“The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine genius which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms that the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope, and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness (n. 31).”—
Blessed Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem
Exciting news! The wonderful series of lessons on holy women of the church, which Pope Benedict gave last year at his weekly audiences, have arrived in book form, entitled simply, Holy Women!
The popularity that surrounded Hildegard impelled many people to seek her advice. It is for this reason that we have so many of her letters at our disposal. Many male and female monastic communities turned to her, as well as Bishops and Abbots. And many of her answers still apply for us. For instance, Hildegard wrote these words to a community of women religious: “The spiritual life must be tended with great dedication. At first the effort is burdensome because it demands the renunciation of caprices of the pleasures of the flesh and of other such things. But if she lets herself be enthralled by holiness a holy soul will find even contempt for the world sweet and lovable. All that is needed is to take care that the soul does not shrivel”.
This book is a terrific companion to our holy father’s lessons on Great Teachers, which I enthused over here.
Beautiful, beautiful books! I know e-books are outselling hard copies, but I will never be able to give up books. Really, how can one read a book like this one without holding it in the hand, glorying in its artwork, peering into its marginalia and — yes — taking a big sniff of it?
Cleaning out my office this weekend, I noticed that my bookshelf has a lot of Benedict in it, and other great teachers, too, like G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’ Connor, St. Augustine, St. Philip Neri, Mother Angelica — our faith is so very rich in teachers, both past and present! I was sad to read a comment in this post from someone wondering, “. . .where are we going to get that good preaching now that Corapi’s done?”
You can’t make a better start than with our good Pope Benedict XVI, who writes and preaches incessantly, and also with the classic teachers from down the ages; and you can get a lot of their material in free downloads, to build a fine Catholic library on the cheap.
And let’s not forget — as another commenter answered in that thread: “Frs. William Casey, Wade Menezes, Frank Pavone, John Riccardo, Robert Barron…” yeah, I’d add Fr. Dwight and all those lay preachers who hang with Scott Hahn.
There are plenty of great Catholic teachers around — some of them don’t even draw much attention to themselves, they just stay on message. Some of them work in your parish. Some great Catholic teachers live with you, or around you. Some of them are female, and teaching with the witness of their lives.
A nun friend of mine wrote to me recently: “People do not realize how much they have been formed by the media and the expectation that “True” Catholicism is to be “successful” and look good! I’m very, very leery of charismatic priests or teachers…”
I think there is some truth in that. Media — especially television — has gotten us very used to thinking that something is only valuable or worthwhile if it looks good, has high production values and delivers its message in a snazzy, entertaining way. But I always think back to Rumer Godden’s wonderful and instructive novel, In This House of Brede, in which a novice mistress tells her newbies:
“We don’t put much faith in ecstasies, here . . . the nun you see rapt away in church isn’t likely to be the holiest. The holiest one is probably the one you would never notice, because she is simply doing her duty.”
In my parish, we are very fortunate to have priests who bring the gospel every week, in their preaching — which may not always be “inspired” but is always true — in their reverent celebration of the mass, and in all of their encounters with the faithful. They’re by no means glamorous; they rarely make you want to spontaneously applaud their homilies (although that did happen, once). They’re just faithful men living out their callings, doing their duty, in season in out, when they’re sick and when they’re well — conferring the sacraments, leading Benediction, meeting with the grieving, or the joyful to plan a liturgy, anointing the sick, giving spiritual guidance, walking the outside parameter of the church in endless loops while saying a rosary (“I’m walking to Jerusalem!” one of them once greeted me). Nothing special or fascinating about these fellows.
They’re just everyday heroes, doing their duty, kind of like another great teacher, St. John Vianney.
For those who like to think in terms of troops and soldiers, these unremarkable, faithful servants are the guys — they’re on the front lines, every day, doing their duty, standing a watch, taking a lot of abuse from haters and know-nothings, and from some in their own congregations who don’t understand why they can’t be better, smarter, more charismatic. They suffer for the sins of the church; they pay for their otherness with a measure of loneliness and misunderstanding. They hardly ever get invited to supper, anywhere, and their intentions almost never get prayed for, because most of us are too busy either criticizing them or bringing our troubles to them.
Yet they keep at it, every single day: a life lived in service to the sacraments, in service to the sheep.
And we don’t thank them, enough.
Luckily for us, they don’t take on that duty in order to be thanked. Or even noticed, by anyone but God.