From the Time Capsule: The Making of a Chinese Nun, circa 1917.

Here is something I stumbled upon recently. It’s from the year 1917, when even in the United States women didn’t have the right to vote yet. I have been to many places in the world, and although as a culture we Americans like to think we have really come “a long way” and solved all the major problems, many of the women of the world still live in the way this young Chinese Catholic nun describes. Tell us a story Father Truarrizaga.

The Making Of A Chinese Nun by Rev. J. M. Truarrizaga, O.F.M.

The roads by which Chinese girls reach Christianity are often devious and full of danger. But not only do many of the rescued and converted children become fervent Catholics, but a few of them choose the religious life. Sad, indeed, is the early history of Shensi’s native nun, but a special Providence protected her and she is now safe among the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.–J.M.T. [Read more...]

For All the Saints: Edith Stein

 

Guest Post by William “Mac” McCarthy
My dormitory neighbor from 40+ years ago, who posted on 
the Martyrs of Compiègne in July, is back with some powerful material on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, born to a Jewish family and still widely known by her given name of Edith Stein. I’ll pass along the material just as Mac sent it to me—only lacking his careful footnoting. There’s a lot here for reflection and inspiration:

“We are travelling East,” Last Letters from a Martyr

St. Edith Stein, 1891-1942, feast day August 9, also called Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, brilliant German philosopher, Catholic convert, Carmelite nun . . .The Nazis killed her at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942, for being a Jew. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1998 and named Patroness of Europe along with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden in 1999.

The walls of our monasteries enclose a narrow space. To erect the structure of holiness in it, one must dig deep and build high, must descend into the depths of the dark night of one’s own nothingness in order to be raised up high into the sunlight of divine love and compassion.

Not every century produces a work of reform as powerful as that of our Holy Mother (Saint Teresa of Avila, 16th century). Nor does every age give us a reign of terror during which we have the opportunity to lay our heads on the executioner’s block for our faith and for the ideal of our Order as did the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne [martyred at the Paris guillotine, July 17, 1794]. But all who enter Carmel must give themselves wholly to the Lord. Only one who values her little place in the choir before the tabernacle more highly than all the splendor of the world can live here, can then truly find a joy that no worldly splendor has to offer.”—Edith Stein, Laetare Sunday, March 31, 1935

Seven years after she wrote those words, Edith Stein had to “leave her little place in the choir before the tabernacle” to ride away with two S.S. officers. A week later, she was put into a gas chamber at Auschwitz.

Edith Stein was the youngest of eleven children in a devout Jewish family. She was born on October 12, 1891, in Breslau, Germany (Prussia), now Wroclaw, Poland. Her father was a lumber merchant who died before her second birthday. Her mother, Auguste Stein, a strong woman, took over the business and it prospered. Throughout her life, Edith remained a devoted daughter, beloved sister and favorite aunt.

Highly intelligent, Stein earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy, summa cum laude, at the University of Freiburg in 1916 under Edmund Husserl. Husserl was the founder of phenomenology, an analytical approach to human consciousness. Husserl considered Stein his best doctoral student, and she was his personal assistant for a time. Her own original research and writing in the field was cited by well known scholars, such as Max Scheler. Largely because she was a woman, Stein was unable to obtain a position as a university professor. Nevertheless, she remained an active and influential philosopher all her life. Her later scholarly writing focused on knowledge and faith.

In 1921, during a summer stay at the home of some philosopher friends, Stein picked up and read the Autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582, Spanish mystic, founder of the Order of Carmelites Discalced, and Doctor of the Church). Stein was profoundly moved by St. Teresa’s message that the search for God is no mere intellectual exercise but rather a relationship of love and complete surrender. After studying Catholic teachings in the catechism and the missal, she was baptized on January 1, 1922.

From 1923 until 1931, Stein taught and lived at the secondary school and Catholic teachers’ college of the Dominican Sisters in Speyer, Germany. Then she taught at the Pedagogical Institute in Munster until 1933. In those years she translated works by John Henry Cardinal Newman and Saint Thomas Aquinas into German. It was said she could read and understand Latin just as quickly as she could German.

She also spoke to women’s groups all over Germany about the role of women in modern society. Stein was convinced that the challenges women faced in the professional world were best addressed by spiritual and intellectual reflection. Her message was grounded in the power of faith. She was an unpretentious, but captivating speaker.

Like the saint who had inspired her conversion, Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein had a natural, warmhearted amiability. The abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Beuron, who was her spiritual director in the years before she entered Carmel, described her as follows:

“I have seldom met a person in whom so many and so laudable characteristics were united. At the same time, she remained entirely a woman with tender and almost motherly sensitivities. Mystically gifted, she was unpretentious with simple people, scholarly with scholars, a seeker with seekers, l would almost say a sinner with sinners.”

In 1933, Stein lost her teaching position in Munster. Hitler and the National Socialist Party had forbidden Jews to teach. On October 14, 1933, she entered the Carmel in Cologne. She had long desired to enter the Carmelite Oder, but previously put off such a step, largely out of consideration for her elderly orthodox Jewish mother, who would be crushed by a separation from her daughter. Now, her options were Carmel or emigration. That year, she wrote, “There’s nothing to regret about the fact that I can’t continue to lecture. To me a great and merciful Providence seems to be standing behind it all.” Dr. Edith Stein became Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce—Teresa Blessed by the Cross.

After the Kristallnacht of November 9-10, 1938, there was no avoiding the danger from the Nazis. Edith Stein worried that she was endangering the lives of her fellow sisters in Cologne. She was granted permission to transfer to the Carmel in the village of Echt in the Netherlands and arrived there on December 31, 1938. Her older sister, Rosa, who had converted to Catholicism in 1936, joined her there in July of 1939. Rosa lived in a guest room. She served as the portress for the convent and then as an extern sister who had contact with the outside world.

“Rosa, come, we are going for our people.”—Edith Stein to her sister, at the front gate of Carmel Echt, shortly after 5:00 in the afternoon, Sunday, August 2, 1942

In the early 1940’s, Father Jan Nota was a young Dutch Jesuit scholar assigned by his superiors to help Edith Stein ready her book, Finite and Eternal Being, for publication. It had been previously set for publication in Germany in 1936, but anti-Jewish laws had prevented that. His last visit with her provides a happy glimpse of Edith Stein only twenty-four days before her death:

I saw Edith Stein for the last time on July 16, 1942. That is the day the Carmelite Order celebrates as its patronal feast, “Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” in commemoration of the first Carmelite friars who, back in the thirteenth century, established their life of prayer in the mountains near Haifa. When I arrived at the convent (Carmel Echt), Edith Stein asked me to deliver a homily at the Holy Hour. I felt a little nervous, having never preached in public since my ordination, but Edith Stein directed me to some beautiful Scripture texts found in the Carmelite Office and helped me to put the sermon together. In fact, she almost wrote it herself. Yet she did it all in a friendly, unassuming way, happy to have me take her suggestions. It occurred to me that Edith Stein’s intellectual talents had in no way impaired the feminine side of her personality. She was anxious that I take back enough food for the return journey. She loved to show me pictures of her family, and of Husserl and Scheler too.—Father Jan Nota, S J.

Ten days later, on Sunday July 26, the Dutch Catholic Bishops’ letter of protest against the persecution of the Jews was publicly read in all Catholic parishes. The public reading infuriated the Nazis, who took it as an act of defiance. They had previously forbidden public protest by Dutch churches. In retaliation, the Nazis went back on their promise that “Jewish Christians” would be left unmolested. They decided on death for all “Catholic Jews.” As an extra cruelty, they rounded up their roughly 300 “Catholic Jew” victims on August 2, the next Sunday following the letter’s public reading.

The Nazis came for Edith and Rosa Stein at five in the afternoon. The sisters were gathered in the chapel for meditation. It was Edith’s turn read at the beginning of the meditation, and she had to stop when the prioress sent for her. Two S.S. officers stood at the Carmel grille and told her she had five minutes to pack her things. After hasty farewells and requests for prayers, Stein went out and joined Rosa, who was waiting at the convent gate. The street had begun to fill with local residents who were incensed by the round up. Rosa was upset, and Edith took her by the hand saying, “Rosa, come, we are going for our people.” She meant the Jewish people. They walked hand in hand to the corner where a van waited. It all took just a few minutes.

What follow are Edith Stein’s last letters, written July 24 thru August 6. The first two, written before the S.S. came for her on August 2, discuss her efforts to emigrate with Rosa to Switzerland. The last letters were written from a Nazi detention center in the Netherlands.

Letter (in French) to the Prioress of Carmel Le Paquier, Switzerland

Echt, July 24, 1942
My dear Reverend Mother,

Today we received your good letter. I thank you with all my heart for being willing to accept me as a member of your dear family—yours and that of all my dear sisters. I am unable to tell you how touched I am by your goodness and even more that of the Good God. You will understand it even better after you have heard the history of our lives and that of our family. We will now see if it is possible to get permission to leave the Netherlands. But it will probably take much time—months I suppose. I shall have to be content with such a promise.

Our dear Reverend Mother and my sister Rosa will add a few lines. Again, a thousand thanks, my dear Reverend Mother, and the expression of my respectful love in Jesus Christ.

Your very little and humble, unworthy,
Sr.Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, OCD

Letter to Auguste Perignon, a former teaching colleague in Speyer, Germany

J.M.
Echt, July 29, 1942
Pax Christi!
Sincere thanks for your kind note. R.I.P. for your dear brother. You will be grateful that he has found release. Since you are informed about us, I need only tell you the latest: Switzerland wishes to open its doors to my sister Rosa and myself, since the only cloistered monastery in our Order in that country—Le Paquier in the Canton Fribourg–will receive me, and a Convent of the Third Order Carmelites an hour away (from the Carmel), my sister. The two houses have certified, to the aliens’ office of the police, that they will provide for us for our lifetimes. The big question remains: will we be given permission here (by the Nazi occupation forces) to leave (the country). In any case, it will probably take a long time. I would not be sad if it did not come. After all, it is no slight matter to leave a beloved monastic family the second time. But I will accept whatever God arranges. Will you please tell them in Speyer and Kordel about this and ask for prayers?
To you and all who continue to think of me, cordial greetings. In Corde Jesu, your
Teresa Benedicta a Cruce

Letter to her Prioress at Camel Echt

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 4, 1942

Dear Mother and Sisters,

During the past night we left the transit-station A. (Amersfoort) and landed here early this morning. We were given a very friendly reception here. They intend to do everything possible to enable us to be freed or at least that we may remain here.* (*In the margin at this point in the letter is written, “Aug. 5: Is no longer possible.”)

All the Catholics are together and in our dormitory we have all the nuns (two Trappistines, one Dominican), Ruth (Kantorowicz), Alice (Reis), Dr. (Lisamaria) Meirowsky, and others are here. Two Trappist fathers from T. (Tilburg, Holland)) are also with us. In any case, it will be necessary for you to send us our personal credentials, our ID cards, and our ration cards. So far we have lived entirely on the generosity of others. We hope you have found the address of the Consul and have been in touch with him. We have asked many people to relay news to you. The two dear children from Koningsbosch (Annemarie and Elfriede Goldschmidt) are with us. We are very calm and cheerful. Of course, so far there has been no Mass and Communion; maybe that will come later. Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within. Sincerest greetings to all. We will probably write again soon.

In Corde Jesu, your B.
When you write, please do not mention that you got this.

(Enclosed in this letter were a note to the Carmel from her sister Rosa and a message to the Swiss Consulate in Amsterdam that said, “Enable us as soon as possible to cross the border. Our monastery will take care of travel expenses.”

Letter to her Prioress at Carmel Echt

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 5 (1942)

My dear Ones,

A R.C. nurse from A. (a Red Cross Nurse from Amsterdam) intends to speak today with the Consul. Here, every petition (on behalf) of fully Jewish Catholics has been forbidden since yesterday. Outside (the camp) an attempt can still be made, but with extremely little prospect. According to plans, a transport will leave on Friday (August 7). Could you possibly write to Mere Claire in Venlo, Kaldenkerkeweg 185 (the Ursuline Convent) to ask for our (my) manuscript (of The Science of the Cross) if they have not already sent it. We count on your prayers. There are so many persons who need some consolation and they expect it from the Sisters.
In Corde Jesu, your grateful
B.

Letter to her Prioress at Carmel Echt

JM

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 6, 1942

Dear Mother,

A Mother Superior from one of the convents arrived last evening with suitcases for her child and now offers to take some short letters along. Early tomorrow a transport leaves (Silesia or Czechoslovakia??).

What is most necessary: woolen stockings, two blankets. For Rosa all the warm underwear and whatever was in the laundry; for us both towels and wash cloths. Rosa also has no toothbrush, no Cross and no rosary. I would like the next volume of the breviary (so far I have been able to pray gloriously). Our identity cards, registration cards (as Jews), and ration cards.

A thousand thanks, greetings to all, Y.R.’s grateful child,

B.
(P.S.) 1 habit and aprons, 1 small veil.

The letter of August 6, 1942, was the final letter. Early on Friday, August 7, at the railway station in Schifferstadt, Germany, a woman in dark clothing inside a sealed transport hailed the stationmaster who was standing on the platform. She identified herself as Edith Stein and asked him to pass her greetings and a message to friends who lived there. The message was, “We are travelling east.”

The transport carrying Edith and Rosa Stein arrived at Auschwitz on Sunday, August 9. All the women and children as well as most of the men were immediately gassed. They were buried in a mass grave.

None of the Jewish Catholics mentioned in Stein’s letter of August 4 survived Auschwitz. Alice Reis was a nurse. She had converted to Catholicism in 1930. At her baptism in Beuron, Germany, the godmother standing next to her was Edith Stein. Stein first met Ruth Kantorowicz in Hamburg when Ruth was three years old. In 1934, they became friends when Ruth joined the Catholic Church. Kantorowicz was also a Ph.D. From 1935 on, she often typed Stein’s manuscripts. When the Nazi’s came for her on August 2, she was living at the Ursuline Convent in Venlo and had been typing Stein’s manuscript for The Science of the Coss. That is why Stein’s letter of August 5 discusses a manuscript being sent to her from that convent.

All the accounts of survivors from the detention camp in the Netherlands that mention Edith Stein agree on her remarkable calm and leadership in the camp. One survivor’s account was as follows:

It was Edith Stein’s complete calm and self-possession that marked her out from the rest of the prisoners. There was a spirit of indescribable misery in the camp; the new prisoners, especially, suffered from extreme anxiety. Edith Stein went among the women like an angel, comforting, helping, and consoling them. Many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity and had sat moaning for days, without giving any thought to their children. Edith Stein immediately set about taking care of these little ones. She washed them, combed their hair, and tried to make sure they were fed and cared for.

Because the Vocation You Pray For May Be Your Own

A few days ago, I wrote a post where I said that as a father and husband, I can’t literally go “to the Desert.” I quipped “maybe in the future.” Sure you will, I thought to myself. And then I found this story of a saint who did just that. Her name is Marie of the Incarnation and her Feast Day is April 18th.

Allison wrote a post on the same day about praying for vocations. Keep this in mind as you pray, because it just might turn out that the prayer may well be answered by an opened door. Who is to say what lies ahead for us? God knows. Barbara Avrillot was a mother of six, but her babies grew up and her husband passed away, opening the door to a life she had always admired. Let’s take a look.

What follows in italics is from the citation on Marie found in the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent.

Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation

Known also as Madame Acarie, foundress of the French Carmel, born in Paris, 1 February, 1566; died at Pontoise, April, 1618. By her family, Barbara Avrillot belonged to the higher bourgeois society in Paris. Her father, Nicholas Avrillot was accountant general in the Chamber of Paris, and chancellor of Marguerite of Navarre, first wife of Henri IV; while her mother, Marie Lhuillier was a descendant of Etienne Marcel, the famous prévôt des marchands (chief municipal magistrate). She was placed with the Poor Clares of Longchamp for her education, and acquired there a vocation for the cloister, which subsequent life in the world did not alter. In 1684, through obedience she married Pierre Acarie, a wealthy young man of high standing, who was a fervent Christian, to whom she bore six children. She was an exemplary wife and mother.

So she came from the upper crust of society and basically went to a boarding school (of sorts) with the Poor Clares. Sounds like something I’ve read before in a novel by Sigred Undstet. She married well and then had six children, which will definitely keep any mom busy for a while. Any dad too. Speaking of dads, he had his hands full at work. Take a look.

Pierre Acarie was one of the staunchest members of the League, which, after the death of Henry III, opposed the succession of the Huguenot prince, Henry of Navarre, to the French throne. He was one of the sixteen who organized the resistance in Paris.

Tea party anyone? Being a rich and well placed gentleman, I daresay he thought he could change the world, and obviously win. This story is getting good. Stand-by for an act of God.

The cruel famine (!), which accompanied the siege of Paris (war!), gave Madame Acarie an occasion of displaying her charity. After the dissolution of the League, brought about by the abjuration of Henry IV, Acarie was exiled from Paris and his wife had to remain behind to contend with creditors and business men for her children’s fortune, which had been compromised by her husband’s want of foresight and prudence.

Ouch. Dad wound up on the wrong side in this fight and was sent away (in irons?!). The family fortune is compromised too? Uh-oh, now mom has to fight to save the estate and provide for her kids as well. I hope she is up to the challenge. Surely, it can’t get any worse than this.

In addition she was afflicted with physical sufferings, the consequences of a fall from her horse, and a very severe course of treatment left her an invalid for the rest of her life.

What the heck? And I thought Kristen Lavransdatter had it tough. But truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it? And, ahem, “severe course of treatment” most likely means a broken leg didn’t heal well. Game over? Not with her network, nor with her example of charity and good works.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century Madame Acarie was widely known for her virtue, her supernatural gifts, and especially her charity towards the poor and the sick in the hospitals. To her residence came all the distinguished and devout people of the day in Paris, among them Mme de Meignelay, née de Gondi, a model of Christian widows, Mme Jourdain and Mme de Bréauté, future Carmelites, the Chancellor de Merillac, Père Coton the Jesuit, St. Vincent of Paul, and St. Francis de Sales, who for six months was Mme Acarie’s director.

Yeah, you read that right, St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul were in her Rolodex and paid calls to her salon. Sheeeeesh. Wait a second. I thought the rich had as much chance of getting to heaven as a camel has to pass through the eye of a needle. What gives? I told you this was a great story. It gets better:

The pious woman had been living thus retired from the world, but sought by chosen souls, when, toward the end of 1601, there appeared a French translation of Ribera’s life of St. Teresa. The translator, Abbé de Brétigny, was known to her. She had some portions of the work read to her.

Another rich illiterate? Doubtful, because she went to school with the Poor Clares, remember? Maybe either Vincent or Francis was reading to her in the salon on a visit. Ready for a miracle? Read on—

A few days later St. Teresa, appeared to her and informed her that God wished to make use of her to found Carmelite convents in France. The apparitions continuing, Mme Acarie took counsel and began the work.

I mean, what the heck would you do? Keep shopping and go on cruises? Talk about your life-changing experiences! As Our Lord says, “knock and the door will be opened to you.” Sure, the French hated the Spanish, but when Our Lord sends Big Terry as an emissary in a vision, well, I’d obey the call too, no questions asked. But what about the wealth?

Mlle de Longueville, wishing to defray the cost of erecting the first monastery, in Rue St. Jacques, Henry IV granted letters patent, 18 July, 1602. A meeting in which Pierre de Bérulle, future founder of the Oratory, St. Francis of Sales, Abbé de Brétigny, and the Marillacs took part, decided on the foundation of the “Reformed Carmel in France,” 27 July, 1602. The Bishop of Geneva (Francis de Sales again) wrote to the pope to obtain the authorization, and Clement VIII granted the Bull of institution, 23 November, 1603.

That answers the wealth question. Put it to work for the Lord! Speaking of Clement, way back around 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote a lengthy exposition entitled Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? Basically it spells it out for us regular folks that when wealth is put in its proper place (read “way out in left field”), while Christ remains in the proper place (read “at the center of our being”), things work out just dandy. Especially when you give all your wealth away, as Marie eventually does. But not yet, I don’t think her husband would agree. Anyway. . .

The following year some Spanish Carmelites were received into the Carmel of Rue St. Jacques, which became celebrated. Mme de Longueville, Anne de Gonzague, Mlle de la Vallieres, withdrew to it; there also Bossuet and Fénelon were to preach. The Carmel spread rapidly and profoundly influenced French society of the day. In 1618, the year of Mme Acarie’s death, it numbered fourteen houses.

From zero to fourteen Carmelite houses in France due to the work of this fine soldier for Christ. Can she rest now? Go back on vacation? Why would she want to when there is still so much for this crippled mom to accomplish. Like to help fund, er, found the French Oratory and then the Ursulines.

Mme. Acarie also shared in two foundations of the day, that of the Oratory and that of the Ursulines. She urged De Bérulle to refuse the tutorship of Louis XIII, and on 11 November, 1611 she, with St. Vincent de Paul, assisted at the Mass of the installation of the Oratory of France. Among the many postulants whom Mme Acarie received for the Carmel, there were some who had no vocation, and she conceived the idea of getting them to undertake the education of young girls, and broached her plan to her holy cousin, Mme. de Sainte-Beuve.

The Ursalines were founded solely for the purpose of educating young girls. How progressive. Those wacky Catholics, always pushing the frontier of humanism and never getting credit for it. I’d like to get to know her “holy cousin” too. Marie was still married all this time but alas,

To establish the new order they brought Ursulines to Paris and adopted their rule and name. M. Acarie having died in 1613, his widow settled her affairs and begged leave to enter the Carmel, asking as a favour to be received as a lay sister in the poorest community.

OK, all the children raised? Check. No longer married? Check. Remember her life long dream of a “vocation to the cloister”? Check. Exit stage left!

In 1614 she withdrew to the monastery of Amiens, taking the name of Marie de l’Incarnation. Her three daughters had preceded her into the cloister, and one of them was sub-prioress at Amiens. In 1616, by order of her superiors, she went to the Carmelite convent at Pontoise, where she died. Her cause was introduced at Rome in 1627; she was beatified, 24 April, 1791; her feast is celebrated in Paris on 18 April.

Ever heard the expression “God writes straight with crooked lines”? What a life and what a marvelous ending! Maiden, wife, mother, wealthy patron of the Church, cloistered Carmelite, and then home with our Lord. May all our journeys end blessed as such.

Madame Acarie, please pray for vocations and also please pray for us.

You can read a full account of her life on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf in A Gracious Life by Emily Bowles.

Because Breast is Best (in honor of International Women’s Day)

Guest post by Allison
Quick: Who said this about breastfeeding? “Mothers need time, information and support. So much is expected of women in many societies that time to devote to breast-feeding and early care is not always available.” The answer: Pope John Paul II.

Most of us don’t expect a priest, much less a pope, to be weighing in on breastfeeding. But the late Pontiff made a compelling case in a 1995 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Britain:

In normal circumstances these (advantages of breastfeeding for mother and child) include two major benefits to the child: protection against disease and proper nourishment. Moreover, in addition to these immunological and nutritional effects, this natural way of feeding can create a bond of love and security between mother and child, and enable the child to assert its presence as a person through interaction with the mother.

After I married, I decided to breastfeed any children I would bear. My mom, born in the 1930s, was part of a generation of American women discouraged by physicians from breastfeeding. To give a sense of the prevailing attitude of those times, one friend’s mom asked her obstetrician about breastfeeding. He told her, “Breastfeeding is for peasants.”

My mom became pregnant six times in seven years, and told me she loved breastfeeding her oldest child for a couple of months and regretted she had not had support to continue with my oldest brother and her subsequent babies.

Pope John Paul II rightly traced the decline of breastfeeding to “a combination of social factors, such as urbanization and the increasing demands placed on women, to healthcare policies and practices, and to marketing strategies for alternate forms of nourishment.”

Before I had babies, I read up on breastfeeding in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. One of its authors is Edwina Froehlich, co-founder of La Leche League International, the breastfeeding advocacy group that provides education and support to mothers. It didn’t surprise me to learn Froehlich was a devout Catholic, as were all the women in that first La Leche Group. Even the organization’s name has Catholic roots. The group had been intrigued by the first Marian shrine in North America, dedicated in 1598 by Spanish settlers in St. Augustine, Florida. It is called Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk) (left).

Breastfeeding did not come easily to me. In September 1996, during the early hours of our first son’s life, I eagerly awaited for him to “latch on” and begin nursing. After a few false starts, I thought we both had figured it out. Imagine my terror as I held Gabriel in my arms to feed him and he turned purple and stiff and stopped breathing. I called for the nurse, assuming our baby had just died.

As it turned out, Gabriel was having a seizure, the first of several in his early months. The purple color was vasoconstriction, not a sign of death. (Of course, the breastfeeding had nothing to do with the seizures.) Gabriel spent his first eight days in the neonatal intensive care unit of Saint Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, while neonatologists tried to sort out what was wrong with him. Did he have a cerebellum? Did he have anatomical brain damage? Brain bruising? Mental retardation?

With our son attached to feeding tubes and breathing monitors, I could not breastfeed; I could not hold him; I could not take him home. In fact, neither we nor the physicians knew if he would come home at all.

Thank God the nurses at this Catholic hospital immediately encouraged me to pump my own breast milk. They sent my tiny bags of expressed milk via a pneumatic tube from my hospital room to the neonatal unit, where they were put into his feeding tubes, along with infant formula.

When I returned home from maternity ward, I pumped breast milk every four hours, including through the night, so that I would be ready to nurse our baby when he was ready. This enabled me to nurture Gabriel even while he was in neonatal intensive care.

Throughout this ordeal, it was reassuring to know that my Church “got it”—understood my efforts meant I could nurture our infant. I was able to nurse Gabriel when he did come home—medicated and with a diagnosis of Benign Transient Neonatal Seizure Disorder. (In other words, these benign seizures had no known cause.)

This experience made it clear to me that God designed women’s bodies so we could bear children. What a blessing my body fed my unborn child and through breastfeeding, the son I had just delivered into the world.

As Pope John Paul II put it in his Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: “Motherhood implies from the beginning [from creation] a special openness to the new person. . . . In this openness . . . the woman discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.”

Because Women Aren’t from Venus and Men Aren’t from Mars

Posted by Frank
We have been talking about men of the laity and their roles in the church lately. Because that is who we are, Webster and I, a couple of laymen in love with the Church and trying to share that with others. There’s much in the liturgy of Advent to help us reflect on the roles of men and women.

Take for instance this verse from today’s Gospel reading where the Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah of the coming birth of his son John (the Baptist) and what John will accomplish.

He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord. (Luke 1:17)

“To turn the hearts of fathers toward children . . .” OK, so I take it that this lack of communication between fathers and sons is not a new thing. Not some recent cultural event of modernity. Somehow I didn’t think it was, but I’m glad to see that this is mentioned right at the beginning of the story of the prophet preparing the way for the coming of Our Savior. So much for blaming modern society.

And now that I mention it, am I the only one to see that the entire mystery of the Incarnation is the Divine Father turning His heart towards His children? Even as disobedient as they were and we are? This sounds to me like the ultimate in “leadership by example.”

Isn’t it amazing that Our Lord has a profoundly good relationship with his Heavenly Father and evidently his earthly father as well? Never a harsh word, no bitching, moaning, or complaining? Why did it take me 44 years and my near-death experience (and then my father’s) to clear the decks towards a better relationship? Heck, it took me becoming a Catholic to even open the door to thoughts like this about my relationship with my dad!

But two guys alone can’t figure all this stuff out, nor can we expect the male leadership of the Church alone to do so. Before you go thinking I’m spouting heretical thoughts, let me introduce you to the wonderful maiden (that would be a female) named Wisdom. There she sits on a throne at the top of this page. Take a look at this passage from chapter 7 in the Book of Wisdom. The writer says,

Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands; and I rejoiced in them all, because Wisdom is their leader, though I had not known that she is the mother of these. Simply I learned about her, and ungrudgingly do I share—her riches I do not hide away; for to men she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them.

And in the LOTH for today, Wisdom shows herself again as having been around since the Beginning:

With you abides Wisdom, who knows your works. She was with you when you made the world. She knew what was pleasing to your eyes. She saw what was right according to your precepts. Send your Wisdom from the highest heaven; send her from the throne of your greatness; that she may abide with me and work with me, so that I may know what it is that pleases you. For Wisdom knows everything, and understands; she will lead me wisely in what I do, and protect me in her glory.

And if you don’t believe Wisdom belongs in the Bible (tossed out after the Protestant Reformation) then take a look at Proverbs 8. Here Wisdom shows herself again as the voice of reason! Just in case you thought that might be a typographical error, let’s turn all the way back to a few verses in Genesis, remember the ones? (Genesis 1:26-27)

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Whoa— “us,” “our image,” “male and female”? Aren’t women from Venus and men from Mars? I don’t think so. Not anymore anyway.


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