Darling, Don’t Be Afraid.

I like to think I’m a generally happy person.
I know there are a few people who know me really well who are probably chuckling at that idea right now. I’m emotional. I feel everything x100. I cry at everything, I’m angry, I can be aggressive, I shout, I once punched a dent into my macbook because it wouldn’t load the sims.
When Jesus told us to be like little children, I’m not entirely sure he meant petulant. I throw tantrums. I feel pain, and I feel it often. I pray every day that I can be more patient, more understand and more gentle.
I watch too much Grey’s Anatomy. To the point where I genuinely think that another two episodes and I may just be a qualified MD. One particular episode that I watch again and again features a young girl who thinks she is a super hero. As the Doctors examine her, they find more and more cuts and bruises, one particular cut is closed up with a staple gun. It later transpires that this girl has no cognitive sensitivity to pain. She can’t hurt and so she thinks she is indestructible. She able to climb the tallest trees, fight courageously, do whatever she wants without the fear of getting hurt.
Imagine the things we could do without the fear of failing, of being hurt. We’d be superheroes, surely? We’d be the people we always dreamed to be. We’d love, we’d give, we’d do everything without fear. So why do we have to feel pain? As a child, and well into my teen years I thought that we suffered pain because we’d been bad. I thought it was a punishment of sorts. God let us hurt because we hurt him with our sin. If not, why would God create humans with the ability to hurt, and worse still how can he create a human (that he loves so much) and that person have a willingness to hurt themselves, to cry alone, or worse to die. And how are we, then, as humans in pain supposed to believe in an all-loving God, let alone open ourselves to his will?
When I think of hurting, and I’m talking emotionally speaking now, I think of Mary. She was born without sin, and yet she suffered more than I could ever Imagine. When I think of her triumphant acceptance of the Lord’s will in her life I’m inclined to remember the joy and grace that would bring her. Less often do I think of the consequences. When Mary said yes to bearing the Son of God, she also said yes to open ridicule and disgrace as a pregnant, unmarried woman. She said yes to potentially losing the love of her life. And she had an understanding of what would happen to him. She said yes to scorn and misunderstanding, even rejection from her peers. It’s not just coincidence, I’m sure, that this suffering is reflected in her Son’s passion and he is ridiculed, embarrassed and abandoned.
Then later Mary loses Jesus (not for the last time) for three days in the temple. She’s done nothing wrong, she is sinless, and yet she goes through the pain of losing her child. At this point Mary and Joseph are unaware of the mysteries of faith. When we hear the words “after three days” we must automatically turn our minds to Jesus’ death on the cross. To continue the parallel the Child Jesus is found in His Father’s house, accomplishing His Father’s work.

“After three days He is found in the temple, that it might be for a sign, that after three days of victorious suffering, He who was believed to be dead should rise again and manifest Himself to our faith, seated in heaven with divine glory.” – St Ambrose

Mary speaks her words much more tenderly than I ever could in my pain, confusion or loneliness. “Son, why has thou done this to us?”. This ought to be a lesson to us in our pain. Mary doesn’t demand or accuse, she wants to learn, to be taught this mystery.
So, cognitively speaking, why can’t we be super heroes? Why is pain important? Well, as we all well know, pain is a warning sign. When something hurts our attention is drawn to it so that we may take special care of that area. That pain teaches us a lesson, that falling down hurts, and we must be more careful in the future.
So why aren’t we all hermits, wrapped in cotton wool? Well, our miraculous brains have the ability to control the pain signal.
The controversial “Dr Death” Jack Kevorkian suggests that if you aren’t satisfied with life you must choose death. This is a logical conclusion, but it’s cold and unfeeling. Death is the easier option, I guess. But satisfaction is the more… satisfying?
God wants to satisfy us, he wants to fill us. Mary went through agony so that she could learn and she quietly contemplated all these things in her heart. When we hurt, emotionally, God is telling us to pay attention to certain aspects of our life. In Psalm 81:10 he tells us to open our mouth wide so that he may fill us. This word wide speaks of not just creating space, but making room. When we want to fill our wardrobes with nice new dresses that will make us happy it would be illogical to buy a bigger wardrobe. No, you get rid of the dresses you no longer wear, or don’t fit you. no matter how pretty they are. You must make room for God, like you make room for desert. We don’t have to grasp at things, God wants to fills us, but we must be hungry for Him. He wants to fill us in such a way that it overwhelms us, saturates us. But, he can’t if we are full of other things.
So, back to my earlier question of how can we open ourselves to this? If we are scared or in pain? If we can’t understand the fullness of what we are opening ourselves to. Think of baby birds, they’re so tiny, they can’t see. They’ve no idea what is around them, but they open their mouths and cry out until their mother feeds them. This is how we must be towards Our Lord. In our fear and uncertainty, we must trust that what we need will be given us. We are nourished by God as we are told through out scripture.
Fighting without consequence isn’t bravery or courage, it’s just logic. We must have faith in God’s plan even if we don’t understand it. That’s true faith. If I want God to make me more patient He has to test my patience, if I want to be stronger, He has to test my strength.
Let us be open to what God is trying to teach us, to pay special attention to the areas that we need to nurture in God’s light. Most importantly let us not lose our patience with God. Let us, just as Mary did in the temple, ask God to open us up to His will.
When I remember all of this. I remember a song with the words “darling don’t be afraid I have loved you for a thousand years and I’ll love you for a thousand more.”
The song is so cheesy but it reminds me that through my pain, loneliness and confusion there is a plan because God doesn’t just love me now. I’m covered in His finger prints. He thought me out, he created me body and soul and most incredibly he loved me so much he gave me purpose, he gave me a vocation and through that, in the words of St Catherine, I will set the world on fire.

Obedientia et Pax

I’d been getting a little emotional that John XXIII has been a little over looked in the recent celebrations. The more I read about him, the more I begin to see that he was over looked in his own time also, and many of those who write so fondly about him now say that his ordinariness is what made him so special. I must admit, if it wasn’t for my combined love of Italy and books, I may not have known much about him either. 

I was desperate to go to the canonisation, outwardly because I’d never been to one before, but also because I love Italy and was desperate to go to Rome. The iminent canonisation of two saints and had prompted me to try to read some of JPII’s books, as I was already a large way through Theology of The Body. During my Amazon search JXXIII’s ‘Journey of a Soul’ came up in my recommendations, so I bought it and added it to the bottom of a pile of JPII literature I was reading. A while later I went to see a friend who absolutely raved about the book. I’ve probably mentioned before that I love journals and letters; they speak so so deeply to me and it’s no surprise that I fell in love with JXXIII’s words in his.

Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was a stretcher bearer in the first world war and as Pope Francis puts it, alongside JPII he “really knew the pains of the 21st century, but wasn’t overcome by them”. This really hit home for me. I’d read about the lives of both Popes and how much they’d been through, to hear these words from Pope Francis gave me a new fire and a new courage to fight through adversity for my faith. 

 

I find affirmation in Johns own encyclical, he says of missionaries and priests “They have overcome many obstacles and inconveniences and given themselves to God so that other men might gain Christ.” John, as ever, is thorough in instructing the faithful in his fatherly way. When faced with obstacles, in faith, or in life, John urges us to turn to Our Loving Mother and reflect on the words of the Apostle: “In all things we suffer tribulation, but we are not distressed; we are sore pressed, but we are not destitute; we endure persecution, but we are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we do not perish; always bearing about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodily frame.”
JXXIII really was in touch with the world, through his journaling it’s clear to see that he really did know the pains of society. He never put himself above them, nor separated himself from them and yet, as Francis, says he did not drown in them. “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.” It’s clear in his encyclicals that this was a message close to his heart. He saw the changing of the world around him and he cracked open the windows of the church to let some air in.
I can see why Pope Francis liked him so much, and why he was called the Good Pope. In his writings he talks with a gentleness which is paternal, a fatherly advice, and since I’ve become an over emotional soppy blogger, I’d like to say it makes me feel a little bit warm and fuzzy. He was exceptionally humble and his simple motto, obedience and peace, reflected his humility and is in turn reflected throughout papacy.
JXXIII spoke fondly of the Cure of Ars, celebrating St John’s humbleness and self-denial, which he urged all holy men to consider. His passion in being “aflame with charity” was clear and he believed in being generous to others in your self-denial. “Not even his (the priests) thoughts, his will, his feelings blond to him, for they are rather those of Jesus Christ who is his life.” It astonishes me that a man can make self-denial complete, down to the realisation that even your thoughts and prayers belong to Christ. You owe your entire being to him. It is through the example of his beloved cure that he is able to do this, the example which, JXXIII says, “attracts and practically pushes all of us to these heights of the priestly life”, and indeed for us lay faithful and religious John Vianney is still an incredible example of holiness and dedication of faith and we ought to exert every possible effort in this direction.
It’s often in my mind as to how St. John Vianney managed all of this, such “pastoral zeal” and dedication to the Eucharist whilst enduring lack of food and sleep . JXXIII says “his only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of the souls of his neighbours.” and in another place, John XXIII says that “in all that she does the Catholic Church is motivated by heaven’s inspiration… all of her children contribute with a selfless and dynamic will to mutual respect, the fraternal union of mankind, and solid peace.”
John XXIII talks so fondly of souls. In his encyclical on the Rosary, he talks about the need to pray the rosary for the church, her missions and social problems. Again, he gives us gentle, fatherly encouragement. He affirms us that he grows all the fonder of Mary’s rosary and we “should never fail to turn in spirit with ever greater confidence to the Virgin Mother of God, the constant refuge of Christians in adversity, since she has been made a source of salvation for the human race.” And we must always remember to pray for rulers of countries and other people. Again, he talks passionately of the urgency of the need for peace. Mostly he urges leaders to remember that “individual souls of men were created by God and destined to possess and enjoy Him.” and to never forget that He is “our refuge and our Redemption”
In general John XXIII was a kind and witty man, he talked so fondly of his humble upbringing and the town that he was from. His wonderful words confer the image of a kindly, fatherly man who speaks with compassion and understanding. He spoke of priests and even his predecessors with abundant gratitude. The man was a saint… oh wait…

It’s being praised as a “powerful” deconstruction of gender stereotypes in the workplace, leaving women feeling like they could take over the world. It’s being likened to Dove’s triumphant “Campaign for Real Beauty”. Though it had it’s flaws the sketches video, that came from this campaign,did cause us to reflect on ourselves, and urged us to give ourselves a little more love. The greatest piece of advice I ever heard, was that if I was in a sitcom all the quirky, embarrassing, socially awkward parts of myself would be the parts that other people love. However, I don’t really need soap to tell me that and least of all do I need that soap to tell me that beauty is the reason I can love myself and that others should. 

While I fully applaud this move away from beauty being the yard stick against which women should measure themselves, I can’t quite whole heartedly back Pantene’s empowerment for women’s success as much as the internet suggests I, as a young, independant woman, should. I’m not alone, feminist bloggers everywhere aren’t buying what Pantene is selling. The thing is it’s not even selling it that well. I’m not quite sure what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg found particularly powerful about what is essentially another spot from a beauty company where skinny, gorgeous women flick around their long, glossy hair. Somehow, despite Pantene clearly trying replicate their feel-good success, there’s nothing of the ‘Real Women’ that dove tried to promote and while I do admit that most days my mood is determined on how good my eyebrows look I don’t think how seriously people take me professionally is determined on how shiny my hair is, and nor is how ‘Strong’ I feel. In fact, is there anything more sexist than suggesting it might? 

Pantene and the many, many bloggers backing their spot, have come up with some startling statistics that make me want to wash my hair and therefore be more accepted by men in my place of work. For example “70 percent of men think that women need to downplay their personality to be accepted.” and where men are “smooth”, women are “show offs.”, where men are “neat” women are “vain”. I don’t know about you, but I know men who have been teased (by women) about their beauty regimes. I’ve heard women talk about men’s suits on the tube as ‘too flashy’ and debate whether the amount of buttons a man has undone is ‘just showing off’. These playground jibes aren’t the end of it. Kelly Services, a staffing agency, released an incredibly interesting study that shows that nearly 35% of men said they believed they had experienced sex-based discrimination over the past five years at work. 

So maybe 70% of men have a point. Maybe these 70% of men have been personally victimised by Regina George.  Another study showed that the mean girls spirit goes far beyond high school. 95% of 1,000 working women polled believe they had been undermined by another woman at some point in their careers. So maybe you are bossy, or pushy. Poor you, that must be tough. Well. at least you have beautiful hair. Go you. But, seriously… 

Mrs Norbury. :’)

If you feel like you have to be a hard-nosed business woman to get by then back yourself all the way. But it comes with consequences and some of those consequences involved being labelled “hard-nosed”. Mrs Norbury was pushy, but she didn’t mind, because it got results. Don’t let Pantene be the thing that backs you. I’ve somehow managed to find myself working in some very female-heavy environments, I went to an all girls convent school, and yes we play dirty sometimes, and yes we get labelled as bitchy, bratty or a princess. Now, I’m not trying to knock Pantene for creating an advert that portrays inequality in the work place. It is not, in my opinion, a powerfully positive image of women in advertising. It doesn’t make me feel strong, and it doesn’t encourage me to whip it. What it does it remind me that some people are going to unfairly judge me and also that my hair is kind of ratty and I have an uncanny ability to fall over whilst standing still. This ad kind of makes me think I need to be spoken up for, and worse; that I need to be spoken up for by Proctor and Gamble. I’m quite capable, I think.
I myself, have a very real oestrogen-fuelled need to look at big glossy ads that make me want to exercise harder, that tell me how to have beautiful hair, make my eyes pop, and cover up all the things that make me anything less than a china doll. As long as people exist there will be perceptions, and standards of beauty. I’m not some sort of hermit, I know the boost my self-esteem gets when I indulge it a little and yes, in order to fuel this demand I know that companies will use dirty tactics to make me buy their products. Don’t let beauty be your yard stick for the rest of your life. Your self-confidence needs topping up from the fact you believe in yourself and all that you can do. Also, don’t let men be your yard stick. They’re a completely different beast.
I’m not here trying to say that you should hate Pantene for creating an advert that prays on the insecurities of women to sell their product, because it would make for very hateful TV viewing and lets face it, it’s why I own the things I own. I guess I’m trying to sell an alternative.
People are going to call you names, they will give you dirty looks. I know I’m guilty of rolling my eyes when the beautiful girl who has just arrived at the bar next to me gets served first, I’m frequently at odds with overwhelming shoe related envy and I did once think about cutting off another girls stunning strawberry blonde curls. Because I get jealous, I’m not perfect, and I let it get to me sometimes. But my primary school teacher told me (as I’m sure everyone’s did) “don’t stoop to it”. You’re a woman, you’re not a man, take joy in that difference, don’t try to measure yourself against them.
Don’t let this empowerment be as shallow as another glossy television ad. Don’t let this empower you to do your hair. Let this empower you to be compassionate to one another, to open your hearts and judge less. So let’s swap the airbrushed, tiny girls of our magazines for women with a little less Photoshop and a whole lot more bad-ass-ness.

People will call you names, Hagar got relentlessly bullied by Sarai, driven wild with jealousy. If you are disenfranchised, despised, or despairing, listen for the voices of angels. You may find your courage is only a prayer away. (and also if you do find yourself staring daggers at the pretty girl across the bar, think of Hagar.)
Rehab, the original tart with a heart, teaches us to use our wiles effectively and with great love. After all, the life you save may be your own. Respect your power and wisdom like Deborah did. While I’m not trying to convince you drive a spike through someone’s head, let Jael’s story remind you that though you may be small in stature you have a lion’s heart, don’t mess. Ruth, the gentle heart, with her steadfast love and loyalty, changed Naomi’s bitter heart and led them both to a glorious destiny. Bathsheba (bear with me, I do have a point here) after God went all kinds of wrath on her unborn, illegitimate child, He then had mercy on her a blessed her with Solomon. She believed in His mercy and began a brave new life. Teaches us that even after our discretion if we repent the Lord will teach us how to live again. Esther was my favourite growing up, she just decided she deserved to be royalty and totally backed herself. This was my mantra as a teenager, I deserve to be royal, so I shall put in the work and act it, and people shall treat me accordingly. But, as a young adult, I find a little more in Esther’s story that I can learn from. She stood up (in the face of possible death) to save the lives of the Jews. “If I perish, I shall perish” she says. She taught me that I don’t always need to fight, I need to be imaginative and courageous in standing up for those who need my help. Mary, the mother of Jesus. I wont go into detail, please refer to everything else I’ve ever said for why Mary is an incredible role model. The woman at the well, smashing a bit of evangelisation early doors. The fearless Mary Magdalene. Mary and Martha! If you want a good balance between being dedicated in your work and in your spiritual life look to this pair. As my twitter bio says (in the words of Augustine of Hip Hop) Martha in my work, Mary in my devotion.