Edith Stein and the Countercultural Single Ladies

Politicians are forever talking about women’s freedom but real freedom is more radical than our culture is comfortable with.

Based on remarks she delivered at Notre Dame last weekend, Elise Italiano helps unpack just what it is that the Gospel means in the lives of women, writing about what Edith Stein might advise her single sisters, in particular. In a piece for the Catholic News Agency, she writes, in part:

The Catholic woman is first and foremost called to model her life after the Blessed Virgin, who sets for us the refrain we must repeat: “Let it be done to me according to your Word.” To say these words with her and to mean it, to allow our will to be “captive” to God’s, means to abandon ourselves wholly to a God who knows the number of hairs on our head and what we need before we ask for it.

But this prayer must take on a radical character. Stein’s word choice is precise. The idea of being “captive” to anything or anyone is foreign in our world, where self-fulfillment, self-aggrandizement, and the freedom to do anything one desires is prized. We are told that any restrictions on a woman’s freedom imprison her and limit her potential. And yet to submit to God’s will, trusting in His Providence and His design, is actually the source of our freedom.

You are always free when bound to Christ, even if Caesar wants to put you in chains.

Elise (who is a friend from Catholic Voices USA) quotes Father Jacques Philippe and his book Interior Freedom. I wrote about him in my syndicated column earlier this year:

This is the stuff of not a feel-good but a rigorous spirituality, real discernment. This interior-freedom business is key to getting the rest of those freedoms right. They all rely on people who care about the habits of virtue to keep things going well. On New Year’s Eve, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor surprised many by issuing an injunction to relieve the Little Sisters of the Poor — a Catholic congregation of women religious who care for (as their name suggests) poor elderly men and women — from the coercive abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of Obamacare. But for Sotomayor’s injunction, the Little Sisters would have been hit with the mandate the next day, January 1. This Obama-administration mandate forces Americans who are morally opposed to some or all of these things to either ignore their conscience or face steep financial penalties that needn’t and shouldn’t exist.

But government isn’t the beginning and end of public life. We have charity in America. We have neighbor looking out for neighbor. We have hope when the government fails us and our world seems to fall apart.

Among Father Philippe’s most fundamental points is: Don’t go through life expecting from others what only God can give. Security. Happiness. Even love. By which he means what everyone who has been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting knows: It’s that faith and hope in something greater than ourselves that sustains. The Little Sisters do what they do because they have chosen to hand their lives over to Providence. It’s a Little Sister’s knowing she is loved by her Creator that gives her the desire and strength to serve. She is bringing the love she knows from God to others. She is able to love because she is loved. In our everyday relationships — and in our politics, too — we too often impose on others the fulfillment of needs only God can provide. And isn’t that the source of so much misunderstanding and conflict? Peace comes from examining this. And daily.

There’s a lot of talk of love these days — and as I write on Valentine’s Day. May we never forget that real love requires work and sacrifice. Like religion, it isn’t about making us feel good but better. It’s based in truth and is transformative.

As Pope Francis puts it in his Lenten message:

Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.

Love is living as Christ’s.