it came to holding herself with dignity in the face of family pressures and condescension. She was repulsed by the idea of marriage as one of convenience, duty, and political or financial gain. In her world, a marriage for love would be considered a ‘privileged’ dream. Still, she wasn’t going to settle for anything less. Characteristic of many heroines, Elizabeth was willing to sacrifice all social approval and marriage prospects to uphold her own values and protect the people she loved. Was she emotional throughout her journey? Absolutely. She expressed pride, sadness and anger in standing up for herself and her family, and wasn’t afraid of the repercussions of her confrontations. Elizabeth often disarmed those she came across – her mystery being a source of interest for a gentlemen of equal stubbornness and intelligence.

With these heroines we notice a trend; they pursue their dreams, and as a consequence, unlock their freedom. There is often self-discovery and inner healing of sorts that occurs on the journey. Women need the space to be individuals to discover their talents and what bring to the world. As a child, dreaming came like second nature. It seems that as we got older, we either lost that ability, or we simply gave up. We postpone these dreams, which are beautiful and creative expressions of our deepest desires. We can inhibit our own growth by not taking care of these things written on our hearts. In the larger picture, our calling is God’s great dream for us.

Now picture this reality: every young girl will grow up to be her own heroine, starting with a dream. She will discover who she is and what that means for the world. Her journey will involve cultivating strength, intuition, emotional receptivity, intelligence and creativity – all characteristics natural to women which St. John Paul II calls the “feminine genius”. How they’re expressed and lived out looks different on each of us, and that in itself is a gift to others. When women embrace these characteristics, they reveal the Divine, and the mystery of God. Formation of self is key, and who we become along the way is just as important, if not more than reaching our goals. We shouldn’t forget to honour our emotions, which are often seen as a weakness. It’s these emotions and instincts that allow us to make unparalleled sacrifices for others. 

The journey begins with a dream, followed by the bravery to live authentically, ultimately nurturing ourselves towards a unique calling.

In the words of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

A Heroine's Journey
Categories
Alyssa Azul Relatable

Modesty: A Stripped Perspective

Growing up modesty was taught to me in relation to what I wore. It was a sin to show too much skin, wear clothing that accentuated curves, or wear too much makeup. I’ve seen girls reprimanded publicly for their clothing, and I also heard that it is a girl’s fault if a guy lusts after her. It’s only a matter of time before she associates modesty with shame, thinking society resents something about the female body. There’s a real problem with this approach.

The truth is, modesty is not simply a way of dress, but a virtue. In my experience raised in the church and serving in ministry for almost 10 years, an open discussion on this topic never happened. Unaddressed, it remained a thorn in my side. My own lack of understanding regarding modesty caused me to be resentful towards men and insecure about my body. 

I’m only scratching the surface, but I’ve taken what I’ve learned from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body coupled with my lived experience to deepen my understanding of the wounds which a lack of modesty may flow from. 

Why might modesty be a struggle for her?

She feels ashamed.

She feels embarrassed about the parts of her body that she is told to “cover up”. If showing too much skin is a sin, then her breasts, hips, and all parts of her body that make her feminine are wrong. She feels guilty for wanting to look nice. 

Response:

Understand that the aspirations for beauty and adoration is not a sin, or something to be ashamed of. Pope John Paul II said “by modesty the human being manifests almost ‘instinctively’ the need for this ‘I’ to be affirmed and accepted according to its true value.”(General Audience, 1979). The need to be affirmed comes from our deepest desires as women to be seen. When Eve was created, she was first seen by God, then by Adam. Adam, on the other hand, was made to seek. Our desire to be seen is manifested when we choose to present ourselves in ways that attract love. The parts of our bodies that we might feel shame about have a divine function – to create and nurture life. Modesty aims to protect that, so that it is only seen according to its true value. 

She feels repressed.

Believing that it is liberating, she tries to dress in ways that the media or others show as empowering. She feels as though dressing the way that she wants is how she can “take control back” of her body. She may think modesty is not for her.

Response:

Due to our fallen natures as men and women, our good desires have been twisted, which results in the toxicity we see in the world today (ie. the sexual revolution, hook-up culture, etc.) Man’s nature to seek has been distorted to see people as a sum of parts, to objectify for his use. Woman’s desire to be seen is distorted to accept attention from anyone and anywhere, at the expense of her dignity. The world has successfully convinced people that bodies are expendable, which results in the connection between the body and soul being metaphorically “severed”. We all seek to love and be loved, but the truth of authentic love of the person is lost in the noise of a culture that screams self-gratification, loneliness, and pride. Dr. Edward Sri says that “modesty is about inspiring a reaction to the value of the person not just to the sexual values.” Contrary to what many people think, modesty is not repressive, but rather freeing once you understand what you are being freed from.

She is confused.

She doesn’t understand why it’s her responsibility to dress a certain way to keep men from objectifying her.

Response:

As mentioned before, men’s desires are distorted due to their fallen natures, so their journey towards purity looks different than ours. . . a topic of its own for another day! While it’s true that women have a role to play in averting a man’s gaze by dressing in modest attire, I am a firm believer that a woman needs to find the reason to do it for herself. Young girls need to know that they have the power to protect, preserve, and uphold their dignity as a person by making their own choices. Self-esteem is so important. When you have love for yourself, you begin to understand what about you is worth honoring, and what is equally worth honoring in others. A woman who understands that her body is a reflection of her God-given soul and fights to protect that, is frankly, more empowering than who you might find on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Modesty is driven by the commitment to see others and be seen as a whole person, rather than as a sum of parts. With that idea in mind, the conversation on clothing and physical presentation might make more sense.

So what now?

Believe me, no one is perfect. As I write this, I am mulling over whether or not the ripped jeans I’m wearing could even be considered pants. Keeping up with trends and beauty standards today is hard enough, so compassion goes a long way. Clothing decisions are not always black and white because bodies come in all shapes and sizes. This is where building a strong sisterhood is important. I hope we can move towards a place where girls growing up today understand modesty by being taught the beauty and sanctity of their bodies rather than by a slap on the wrist. We’re in this together and we have a responsibility to not only hold our brothers accountable, but our sisters as well. Affirm and uplift each other. Share your wounds. Educate and empower.

Related Resources:

Theology of the Body Explained-Revised Edition by Christopher West

Come, Holy Spirit, Give Us Modesty

 

Categories
Ink Slingers

God’s Fabulously Fashioned Feminine Form

 

photo credit: hernanpba

It was a clear, sunny afternoon. Immersed in some mundane daily chore, my routine was abruptly interrupted by the ring of my cell phone. It was my doctor. After the usual greetings, she seemed to pause before continuing. “Lynette, I want to commend you for following up on this.” Darn. Any doctor starting a conversation that way couldn’t possibly have good news. “You’ve caught this early and the good news is, it’s not cancer.” Ok…. “but the biopsies did not come back with clean edges and the report states stage 2 and 3 precancerous cells. You will need to have an excision of the area to remove any remaining abnormal cells.” Darn, again. With a family history of melanoma and other related skin cancers, I knew the excision was unavoidable. What paralyzed me in that moment was the realization of what she was implying. This wasn’t my dermatologist. She was my gynecologist and the skin cancer was in an area that had never seen the light of day. Back, arm, leg, even face…. but there?

I met with a highly respected gynecological oncologist a few weeks later and he only confirmed the inevitable. Family and personal history, combined with the biopsy results, screamed negligence if I ignored or chose not to have the excision done. But it wasn’t just a simple matter of choosing to do it or not. Once I accepted the necessity of the procedure, it then came down to my level of pain tolerance. Financially, excision in the office would save a significant amount of money. Torn with the guilt of spending more than perhaps I needed to, I asked for my doctor’s opinion. His words cut through the stillness in the room. Economically, the office was the best choice, “but if it was my wife, I might tell her something different.” Double darn – enough said. Surgery and related appointments were scheduled.

My husband, in an effort to become educated about the subject at hand, spent an evening looking up my “condition”. As he read, he reported interesting information, hoping the knowledge would make me feel better. A few articles into the research, what he was discovering, however, was nothing short of horrifying. What is performed medically in our country as a response to female genital pre/cancer is routinely carried out in other countries as a form of female mutilation. The statistics for FGM (female genital mutilation) are staggering. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Fact Sheet dated February of 2017, “More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.”[i] While some of the reasoning behind FGM is sociocultural factors, the conditions in which it is carried out (unmedicated with poor hygiene), along with the long-term psychological and physical effects, have prompted a world-wide effort to eradicate it.

Lest we fall into proudly boasting our country is above such atrocities, “the Centers for Disease Control estimate that there are around 513,000 girls and women in the United States who have either undergone FGM or who (are) at risk of doing so—mostly in immigrant communities from regions of the world where it is still practiced.”[ii] Although FGM was prohibited in the U.S. with the passing of the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995[iii], our country has not escaped unscathed.[iv] On April 24th of this year, CNN reported, “In the first federal case involving female genital mutilation filed in the United States, two Michigan doctors and the wife of one of the doctors have been charged with performing the banned procedure on two 7-year-old girls.”[v] Just two months later on July 14th, CNN published perhaps the most alarming report I have read yet, “The alarming rise of female genital mutilation in America.”[vi] I will warn you. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Years ago, I would have received my husband’s informational reporting with a half-hearted “that’s horrible” response and I would have moved on to my own self interests. But this time, I was almost instantly seized with a deep sadness and pain. Why the difference? My faith.

photo credit: Pascal Rey Photographies

Having recently studied the writings of Pope St. John Paul II on human sexuality contained in his teachings on the Theology of the Body, I couldn’t escape the reality of the attack at the very core of the dignity and the femininity of these young girls and women. We are sexual beings. This fact is undeniable and unavoidable. We are conceived into being within the context of a sexual act. We are formed within our mother’s wombs with DNA that marks us indelibly as either male or female. Not just biological beings, we are made in the image and likeness of God, which means our bodies are “even more so, theological. Our bodies offer us, if we have the eyes to see it, a profound ‘study of God.’ Just as a work of art points to the heart of the artist, so too does the human body point to the heart of the God who made us.”[vii] Every cell, every inch of our body was intricately designed for a definite purpose. To rob a woman of her femininity as God physically designed is to alter what was divinely inspired. And then, as a result of the intervention of man’s disordered misconception of God’s plans, all havoc breaks loose. The pain is felt not just by the woman herself, but it trickles down to every aspect her life touches – her future relationships, her ability to mother, her role within society, her impact on her peers, etc.

We have all heard the cry to protest the “Culture of Death.”[viii] We think of such issues as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc. With FGM, I propose we are facing a culture of death to the dignity of femininity, a death of the sacredness of God’s design, a death of the beauty God created in the creature He called “woman.” There is hope – a surgeon, speechless by what she saw, hoping to establish a clinic for reversal surgery[ix]; organizations like Kakenya’s Dream[x] that educate and keep young girls safe from FGM and child marriage; and a documentary, Jaha’s Promise[xi], that chronicles the story of Jaha Dukureh, an activist named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

It would have been much easier for me to have brushed aside the inner voice prodding me to write about this. I could have come home from my surgery (which ended up being more extensive than originally planned), pampered myself with pain meds all the while confident in the knowledge that I had an excellent surgeon and medical team who treated me with dignity and respect, and let the topic slide by. But I know God doesn’t work that way. He won’t let me forget those women whose faces I see when I close my eyes to offer my discomfort for them. He won’t let me be silent about the pain they surely endure that I have only experienced a mere fraction of. It is for them I share my story. It is for them I share their story.

________________________________
Sources:

[i] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

[ii] http://time.com/4707899/victims-of-fgm-see-new-hope-in-life-changing-surgery/

[iii] http://www.fgmnetwork.org/legisl/US/federal.html

[iv] https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-04-21/female-genital-mutilation-illegal-us-so-why-it-still-happening

[v] http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/22/health/detroit-genital-mutilation-charges/index.html

[vi] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/11/health/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-explainer-trnd/index.html

[vii] Christopher West, Foreword, Theology of Her Body, p 2.

[viii] http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Evangelization/Evangelization_008.htm

[ix] http://time.com/4707899/victims-of-fgm-see-new-hope-in-life-changing-surgery/

[x] https://www.kakenyasdream.org/about/

[xi] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/17/jahas-promise-fgm-film-premieres-at-copenhagen-film-festival; https://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2017/mar/17/jaha-dukureh-promise-fgm-video

 

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kathleen Spiritual Growth

Why I Veil: A Millennial Perspective

This Lent, I started covering my head during Mass. I know, I know- off the Traddie rails, am I right? But hear me out.

I wanted Lent to be different. I wanted to be able to say that I had prepared in a way that I hadn’t the rest of the year. I really felt strongly that I should start to do this.

And guys? It was amazing.

The Sacrifice of the Mass

The biggest thing that veiling has done for me has helped me stay focused on the sacrifice of the Mass.

As a mother of two young kids, here’s what my preparation for Mass looks like. I get up (probably late) and run around like a crazy person making sure we’re all dressed and have the diaper bag and everyone is wearing shoes and coats and underwear. My son is mad that he can’t wear his football shirt. My daughter is mad because she doesn’t like to go anywhere or do anything if she has to, but would prefer to float through life without any obligations. (Me too, kid. Get in the car.) My husband stands in the wrong place or something and annoys me because he’s not in my head and I’m mad at him for not doing what I’m thinking of asking him to do because I didn’t leave enough time to get ready. Once we get to church it’s an hour of picking up thrown books, handing out this week’s Magnifikid to my daughter if I was smart enough to bring it, handing out last week’s Magnifikid to my son to color on and having him flatly reject it (sorry, you can’t read, so you don’t get your own subscription), and convincing both children that Daddy will, in fact, come back after being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. He didn’t go away to war.

And if it’s a weekday Mass? All that an hour earlier and by myself. Do you know how much ambient noise there is at a weekday Mass? None. Do you know how much noise my tired cranky children produce? Not none.

Wearing a veil has become a physical reminder to myself that I am in the presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament. I am participating in literally the most important thing I will ever do. Not that the obligations of my family go away, but I am able to switch my mind back much faster and focus much more after distractions.

It’s Not About Me

Wearing a veil at Mass has changed the way I feel about myself as a woman in unexpected ways.One of the concepts that I love is that we veil what is sacred. The tabernacle and altar are veiled. Women are sacred- we have a duty unlike any other. We have the privilege of veiling before the Lord that men do not.

When wearing a veil at Mass, I am not Kathleen anymore. I’m not the girl that’s worried about her forehead wrinkle and that weird hair that sticks up at my hairline. I am a daughter of God, and I am able to be much more humble before Him. It is not about me.

As someone who can tend towards the sin of vanity, I had hoped that this would happen and it has truly allowed my relationship with my God to deepen.

Sacred Femininity

One thing I never expected was the way veiling would make me feel about my femininity and even my fertility.

Since I had my son four years ago, my attitude towards my fertility was that it was basically a long slog towards menopause. I had (have) grave medical and psychological reasons to avoid or postpone subsequent pregnancies. Super fun when you practice NFP and you’re not even thirty yet.

But veiling has made me focus on my femininity. That focus has made me realize that while I don’t know if I can handle a pregnancy now (or in the near future), my fertility is a sacred gift from God and not something to be merely managed. The power and privilege to have the ability to carry a child (with regards to how God designs us, not restricted to married or fertile women) is unbelievable, and I am so unbelievably lucky that I get to experience that.

Veiling is not for every woman. It is not required for Novus Ordo Masses (although I wear mine at NO Mass), and if it makes you uncomfortable this is clearly not the sacramental for you. But if you are intrigued by the idea, I suggest giving it a try. I promise, you will never think about yourself before the Blessed Sacrament in the same way again.

 

Categories
Books Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Motherhood Reviews Vocations

Marry Him and Be Submissive: A Book Review

a-book-reviewfromcatholic-sistasI wasn’t quite sure what to think of this book when I was asked to review it. But as I read the description and learned that it had caused some protests in Europe when it first came out in 2012, I knew I had to read it to learn more. You can understand, with a title that tells women to be submissive, that there would be a high degree of backlash in this day and age. And truth be told, those who advocate for women to be more like men in every way would object to many of the ideas presented in this book.

Newsflash! These would be the same people who don’t like the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage, femininity, birth control, sex, and a whole host of other issues. Author Costanza Miriano does nothing more than share the beauties of the Catholic faith and uphold the feminine genius that is innate in all women. The wonderful way in which she does this (and with a lot of humor mixed in) is what makes this book a worthwhile read.

I want to tell you more about why this is a book worth reading, but first I think it is important to talk a bit about the structure. Each chapter is divided into three sections: a letter to a friend, a discussion of the topic from the letter with a bit of Church teaching thrown in, and a short update on the situation from the letter.

I enjoyed the variety of topics that were discussed and will admit that the sections of each chapter I connected with the most was the second section in which a topic is discussed more fully. This section is where the author’s opinions on a topic are more fully fleshed out and where you’ll find references to Catholic Church teaching and quotes from Scripture, Catholic writers (like Chesterton), and saints. These sections of each chapter really felt to me like the real meat of the book and is where I found the most worthwhile reading to be.

The letters were enjoyable, the author is a good story-teller, and she does an excellent job pulling in many examples from her own life. Those real world examples also helped me connect with Costanza as a real person. She doesn’t try to paint her busy life as a working mom to four kids as perfect in any way; she lays it all out there and lets her readers see all the nitty-gritty of everyday life. What is brilliant about starting each chapter with a letter is the ability to take a very personal, casual tone to make the reader feel comfortable.

One thing that might feel a bit distracting for some is that the author takes a fair number of tangents throughout her writing. I will confess that I often do the same thing when telling a story (just ask my husband), so I didn’t find it hugely distracting (maybe it’s a woman thing?). And she always comes back to her main points, so there are never any loose ends. One recommendation I have is to make sure you can read each letter in one sitting; it could get difficult if you put the book down in the middle of one of the letters and come back a day or so later. The writing style may not be for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

For Catholics there is nothing objectionable in this book. She discusses marriage, its importance in the faith, and the importance of couples coming together to start a family. She discusses children, from having babies to raising kids, from the overwhelming job of newborns to the struggles of teenagers. She highlights why we educate our children, emphasizes that the parents are the primary educators, and bemoans the secular society we have to prepare our children for. She discusses Natural Family Planning, attacks birth control, and upholds life as paramount to our faith. I was particularly touched by the chapters on fatherhood and why it’s so incredibly important for our children to have good, strong, faith-filled fathers, as well as the chapters (of which there were many) calling women to embrace their femininity, not to shy away from it or push it aside.

So my final judgement is that it’s worth reading. I can’t say that I necessarily learned anything new, but I found it affirming and enjoyed the different approach to what can often be very contentious topics. If you are looking for something to affirm your femininity, this book will do that. If you are curious how real women deal with the everyday struggles of being a faithful Catholic while balancing family, work, and whatever else we have on our plates, Costanza shares her own struggles to make it work. If you are not Catholic and are curious about how Catholic women can live the way the Church teaches, this is a great book for showing that it can be done and that Catholic women love the Church and want to be faithful to Her.

If you are interested in buying the book, it is currently available at Tan Books for $24.95. It should also be noted that it is a translation. Originally published in Italian in 2012, Tan is now making it available in English. Colloquialisms sometimes get lost in translations, so keep that in mind while reading it.

If you do pick up this book and give it a read, I hope you will enjoy it. I did.