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    Mary

    How a Feminist Poem Changed the Way I Understand Advent

    How a Feminist Poem Changed the way I understand Advent -- FemCatholic.com

    This is a post about Advent, about Mary, and about how the beauty of language can change what we think we know.

    But before I get into it, there are few things you need to know about me:

    1) I’m an English professor, and for most of my college and professional life, I kept that pretty separate from my faith life. It’s not that I thought my career and my faith were inconsistent with each other – just that there didn’t seem to be much overlap. I remember a conversation I had with a friend who is a theology professor in which I expressed jealousy that his work with students could potentially aid in their salvation. I feared that there was a lack of significance in my own work.

    As I grew more in both my faith and my career, however, I started to see overlap. I began to notice how great literature, even literature that is not explicitly religious, almost always contains aspects of truth, beauty, and goodness, and I started to notice the prevalence of stories of redemption and grace, even in the work of authors who seemed anti-religious in their work. I started to think about how the beauty of art can’t help but lead us to God.

    the beauty of art can’t help but lead us to God.

     I’ve had a less-than-enthusiastic relationship with Mary for most of my faith life. For a long, long time, I just couldn’t get into the passive, meek, mild woman I understood her to be. I couldn’t get excited about the rosary and couldn’t get past my sense that only old, conservative, traditional Catholics could connect with her.

    3) I’m kind of an Advent junkie. Whenever people ask me what my favorite season or holiday is, I say something nice and expected, like Autumn or Easter or Thanksgiving. But, secretly, it’s Advent all the way. I love the quiet expectation, the stepping back, the way the dimmer lights and quieter music reflect the shorter days and hibernation of winter. I love the wreath and the candles and “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

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    Mary

    The feminine strength of Mary, Mother of God

    Hail Mary, Badass Woman -- FemCatholic.comHail Mary, Badass Woman -- FemCatholic.com

    Confession time: Marian devotion has never come especially easy for me. I fall asleep during the Rosary and get the feast days mixed up.  It’s not that I don’t love our sweet Mama. I just find it hard to relate to her. None of the women in my family really reflect the meek and mild Marian ideal of popular devotions, hymns and literature. Instead, I come from a long line of farmers and teachers: Holy women, no doubt, but less “gentle Mother, peaceful dove” and more “mother butchering chickens in the yard.” We drive tractors, play softball, drink beer, read books, and rule over countless classrooms and tiny houses full of wild children. Of one of my pioneer ancestors, it was said: “She rode a horse well, could yoke and handle a double team of oxen … and could swing a two-bitted axe with telling effect … she is said to have helped her dogs drag down a deer.”

    Even so, this past October, the Month of the Holy Rosary, I resolved to pray the Rosary more often. Daily, if I could manage it. I wasn’t even looking forward to it. It’s just something I was convicted to do for my own good, like eating more vegetables or going to bed at a decent time. But it took only three days of reciting Mysteries before I was smacked over the head with a whopping dose of grace and an important spiritual insight.

    The Blessed Mother was tough.

    Meek, but mighty.

    Feminine and formidable.

    In short, a badass.

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    Modern Catholic Women

    Stronger than darkness: The call to respond to racism

    The Call to Respond to Racism -- FemCatholic.com

    I could not believe my eyes when I sat on my bed, on a typical Saturday morning in Charlottesville, scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook.

    All that I saw were videos of protesters, carrying torches and marching in a line, down the lawn of the University of Virginia, my university, in the dead of night.

    I knew that the Unite the Right white supremacist rally was going to take place in Emancipation Park later in the day, but I had no idea that this evil would be marching less than one mile away from my apartment in the dead of night.  

    I had no idea that this evil would be marching less than one mile away from my apartment in the dead of night.

    The next twenty-four hours were spent on lockdown alone in my apartment, with my eyes glued to a livestream of the news on my laptop while all of Virginia was in a state of emergency. A white supremacy rally had turned into large scale riots, violence had out-broken between the supremacists and protesters, policemen were struggling to clear the crowd, and a car was driven by a white supremacist down a crowded street, killing a woman and injuring others. The places where I had the past three years laughing with my friends was full of carnage, evil, and terrorism.

    The following day I walked straight into my university parish and asked the chaplain, “What happened and what now?”

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    Mary

    From Resenting to Befriending Mary

    From Resenting to Befriending Mary -- FemCatholic.com

    Though I was raised Catholic, the Virgin Mary has been a figure I have wrestled with throughout my life. Experiences of hurt and certain secular feminist perspectives caused me to question and even resent who I thought Mary was. Experiences of healing, prayer, and reflection ultimately revealed more about Mary, and led to a deep friendship with her and greater peace within myself.

    In order to explain the progression in my relationship with Mary, I need to share a bit of my own story. When I was a sophomore in high school, my mom and dad split up after my dad came forward about being unfaithful. Eventually, my dad moved out of state while I was still in high school and was financially unstable and inconsistent with any kind of support to my mom. My mom was a single parent, breadwinner, sole caretaker for my little sister and I, yet she was also going through her own anguish which I often bore the brunt of. My dad fell from the pedestal I’d placed him on, and my mom simultaneously modeled that she didn’t need a man (or couldn’t rely on one) and yet often shifted the responsibility (unwittingly) onto me to pick up her broken pieces.

    Understandably as a result of this, I learned to bottle up my emotions in order to be strong for others. I learned not to trust others to be there for you, especially men, and that women need to be strong for themselves. Both my maternal grandmother, and great grandmother were also single mothers with failed marriages.  I come from a line of women who are independent, strong, stubborn, resilient, gritty, and unorthodox. I also learned to downplay my femininity because it seemed to be so associated with a lot of negative stereotypes about women such as being less capable, less intelligent, and weak or easy to manipulate. In my desire to be treated as equal I felt I needed to embody more masculine qualities, and I resented my femininity and seeing others who displayed it.

    Yet, deep down, I longed for someone to support me, to be loved by a man in the ways my dad failed to love my mom and me. This longing was often manifested in unhealthy and codependent ways. I longed to not repress my femininity. So when I saw it so openly and freely expressed in others, my resentment was rooted partly in my own longing to be more feminine, partly in feelings of inadequacy – that I would never be feminine enough – that I could never embody all that consists of being the perfect, ideal woman.  

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    Books

    Struggle with the rosary? This book will help

    Struggle to pray the rosary? This book will help -- FemCatholic.com

    I did not grow up praying the rosary.

    For the first half of my life, my rosary hung on the wall, draped over the framed guardian angel prayer that was also never prayed.

    By the time I got to high school, I tried to fumble my way through praying the rosary from a little blue pamphlet. My few failed attempts did not exactly foster a deep desire to pray the rosary.

    The Creed at the beginning intimidated me, the Fatima prayer was totally foreign to me, I didn’t understand how to meditate on the mysteries, and quite frankly, I didn’t see the point.

    When I entered college, I started hearing bits and pieces about “the power of praying the rosary.”

    Though I still didn’t quite get the purpose, I tried praying it a little more – because if it had helped so many people, and so many Catholics did it, there must be something to it.

    I still have ups and downs.  I’ve felt peace fall upon me in the midst of intense anxiety after praying the rosary, and there are many more times I’ve fallen asleep gripping it tightly in my hand because I was too exhausted to actually pray. I’ve heaved out Hail Marys as I dragged my body along a path I was hiking. I’ve turned to the rosary turing times of distress.

    Yet still,  I struggle to pray it.

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    Dear Edith

    Dear Edith Response #3 Mary as Queen

    Mother Mary catholic women response to Dear Edith 3

     Read the original question here.

    I used to struggle in understanding why Mary was always depicted with her eyes downcast. This was a problem for me because I saw it as submissive, a demeanor I don’t particularly like.

    I decided to read up on it and found artists depicted her that way to indicate that she was detached from worldly things, and while her eyes were looking down her heart was lifted up towards Heaven. So it wasn’t man she was showing humility to, but she was basically scorning the temporal, physical world. I thought this was pretty radical. And this is how I also learnt about the virtue of detachment. It’s sort of like experiencing your world from a third-person point of view, as opposed to first person. This really helped me put my day-to-day experiences in perspective.

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    Dear Edith

    Dear Edith Response #2 – Image of Mary

    Dear Edith Response 2 Image of Mary. FemCatholic.com

    Read the original question here.

    Hello! Thank you so much for verbalizing what so many of us feel, and don’t worry- this doesn’t make you a terrible Catholic at all! I know that for so long, I have found it so hard to relate to Mary, and even just to approach her in prayer. You hit on a core problem that I am sure many of us encounter in our growth in being Catholic.

    When I read your question, I began to ask myself the same thing. I can honestly say it has only been about a year since I have been able to be comfortable going to Mary and actually seeing her as someone I can relate to. And one thing that changed it for me was praying on very human aspects of her as well. Read more

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