Radical Women

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Colleen Carroll Campbell – the author, journalist, television host and former presidential speechwriter –  speaks candidly about her work , and her observations on Catholic life in this exclusive REGINA interview.

It seems that your discovery of the saints was critical to helping you find your way forward. Is this true? How so?

Yes, getting to know these six women saints was a crucial part of my spiritual journey, which is why I interwove their stories with my own in My Sisters the Saints. Although I did not initially expect to connect in such a profound way with these women – some of whom had lived centuries, even millennia, before me – I found that their lives and writings spoke to me in surprisingly relevant ways. They echoed my own deepest longings, helped me navigate my toughest trials and led me to rethink nearly everything I thought I knew about what it means to be a liberated woman. So there was really no way to separate their stories from my own, because their stories had so powerfully shaped my own.

The six saints whose stories I interweave with my own in My Sisters the Saints are Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mary of Nazareth.

A quick summary: Teresa of Avila and her tale of a struggle to overcome worldliness and status-seeking spoke to me during my frenetic college years and jump-started my spiritual quest. Thérèse of Lisieux helped me grapple with my father’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease, a trial she knew from her own father’s descent into dementia. Faustina of Poland guided me as I struggled to choose between continuing my work as a presidential speechwriter in the White House and marrying a man who was smack in the middle of medical school 800 miles away. Edith Stein offered me insight and consolation in the midst of my battle with infertility. Mother Teresa did the same at a time in my life when I was feeling some of the same abandonment by God that she had described so eloquently in her recently revealed private writings. And Mary, the Mother of God, was with me all along, but in a special way in my quest for motherhood.

‘Faustina of Poland guided me as I struggled to choose between continuing my work as a presidential speechwriter in the White House and marrying a man who was smack in the middle of medical school 800 miles away.’

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing women of your generation today? What dangers are they facing? Many observers point to the impact of feminism and materialism on America women and therefore on the family.  How would you characterize that impact on your generation? 

I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for an entire generation, and I think the answers to these questions largely depend on how and by whom one was raised. But I do think it’s true that young Americans today – regardless of what sort of families they come from – are growing up in a culture that does its best to distract them from asking life’s most important questions or finding satisfying answers to those questions. Even young Catholics raised by committed Catholic parents, as I was, face a barrage of messages from the wider culture that undermine the messages the Church is sending.

For young women, the cultural messages are particularly pernicious: Life is all about how you look and who’s looking at you; the only success that matters is the kind that can be quantified and flaunted; heeding your inner longings for committed love or the chance to give of yourself generously in family life is a path to oppression.

colleen2Such distortions often leave women ill-prepared to seek or find lasting happiness. Women in my generation enjoy more opportunities to participate in public life than ever before, and that’s something for which we should be grateful. But too often, our interior lives are not nurtured as they should be, and even women of faith find ourselves caught in the same traps of status-seeking, people-pleasing and me-first pleasure-chasing as everyone else.

The women saints and their stories offer a powerful antidote to this. The saints achieved their fulfillment by giving their lives away. They found themselves by seeking more than self. The way I see it, the women saints – not today’s pop culture heroines or secular feminist activists – are the real radicals. They are the role models we ought to be imitating.

‘Even women of faith find themselves caught in the same traps of status-seeking, people-pleasing and me-first pleasure-chasing as everyone else.’

Your generation has also seen a rather startling rise in vocations to religious orders that are loyal to the Magisterium and traditional in their approach. Can you comment on what you think is driving this trend in the face of such overwhelming counter-trends?

Colleen3For my first book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola 2002), I spent a year traveling across America interviewing hundreds of young adults. The reasons for their conversions – or, in many cases, their “reversions” to the Catholic faith of their childhood – are manifold and detailed in that book. But if I had to sum those up in a sentence, I might simply quote St. Paul: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” (Romans 5:20)

The chaos and confusion of the past four decades – both in our increasingly secularized culture and even in corners of the Church that were overly influenced by that culture– led many young adults to search for something more satisfying and substantial than the theological vapidity or secular materialism of their youth. Their natural human yearning for God, combined with their natural youthful idealism, led them on a genuine search for truth. And that search led them to embrace a robust, demanding and orthodox Christian faith that is, in its orthodoxy, decidedly countercultural.

It seems that most people no longer have any personal relationship to the saints, as they weren’t taught about them in the post Vatican II vacuum. Do you see any signs that others like you have discovered the saints? 

Yes, I see many signs of a revival of interest in the saints even among non-Catholics, and I think it makes a lot of sense. Christianity is an incarnational religion. We believe that God became man in a specific town, on a specific day, in the womb of a specific woman. So the personal and specific matters in Christianity, and the personal stories of Christ’s followers matter, too. Each life testifies to some unique aspect of God’s love; each human person bears God’s image in a unique way. Getting to know the saints allows us to get to know Jesus in a new way, to see his qualities magnified through a new lens or situated in a new historical context. When we’re striving for holiness and intimacy with God, it helps to look to the saints – to see men and women who ran the race and finished well.

“The culture tells us that life is all about how you look and who’s looking at you; the only success that matters is the kind that can be quantified and flaunted – and heeding your inner longings for committed love or the chance to give of yourself generously in family life is a path to oppression.”

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Colleen Carroll Campbell  writes on religion, politics, culture and women’s issues for such national outlets as The New York Times, Washington Post, National Review Online and First Things, comments about them on such networks as FOX News, CNN, PBS and NPR, and discusses them as host of “Faith & Culture,” a weekly television and radio show that airs internationally on EWTN, the world’s largest religious network. A former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell speaks to audiences across America. Her newest book, My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, was published by the Image imprint of Random House in October 2012. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.


The (American) Monks of Norcia

It was October 6, 1995 and Father Cassian Folsom was riding the train between Rome and Naples when he felt the call of the Holy Spirit. In his seat, he found himself envisioning a new religious order, one that would focus on the integration of prayer, study and manual labor. Three years later, Father Cassian founded a new Benedictine order, the Monks of Norcia.

Today, situated in the Sybilline Mountains, within the walled city of Norcia, the Monks’ monastery is directly above the 5th-century ruins of the birthplace of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Fr. Cassian began his order in 1998 in a small apartment. Today, the Monks have their own monastery, a visible presence in the local community, an online presence to the world and even their own brewery. While the order is still a small one—sixteen monks in all—the authenticity of Father Cassian’s original call has been validated by the growth of the last fourteen years.

Norcia is a tourist city, thanks to its culinary delights and the uniqueness of its walls, which allow only seven points to enter the city. The Basilica is at the heart of the town, and visitors who might have come just to sample the boar and cheese instead end up being exposed to the bread that is eternal. “Visitors basically stumble across the monks,” said Bryan Gonzalez, the order’s Director of Development in the U.S.

“Tourists wander into the Basilica. They’re blown away by the beauty of the Mass. It gives the monks a chance to change culture from the inside-out.”

The food in Norcia might bring tourists, but few things could go better with boar and cheese than good beer, and that is something the Monks have been able to provide. “Brewing beer has long been a part of the monastic tradition,” said Father Mary Benedict Nivakoff, who lives at the monastery. “For years on Sunday nights we would sample the vast variety of Trappist beers and wonder if it was possible to do this ourselves.”

This past August, Father Nivakoff and his brother priests got an affirmative answer to that wish. After allowing one of the monks to renew his hobby of home brewing, they were happy with the results and realized they really could do this themselves. On the Feast of the Assumption—August 15—Birra Nursia—was open for business.

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In four short months, “Nursia” beer has taken off. The monks supply restaurants both in Norcia, and as far as Venice, Livorno, Perugia, Montefalco and Rome. Within their own gift shop, Father Nivakoff reports that the beer never stays on the shelf more than a week or two.

The bigger challenge Birra Nursia faces is fulfilling the demand, as their American friends and benefactors are ready to import. “The exportation process is difficult,” said Gonzalez. “There are permits and distributors to be dealt with.” More importantly though, “the monks can’t just crank out beer,” Gonzalez added. “They can make 250 liters at a time and need a bigger beer kettle, about three times bigger.”

“A monk witnesses to the goodness of God and the beauty of creation.”

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More important than meeting market demand is the positive spiritual impact the brewery work has had on the monastery. “If monks do not have good work, their spiritual lives can suffer,” said Father Nivakoff. Each monk now participates in the brewery in some form. This contribution helps each monk to take responsibility both for the quality of the beer and for the monastery in general. monks6

The early success of Birra Nursia gives Father Nivakoff hope that their work will enable the Monks to achieve self-sufficiency. “As anyone who has started their own business knows, the material fruits of the brewery will take some time to appear, since most of what we earn has gone back into the plant.” However, according to Gonzalez, the generous donations the Monks receive at least enabled them to start their business debt-free.

The sixteen monks literally live above the ruins of the house of the great saints Benedict and Scholastica in Norcia, now a gastronomic tourist destination located in central Italy.  The monks own an old Capuchin monastery, unused for sixty years, presently “uninhabitable.” However, the permits and costs associated with renovation are prohibitive.

statueThe Monks grow spiritually, as all Catholics do, through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. While the celebration of various liturgical rites since Vatican II has led to a battleground in the Church, the Monks have countered by replacing the battleground with beauty—the reverent celebration of, and regard for, all the rites of the Church.

Those who want to share in the Monks’ love for God need not travel to Norcia—they can go online and download the Vespers that are uploaded each morning. “The practice of having Vespers online isn’t new,” Gonzalez told REGINA. “But in other cases, it’s on live and that’s not practical for someone in the United States who wants to pray with the monks.” Gonzalez posts a recording each morning. Father Nivakoff added that he’s heard from both soldiers in Afghanistan and missionaries in Africa, telling him they listen in.

Growth and success means challenges and the biggest one the monks face is that they’re running out of room. They own an old Capuchin monastery, unused for sixty years, presently  “uninhabitable.” However, the permits and costs associated with renovation are prohibitive. Nor is an American-based sister house a likely solution, given that the monastery’s location at the birthplace of St. Benedict give it a uniqueness impossible to re-create. “If you built a house in Des Moines (the American home base) it would lack the uniqueness,” said Gonzalez.

While the challenges of finding new space and expanding the brewery are significant and will require generous action from benefactors, the flourishing of God’s grace continues to abound in Norcia. The Monks bring the beauty of the Mass to pilgrims, the splendor of Vespers to their online audience and the simple pleasure of a good beer to people throughout Italy. It’s the true living out of Father Cassian’s original mission of integrating prayer, study and manual labor.

“A monk witnesses to the goodness of God and the beauty of creation,” said Father Nivakoff.  “It is his job to convert his life to one of total sacrifice to God in imitation of Christ. In so doing he reminds the world that God is not just worth dying for, He is worth living for; He is worth loving.” Indeed, He is. You can visit the Monks of Norcia’s website at osbnorcia.org

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Dan Flaherty is a freelance writer and editor of TheSportsNotebook.com. When not covering sports, he’s written on a wide range of topics, including online dating, politics and real estate. He is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in the Boston of the late 1940s. Dan currently resides in southeastern Wisconsin.

The Catholic Wedding of the Year 2012

By Lucy Mc Vicker Archduchess Kathleen of Austria is everything a princess should be – poised, graceful, elegant, articulate, God-fearing, humble, and virtuous. She is also an American with a passion to defend the poor, the lonely, the pre-born and their mothers.  I know about this passion, because I was blessed with this inspiring friend … Read more

Dear Pope Benedict XVI

The news is still painfully fresh. We are still digesting the idea that you are resigning from the papacy, a step that has not been taken, we understand, since the 1400s.

We understand that your health and strength are failing you. Certainly we all watched, transfixed, as your predecessor almost literally died in our arms, his suffering and death broadcast far and wide for all the world to see.  And while we admired his unswerving courage, some of us couldn’t help but worry about what was transpiring in Holy Mother Church as our pontiff lay dying for so long.

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We must pray with renewed fervor, hope, and trust in God’s goodness. Peter’s boat will never sink. God has a plan.

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So that is why we understand your courageous decision now. You are telling us that the bark of Saint Peter requires the strength and focus of a vigorous man in these stormy seas. And we know that you are right.

Gone are the days when an aged and ailing pope could retire to the papal apartments and fade away. The media requires an active pope who’s constantly in touch with the world. Your doctors have been honest with you, and you are honest with the world.

Yours is a selfless gesture from a selfless and holy man. And we thank God for your many decades of selfless service, your patience and your bravery. But we will miss you — your intelligence, your gentleness and your great love for the Church. We must pray with renewed fervor, hope, and trust in God’s goodness. Peter’s boat will never sink. God has a plan.

This Lent, we pray for you, Holy Father and for the cardinals who are choosing your successor. May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, guide you and the Church in the difficult days ahead.

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It is with deep gratitude that we dedicate REGINA to you, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. May God bless you always!

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Featured photo of Pope Benedict attributed to Peter Nguyen, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The Homeschooling Goddess

Can You Homeschool?

by Dorothy Gill

You have no clue what it’s all about, or what a real homeschooling family actually looks like, but you’re pretty sure that they’re a strange breed of survivalist apocalypse- types who live off the grid behind their ‘No Trespassing’ signs.

After all, what else could possibly possess a family to say “no, thank you” to a free education provided just down the street, and instead take on the full-time responsibility of teaching their own kids — if it wasn’t for their paranoid anti-social tendencies?

You might be surprised to learn that the most frequently-cited priority of families who take this road less traveled is the happiness of their children.  I’m betting that you can relate to that one, so here’s a look at the top three myths about the whole homeschooling phenomenon.

MYTH #1: What about socialization?

If you are asking this question, then you have probably not met many homeschooled kids.  Or you have met them but did not realize it, because you were looking in vain for those rumored telltale socially-awkward clues.

As it happens, kids who do not spend the majority of their waking hours in the exclusive company of their peers end up being perfectly comfortable relating to and spending time with people of all ages.  (This is similar to what they will encounter in the real working world, after all, so you can rest assured that your kids will be well-prepared to take their place in adult society.)

If in fact you did notice anything unusual, it might be that you were surprised by the child’s polite, unaffected manner. Chances are you were greeted by name while being looked in the eye and offered a hand to shake — all from a smiling face that didn’t seem to hold you in any particular contempt for your adulthood.

Frequently, homeschooled kids’ self-confidence is not as vulnerable to pressure from their peers, and therefore they may well be more individual in expressing their style. This self-expression might manifest itself as anything from geek to fashionista, though chances are it will not mirror what you’d see on the local school grounds.

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 If you are asking this question, then you have probably not met many homeschooled kids.  

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You may also notice that homeschooled kids are generally happy. Even the teens. This is because being able to use their time more efficiently, having access to home-cooked nutrition three times a day, adjusting their study schedule to accommodate their sleep needs, and the absence of the daily social ostracism, cliques and bullying which are huge sources of stress in the life of ordinary teens actually ‘dials down’ the usual teenage surliness.

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You may also have noticed that homeschooled kids are generally happy. Even the teens. 

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MYTH#2: Most people are not capable of homeschooling their children

If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to homeschool, there’s only one question you have to ask yourself: “Got kids?”  If you do, then you qualify. 

In fact, the education of children in the home, by their parents, in the company of their differently aged siblings, is the most natural environment for learning. 

There is no automatic barrier that materializes in the mind of a child at the age of 5 or 6 that renders void the parent’s heretofore competence in directing the child’s discovery of her universe.  And there is no ingredient more important in the education of children than love.  In this, a parent is more qualified than any credentialed stranger can ever be. 

By virtue of your vocation as a parent, you are already endowed with everything you need to successfully homeschool your children.

MYTH#3: Homeschooling means re-creating ‘school’ at home

‘Home education’ is a much better description of this work than ‘homeschooling.’  This is because schools are where you load a room up with same-aged children sitting at desks and attempt to teach them all the same thing at the same time. This requires text books that are designed to facilitate 45 minute instruction segments, punctuated by a bell.

There is no need to replicate this dubious environment at home.  With education (as opposed to ‘school’) as your goal, you have access to the world as your text book and the rhythm of family life as your school bell.   And your local library, community center, the internet and the dozens of online curriculum providers will provide as much or as little assistance as you could possibly need. This approach accommodates any budget, and allows you to custom-tailor your approach to each child’s needs.

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 With education (as opposed to ‘school’) as your goal, you have access to the world as your text book and the rhythm of family life as your school bell.

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So, have the courage of your convictions. Turn off the TV and video games, harness your kids’ creativity, direct their natural curiosity and let the learning begin.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dorothy Gill is the mother of four sons, ages 11 to 26 and she has been homeschooling since 1992.  She is active in her parish  and lives in Vancouver, Washington with her husband and three of her four sons.