First, find your way to this ancient church on the Vimian Hill, at 160 Via Urbana. Then, notice that you must step down off the street level to enter the Basilica of St Pudentiana. This is because you are going down to the level of the street in ancient Rome, and you may be forgiven if you get a chill up your spine. You are about to step into a church literally built on the house of an ancient Christian martyr. The beautiful young Pudentiana was martyred in the second century AD during persecutions of the Christians under the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161).
The story of the Roman sisters, Pudentiana and Praxedes, dates to the very first Age of the Christian Church. Pudentiana was a daughter of wealthy Roman Senator Pudens, a kinsman of the Pudens spoken of by St. Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy (II. Tim. iv. 21). Legend has it that Saint Peter himself visited this house in the time of the girls’ grandparents.
Pudentiana was a daughter of the wealthy Roman Senator Pudens, kinsman of the Pudens spoken of by St. Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy
Pudentiana and her sister Praxedes were among the earliest members of the Church, and both of them consecrated their lives to Jesus Christ. Upon their father’s death, the two sisters distributed their fortune to the poor, and devoted their time to good works, fasting and prayer. It was through their influence that their entire household, which consisted of ninety-six persons, was baptized by Pope Pius I.
In consequence of the decree issued by the emperor Antoninus (see our story on ‘Communion, Roman-Style’), which forbade the Christians to offer sacrifice publicly, Pope Pius celebrated Mass in Pudentiana’s house, and the Christians assembled there to assist at the celebration. She received them with much charity, and provided them with all the necessaries of life.
You are about to step into a church built on the house of an ancient Christian martyr. Legend has it that Saint Peter visited this house.
At the age of sixteen, Pudentiana was arrested and martyred on the fourteenth of the Calends of June (by our calendar May 19). She was buried in her father’s tomb, in the Priscilla Cemetery, which is on the Salarian Road.
Pudentiana’s house was willed to Pope Pius, and is now one of the most venerable Churches of Rome. Her relics lie under the high altar, according to ancient Christian tradition, which held that any place that contained the remains of a martyr was itself made sacred. This is the origin of the Catholic practice of venerating the relics of saints.
‘HALLOWED GROUND’: Ancient Roman Christian tradition made any place containing the relics of a martyr sacred, because by their death for the Faith they were certain to be in heaven.
This is the origin of the Catholic tradition of consecrating churches with saints’ relics under the high altar.
Your marriage is over. Or you are losing your house. Or someone close has died.
Whatever the cause, the anxiety is killing you.
Suddenly, you understand why people commit suicide. Your life has devolved down to the gnawing fear in the pit of your stomach. You are unable to concentrate.
At best, your life has become an unending series of painful tasks.
Joy has deserted you.
This is when you need God – and the Church.
What you need now is a plan.
“Twelve years ago, I learned that my ex-husband had been systematically raiding our bank account,” says Betty, now remarried and in her fifties. “He spent nearly $100,000 on courses to become ‘enlightened’ in a cult. I didn’t notice because I was too busy working night and day to support the family. He was a free-lancer who consistently lost clients – and as I came to understand, a sociopath.”
Betty was left to raise their two children on her own, as her ex paid no child support. She turned to an 80 year old Monsignor, who gave her hard-headed advice. “He told me three things: ‘Get your finances in order. Keep a close eye on your kids. And stay close to the Church.’”
Betty did all these things. Within months, her finances were under control, and her children recovered. Four years later, she met and married a good Catholic man – at the ripe old age of 47! Today, her almost-grown children are happy, healthy and successful.
Betty’s story is exceptional. Not everyone has a wise Monsignor to turn to. This was Elena’s situation. “I knew for many years that my husband would probably die before me,” she says. “But when he did, it was still a shock. I spent two years watching TV, not wanting to leave my house.”
Sarah’s ex did everything to demoralize her before he finally left her for another woman. “He told me I was fat. He said that I disgusted him. That he deserved a super-model.” To her utter shock, he took every dime in their bank account, too.
Michelle’s ex-husband grew increasingly aloof from her, and their lovemaking became less and less frequent. Finally, it stopped altogether. Then, her 14 year old daughter stumbled upon his child pornography websites. The damage to both mother and daughter’s psyches has been incalculable.
“I’ve come to believe that internet porn is really something diabolical,” says this slender woman with tired eyes. “It utterly destroyed our marriage, and today he is a shell of the man I fell in love with.”
There is social decay, and families seem incredibly vulnerable. And women bear the brunt of much if not all of this.
These all-too-common tragedies are the stuff of our daily lives, it seems. And for many women, trauma like this start a downward spiral which compounds the damage as they attempt to cope using food, alcohol, drugs, or sex. Worse, the damage overwhelms their children, who become easy prey for the dark forces in our society.
“Some of these things are a normal part of life – birth, sickness and death. But the plain fact of the matter is that Catholics – like everyone today – are fearful,” says one American priest. “There is social decay, and families seem incredibly vulnerable. And women bear the brunt of much of this.”
How to cope when you are in crisis? The key is to recognize that you are Catholic, and to understand the Church’s wisdom in teaching that we are complex creatures of body, emotions and spirit.
When you are in crisis, each of these aspects of YOU have been attacked — and traumatized. Trauma requires treatment. Therefore, you must put a recovery plan into effect for yourself. Unfortunately, nobody else can do this for you. It’s your life, your health and your children who are at stake. Ready? Let’s roll.
STEP ONE:REALIZE AND RECOGNIZE
First, you must realize that it is your solemn responsibility to get your life in order.
Then, recognize that you are only human. Your recovery will take time.
How long? Only God knows. This leads us to Step Two:
STEP TWO: SPIRITUAL SUSTENANCE
Your soul has been traumatized. So you need to turn to the Church. Everything you need is there for you: Confession, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion. These are all nourishment that your damaged spirit needs now to start healing.
Spiritual care is crucial to your recovery. You must do one good thing for your SPIRIT every single day. In the beginning, this may be something as simple as sitting in church and silently praying over and over: “Help me. Help me.”
This is fine. In fact, it’s a big step. The best way to do this is to be in front of the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, it’s worth traveling for, if it is not done in your parish. For sure you can find it at a traditional parish here:
Later, you may be able to progress to reading the Bible, praying the rosary or reading about the saints. But remember: ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR SPIRIT every single day.
STEP THREE: PHYSICAL NURTURING
Your body has been traumatized. Maybe you can’t sleep or eat properly. Or you have mysterious aches and pains – or worse, real stress-induced illness. It’s time to heal by doing one good thing for your BODYevery single day. Remember that exercise needn’t be violent. Experts recommend that you get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, three times a week. As your recovery progresses, don’t slack off: ALWAYS DO ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR BODY every single day.
Attend an exercise class
Work out at home
Garden or other outdoor tasks
Swim or hike
Walk or run
Ride a bike
Do breathing and stretching exercises
Take a hot bath
Give yourself a home manicure/pedicure
Get your hair done
Get your nails done
Get a massage or a facial – or both!
You can’t heal on junk food. Cook – and cook often. Invite friends and neighbors to your table on a regular basis for fresh, healthy food. (Need ideas? See ‘Sunday Dinner with the Romans’ in this issue.)
STEP FOUR: EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
Your emotions have been traumatized. Perhaps you feel numb. Maybe you can’t stop worrying. It’s possible that you have sudden crying spells. Or you have thoughts that you cannot control. Maybe you are even thinking about suicide.
Do not be afraid. Bad feelings are normal when you have been traumatized. It is imperative that you recognize this anddo one good thing for your emotional state every single day.
Get yourself a good, Catholic therapist. How? Ask a good, Catholic priest or nun – or friend or relative. You need someone who is skilled at working with trauma – and who is not trained to be ‘value neutral.’ A practicing Catholic therapist will understand and support your moral values and your need for prayer.
Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Be persistent. Talk it out.
Next, you need some talking buddies. That is, more than one person who will listen to you. Why? Because you need to talk this out. So, be sensible and spread the wealth. Don’t overburden any one friend with your pain – respect their need to live their lives, too. Finally, get yourself a fat notebook or two. You are going to use this to journal everything. Here’s some ideas to help you get started:
How Could This Happen?
Why I Hate My Life Now
My Prayer for Today
Help Me, Lord
What I Want for My Kids
What I Must Fix This Week
What I Accomplished Today
What I Need To Do Tomorrow
How I Want to be Living In a Year
EVERY SINGLE DAY: Talk about your pain. Write down what you are thinking. Your agony. Your prayers. Your hopes. Your plans. Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Over time, your need to talk and to write about this will wane, as you begin to heal.
Grief experts say it takes about a year, at minimum, to recover from a devastating loss. But everyone is different. Your recovery is a completely individual process.
You, however, are not helpless in all of this. Once you understand that you must work to take care of your whole self – body and soul – you will have taken the first, crucial steps out of the dark place where you are now.
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.
Such 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?
For 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.”
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.