Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Aversion to Being the "helper"

After reviewing the two accounts of Creation in Genesis in Chapter 5 of our Endow study, we know that God created humanity (male and female) in His image and likeness.  We are called to embody His authority, which rules in, by, and for love, here on earth.  According to an Encyclopedia of Theology, true authority is "always in the service of others and their freedom."

Men and women are called to live their complementary differences out through self-giving love.  This seems easy enough to accept, but, as women, we may still find ourselves bristling when we read, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Genesis 1:26)  Generally, no one wants to be a helper unless you're working for Santa.  The word has a negative connotation.  When we think "helper", we think of someone with less to offer and consequently, less value.  No one rushes in to be unappreciated, unseen, and undervalued!  Most of the time, we want to avoid being the "helper" at all costs.

However, we looked a little deeper into that powerful little word today and found that it is the English translation of the Hebrew word ezer.  Of the 19 times the word is used in the Old Testament, 15 refer to Divine aid.  "So, for the woman to be called a helper to man is not at all pejorative or degrading since this description is also used at other times to describe God Himself." (Endow study guide)  According to Pope John Paul II, "It should not be interepreted as meaning that the woman is man's servant - "helper" is not the equivalent of "servant"; the psalmist says to God:  "You are my help"; rather the whole statement means that woman is able to collaborate with man because she complements him perfectly..." 

In a discussion question from the previous chapter, we were encouraged to think of the progress that could be made in respect for women if men were seen always as partners, not adversaries...

If we could use all of the energy we are using (and have used) to avoid being the "helper" into helping (doing for another without self-seeking), our marriages, our families, and our society would be unrecognizable as we know them.  The power struggles would disappear and true authority (in the service of others and their freedom) would re-emerge. 

Perhaps you think it sounds like a tall order, and how it would be much easier just to let things remain as they are. But, if it is as simple as embracing a new concept of what it means to be a "helper", from servant to perfectly complementary collaborator, I'm willing to give it a shot.  There is never a loss of dignity in serving another in love. 

For most of us, there will not be a huge visible transformation.  We will continue to pick up dirty socks, make dinner, do the laundry, and all of the other things that we do.  However, if we have been doing it as though something assigned or imposed, instead of something freely chosen, our heart will know all the difference.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for this gorgeous afternoon.  Thank you for all of the ways You lead us to Yourself.  Thank you for creating us male and female.  Thank you for the gift of marriage and the presence of another who continually sharpens, encourages, and loves us.  Please give us the grace to love our spouse the way they need to be loved, and perhaps respected above all.  Help us to understand and embrace the eternal truths you imparted to us upon Creation.  You put us here for each other.  Please give us a glimpse of what that should look like, so we may know what direction to turn in every moment that includes another.  I trust in You.  Amen. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Not Measuring Up

All women have "feminine genius".  A phrase coined by Pope John Paul II, which "speaks to woman's capacity to make room for 'the other'.  This capacity manifests itself in four different areas:  receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity." (as summarized in Endow study guide).  As woman, we are more naturally others-focused than our male counterparts.  If this seems unfair, consider for a moment, who sends birthday cards in your house?  I realize there are exceptions, as there always are, but we'll focus on the majority.

This beautiful gift of receptivity, sensitivity, and making room for the other, however, can sometimes morph into something very ugly.  Comparison.  It should be listed with the seven deadly sins.  Why?  Because the two fruits of comparing ourselves to another are rotten and result in many spiritual deaths!  If we compare ourselves to another, and find that we come up short, we focus on those things in ourselves which are deficient for way too long, and consequently squelch what is good in us.  Anytime we turn our back on our Creator to focus on the created (ourselves), we are sinning!  We are turning from the Greatest Good to a lesser good. 

The other rotten fruit born of comparison is pride.  With a clear "comparison victory" in hand, we rest easy, knowing that at least we're "better" than so and so, at least in doing or being "such and such".

I don't remember who said it, but I'm pretty sure she was a saint, "If only we had faith, we would show goodwill to all creatures; we should cherish them and be interiorly grateful to them as serving, by God's will, for our perfection."

So, what are we supposed to do if we compare ourselves to others without being aware of it?  I'm glad you asked, because we're all in this group!

We need to become aware of it.  When you realize you are doing it, STOP.  If your tendency is to focus on what is good in another (and bad in yourself), make a mental list of your own good qualities.  If your tendency is to focus on what is bad in another (and what is good in yourself), make a list of their good qualities.

If looking at Facebook, or People magazine, or ___________, leads you into the comparison trap, cut it out of your life.  It's not worth it! 

There will always be things in ourselves that need to be worked on.  It is by God's design.  These things bring humility - The golden ticket for admission into Heaven.  We must balance acceptance of self and our need for change carefully.  Matthew Kelly says it well, "We must approach this place of balance between accepting ourselves for who we are and challenging ourselves to be all we are capable of being like one would approach a high-spirited animal - calmly and slowly.

In order for us promote woman and her God-given dignity, we must make a conscious effort to stop tearing her down.  And that includes yourself, too!

Please forward this to your women friends!  We are in this together!!!

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the beautiful gift of woman!  Thank you for her feminine genius!  Lord, please guard her against the temptation of comparing herself negatively or advantageously to others.  Please give us eyes to see and hearts to know when we are doing this.  Help us look to You only and embrace all others as a help on our journey.  Help us only to see what is good in others and also what is good in ourselves.  Help us to approach those things that need improvement, calmly and slowly.  We cannot carry our confidence in you too far.  Thank you.  Amen. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The New Feminism

I've been facilitating a class at my Church for the last four weeks and today, we reached the halfway point.  We are studying John Paul II's Letter to Women.  I usually write a "recap" for my own processing, for those who missed, and those who want to revisit a boiled down version of what we covered.  I have repeatedly thought about sharing those recaps with you, but today I'm actually doing it.  Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section, if I didn't include enough information for you to get something out of it... 

Today we discussed the progress of the women's liberation movement and what is left for us to do. We were affirmed in our activity of promoting feminity and womanhood, but not at the sake of it, or of our male counterparts. We are reminded that we have the same dignity and value as men, but that does not mean we are the same.  We aren't.  As Gabrield Kuby writes in Gender Mainstreaming - The Secret Revolution, if we say that there are no essential or innate differences between men and women, we are repressing and ignoring the results of brain research, medicine, psychology, and sociology, which prove the different identities of men and women in their brain structure, hormonal balance, psychological structure, and social behavior.  

As women, we are called to do "some things better than they've ever been done before" and to know which things "don't need doing at all". We are asked to consider which things in our lives build up women, men, and the Kingdom of God, and which aren't? We are elevating these issues in our consciousness, so we may form convictions and take action accordingly.

It is easy to feel like the movement toward radical feminisim and "gender ideology" is bigger than we are. However, we must remember that "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something, and what I should do and can do, I will do."  It seems that the world's voice is very loud and doesn't mind getting in your face. We are called to speak the truth in love, where we are. We are called to be woman (with the beauty, dignity, and room for the other that she contains) where we are. We do not need to be invited to the Beijing Conference or start a women's rally in the Brazos valley (unless, of course, you feel called...). We will never know the influence that we have on the lives of those around us, and of those around them, and so on. It is so by God's design.
Elizabeth Leseur writes in her diary, "Through suffering and in silence I want to pray, love, and act. It is best for God alone to dispose of what we offer Him; if we knew the result of our efforts, if the mysterious influence worked by our sacrifice and prayer were revealed to us, pride, always near, would have its way."
Secondly, we discussed the "undoing of gender" and the deconstruction of society that necessarily follows. We must remain compassionate toward those whose instincts or learned behaviors are not what is acceptable to the Church. We must follow Pope John Paul II's example, and "answer" with love when talking to those who do not hold our views. When challenged, we must ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us words, especially when we want to lash out or retreat in silence. The "fluidity" of gender and the "rights" that follow are creeping into our schools and leaving parents feeling helpless and overwhelmed. We must remember that "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control." (2Timothy 1:7)  We are called to embrace the "Theology of the Body" and transmit these important truths to our children and those entrusted to us.
When we began this class, we embarked on this "effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women", the new feminism. I'm proud to be with you and praise God that He has given us the Holy Spirit and the tools we need to continue sailing confidently.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for opportunities to gather with other women and to grow in faith.  Thank you for giving us everything we need to get ourselves, our children, and those we love to Heaven.  Thank you for giving us a spirit of power and love and self-control.  When we see things going contrary to Your will, on an ever-increasing scale, please infuse us with an ever-greater confidence and trust in You.  Thank you for loving us enough to create and redeem us.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Angels - Are They Real and What Do They Do?

Today, the Catholic Church remembers and celebrates one of God's eternal gifts, the Holy Guardian Angels.

I have prayed the Guardian Angel prayer since I was a child, but over the years have lost my conviction about the need for or efficacy of those prayers, until this morning.

Just a few angel references from Scripture and a couple of sentences from a meditation were enough to rekindle my awareness of their actual presence and their activity binding Heaven and earth.

Thus says the Lord:  "See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.  Be attentive to him and heed his voice.  Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin.  My authority resides in him.  If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you, I wil be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes..."  Exodus 23:20-22

The Lord has put angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways.  Psalm 91:11

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father."  Matthew 18:10

In today's Magnificat meditation, Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey quotes Fr. Olier and has the following to say about our guardian angel's commission:

"Because we are his children, he appoints to us as tutors the princes of his realm, who hold it an honor to have us in their charge. (Fr. Olier)

"Because we are his temples in which he himself dwells, he wills that angels hover about us as they do about our churches, so that bowed down in worship before him they may offer a perpetual homage to his glory, supplying for our neglect and making reparation for our irreverence."

"he sends this mysterious host of angels in order that they may by uniting themselves to us and binding us to themselves form one body of the Church of heaven and the Church of earth." (Fr. Olier) 

"Our guardian angel keeps us in constant touch with heaven."

What an incredible gift!  And why wouldn't it be true?  God offers every possible help to ensure our arrival at the place He has prepared for us.

My spiritual director believes so much in her guardian angel that she asks him to go and comfort those she sees in distress.  (I love this idea and have used it a time or two myself).

I know great angel stories abound...My brother installs and repairs industrial heating and air equipment.  He was working on a unit one day and when he was finished, realized it had full power the entire time.  He should have been dead.  I'm pretty sure he owes his life to his guardian angel for that day.

Do you have a story you can share here? It would be a great tribute to our heavenly advocates!

I heard that if you ask your guardian angel their name, they will reveal it to you.  I know several people who have "heard" an answer.  I have asked repeatedly, but am still waiting.  I also had my boys ask, but they always said names like "Anakin" and "Thomas the Train".  I decided we might try again, later

Angel sent by God to guide me
Be my light and walk beside me
Be my guardian and protect me
On the paths of life direct me.