My Sisters the Saints (6) – An Inspiring Journey in Faith

images-1Colleen Carroll Campbell’s journey to femininity did not lead her to embrace a kind of Catholic “fundamentalism” with regard to the social, professional and economic gains that she had previously experienced because of feminism. John and Carroll Campbell clearly share a marriage of mutuality. They have just as clearly learned how to sacrifice and give up their personal agendas, one for the other. For those on the far right, who think the only way to respond to modern feminism is to throw “the baby out with the dirty bathwater” her conclusion will not satisfy you. At the same time if you want a radical feminist perspective that leads to a profound fear and loathing of men and motherhood then you must look elsewhere.

As Colleen read Edith Stein, and Pope John Paul II, she concluded that men are called to loving communion with others just as much as women. But Edith Stein believed that a man was called, more than a woman, to “action, work, and objective accomplishments. A man is less concerned with problems of being, whether his own or of others” (106). He has a more intense drive for individual achievements. A man has a “heightened capacity to submit himself to an external discipline and focus exclusively on the attainment of a specific goal” (Colleen’s words based upon Stein’s essays, 106-7). Stein adds, “a woman’s body and soul are fashioned less to fight and conquer than to cherish, guard and preserve” (107). And a woman has a tendency to openness toward others that inclines her toward intense and loving union with God. Women, Edith believed, were natural contemplatives.

Colleen does not think that every insight of Edith Stein is right on these matters. Edith’s remarks about a woman’s “subordinate” and “emotional” nature are clearly wrong and “smack of the rigidly defined archetypes of Carl Jung, a theorist who achieved prominence during the time Edith studied psychology” (108). Yet, and this is very important, Edith acknowledged that the tendencies she described varied according to individuals. She did not believe that all women should focus on the “helping” roles and professions nor did she believe that all women should marry and/or bear children. She did, and this is her major point, believe that a woman had a “maternal” orientation that made her naturally more generous and nurturing. Debate this for sure but I think it has something to commend it myself.

In the modern world of feminist studies this sounds like pretty radical stuff. I have come to believe that most of the political, legal, social and financial gains of the feminist movement are good. I have also come to believe in what I call, for lack of a better term, “soft” egalitarianism. I do believe there is a “paternal” and “maternal” part to our human differences thus men and women are not androgynous beings. In replacing and correcting the male dominance of cultures and religions we should not throw out this instinctive complementarity. There is a “spiritual maternity” that is present in women, though certainly expressed in various ways and by different means. This is to be cultivated and embraced, not rejected while we are correcting so many of the wrongs committed by males over many centuries. If there is anything that marks the radical feminist movement it is this–it has not replaced what it has rightly torn down with a radical enough vision of what a woman really is (by creation and nature) and thus why she is a woman and not a man. Colleen Carroll Campbell has a lot more to say than I have done justice to in my posts but hopefully what I have said edifies and encourages. She is a great story teller. She is a strong Christian and a devout Catholic. She will speak to Catholics deeply. But she speaks to me as a non-Catholic. There is not shred of Catholic pride or superiority of spirit to be found anywhere in her writing. She clearly knows Christians across the whole spectrum, loves her church and loves other Christians. She has struggled with the deepest mysteries of life, love, illness, career, marriage and death. Cardinal Dolan says this book is “completely contemporary and totally timeless.” I could not agree more. If you are Catholic you must read it. If not then it would be a great place for you to see how the Catholic faith is lived and loved by an intelligent, gifted modern, female writer. My friend Fr. Robert Barron says this book “brilliantly illuminates how the Christian life cannot be understood as an abstraction, but shows its radiant form in our friendship with heavenly companions who meet us in the real events and concrete circumstances of our lives.”

This last sentence is a great place to end my series. While I have already indicated I do not believe in the “saint making” process of the Catholic Church, or of any concept of the merits of the saints being transferred to me or my heavenly bank account, I have no problem believing that the departed saints are quite aware of us and pray for us from their place in the church triumphant. I also believe, as every good Christian should I think, that those who have lived deeply, and well, are true spiritual models for life in the present and the future. In this spirit I heartily commend My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir.

I am further reminded, in closing, of the oft-discussed, and deeply intriguing text, that is found in Hebrews 12:1-3:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart (NRSV).

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