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Saturday 23 June 2012

Political Pro-Life Activity in Iowa

So many political events are occurring it is hard to keep up with the reading, but as an Iowan, this article in The Christian Post caught my eye. Iowa GOP Demand End to Medicaid Abortion Coverage for Rape and Incest Victims reveals that:

A group of GOP representatives in Iowa has filed a petition seeking to end Medicaid-paid abortions for victims of rape and incest, while Democrats claim that a ban would not only re-victimize affected women but also threaten the state's entire Medicaid budget.The government program overseen by the Iowa Department of Human Services currently also covers abortions for fetuses that are physically or mentally deformed, which the Republican lawmakers are seeking to put an end to as well, the Des Moines Register reported."The 41 representatives who signed on to the petition want the law followed," Rep. Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn said in an email to the Register. "As far as I know, 41 lawmakers have never had to petition an agency to follow the law." Pettengill initiated the request for a ban.The lawmaker added that current government funding for abortions is "in conflict with the express language and intent of the laws enacted by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor."

Now, this is a welcome movement away from the liberalism which has shaken the state for over forty years. The movement back to GOP and pro-life roots shows that the incremental work of both Catholics and Evangelicals in the state is bearing fruit.

I encourage my fellow Iowans not to let up on the political activism regarding pro-life issues. In the neighboring states of Nebraska and Missouri, great success followed political involvement by all the pro-life groups. 

Some people look for immediate results, but the process of change can be slow. This petition and action on the part of so many lawmakers proves that change can occur.

God protect this work and may the Catholics and Evangelicals work together for the common goal of protecting life.

Our Lady, Mary

Because of several things which have happened in the past few weeks, including my pilgrimage to Walsingham, I have been thinking of the title of Mary, "Our Lady". Now, in these modern times, many English speaking persons in America, and other countries, do not understand the title "Lady".  Here, in Europe and specifically, in England, this title involves several layers of meaning, and I would like to comment on all as applicable to Our Lady, Mary, and why we need to meditate on this title.

The first dictionary meaning is the ancient meaning of "a woman having proprietary rights or authority especially as a feudal superior". This is quite straight forward, as a landed gentry would have a wife whose title would be lady, or, as in the case of many, even medieval ladies, women could own land in certain countries in their own right. That Mary, Our Lady has been given authority over us is part of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Her rank and honor stem from her Immaculate Conception, as well as her "Fiat", her "yes" to God which brought Christ into the World, the Incarnate Word. Even in the Magnificat, we see Mary acknowledging  humbly, her exalted status as the Mother of God. The English "lady" could be the wife of a knight or other member of the peerage. That Mary is exalted is a teaching of our Church. She is the Bride, the Mother, the Sister. She is Queen and First Lady. 

The second meaning may be, but is not necessarily, connected. In this definition, "a woman receiving the homage or devotion of a knight or lover", is an extension of the first definition, with a slight twist. The lady of propriety would be married, but the woman receiving homage of a knight or lover could be any exalted lady of rank he would choose to honor. One sees this in the poetry of courtly love and the French Romances. For example, in Eric and Enid, one of my favorites, we see in some translations, the use of the word Damsel for Lady. The Lady is loved and fair, pure and worthy of love. This ideal is also found in romances other than the Welsh, French or English, such as Parzifal, in German. The language referring to a lady was transferred very quickly to Our Lady, Mary, and poetry relating to her as the perfectly loved one became increasingly popular. This type of lady, and therefore, Mary, was seen as superior to other women and therefore, worthy of honor.

Here is one example which is an English carol you will all recognize, which refers to Mary as Christ's Lady:

1. I saw three ships come sailing in,
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
I saw three ships come sailing in,
    On Christmas day in the morning.
2. And what1 was in those ships all three?
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And what was in those ships all three?
    On Christmas day in the morning.
3. Our Saviour Christ and his lady2
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Our Saviour Christ and his lady,
    On Christmas day in the morning.
4. Pray whither sailed those ships all three?
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Pray whither sailed those ships all three?
    On Christmas day in the morning.
5. Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem,
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem,
    On Christmas day in the morning.
6. And all the bells on earth shall ring,
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
    On Christmas day in the morning.
7. And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
    On Christmas day in the morning.
8. And all the souls on earth shall sing,
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the souls on earth shall sing,
    On Christmas day in the morning.
9. Then let us all rejoice, amain,
    On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Then let us all rejoice, amain,
    On Christmas day in the morning

There are many more such poems and carols. In addition, Our Lady was painted as a "lady", especially in the ideal of the Garden Enclosed, as she was fruitful as a Virgin. This label came originally from the Song of Songs, and became connected to the ideal of the lady during medieval and Renaissance times. Some of those paintings are here on this post.

A third view of  Lady Mary denotes her gentility and manners. This last ideal of the Lady Mary has been lost in our popular culture. Partly, this is owing to the emphasis on Mary's Jewishness, her simplicity and humility. But, those characteristics are included in the title as well.

That women who are Catholics should model themselves on the Gentle Mary, and on the Mary of manners is an ideal so foreign that one knows hardly where to begin in explaining the necessity for this meditation and understanding of Our Mother, Lady Mary.

Gentility is part of the life of grace. A woman of grace shows forth not merely a gentleness, but a courtesy, a decorum, a mode of acting, speaking, walking, eating, dressing. 

When I was in college, in my first year, all the girls had to take two courses. One was personal health and the other was manners, or decorum. The second was taught by the woman who trained, yearly, the Miss Iowa contestants.

We learned how to walk, stand, get in and out of cars, talk, speak on the phone, greet guests, write invitations, set formal tables, pour tea and sherry, wear hats, wear gloves, have discussions, and in general, be mannerly to all, young and old. We were taught "grace" and as Catholics, we had "grace" to help us. Some of us learned these traits in our homes, but the encouragement at an age when we were dating, going out to dances, proms, dinners, preparing for careers, and perhaps, meeting our prospective in-laws, these traits were handy, as well as important. And, our model, (despite the car and telephone bits) was Our Lady, Mary. She would have been a lady, serving and being peaceful in all situations, being modest and gentle to all and with whom, it would have been a joy to be.

We actually earned a grade for these two courses. Needless to say, feminism was on the rise and tore into these classes, so that within five years of my graduating, both courses were dropped. With the dropping of the college dress code came the dropping of manners and appropriate dress, as well as social skills. The change happened in the 1970s.

This was not progress. With the dumbing down of curriculum came the dumbing down of behavior, and the disappearance of manners. Also, there was feminism, which taught women to act and dress like men. In addition, the "cult of the ugly", which I have written about here before, became popular. Women lost their beauty to "goth" and "jeans". In college, we could not wear trousers, except on Saturdays, and if we went out, we had to wear a coat over the trousers. We could not wear sandals, or socks. We dressed appropriately for dinner. These rules have been re-introduced in some Catholic colleges in the States with varying success. 

I love being with my older female friends, those in their eighties and seventies, who learned what I did. To spend a day in the atmosphere of gentility and grace is wonderful, especially today. I miss the level of discussion, and the entire Christian decorum of these few ladies I do know. We were taught that gossip was wrong, that laughing too loudly was coarse and that being intelligent about current affairs was part of being a lady. Of course, my mother falls into this category and the entire family knows she is a lady, par excellence. So, too were my grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and for those role models, I am grateful. Even the great-grandmother who was on the Oregon Trail acted in a ladylike fashion. One great-grandmother was a lady in society. Traits and customs were handed down in the Catholic circles which made up my family.

Mary as Our Lady is a meditation I wish to share with the younger sisters (and brothers) who have missed this grace in their lives and who may not even value manners, decorum, gentility. Some who read this may even become angry, and misunderstand the message of beauty and peace herein.

One of the saddest things for me on my return to England was the awareness of the dropping of such ladylike behavior in the society at large. I do not know what happened. I partly blame the hatred of the elite, a hatred of supposed weakness, and the hatred of religion, as religion, the Catholic Culture, created manners. A sign of the saint is gentility, a result of the interior life of virtue. And, as you know, the interior life of the virtues is a great theme of this blog.

 If one is humble, one is a lady. 
                                                                      My soul doth magnify the Lord.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

If a woman or a girl has not thought of Our Lady as a role model, as an ideal woman, "the" Ideal Woman, I challenge her to do so now.

More than ever, we need ladies. 

Guest Blogger on Dress

How To Dress For Mass by  Catholic Knight

Occasionally I'll invite a non-Catholic friend to mass with me, and when I do, this question frequently comes up. "What should I wear?"
Wow! If they only knew how profound of a question that really is. You see, I live in the Bible Belt of the United States, and here most people are Baptist or Pentecostal. These good folks have little knowledge of Catholicism, and so they really don't know what to expect. Most of the time I tell them to simply dress semi-formal. A clean shirt and slacks (or skirt for the ladies) will do nicely. That's mainly because there aren't that many traditional Catholic churches out here, and most Catholic tradition in this area has gone by the wayside anyway. Sadly, most Catholics don't even know how to dress for mass anymore. So that's why I decided to publish this post. How should we dress for mass, in an ideal world, where we honor our Catholic tradition fully and without shame? The following are some suggestions. Please excuse the diagrams, they were designed for a medical college. Just mentally insert a cross, or saint medal, where the ID badge is...

Men probably have the most simple dress code for Sunday mass, though probably not the most comfortable. The idea of "putting on your Sunday best" is not necessarily for your benefit. Men wear business suits on the job, or for social occasions (such as weddings, funerals, etc.) as a sign of respect. The idea of the suit comes from the Renaissance period, back when men started using scarves and jackets to appear in public. The idea was to excuse one's self (or one's body) from public view, so as to focus attention on the things that matter most -- such as business, conversation, manners, courtesy, etc. The tradition carries on today in what we know as "the corporate world" where certain standards of decorum are expected and maintained. This is done for the benefit of clients and customers, as a sign of respect and courtesy. Likewise, it stands to reason that this same manner should spill over into the Church -- particularly how one dresses for mass? If ever there was a time to excuse one's self (or body) from attention, so that it may be more appropriately directed where it matters (namely the Eucharist), it is during mass. Consequently, the tradition of wearing a suit, or at least a long-sleeve shirt with a tie, became the norm in all churches (Catholic and Protestant) in the western world. The custom only fell by the wayside recently (in the 1970s) as a sign of cultural disintegration in our society. Most people don't even know why the custom exists anymore, and a good number of them no longer practice it, showing up to mass in bluejeans, shorts, T-shirts and ball caps. Speaking of hats, since the time of the apostles, it has long been the Christian custom for men to remove their hats during mass. The directive to do so can be found in the Bible (1st Corinthians 11), and while it is no longer required in canon law, any man who approaches the Eucharist with his head covered would be seen as showing a tremendous amount of disrespect. Though most people may not know the reason why anymore, this tradition is still ingrained in the American psyche. Most men still remove their ball caps upon entering a home, or during the singing of the national anthem. If such respect is shown among men, then it is certainly owed to God as well.

The same idea of excusing one's self (or body) applies to women as well. However, it should be understood that in spite of the feminist propaganda we so commonly hear, female dress codes have always been far more lax in Christian churches than male dress codes. Women have always been free to explore a little fashion expression, varying between skirts to dresses, long-sleeve and middle-length sleeve, collar or no collar, along with an endless array of scarves, lace, patterns and jewelry. As a general rule, a dress or skirt is acceptable so long as it goes down below the knee while both standing and sitting. The neckline on a dress or blouse is almost always acceptable so long is it does not reveal the shoulder, bust or cleavage. The sleeves are acceptable so long as they do not reveal the shoulder or axillary area beneath the arm -- elbow length or longer is recommended. Basically common sense in modesty should prevail in all areas of dress, and for Catholic women especially, the model set by Our Lady (The Blessed Virgin Mary) should come to mind. We should remember that Our Lord always enjoyed the presence of women during his earthly ministry, and their beauty is something he calls us all to admire with the highest respect. So it is only natural that when a woman excuses her self (or body), she would do so in a way that complements her feminine appeal and dignity. In other words, she excuses herself with style and grace.

Beyond that, there is but one more element of dress that speaks volumes of our Catholic identity -- the mantilla...

The mantilla comes to Catholicism directly from our Jewish roots in apostolic times (1st Corinthians 11). In fact, Orthodox Jewish women continue with this same custom today. I have written extensively about the mantilla in a previous post... , but suffice it to say that while it is no longer required in the Code of Canon Law, it is nevertheless a Catholic tradition that has never been abrogated. In fact, Catholic women all around the world continue to practice it. Only in the United States, Canada and Australia has the custom been dropped, and mainly because of feminist propaganda suggesting that the practice of female head covering was a means of male domination. We have to understand that in the industrialized West, Catholic women are under tremendous peer pressure to not cover their heads during worship. So few women do it anymore, that the lack of practice actually does more to discourage the practice than the ridiculous propaganda against it. Some women may fear what others may think if they should wear a mantilla. It's sort of a fashion phobia, wherein they think "nobody else is wearing one, so I'll look out of place if I do." While some women fear a feminist lashing if they practice good Catholic modesty, afraid they may be accused of "submitting" to male dominance. Such fears are unwarranted. Most hard-core feminists left the Church long ago, and as for the fashion phobia, the vast majority of women in Church would probably join in the practice if just a few brave women stood up to the plate.
According to Catholic Christian tradition (found in 1st Corinthians 11) the head covering requirement falls equally upon both men and women. According to the custom, men are to take their hats off during religious ceremonies, while women are to put a covering on. This is for two reasons. The first is just like the manner of dress described above -- which is to excuse one's self. Saint Paul points out to us that a woman's glory is the beauty of mankind, and that is manifested in her hair. Women go to great lengths to make their hair beautiful, regardless of the style or trend, and that's a good thing. But during the mass, the focus is to always be on the Eucharist, and as a sign of modesty and respect, the woman excuses her beautiful hair (by covering it) to call more attention to the greater beauty of God's presence in the Eucharist.
Secondly, Saint Paul makes the unusual command of telling the men to uncover their heads, which actually contradicts traditional Jewish custom. Now you have to understand, Paul's instruction to do this contradicts a thousand years of Jewish tradition. It was a radical departure from the norm. This was not to exult men, but rather humiliate them. Paul is putting them in their place. You see, Jews put such a high reverence on the holy presence of God, that it was considered a frightfully embarrassing thing for anyone to be found in his presence uncovered. But Paul is telling the men to humiliate themselves by doing just that. He's telling them that they represent the image of Christ in the New Covenant, and since Christ exposed himself on the cross, and in the Eucharist, men too must expose their heads both as a symbol of humility as well as authority (Christ's authority that is, not their own)...
1st Corinthians 11:3-16
Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
He does this to draw attention to a theological truth. In marriage, the husband represents Christ, and the wife represents the Church. The glory of Christ is to be exposed, just as he was exposed on the cross, and is daily exposed in the Eucharist. (Certainly a humiliating thing for God.) So likewise the man's head should be exposed in the Church. But this exposure is also a sign of authority (Christ's authority) in the sense that God intended in the order of nature for the woman to complement the man, not vice versa, and so for the sake of the angels (who worship God with us, and are watching us) we must demonstrate that all things have been put back into order through the authority of Christ. This is why men must have their heads exposed - for a sign of Christ's humility and authority. While the women must have their heads covered - for a sign of the Church's modesty and purity.
The Church is made pure by the glory of Christ, and that which is pure should be veiled. So the purified Church, being the veiled bride of Christ, is illustrated in the woman's head covering. It was typical of Saint Paul to take an ordinary custom like this and turn it into a big theological illustration. But it's a teaching illustration that is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
All of this may seem overwhelming for most Catholics today. Contemporary pop culture has done so much to erode our religious traditions. But I've been wanting to write about this for a while, and so here it is, to do with as you will. I hope that it's been of service to at least some of you. God bless.