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A Meditation on Woman, in Celebration of the Feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein was a prominent Jewish philosopher, writer, teacher, and professor in pre-WWII Germany. After reading The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, Edith converted to Catholicism and eventually became a Carmelite nun, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She continued to write and study. During the war, Catholics of Jewish heritage were arrested by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps. St. Teresa Benedicta was executed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1942. Her feast day is today, August 9.

Much of St. Teresa Benedicta’s work was given to illuminating the role of women and their vocation. She has much to say to us today and deep reading gives echoes of the writings of Blessed John Paul II. The following is taken from “The Ethos of Women’s Professions,” a lecture given by Dr. Stein at a meeting of the Catholic Association of Academics in Salzburg, Austria, on September 1, 1930. The entire text can be found in The Collected Works of Edith Stein, Vol. 2: Essays on Woman.

“Only by the power of grace can nature be liberated from its dross, restored to its purity, and made free to receive divine life. And this divine life itself is the inner driving power from which acts of love come forth. Whoever wants to preserve this life continually within herself must nourish it constantly from the source whence it flows without end — from the holy sacraments, above all from the sacrament of love. To have divine love as its inner form, a woman’s life must be a Eucharistic life. Only in daily, confidential relationship with the Lord in the tabernacle can one forget self, become free of all one’s own wishes and pretensions, and have a heart open to all the needs and wants of others. Whoever seeks to consult with the Eucharistic God in all her concerns, whoever lets herself be purified by the sanctifying power coming from the sacrifice at the altar, offering herself to the Lord in this sacrifice, whoever receives the Lord in her soul’s innermost depth in Holy Communion cannot but be drawn ever more deeply and powerfully into the flow of divine life, incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, her heart converted to the likeness of the divine heart.

Something else is related to this. When we entrust all the troubles of our earthly existence confidently to the divine heart, we are relieved of them. Then our soul is free to participate in the divine life. Then we walk by the side of the Savior on the path that He travelled on this eath during His earthly existence and still travels in the mystical afterlife. Indeed, with the eyes of faith, we penetrate into the secret depths of His hidden life within the pale of the godhead. On the other hand, this participation in the divine life has a liberating power initself; it lessens the weight of our earthly concerns and grants us a bit of eternity even in this finitude, a reflection of beatitude, a transformation into light. But the invitation to the transformation in God’s hand is given to us by God Himself in the liturgy of the Church. Therefore, the life of an authentic Catholic woman is also a liturgical life. Whoever prays together with the Curch in spirit and in truth knows that her whole life must be formed by this life of prayer.”

Beauty Break: 48 Hours in God’s Country

Road trips rule in our household. The only problem is we don’t take nearly enough of them. Years ago, my husband and I thought nothing of picking a destination, hopping in the car, and setting out on an incredible journey. We didn’t really have much of a plan, we just ambled along, stopped where and when we felt like it, and explored.  We used to say that the curvy road sign was “our” sign. And it still is. But many things have whittled away at our ability to road trip freely — but have done little to quench the “highway companion” spirit we share, and which our son has inherited.

After seeing a small photograph of Devil’s Postpile in Mammoth, California, in AAA’s Westways Magazine a couple of months ago, I mentioned I’d never been there. My husband said, “Let’s go! That can be my Father’s Day gift.” Perhaps it was an offhand comment, but within a few weeks, we had cobbled together a trip and a budget and marked the calendar — we had 48 hours to travel into the Eastern Sierras and back again. Who knew what adventures we’d have along the way?

It turned out to be a spectacular trip in every sense of the word — a true road trip, into the middle of no where, into wilderness, following rabbit trails as we pleased, and cramming a huge amount of activity into an amazingly small compartment of time. We all agreed it felt as though we had been gone much longer than two days and none of us was ready to come back home. Two things made the trip fantastic — the beauty of nature that surrounded us, and the much-needed time together as a family, just the three of us. It was truly a nourishing time, for the body, mind, and spirit. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the virtual beauty break!

Our first stop was at the Ranger Station at the Mt. Whitney portal, just south of Lone Pine. (On a personal note, my father-in-law is legendary for doing Whitney in one day!) It’s so interesting to drive through miles of desert, only to enter into the amazing juxtaposition of the jagged glacier covered peaks of the Sierras, the vast desert scrub (so eerily close to Death Valley), lush trees and grass, and flowing streams and rivers that make up the Owens Valley. If the ocean were closer, this place would truly be like heaven on earth.

We’re big classic and Western film buffs, so of course we had to do some exploring in the Alabama Hills, just behind the little town of Lone Pine. Hollywood has used these hills, canyons, and valleys to film hundreds of movies over the last 75+ years. We were lucky enough to find the “California Historical Site” of the filming of Gunga Din, one of my favorite films starring Cary Grant. The hills are amazing because they can “look” like many different world locations, like India for Gunga Din or the Middle East for Ironman I. In the total isolation and silence, its easy to imagine the clatter of horses hooves carrying an unsuspecting gunman towards the dangerous Indian ambush lurking around the next rock.

Our primary destination was Devil’s Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes, California. Yes, that is snow you see behind us — in JULY in CALIFORNIA! The ski runs were open until the end of June. Crazy, and very cool.

And, of course, homeschooling happens all the time, even on vacation. Skippy got lots of practice with geography, map skills, history, nature study, geology, and climate while we were away.

The postpile is really something to see — totally amazing rock configurations and unique formations, perfectly formed by volcanic activity. Apparently, the formation is one of the finest examples of columnar basalt in the world. There was a time when the monument was threatened. A developer wanted to blast the area and use the basalt stone as rocks for a dam project; however, the naturalist John Muir and a prominent U.C. Berkeley geologist intervened and were able to save the site. Being an admirer of bees and a nature lover in general, I was fascinated by the hexagonal “honeycomb”  shapes of the rocks. Probably my favorite part of the formation is the curved extrusions on the left side of the wall — this  reinforces the reality that at one time the molten rock was pushed, almost like Playdoh through a Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop extruder, into these finely formed shapes.

I loved seeing the wild flowers sprouting out of cliffs and rocks all along the hike. It was an interesting connection to the Gospel reading we heard at Mass that morning: the parable of the sower. His seeds fall in all different kinds of soil, only one of which bears fruit. These tiny flowers grow in the unlikeliest of places — it was a reminder to me of hope and promise, and the sheer tenacity and perseverance required to live a life of real faith in a world so opposed and hostile to such a life. Their delicacy contrasts so sharply with the harsh jags of the rock surrounding them. Beautiful……

After viewing the postpile, we felt like pushing on ahead down the trail to Rainbow Falls……not part of the original plan, but we were just enjoying the day and the beauty of being outdoors in such fresh air. The river that had meandered alongside us the entire hike dropped off the sheer cliff face of a huge granite gorge. No words express the beauty and grandeur of this place. It was the high point of the hike. The pictures speak for themselves.

“The visible world is like a map pointing to heaven. . . We learn to see the Creator by contemplating the beauty of his creatures. In this world the goodness, wisdom, and almighty power of God shine forth. And the human intellect. . . can discover the Artist’s hand in the wonderful works he has made. Reason can know God through the Book of Nature. . . ”  — John Paul II, 1993

 

Beauty, Grace, the Big Screen — a follow-up….

After reading this post, my friend, Rose, reminded me about Holy Wood Acting Studio, here in Culver City, CA. Its a new acting studio, dedicated to helping actors fulfill their mission to be true artists and servants of Truth and Beauty in the world. If you know anyone who is interested in acting, or if you are at all interested in the power of film as an art form, the studio is worth looking in to. Be sure and watch the introductory video that comes on before you click on the link to enter the site. Its only about a minute and a half and it is very inspiring.

The mission of the studio was recently written about on the National Catholic Register website by Joseph Pronchen, which he followed up in print with a longer article.  The article gives a clear idea of the goals of the studio and articulates the important role of film in accomplishing the goal of all art, which our late holy father, Blessed John Paul II, said “is nothing less than the upliftment of the human spirit.”

Hoping and praying many good film projects, and good people, will be coming out of this studio in the future….

“Remember that you, artists, are the custodians of Beauty in the world.” — Blessed John Paul II, Letter to Artists

There Are No Coincidences

This absolutely isn’t a political/editorial blog, so please bear with me as I share what may seem to be unusual thoughts. I can’t believe that I am the only person stunned by what seems to be an obvious connection to the death of Osama bin Laden yesterday (May 1) and the two significant events Catholics around the world were celebrating that same day: the Feast of the Divine Mercy and the beatification of our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. It also happened to be the first day of the month devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Isn’t it amazing that, after 10 years of searching for this elusive terrorist who wreaked such extreme havoc on 9/11 and who has continued to threaten America and the West repeatedly through Al-Qaeda, he should suddenly be found, isolated, and subsequently killed by U.S. forces on Divine Mercy Sunday, and on the day when the “mercy pope” was beatified? It is beyond the realm of coincidence in my mind. It seems to be clearly in the realm of divine providence. It is a sort of justice, also perhaps a gift of grace, but it is also a reminder and an opportunity to pray.

Of course, we can’t expect to hear anything about this connection in the secular media.  At the very end of his formal address  from the White House commenting on the operation that led to the death of bin Laden, President Obama at least alluded to the fact that God may have had some small role to play in the success of the mission to defeat bin Laden. But this was somewhat buried in the greater emphasis of the address on acknowledging the pride of our national identity. Clearly our success in this effort is attributed to WHO we are, and we are not a people beholden to anyone, not even God. To his credit, the president also asked that God bless the people and the nation of America. Indeed, we would all hope and pray that God would continue to bless America and her people. Let me be clear: there is no moral exoneration for the choice of evil as exhibited by bin Laden and other terrorists. However, in spite of everything that makes America great, our culture continues to deny the very existence of God through it policies and practices. It is no secret that our culture is anti-life. Amidst the devastating holocaust of abortion and its effects, the victimization of our children and families, as well as the increasing challenges to life at all levels in our nation, it is difficult to hide from the hypocrisy of standing before God and asking him to bless our nation and our people. As proud as I am of our servicemen and women and their selflessness, sacrifice, and courage in doing their duty, it is also difficult for me to be proud in general of our country and to hold my head up as our leaders assert that we are an example to be followed and emulated. In our ideals, this is most certainly true. But so often the ideal and the reality are diametrically opposed. We walk a very fine line on a very slippery slope…….

Our Lord told St. Faustina that “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy” (Diary 300) On the feast of Divine Mercy, on the day of the beatification of the “Apostle of Mercy,” the death of Osama bin Laden is a reminder to me that our country needs God. We need to humble ourselves and acknowledge that every good thing and blessing we have here comes from Him and Him alone, not from who we are as Americans or from our prowess and determination. Perseverance and determination in the face of injustice and evil are positive and necessary traits; but they are God-given traits, and cultivated apart from humble faith and trust in God, they become simply another aspect of pride. Without God’s benevolence our country and our people would be nothing. In our time, when the machine of the culture of death is so hugely prevalent, that God should grant us release from the extreme threat of this terrorist on the day when we are called especially to venerate and glorify His mercy is extremely significant, perhaps miraculous. 

My 9-year-old son came home for the first time on 9/11, after spending a week in the NICU due to his premature birth. We couldn’t even get to him as the freeways near all airports were closed. It was the most frightening  experience of my life, and one of the most painful, to be helplessly separated from my son. Along with everyone else in the country, I mourned the loss of life from the horrific events of that day, and shared the intense stress and fear terrorism is specifically designed to instill in its victims. While I was happy to be a new  mother, I have to candidly state that I also wondered and worried about what kind of world my son had been born in to. My trust and confidence were shaken. The shadow of the devastating effects that clouded the day of my son’s homecoming have continued to haunt me over the last 10 years. Still, I did not feel happy when I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden was dead. I felt sober, like something had been finished, and just as immediately I saw the connection to the Feast of Mercy on which he died and was filled with a quiet, prayerful  awe. A sense that something significant had happened and that I needed to pay attention.

The Vatican’s official statement on the death of Osama bin Laden is a careful, sober, and pointed reminder of our collective responsibility: “This morning, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, P. Federico Lombardi, issued the following statement to reporters: Osama Bin Laden – as everyone knows – has had the gravest responsibility for spreading hatred and division among people, causing the deaths of countless people, and exploiting religion for this purpose. Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

As a nation, we need to beg God for mercy, both for ourselves and for those who would do us harm. We need to pray that the many gifts we have been given as a country will be shared and used to show the light of truth to a world starving for beauty, mercy, and love. It is no coincidence that this much-hated and feared terrorist died on the Feast of Divine Mercy, for John Paul II also died on that feast day, six years ago. The great mercy pope — who publicly forgave the man who tried to assasinate him, who offered us all an example of mercy in action, and who spent his pontificate proclaiming the message of Divine Mercy — and the great unmerciful terrorist, who — as hard as it is to imagine or believe — was and is also beloved by God.

And that is the gift of beauty in the Divine Mercy message — God’s mercy is for all of us, no matter who we are, who we have been, or what we have done. It is for the most hardened sinners, whether they be individuals or entire nations. His mercy and compassion are inexhaustible, endless, without limit — an unfathomable abyss of love awaiting an encounter with each and every person, if only each one asks, acknowledges her need, for that mercy. Only God knows if Osama bin Laden was open to this gift of mercy at the end. May this event be a reminder to pray that God “look kindly upon us, and increase His mercy in us, that in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence, submit ourselves to His holy will, which is love and mercy itself.” (Diary, 950)