Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Great Lady

It's fascinating that in our "enlightened" age, devoid of kings and queens and even disparaging of anything remotely "royal," not one but two royal titles have been given to Christ and His Mother. Here is a brief excerpt from "Ad Caeli Reginam," or "On Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary," by Pope Pius XII. Queen of Heaven, pray for us!
 "Besides, the Blessed Virgin possessed, after 
Christ, not only the highest degree of excellence and perfection, but also a share in that influence by which He, her Son and our Redeemer, is rightly said to reign over the minds and wills of men. For if through His Humanity the divine Word performs miracles and gives graces, if He uses His Sacraments and Saints as instruments for the salvation of men, why should He not make use of the role and work of His most holy Mother in imparting to us the fruits of redemption? "With a heart that is truly a mother's," to quote again Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, "does she approach the problem of our salvation, and is solicitous for the whole human race; made Queen of heaven and earth by the Lord, exalted above all choirs of angels and saints, and standing at the right hand of her only a Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she intercedes powerfully for us with a mother's prayers, obtains what she seeks, and cannot be refused." On this point another of Our Predecessors of happy memory, Leo XIII, has said that an "almost immeasurable" power has been given Mary in the distribution of graces; St. Pius X adds that she fills this office "as by the right of a mother." Let all Christians, therefore, glory in being subjects of the Virgin Mother of God, who, while wielding royal power, is on fire with a mother's love."
Ave Regina Caelorum
Hail, O Queen of Heaven enthroned.
Hail, by angels mistress owned.
Root of Jesse, Gate of Morn
Whence the world's true light was born:

Glorious Virgin, Joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see;
Fairest thou, where all are fair,
Plead with Christ our souls to spare.

V. Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin.
R. Give me strength against thine enemies.

Let us pray: We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to assist our infirmity: that like as we do now commemorate Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, Mother of God; so by the help of her intercession we may die to our former sins and rise again to newness of life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Why I Don't Miss My Maiden Name

As summer concludes, love is in the air. My husband is away right now at a family wedding, my brother ties the knot in a little more than a month, and mu husband and I just celebrated our five-year anniversary last week. Matrimony is on my mind.

I never would have imagined ten years ago that I would be where I am now - happily married with two lovely children. My ambition was to travel the world (by myself), get a decent education (by myself), and start a successful career (probably by myself...although at that point I would be a bit flexible, seeing as I would be about 30 or so). Now, four years shy of 30 and five years into my marriage, I can only thank my Creator. Because what really fueled my desire to be "by myself" was a despair that I would ever find someone.

During this period of despair, I also pledged that I would never change my maiden name. To do so would be to turn my back on my identity and passively lean on my husband's. We modern women must protect ourselves from the onslaught of chauvinism, after all. And, as stated by the Lucy Stone League:

"This tradition of name-abandonement by women is so much a part of U.S. culture that few recognize it for what it is: a powerful instance of sex discrimination which has a major effect on women."

Major effect, indeed. I find myself signing my letters not only with my husband's last name, but also his first (preceded by the archaic "Mrs."). The Lucy Stone League continues:

 "When girls are growing up, they see what they have to look forward to: the abandonment of their identity into the identity of another... The message to mothers is: 'Your name is not important. Your family history is not important." Of course, their children see the same message, 'I have my father's name because my mother's pre-marriage name is not important.'"

I, too, once felt this sentiment. It's hard for me to put my finger on the exact moment it changed. But it wasn't hard for me to choose to change my maiden name. Part of that was because I had finally found a man whose name I wanted to take - for me, this was a sign of utmost respect. But mostly, I realized that taking my husband's name was not to denounce my previous identity, but rather to enrich it.

Lucy Stone had one thing right: names are not indifferent. To take another man's family name is momentous. However, as Catholics our names are fluid and dynamic. The transition from one surname to another is not simply a loss of identity; it is a deepening of that identity. In the case of marriage, this deepening is directly tied to the other - to my husband. The decision to take his name was simultaneously a commitment to discovering the truth about myself, my place in the world, and most importantly, my vocation as wife and mother.

So why do women have to change their names and not men? Isn't this an obvious example of gender discrimination? I suppose it could be seen that way, assuming that your husband, society, or some other outside entity forced you to change your name, simply because you were a woman. I felt no such pressure. I wanted to change my name, to make my unity with my husband concrete and undeniable. I think there is something in women that longs for that metamorphosis. As much as I loved my maiden name, I don't miss it.

That being said, it certainly isn't arbitrary that the woman takes the man's name. This is an immense topic that really requires an entire Socratic dialogue (and we know those Greeks were long-winded). Unfortunately,  it's bedtime for me. In the meantime, I  leave you with this snippet (seemingly unrelated, but truly pertinent) from one of G.K Chesteron's essays on the nature of domesticity, or what we moderns call "gender roles":

Modern women defend their office with all the fierceness of domesticity. They fight for desk and typewriter as for hearth and home, and develop a sort of wolfish wifehood on behalf of the invisible head of the firm. That is why they do office work so well; and that is why they ought not to do it. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

And the Two Will Become One Flesh

If I learned one thing about philosophers during my academic adventures, it's that they have an uncanny ability to find profundity in seemingly ordinary aspects of human existence. From Aristotle's examination of the parts of animals to Heidegger's essays on technology, the philosopher refuses to be satisfied with what first strikes the eye, insisting on a deeper inquiry. This tendency can be exhausting and even mundane when pursued for its own sake. But every so often, the philosopher hits on a bedrock of truth.

Yesterday as I observed my one-year-old playing with her hands (she is especially fascinated with her hands and feet right now), I was reminded of one such insight that I found particularly intriguing in grad school. In his famous work Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty uses the example of two hands touching to illustrate sensory experience:

When I press my two hands together, it is not a matter of two sensations felt together as one perceives two objects placed side by side, but an ambiguous set-up in which both hands can alternate the rĂ´les of ‘touching’ and being ‘touched.’
 Several phenomenologists (a fancy term used to designate philosophers that belong to this particular school of thought) used this example to illustrate the way in which human beings struggle to obtain a purely subjective or objective perspective. It is impossible to say, when the two hands touch, which hand touches which. The two are entangled and intertwined in such a way that the border itself becomes ambiguous. The hands sense and are sensed simultaneously. This ambiguity is of prime importance for phenomenology.

As I watched my toddler attempt to tickle her own palm (she just doesn't quite get that you can't tickle yourself), I was struck with the thought that this ambiguity extends into the realm of the domestic church - of the family.  In previous posts, my husband and I have spoken against the idea that each family member is an isolated individual, a self-sustaining unit that is simply part of a well-oiled machine that is known as a "family." In order for there to be any change in the contemporary notions of what it is to be a family, this fundamental assumption must change. A family is not simply the sum of its individual parts.

Like the example of the hands, the relation of each family member to the next is not crystal clear. Although we can certainly distinguish certain roles and tendencies for each family member, it is not clear that each exists apart from the other. In reality, the members of the family are always "touching," to use the example of the two hands. They sustain each other, conflict with each other, perhaps even repulse each other...but they are always and everywhere in relation.

The funny thing about the example of the hands is that it presupposes a human being with two hands who passes judgment on the sensory contact. The person whose hands touch each other has a strange ability to feel that movement "from inside," if you will, and pass judgement on that feeling. When you touch your hands together, you feel the pressure on each fingertip, the transfer of weight from one to another. The border is always there, though it is always ambiguous.

If only we could feel our families "from inside." We might see that we are not as isolated as we believe. So often we view a husband and wife as two unique individuals with their own individual rights, and so forth. In this view, the idea of "becoming one flesh" is simply that: a lovely idea, but not a concrete reality. If only we could feel that border between man and wife, mother and daughter, father and son, from the inside. We might see that our personal "bubbles" are only a product of self will.

Interestingly, for Catholics the prayer position is one in which the hands are intertwined. May it remind us that we do not exist for ourselves, by ourselves, or from ourselves.