Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Flirting

They told me the girls complained that I was a big flirt in middle school (said girls, in classic middle school fashion, never told me this themselves).  This upset me at the time.  Why did they think I was a flirt?  Because I was comfortable hanging out with the guys and I laughed at their jokes?  News flash: I thought their jokes were funny!  I was /not/ being a big flirt!  (Anachronistic observation: Sure, I wore quite the booty shorts, but that was for fashion and for fun, and was never intended to land me a man.)

My whole extended family functions by way of humor.  Somebody's the straight man (usually me), somebody's got the witty retort or the hilarious story (never me, save in extra-familial situations), and everybody's the audience.  My parents have always communicated via witty banter exchanged across the kitchen or over the dinner table.  One of my earliest childhood memories is of desiring such a banterability with the man I would one day marry.

But this enjoyment of humor (and especially of banter) was not limited to romantic situations, not by far.  I have bonded with many a friend over the years (both guys and gals) with such verbal interplay as could (I suppose) be considered flirting.  But flirting seems to contain an essential element of showing off, an interior risk or danger, which has rarely been part of the situation for me.

This is not just a tension between my family and the rest of the world, though.  In my secular office back home, wordplay and banter are absolutely essential to the friendly, fun office dynamic.  I take this as a confirmation that it's not just the quirks of my family or the insularity that can afflict Steubenville circles but a reality of life that people banter and are funny, and this is good.

So why is it that women still get accused of being flirtatious for such things?  Double standards?  Jealousy?  Certainly misperceptions, but is there more to it than that?

Let me know if I've missed anything.  In the meantime, I've got some co-workers to banter with.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!

From lands that see the sun arise
To earth's remotest boundaries,
Let us proclaim the Virgin-born
The Son of Mary, Christ the King.

Divine Creator of the world,
A servile form he now puts on;
The Word made flesh will free mankind
And not lose those who are his own.

Within the Mother's stainless soul
Dwells plentidue of heav'nly grace:
Her sacred womb now bears enshrined
A secret such as none e're told.

The dwelling of that most pure heart
Becomes the temple of the Lord:
Virginity remains untouched
As she conceives God's only Son.

That Child divine is now brought forth
Whom Gabriel announced before;
Whom, cradled in his Mother's womb,
The Baptist knew, and leapt for joy.

Upon mere hay Christ deigns to lie:
He does not spurn a manger bed:
A little milk now nourishes
The One who feeds the very birds.

Celestial choirs resound with song,
And angels praise the Triune God:
To lowly shepherds they reveal
That Shepherd kind, who made the world.

All praise and glory, Lord, be yours,
Whom Virgin bore for all mankind:
All honor to the Father too,
And Holy Spirit, Three in one.  Amen.

-Proper hymn for Lauds, Christmas Morning (OF breviary).
Transcribed from The Mundelein Psalter.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Christmas in Advent

When I was packing to return to school after Thanksgiving, I debated whether to bring back my Christmas decorations et cetera.  The deciding factor was the thought: I'm studying at the Liturgical Institute.  If we celebrate Christmas in Advent, there's something wrong with us!  And so I left it all at home.

The celebration of Christmas in Advent has always been a question I've debated.  Certainly it is better liturgically to celebrate Christmas, well, during Christmas!  Yet it does seem a bit excessive not to celebrate it at all during Advent, when the rest of the world is celebrating, especially since Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas - in joyful expectation more so than in sorrowful penitence.

A few groups of which I've been part throughout my life have celebrated Christmas after the holiday break (from work or school), but the vast majority of even Catholic groups celebrate before the holiday.  After spending this Advent almost completely out of touch with any holiday celebrations, I'm beginning to think this is more than just conforming to the secular holiday culture.

First problem: This Advent has not felt like Advent.  Sure, I've been doing the Jesse Tree on my own, and we've been praying Lauds and Vespers in common, and I've gone out of my way to wear the appropriate liturgical color each Sunday (epic win!), but it simply hasn't felt like Advent.  My Christmas shopping has been done gradually.  I've only listened to Christmas music on occasion (in an effort to keep myself from getting sick of it before Christmas came).  I've done no decorating.  My Christmas cards are not yet written (because I don't want them to arrive in Advent).  And I've been to a grand total of two parties.  It does not feel like we are approaching Christmas.

Second problem: I'm focused on Advent-not-Christmas.  As a result, I've been hesitant to wish people a Merry Christmas - whether they're people I know and see regularly or total strangers at the mall - which does little to support the celebration of Christmas or put anyone in a Christmas mood.  Even upon leaving school for the break, I felt no compunction about wishing people a happy new year, but had to force myself to say "Merry Christmas!"

Third problem: It's perfectly natural to meet and greet and wish people well in the weeks before Christmas.  There are some people with whom you'll part ways before the holidays, and others whom you won't see until the holidays; in both cases one wants to celebrate with such people and wish them the best.  The weeks leading up to Christmas are a perfectly natural time in which to reminisce and celebrate with those people who are close to your heart but are not the family with whom you spend the feast day itself.

Fourth problem: We have a hard time celebrating things for a long time.  I don't know how much of this is innate to the human psyche as opposed to twenty-first century American culture, but anticipation builds toward a major event and then dies down much more slowly.  That is to say: it seems to be easier to celebrate "Christ is coming!" for the whole month of December than to celebrate "Christ is here!" for the whole month of January.  Certainly this is aided by the fact that our society plays Christmas music and displays Christmas decorations on that time schedule, but I wonder whether this is something deeper than a societal disorder...

* * *

It's now Christmas Eve (I wrote most of the above yesterday).  After watching Christmas movies with my friends and sister (four in the past twelve hours), wrapping Christmas presents, and eating Christmas Eve dinner with my family, I am beginning to feel like it's time for Our Lord to be born.  Advent still felt too brief, but the calendar marches inexorably on, and the holidays come anyway.  I suppose my challenge now is to live out the other side of the coin: to keep the Christmas spirit even after the octave has ended. 

Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis . . . Cantate Domino canticum novum quia mirabilia fecit!

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Chivalry, Egalitarianism, and Restraint

I like to think I've mostly recovered from my feminist days.  But every now and again, I'm proven wrong.

By the time I hit high school, I'd already gotten over the self-esteem crisis that besets (nearly) everyone in adolescence.  I was fully aware that I'm a fantastic, beautiful person (who, admittedly, makes mistakes), and that I can make great contributions to whatever social situation I'm a part of.  Two primary goals of mine were to make people feel loved and to keep them from feeling awkward.  Consequently, I developed habits of complimenting people, telling them I love them, and hugging them; I also took it upon myself to rescue conversations from the dreaded "awkward silence".  I prided myself on being someone whose presence markedly changed social situations for the better (or so I always presumed), someone who could be relied upon to be a major player no matter what we were saying or doing.

Enter college.  I had already begun to learn the value of comfortable silence with good friends, and discovering the treasures of silent prayer only increased my interior life and consequent comfortability with silence.  I slowly but surely realized that I had set up for myself unrealistic expectations, and let go of my felt responsibility to fill pauses in conversations.  I discovered that it's okay to sometimes hold back from saying what's on your mind, and that it's possible (and permissible) for me to be fully present to a conversation without saying much.  Even so, I remained a major player in most conversations, especially among good friends.

These musings are not new.  What is new is the revelation of the way this has affected my outlook on chivalry.

I was brought up to think that one favor deserves another.  When I sleep over someone's house (say, while traveling), I bring a gift for the family to thank them for their hospitality.  If you invite me over for dinner, I'll show up bearing wine or dessert.  For the guy friend who pays for my food while we're out, I'll occasionally cook or bake.  I know these things are not necessary, but they seem appropriately gracious, and are always appreciated.

Well, I was at a special dinner with classmates last week, and our host (not a classmate) was a charming older gentleman who took a kind interest in me, the only woman in the group (at the time).  He held the shoulders of my coat while I took it off, and accorded to me the honored seat immediately to his left at the table.  During the meal, however, I did not converse with him much - sometimes because I was talking to the people to my left, sometimes because he was talking to the person to his right, sometimes simply because I didn't know what to say to him to spark a conversation.  And yet, at the meal's end, he took my coat and held it for me to put on, thanked me for my company, and bid me good night (along with everyone else).

I was bowled over.  I felt as though I'd failed in some responsibility (for surely the privilege of sitting at the host's side should be repaid with charmed attention and delightful conversation as well as feminine beauty), and yet he treated me no differently.  Certainly he was pleased that I'd enjoyed myself (for his job as host was to empower everyone to have a grand time), and thought nothing less of me for not engaging him conversationally, but I still felt remiss and entirely unworthy of the honor he'd bestowed upon me by being such a gentleman.

And herein lies the culprit: egalitarianism!  Michael reminded me last weekend that true chivalry would be cheapened were there strings attached: that a man who opens a door or holds a chair (or a coat) for me does so simply to honor me as a woman, and would be horrified to learn that I felt obliged to return the favor somehow, even if in a different and complementary fashion.

I've already had to break myself of the habit of immediately returning compliments, and have found that all compliments are now more meaningful.  Perhaps by humbling myself to accept chivalry in return for naught but my presence - even if that presence is not patently charming or hilarious - perhaps thereby I will more deeply interiorize chivalry, and consequently grow to better understand my role as a woman in this intricate dance we call life.

Still, maybe it is time to brush off those good conversationalist skills. They really are handy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the Liturgy of the Hours as the Prayer of the Whole People of God

Scene: Room 106, Mundelein.  Characters: me, another lay woman, ten priests.

Most discussions in that class were lively, but this was one of the most memorable.  One classmate was presenting his research so far on his paper topic: The Liturgy of the Hours as the Prayer of the Whole People of God, with the idea that the postconciliar reforms of the breviary succeeded in their aim of making the Liturgy of the Hours more accessible to the laity.

Surprise was expressed at this opinion, and a discussion began as to reasons why the Liturgy of the Hours (hereafter LOH) was not being comunally celebrated in most parishes.  This continued for some time until it was questioned whether the issues brought up were related to the structural reform of the breviary (they weren't), and not to other factors that would be just as applicable to the 1964 breviary.  Slowly, as these objections had been being raised and digested, something had begun to stew in the back of my mind.  When I spoke, even I wasn't yet sure of the problem I was trying to communicate.

"The LOH is the prayer of the whole people of God, because it's a communal action of the whole Church, and the prayers contained are on behalf of all the people, okay fine.  But the fact that priests and religious are canonically bound to pray the Office*, and most laity are not, has got to mean something, has got to be reflected in its character (if not its theology).  Right?  I mean, if it's the prayer of the whole people of God, then it's mine every bit as much as it is yours; but most of you have been living and practically breathing the Office, in all its hours, every day for years; its rhythms have been internalized and it's become an essential part of your spiritual life.  When I pray the Office, it's nice, and familiar, and liturgical, but that's about it."

Fr Dana chimed in with what almost seemed like surprise in his assent:  "When I tell my parishioners about the LOH, I usually say, 'This is the prayer that every priest and religious says every day - and you can say it, too!'"   The general opinion was more or less agreement that, while we have no issue with Pope Paul VI's theological formulation that the LOH is "the prayer of the whole people of God" (Laudis Canticum, 1), this idea was somewhat at odds with our lived experience.

A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to attend sung Vespers at the Shrine of Christ the King.  I, who am quite comfortable with the Traditional Latin Mass (to the point where I positively prefer it), was saddened and disappointed to find that I could not unite my heart to the liturgical action.  In fact, if I recall correctly, I prayed through all the psalms at my own pace, napped, then looked over them again when I woke up, and simply left when Vespers was over.

Even in the Ordinary Form, I realized, the celebration of Lauds and Vespers in common has little ritual attached (unlike the Mass and sacraments); it's mostly just a matter of chanting (or saying) the right words at the right time, and occasionally sitting or standing.  It's a lovely prayer to make, but it doesn't feel like my personal prayer (and we seemed to establish in class that the LOH is meant to be both personal prayer and the prayer of the Church).

So it was with great anticipation that I was finally able to sit down and read this classmate's completed paper last night.  He traced the history and development of the LOH, showing that it began as a Christian extension of the Temple services, the whole community gathered together at fixed hours to recite psalms and hymns of praise, then evolved to two forms: the cathedral office and the monastic office.  The cathedral office was textually simple (one psalm for Lauds, and one for Vespers - the same two every day) but had great ritual (candles, incense, processions); the monastic office was structured so as to facilitate reciting the entire psalter.  Over time, the more complex monastic office came to have primacy, and priestly travel, coupled with a overall attention given to interior piety, contributed to the clericalization of the Office: it was effectively, though not officially, the priest's private prayer.  When the Second Vatican Council called for reform of the Divine Office, the faithful were explicitly mentioned, and communal celebrations of the LOH were encouraged (Sacrosanctum Concilium 84, 87, 100, etc).

I've had to oversimplify this greatly.  My apologies.

The paper was very illuminating, and I enjoyed reading it.  But it did little to satisfy my initial unease (after all, even before I understood the theology or history of the LOH as the prayer of the whole people of God, I didn't doubt it).  I know we can't base theology upon experience.  But the experiences of a group of well-formed person are something against which one might test a theology, to a certain extent...

The LOH is the prayer of the whole people of God.  Okay, we've got that.  But clergy and religious are bound to pray the Office, whereas for most laity it's (dare I say it?) more like a devotional activity.  Doesn't that suggest that clergy and religious have a different relationship to the LOH than do the lay faithful?  Then shouldn't it be possible to say that, in some sense, this prayer is more properly theirs?  We tested out a theory in class that, though it's the priest who prays the Office, because he prays for the whole Church, it is then the prayer of the whole Church; that, however, led us down a messy path wherein the laity don't need to participate in prayer because the priest is doing it on their behalf...

I don't really have a conclusion, but I do have one suggestion (even this, however, leaves me uneasy): As we are all different parts of the Body of Christ, as we each participate in His work in a different way, so does the depth of our connection to the LOH change according to our relationship to it.  Consider analogously the vision of heaven that depicts each person as a cup: each cup is filled to the brim, but the cups are of differing sizes (and no one cares about the size of their cup, because each is completely full).  In this way, it would be possible to preserve the juridically experienced idea that the Divine Office belongs with a certain fullness to those clergy and religious who are bound to its recitation without diminishing its value for and proper-ness to the lay faithful.

Maybe I'm just grasping at straws here.  But sometimes, that's all we can do.  In the meantime, I'm off to go pray Vespers, for regardless of the deeper theology, it is good for my soul to proclaim the greatness of the Lord...

*Divine Office = Liturgy of the Hours
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