Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: A Review

If you don't like social experiments, particularly those involving the Bible, then this book is probably not for you.  Basically the author, Rachel Held Evans, takes the Bible and each month explores a topic related to women both by living it literally and looking at how others interpret it.  By others I mean everyone from Orthodox Jews to polygamists.  The book is an interesting thought experiment.  If I had to rate it I would say it was "okay."  If you asked me why, I'd say it's because I'm nitpicky and I don't think she did a great job seeking out Catholic sources for her information.

October: Gentleness
Here she talks about contemplative prayer, but she gets her terms mixed up.  I've already explained why here.

Skipping over November: Domesticity

December: Obedience
She gives a commentary about the Virgin Mary.  Some of it just bugs me.  Like in the kind of "Don't mess with my Mom" bugs me.  After commenting about what the Immaculate Conception is she writes, "It's as though, over time, Mary's feet have gotten farther and farther off the ground."  Later she writes, "Like a good Protestant should, I think Mary's act of radical obedience means more when is is one of us.  Imperfect. Afraid. Capable of feeling all the pain and doubt and fear that come with delivering God into the world.  But I suspect I may also be a bit of a Catholic, for on the rare occasion that I yield myself fully to the will of God, when I write or speak or do the dishes to magnify the Lord, I start to see Mary everywhere."  I'm not sure what to make exactly of that last quote.  Mary was perfect particularly in her obedience.  She's not like us because she didn't hesitate.  She wasn't actually afraid.  I mean she asked an angel (which scare the day lights out of people) a question.  Furthermore we will never truly be like one of us.  She was God's Mother.  Nobody can ever say that.  That in and of itself shows that she's set apart.  I don't know but I think Ms. Evans is riding on the fence on this one.  Either Mary is particularly special or she's one of us and anyone of us could do that job.  It can't be both.

January: Valor

February: Beauty
This one is one of those hard things for non-Catholics to get.  Catholics see sex as a sacrament in a lot of ways.  Sex is about intimacy and I think it gets masked as pure pleasure too much.  Did you know that Blessed Virgin Mary is considered to God's Spouse?  Think about it.  If Jesus is the New Adam and BVM is the New Eve...then.  Yeah.  We are all technically called to be the spouses of Christ.

It's this sort of thinking that would probably confuse (if not creep out Ms. Evans).  She writes "On the one hand, we have centuries of medieval Christian theologians who went to great lengths to render the poem [Song of Songs] allegorical, interpreting the intimacy between the man and the woman as the love between Christ and the Church.  This required some interpretive gymnastics that at times preclude common sense."  Actually maybe to Ms. Evans it precludes common sense, but she also didn't grow up knowing of the Church as being something actual not metaphysical.  She probably heard that Christ is the Bridegroom, but did not think that that meant the Church is in fact the Bride.

March: Modesty
"Traditional Catholics often wear the mantilla, a lacy black veil that falls over the head and shoulders."  That's news to me.  Mantillas come in a variety of colors.  But okay black is popular- for married women.  White is also a traditional color particularly for unmarried women, brides, and 1st communicants.  Yes, I'm being picky.  But if someone were to read this book wouldn't it sound like for Traditional Catholics we'd have brides wearing black veils?

"...while Catholic nuns typically wear a black veil over a white coif, (unless, of course, they intend to fly and instead opt for a cornette)."  Har har.  Slow hand clap. What a nun wears is largely based on what kind of vows she's taken are.  Postulants, for example, will wear white.  But if she means the colloquial term for nun (not just to mean a cloistered religious sister) then I must inform her that religious sisters wear a variety of colors of veils.

"...and St. Padre Pio famously refused to hear the confessions of women wearing anything other than skirts that fell at least eight inches below the knee."  No he didn't.  This is why this fictitious thing is so slanderous.  Here we have an evangelical believing something about a Catholic saint that is fabricated.  If you have this on your site, please take it down.  It's not true.

Later on she quotes from Cardinal Giuseppe Siri who warned against trousers in the 1960s.  Keep in mind that this was during women's liberation and the good Cardinal was concerned about what it would mean for women to behave like men instead of behaving like women.  He wasn't concerned about modesty.  Pants were just a symptom of a larger problem going on during that time period: the break down of family and women embracing the dangerous aspects of women's liberation movement.  This isn't some kind of Papal or Magisterial declaration against women wearing pants.  You can keep wearing pants.  Nope.  It's about women needing to be women and not trading in our feminine genius for a lesser form of masculinity.  Please understand I'm not saying anything against masculinity.  I'm saying women should embrace what they are.

Then Ms. Evans throws out the "Mary-like Standards" codified by Fr. Bernard A. Kunkel.  Sometimes this is attributed to Pope Pius XI.  I've already talked about this before.  But I'll just repeat.  Look at the Catechism.  This is one man's opinion from 1944.

I agree with her.  These codes for modesty standards are ridiculous and to keep bringing them up over and over and over again is head shaking.  Selling books to fellow Catholics using these standards like they are more important than other doctrines that we should be teaching is mind boggling.  Can't we focus on something else?  Isn't it enough to say "please wear clothing that covers your rear to Mass" without going into whether that has to be pants or skirts?

The rest of the book is fine so far as it discusses aspect of Protestantism like ordained women and mentions that she takes a silent retreat at a monastery.  It's just those irritating things above that get to me and made me contemplate (pun not intended) about slamming the book down a few times.  If anything it teaches me that Catholics have a long way to go with evangelization if an open Evangelical gets this information all wrong.  It also shows that maybe I should just stop reading all books from Evangelicals.  Those barbs from an outsider denouncing Momma Mary and medieval theologians just drive me nuts.  Near occasions of sin.  I tell you.

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