The Awful Earnestness of Women

This post is not going to be what some may have assumed from its title. I am using ‘awful’ in the way many now use ‘awesome’, meaning awe-inspiring. Earnestness, too, is a word we need to take a fresh look at. For too long it has been associated with the kind of seriousness we rightly call deadly, yet it is nothing of the sort. Earnestness springs from inner conviction and is shot through with sincerity. For me, what I have called the awful earnestness of women is something both sexes can admire and seek to emulate because it is a quality we see in Our Lady: resilience, purposefulness and determination in the service of God.

Why do I think women exhibit this quality so clearly? Partly, I think, because the opportunities open to women are still fewer than those open to men in much of the world. Therefore, intensity often has to take the place of breadth. For women in the West, personally unfamiliar with the constraints experienced by women living in other parts of the world, the idea of being held back by anything more than prejudice may seem preposterous. But for those whose educational and other opportunities are more limited, life is more like Jane Austen’s little bit of ivory, something to be worked over with delicacy and attention to detail. In the spiritual sphere, if I may call it that, the same is true. The scope allowed to women in the Catholic Church is still restricted if we think in terms of activity and decision-making, but if we think in terms of prayer and holiness, not at all, and surely that is what matters, whether we be male or female. Our business, our mission, is to become holy and by so doing lead others to holiness.

Resilience, purposefulness and determination are all necessary if we are to become what God intends us to be, but they are not dour qualities. We do not become holy by gritting our teeth. Again, I think we may take our tone from Mary. Every evening at Vespers we sing the Magnificat, that lyrical outpouring of trust and praise from the whole Church. It is the perfect, joyful expression of the awful earnestness of women — and men, too.

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The Feast of the Visitation 2016

Today’s feast of the Visitation, the only Marian feast to occur in May, ‘Mary’s month’, is one we can all enjoy. It is taken directly from scripture, so no quarrels about its origin; it celebrates life rather than death, so no forced attempts to wrest joy from heartbreak; and its chief protagonists are not important people, living gilded lives, but ordinary folk, rather like ourselves, who understand the importance of family and friends and do their best to live lives of uncomplicated goodness. So far so good. But for those of us who live what is called a liturgical spirituality, there is a hidden danger. We can become so distracted by our worship that we forget the message of the feast.

It is not enough to surround our statues with flowers and candles; to sing our light Magnificats into the darkness of a fallen world; to process, heap praises upon the Mother of God, allow a sentimental sigh or two to escape our lips. We are not merely to marvel but to do. Even those of us who are cloistered must act. We are to help, give comfort, welcome — and we are, quite literally, to go out of our way to do so, if necessary. When we celebrate the feast of the Visitation today, we are not simply recalling a more-or-less-historical event, we are affirming our willingness to serve. For most of us there will be no weary trek over the Judean hills, no need to struggle with all the discomforts of early pregnancy, but there will be asked of each of us something that will not be easy, something that will cost. May Our Lady and St Elizabeth help us with their prayers.

Note:
I have often blogged about this feast. Here are  links to two earlier posts:

The Feast of the Visitation 2011

The Kindness of Kin and the Friendship of WomenFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The Problem of Arrogance

Arrogance is a swaggering, brutal word. It suggests someone with a loud voice, an overbearing manner and probably a florid complexion into the bargain. Unfortunately, arrogance can come in rather more humdrum form — not so much overweening self-confidence as complete disregard of others, an almost risible inability to register what others are thinking or feeling. From time to time I delve into the spam folder on this blog and find comments spluttering expletives and self-righteous denunciations, so bound up in the writer’s own views as to be incapable of taking on board anyone else’s. I suspect these writers have very few friends if they converse like that offline!

The problem with arrogance is that it makes claims for itself at the expense of others. It is selfish; and because it is selfish, it can be destructive. It is suspicious of others’ motives, grudging of others’ success. The contempt it shows is simply a mark of its being turned in on itself. The best image I can think of is not the lip curled into a snarl but the clenched fist, ready to pound a table or another’s nose, the hand that will neither give nor receive. Maybe that is why the prophet Isaiah said that when the Messiah came, he would uncurl the clenched fist; why, as evening comes, we sing the Magnificat, with its bright promise that the arrogant and powerful are cast down and the humble raised up.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The Annunciation 2014

The Annunciation is one of my favourite feasts, so here are two small things inspired by today’s celebration. The first is one of the earliest ebooks I ever did. The introductory essay may help to explain why Catholics consider the Blessed Virgin Mary an important figure in salvation history. The second is simply a talk I gave to the community one day. Please be aware that if you don’t have Flash enabled on your computer, you may encounter one or two difficulties:

and for the podcast, follow this link (opens in new window):

https://app.box.com/s/16mhdkedo5r18w892zi5

Important Copyright Notice

You may download one copy of the podcast for your own use, but you may not copy it nor redistribute it in any way whatsoever. It is copyright © Trustees of Holy Trinity Monastery. You may not download, copy or reproduce the ebook in any way whatsoever. It is copyright © Trustees of the Conventus of Our Lady of Consolation. Used by permission.

Personal Health Update

I’m being admitted to the Nuffield Hospital, Oxford, on Wednesday, 26 March for surgery the following day. (I have a soft-tissue cancer known generally as sarcoma.) I shall not be blogging/replying to emails for a while, but I do ask your prayers. Thank you.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail