You saw me in the parking garage and just saw me for my body - but I'm so much more than just my body.
March 8th is International Women's Day. If you logged onto Facebook this morning you were reminded that today is a day to "celebrate the amazing contributions women make to our world and our future"
And if that was what International Women's Day was, I'd agree. But after doing some research on the origins of the holiday, I have to take a step back and ask the question only a huge Theology of the Body and history nerd like myself would ask -
Would Saint Pope John Paul II approve of International Women's Day?
An International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8, 1917 in Petrograd. Women who worked in the textile industry gathered in the capitol of Russia and rioted. This was the start of the Russian Revolution, which caused Emperor Nicholas II to abdicate the throne just one short week later. The women's day march-turned-riot was an incredible turning point for the rise of communism. The provisional government that took the place of Emperor Nicholas granted women the right to vote. But the communist governments around the world also issued in a reign of terror.
For perspective, Hitler and his Nazi regime killed between 11 and 12 million people, 6 million of them Jews. Communist leader Mao Zedong of China is responsible for the deaths of somewhere between 40 and 75 million Chinese people. His political decision of the Great Leap Forward alone is responsible for the deaths of 18 to 45 million.
Stalin is estimated to have been responsible for 20 million deaths, placing him second on the list of dictators who killed the most people.
For the almost sixty years, the holiday was celebrated mostly by socialist movements and communists countries - including the Soviet Union, China, and Spanish communists in 1936. In commenting about the women's march, Stalin said:
"I wish them every success...in making the two sections of the oppressed masses, which are still unequal in status, a single army of fighters for the abolition of all inequality and of all oppression, for the victory of the proletariat, and for the building of a new, socialist society in our country. Long live International Communist Women’s Day!"
So with its roots in the communist movements, I am hard pressed to believe John Paul II would be involved. After all, communism played a significant role in the life of John Paul II. In fact, he fought it so strongly that Mikhail Gorbachev said, "I did not destroy Communism, John Paul II did."
John Paul II spent a majority of his life standing up against the forces of Communism - but also standing up for the beauty of the feminine genius and the beauty of masculine and feminine complimentary. His first mission after he was elected pope was a series of 129 Wednesday audiences discussing the importance of men and women in today's world in order to bring about a better understanding about the beauty of God, sex and our universal longing for fulfillment. He saw people as persons to be loved, not things to be used. This didn't sit well with the strong belief of the Communist government that people were meant to be used.
"He [John Paul II] knew that people do not exist for the good of the state. Rather, the state should exist in order to serve the people. This wasn't about making the government more religious, but about making it worthy of the human person. In Wojtyla's mind, injustices such as violence and the suppression of of human rights are lies spoken against the truth of humanity. When the laws of a state are not based upon the truth of the dignity of the human person, inhuman conditions and acts inevitably follow. This is especially true under communism, which sees man as a purely material being" (Jason Evert, Saint John Paul The Great: His Five Loves).
In 1995, John Paul II released a letter to women, in which he said:
Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of "mystery", to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity. (Letter to Women, 1995)
But finally, I don't think that John Paul II, who was amazingly pro-life (from natural conception to natural death), an advocate for masculine and feminine complimentary, and a fighter for the true definition of love would stand for what the women's moments of today stand for. Can you picture John Paul II standing with any one of these signs?
Is is it wrong to celebrate the beauty of femininity in today's world? No! In fact, the world could use more appreciation for the inherent amazing feminine genius that women offer. But we need to promote the beauty of a woman's dignity by fostering a culture that understands, embraces and appreciates the beauty of her fertility and femininity. Not by seeing her as an ends to a mean in a communist mindset, or rejecting her fertility as if it was a disease.
So I respectfully decline the celebration of International Women's Day. Not because I hate women (I am one, after all), but because I've been inspired by John Paul II to appreciate women at a much deeper level than a holiday steeped with communist roots can ever supply. To realize the beauty and dignity of woman is incredible and out of this world. In the words of John Paul II, "The basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty-not merely physical, but above all spiritual-which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women."
"Necessary emphasis should be placed on the "genius of women", not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfill their deepest vocation" (Letter to Women, 1995).
My passport is not stamped with a Polish stamp. I don't have pictures with new international friends. I have yet to taste a pierogi. But my heart is moved and full from World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow.
When I look at those pictures on Facebook, read the tweets, talk to friend and hear about the amazing adventures God had in the hearts of His children, how can I not be inspired in my Catholic faith?
It's common knowledge that Europe is not the safest place to be right now. Terror attacks occur frequently and a large crowd of people may have drawn conflict. Yet Catholic young adults still flocked to get a glimpse of the Pope. They still hiked 10 miles to camp out for a candle-lit vigil. They still fell to their knees in the rain to worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Why? Because perfect love drives out fear.
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has torment, and he that fears has not been made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)
Love creates, it moves, it acts. When you're in love you have to do something - love requires action. Fear, on the other hand, immobilizes. Paralyzes. The founder and creator of World Youth Day, Saint Pope John Paul II once famous said, "Be Not Afraid." What does that look like? How do you not be afraid, and how can you tell that you're living this beautiful JPII motto?
If you're not afraid, you're in love. And people in love do crazy things.
Love tells 3 million people to pack up clothes and rain ponchos in a backpack and board flights that last 10 hours. Love pushes people out of their comfort zones and connects them with others who don't even speak the same language. Love emboldens some to fundraise for years, take time off of work or a summer vacation, and sleep on a gym floor. Love gets them up at 3:00 AM and doesn't let their mind rest even when they're supposed to be sleeping.
Love widens eyes, but more importantly it widens hearts. It widens hearts to mercy, compassion and action. It demolishes comfort zones and calls us out of sin and into grace.
"The world has no need of couch potatoes" (Pope Francis)
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Pope Saint John Paul II)
Are you ready to fall in love with a God who loves you? Perhaps, more importantly, are you willing to let that love move you?
Feminism. It's a buzzword that I first really delved into last semester while taking a course on gender and communication. The issue that bothered me towards the end of the semester was that modern feminism is often associated with the pro-choice movement, access to 'safe and healthy' abortions and access to contraception. Because I understood the term feminism to mean equality between men and women, I found that incredibly ironic and infuriating. I am anti-abortion, pro-life and anti-contraception. And I don't think you can be a feminist and be for any of those issues. Here are five reasons why you cannot be a feminist and be pro-contraception.
01. All on the woman
Feminism strives for equality between men and women in all areas of life. This could manifest itself in the fight for equal pay for equal work, but in the sexual lives of feminists, contraception has squished any chances for equality. When a woman is on the pill, or any other form of oral or surgical contraceptive, she is responsible. It is up to her to make sure she takes the pill daily or schedules doctor appointments to install or maintain an internal contraceptive. Meanwhile, men are not filling prescriptions for contraception, and are instead reaping the benefits of contraceptive sex without an investment in a relationship.
Dr. John Littell, an OBGYN, wrote:
"But now, it saddens me to see the effects of the Pill at play in unsuspecting lives. How often have I seen one patient after another frustrated by what has come to be viewed as a "necessary evil" for all women, if they ever hope to be a good wife, a good girlfriend, a good sexual partner. What is so "liberating" or "empowering" about feeling miserable, depressed, increasing one's risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, blood clots, strokes, and heart disease, while the male partner has not a worry in the world?"
The answer to these issues is not to simply have men fill prescriptions for male contraceptives. Rather, a form of family planning that requires the effort of both men and women is the ideal solution. In this way, both partners can know the health life of the other better and work towards a common goal side by side. The family planning method that has proven to be successful in this area is Natural Family Planning. The man and woman chart the woman's fertility together, and the man becomes hyper-aware of the inner workings of the woman's fertility system. In this way, the shared goal of achieving or avoiding conception bonds the couple together, instead of having one or the other feel the weight of the responsibility.
02. Health risks
Feminism should never support something that harms the health of women. This is why we should fight against the brutality and objectification of social problems such as pornography, sexual trafficking, and female genital mutilation. However, we can add contraception to that list of issues considered normal in society that actually do great harm to women.
Take for instance The Pill. The small, white pill contains the side effects of vision impairment, yeast infections, blood clots, increased risk of strokes, increased chances of breast and ovarian cancer, mood swings and depression. Any of these side effects alone are alarming, but the problem is that any woman who takes an oral contraceptive is at risk for all of them. The reason for this secrecy around the actual effects of the pill on women's health is that pregnancy is considered a larger threat to a woman's life than the issue that the doctor prescribed the contraceptive in the first place. So while a woman suffers from a higher risk of strokes and cancer, doctors see the benefits of her low risk of pregnancy as a greater good.
03. Freedom from Oppression
Oppression results when there is a lack of choices. When it comes to feminism, the desire for freedom has manifested itself in many ways. The right to have a voice and choice in the political system through the suffrage movement was the first way feminism strove against oppression of women.
However, in terms of their sexual lives, women's health is oppressed by the lack of choices that are presented to them in the average medical care center. In today's medical offices, women's health issues are quickly fixed with a contraception prescription. In the visits that I have made to the doctor's office for issues such as acne, sever PMS cramping, and fainting spells, each time has resulted in another effort of a doctor or nurse to prescribe the pill. This leaves women feeling like the only choice they have in terms of answers to their health problems is contraception. This is oppressive - a lack of choice - since women are not only denied informed about the health risks of contraception, but also denied a conversation about the multitude of answers that could range from vitamin supplements and diet changes to fertility charting and NaPro technology .
Additionally, long-term prescriptions on contraceptives can ruin a woman's fertility. Without the ability to conceive children, simply because one has synthetically tricked one's body into thinking they were pregnant for so long that conception isn't possible. This lack of choice in terms of conceiving a child ruins the pill for being pro-woman, and places it into a category of oppressive medication that fuels the anti-women and objectifying state of today's culture.
04. Natural is Better
In a world where we strive to leave less of a carbon footprint by driving fuel efficient, cars, cleaning with non-chemical cleaning supplies and eating organic, we are still stuffing women's bodies full of unhealthy chemicals simply for the convenience of sex-on-demand without the results of a pregnancy.
Essentially, when a woman takes birth control pills, she imposes synthetic hormones onto her fertility cycle which is most of the time simply naturally doing what is supposed to do. Birth control contains estrogen levels. This hormone tells a woman's pituitary gland that she is pregnant - which explains a multitude of the side effects of the pill. Fatigue, nausea, migraines, and general soreness are all experienced by naturally pregnant women. In the case of women on contraceptives, their body is chemically pregnant but without any of the natural good effects of an actual pregnancy.
05. Future Women
Although many will lean on the radical feminist and pro-choice view of "my body, my choice," it turns out that the body of a conceived child is not a woman's body to oppress. Women have seen oppression in their political, active and sexual lives in the past, they cannot continue the vicious cycle of oppression (lack of choice) when it comes to the next generation of women.
If all humans, regardless of their sex, have the right to a choice, what about the choices of the unborn child in the womb? If the unborn baby is a girl, her chances of dying from abortion are steadily climbing. The contraceptive mentality towards women (in or out of the womb) is the reason for gender-decided infanticide. For instance, in China, partially due to the one child policy, there are now 120-140 boys for every 100 girls despite the governmental ban on sex-based abortions. And it's not just China. In 2014, The Daily Mail ran a story that claimed women are disappearing on the national census due to sex-based abortion. They wrote,
"Official figures suggest as many as 4,700 females have disappeared from the latest national census records of England and Wales, raising fears that it indicates the illegal practice of sex-selection abortion has become prevalent in the UK."
Contraception, and the resulting abortions upon failed contraceptives, are killing women. Literally. Both mother and their unborn children are suffering greatly from the effects of objectification of women in what Pope Francis has labeled the 'throw-away culture' and what Pope John Paul II talked about when he mentions a cycle of use due to viewing people as things.
No person who claims to be pro-woman and defines themselves with the label of feminism should be pro-contraception.
I'm not a regular to the confession lines at my Church. It's not that I don't appreciate the sacramental value and beauty of the forgiveness of sins - I do. If you're struggling with going to confession I'll be first in line to tell you about the incredible sacramental benefits and graces waiting to flood into your soul after you make a good confession. But if there is one sacrament that I have to prepare the most for, it's the sacrament of reconciliation. If you want my honest opinion, I'll admit it...I hate going.
Confession means admitting I messed up and don't have it all together I'm a perfectionist so confession rips into my heart. For the most part, I'm able to keep up a pretty good mask even when things are falling apart. I'll say 'it's fine' or 'I'm good' when people ask how I'm doing. So to go to confession and list areas where I've fallen means having to be vulnerable and admit that I'm not okay, and it's not all good.
"A soul does not benefit from the sacrament of confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own mercy. It puts on a mask and avoid everything that might bring it to recovery." (Saint Faustina)
Confessions mean saying my sins out loud to the person the sin hurt the most
When I confess my sins in the confessional, the priest stands In Persona Christi, in the person of Christ. This means that the priest does not represent himself, or give the words of absolution as Father so-and-so, but he speaks as the Other - as Christ. This is beautiful. But it also means that I whisper through the screen (or face to face) to the one who I hurt the most. I listen the words of the man I nailed to the cross with my sins. Which is incredible for reparation and repair, and incredibly humbling.
Confession means admitting I haven't improved much since the last time in the confessional.
For the majority of my confession, I spend time repeating the same sins that I said in confession the last time. Pride. Envy. Pride. Selfishness. Pride. Pride. Pride. It feels like I transform into a broken record the minute I walk into the confessional. When I really start to think about it, I discover that the reason I'm being repetitive is because I haven't made a good effort to change. I haven't avoided occasions of sin, sometimes I've even encouraged them.
"The confession of evil works is the first beginnings of good works" (Saint Augustine)
Confession means admitting I need help
I don't ask for help often. When I get to the point of vocalizing stress or worries, the levels of stress and worry have hit pretty high levels. So to have to ask for help from Christ vocally is rough for me. I know He knows about my imperfection, but vocalizing and actually asking for advice and help is a large step. It is delving into humility, which given my top vice, is never easy.
"Confession is an act of honesty and courage - an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God" (Saint Pope John Paul II)
Confession means I have to change
There is a line in the Act of Contrition that yanks at me every time I say it. "..confess my sins, do penance and amend my life." Amend my life. Amend means to "alter by a formal procedure." The word itself is French, amender, around the early thirteenth century. It meant "to free from faults, to rectify." To free...to walk free. But that means that I shouldn't desire to go chain myself again to the same sins. I have to change my daily life and run away from those occasions of sin. I have to change...
My thoughts, the intimate life of my soul, are torn this way and that in the havoc of change. And so it will be until I am purified and melted by the fire of Your love and fused into one with You.” (St. Augustine)
Yet however many reasons I can come up with for not going to confession, I still need the sacrament. In fact, my avoidance of the sacrament shows that my soul needs it even more than I think. The devil doesn't want us to go to confession - he doesn't want us to repair our relationship with Christ. My soul craves closeness with my maker, and sin blocks me from fullness of communion with HIM.
This weekend I'm headed to the confessional line...will you join me in the sacrament?
Over the past couple of weeks, The Blessed Mother and I have gotten a lot closer as soul friends. The mornings that I have during my babysitting job are usually spent on a nature walk, where I say a rosary and chat with Mary. We have quite a bit to talk about these days, with a lot of changes and vocation discernment. Especially with my desires to stay home with littles, I wanted an example of someone who dedicated her life to the Lord's vocational plan for her as a mother.
Who better to imitate than the Blessed Virgin herself? Her humility, gentleness, caring spirit and docility to God's will are all character traits of hers that I am no where close to accomplishing myself. Which is why I'm renewing my Marian consecration this summer and delving further into Mary's Immaculate Heart.
What is Marian Consecration?
You're renewing your what? If that's the question you had after reading that last section, let's take a crash course through what a Marian Consecration is. St. Louis de Monfort, a French saint, had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother. He introduced the concept of consecrating oneself to Mary in the 18th century, and the practice has only bloomed from then. Great saints such as Mother Teresa, John Paul II, and Maximilian Kolbe have entrusted themselves to Jesus through Mary.
Louis de Monfort's practice of total consecration is made up of seven components: acknowledging one's own unworthy state, deepening one's faith like Mary did, giving God pure love, becoming totally confident in God and Mary's abilities, joining with the spirit of Mary, transforming into the likeness of Christ, and giving all the glory to Christ.
The book that I use for my Marian Consecration is by Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. It's called 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration. It goes through St. Louis life, as well as some major rock star saints who loved the Blessed Virgin. After 33 days of preparation, you end on one of the great Marian feast days and consecrate yourself to Mary at the end.
A Marian Slave After my first Marian consecration last summer, I adventured down to the local hardware store and picked out 6 inches of chain. I looped it around my ankle and used a pair of pliers to set it in place. I plan on wearing it to the grave.
Let me tell you, it's sometimes inconvenient wearing a chain around your ankle. For instance, I usually have to buy a half size up on my shoes now that I have a chain to account for. I know what you're thinking: This seems a little extreme - a chain? What does it symbolize?
St. Louis de Montfort wrote about the practice of wearing a chain after the consecration prayer as a physical symbol of total consecration to Mary.
"Thus set free, we are bound to Jesus and Mary not by compulsion and force like galley-slaves, but by charity and love as children are to their parents. "I shall draw them to me by chains of love" said God Most High speaking through the prophet. Consequently, these chains are as strong as death, and in a way stronger than death, for those who wear them faithfully till the end of their life. For though death destroys and corrupts their body, it will not destroy the chains of their slavery, since these, being of metal, will not easily corrupt. It may be that on the day of their resurrection, that momentous day of final judgment, these chains, still clinging to their bones, will contribute to their glorification and be transformed into chains of light and splendor. Happy then, a thousand times happy, are the illustrious slaves of Jesus in Mary who bear their chains even to the grave."
The chain on my ankle has become a symbol of something deeper - a desire to bind my wandering heart to Mary. Why Mary? Why not directly to Christ? Because Christ loves His Mother. One of my favorite stories about the interaction between Christ and Mary is John 2:1-12. Mary sees the groom and bride have run out of wine. So she turns to Christ and ask Him to work a miracle, even though it's not His time yet. She simply turns to the servants and says "Do whatever He tells you." Mary knows Christ's heart - He is her son after all. So who better to bind myself to? The Blessed Mother acknowledges my desires and heart aches and brings them before her son for me. What a gem.
Are you interested in consecrating yourself to the Blessed Virgin? Check out Deacon Keith's article on more Marian theology. After you're ready to start your consecration, there are a couple of options. You can go with the original St. Louis de Monfort's approach, join myself and Father Gaitley on the 33 day miniature retreat, and even focus on the most recent Marian Saint, Pope John Paul II with this specific retreat with his writings.
When I was a senior in high school, I decided to chop all of my hair off. It was shoulder length, a weird texture combination of frizzy and wavy, and in sore need of some attention. I had dyed it every natural color under the sun, from blonde to black. I'd straightened it, permed it, and generally abused it. So off it went. When the hairstylist turned my chair around and I saw short-hair-me for the first time, I fell in love with pixie cuts. It was different. It was unique. It was...Chloe.
Short hair became my signature look. I started college that fall and there were barely any other girls with short hair. I stuck out and people remembered me pretty easily just based on my haircut. My personal style evolved and my hair played a role in the shaping of my personal style.
After we got engaged, I began to ponder what hair length I would want for the day of the wedding. The question was further mulled over after the question that I heard over and over was 'Are you growing your hair out for the wedding?' So I decided to try it. After all, it had been almost four years since I had seen myself with long hair. Things that I didn't like about it could have changed. Maybe the texture was different now. Maybe I was more patient in dealing with that awkward stage between looking like Justin Bieber and rocking an #throwbackthursday 1980's mullet. But as the months between haircuts stretched on and on, I quickly realized that I am still not patient. The more my hair inched along in growth, the more it didn't feel like 'me,' it didn't feel like a Chloe thing to do. I prayed about it, asked for opinions and began to think about it quite a bit more than I had originally. Verily Magazine author Gail Werner wrote, "Historically, hair length has aligned itself with society's notions of femininity. Consider the juxtaposition of the rebellious flapper bob of the 1920s with the more ladylike bouffant of the Gibson girl. Or how a pixie crop worn by Twiggy in the sixties was considered androgynous whereas the long hair and feathered bangs of the 1970s-era Farrah Fawcett was the epitome of sexiness." She's right - we've fallen into the trap of connoting long hair with attractiveness, sexiness, desirability.
I desired that desirability, that beauty. I was torn between wanting hair long enough that I could run my hand through it, but still loving how amazingly practical short hair is. With the wedding day approaching, I wanted to be seen as beautiful, feminine. But none of those things were found solely in the length of my hair. And when I came to that realization, I ran to the salon (okay, Great Clips. I'm in college, let's be real). The ladies there told me how much they had hoped I would keep my hair short for the wedding. Leave it to hairstylists to know what's on your mind. But more important than realizing that it's possible to have a pixie cut and still feel beautiful, I discovered that femininity is exponentially more than the length of one's hair or even physical appearance in general.
Saint Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to women, in which he said, "Yet how many women have been and continue to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being!" We live in a modern era where beauty is the definition of success and desirability. But you are worth more than what you look like. You are a human being who inherently deserves dignity simply based on the fact that you are a child of God.
"It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the "genius of women", not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God's plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church." (JPII)
Femininity is found in giving hearts and kind words. In sacrifice and thoughts. In Marian examples. In caring and living one's life fully for Christ. Yet our world sees those traits as weakness. The radical feminist movement has labeled virtue as old fashioned and patriarchal.
True femininity, not what one looks like or the clothes one wears, but true femininity is found in the concept of motherhood.
Alice Von Hildebrand wrote, "A woman by her very nature is maternal -- for every woman, whether married or unmarried, is called upon to be a biological, psychological or spiritual mother -- she knows intuitively that to give, to nurture, to care for others, to suffer with and for them -- for maternity implies suffering -- is infinitely more valuable in God's sight than to conquer nations and fly to the moon." Perhaps that's why the culture has reduced femininity to physical appearances. Hair length is much easier to perfect than an interior life most assuredly. Louisa May Alcott wrote, "Let us be elegant or die!" which accurately describes the fascination with the outward. Defy the culture...turn the focus inward, to the interior.
Motherhood (spiritual or physical) is sacrifice. It's joyful suffering for the good of the Heavenly family and the eternal life that we're working to. That virtuous, adventurous life is a lot harder to grow than a couple more inches of hair. And much more rewarding.