Friday, 31 January 2014

Guest Blog: Claire

Claire works for a university chaplaincy and blogs anonymously at Claire Writes.

Let me preface this by saying I haven’t had such difficulty in writing about a topic in a long time. I’m not sure what was/is going on. It finally took me to take out a notebook and a pen and write “the old fashioned way’. What has came out is slightly testimonial…
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    It is so easy as a Christian woman to shrink into the shadows and accidentally make yourself insignificant.  I know because that was me almost 7 years ago.

    Picture the scene - I’m 18 years old, just started university and living with 10 strangers and secretly in love with God. University is a one of a kind experience. You leave your own little bubble and the comfort of home life and suddenly you’re thrusted into a world where everyone, including yourself, is fighting to be seen and for their opinion to be heard. I was not a confident 18 year old.

    I had one friend in particular back then who was incredibly overpowering and very self-righteous (in all the wrong ways). I spent a year trying to fight the lifestyle her and my other friends enjoyed, whilst not trying to come across as a ‘holy-joe’!. But I couldn’t take it much longer and, by the grace of God, I made a bold move and I walked away from the friendship. And it changed my life forever. I often look back on that version of me, the version that allowed myself to be walked over, and I wonder what would have become of me? Would I have respected myself as God truly wanted me to? Would I even have a relationship with Him??  -  I think not!

    So I had to partly remove myself from people of the world who wouldn’t bring me closer to God. I sought out a place I could go where people believed in God, lived their life for Him and weren’t afraid to be that way. I won’t lie and say this was an easy option for me. I spent a year completely broken, curled in a ball on my bed crying my eyes out. But the beauty of Christ is that His Saving Blood builds us back up. He created in me a stronger, God-loving heart and set me on the road to explore my true femininity, bestowed upon me because of His goodness. His healing hands rested on my soul and began a journey for me that is still continuing today.

    In the early days I didn’t know what it meant to be a woman of God, but I knew I wanted to be different to other girls. I began by throwing out all my trousers and for the past six-ish years I have worn a dress every single day. I just wanted to feel feminine. I’m not saying that trousers are manly clothing, but I just needed to have this “outward sign” that I was living my life differently to others, even if it meant I was the only one who knew this.

    So by finding a place on campus where I could attend mass, go to adoration and hang out with people my age who were waaaaaaaay more acquainted with God than I was, it allowed me to be comfortable with the whole ‘God thing’ so I could actually get around to furthering my relationship with him.

    The past seven years have been bumpy ones. As a woman of God I struggle and I fall just like everyone else. But I have God on my side, which is out-of-this-world-amazing. I have had people think I’m crazy; family members look at me like I have two heads because I post scripture quotes on Facebook; I have been told by other Catholics that I’m not a good enough Catholic; I’ve been broken and rebuilt; I’ve been tempted; I’ve found love; I’ve lost love… but still through all of this God just showers me with His mercy and compassion, and uses me to bring the Good News to others. 

    After seven years, do I know what a woman of God is? Well I know what it is not - it’s not something that can be pigeon-holed into one specific definition. Being a woman of God is a very different role than that of a mans, but also very similar. We are designed to be nurturers, care-givers; we were created to be creative; we are designed to live our lives like the women of the Bible - Jesus’ female disciples and His Blessed Mother. Today’s culture tries to mock us and lead us astray at every available opportunity, but we are much stronger than that, and we gain our strength from Him.  

Don’t let the shortcomings and insecurities of the world make you lessen the woman God created you to be.

    Over the years I have experienced great difficulties with being a woman of God in this the 21st Century, but I have learned that by placing myself in holy situations with people my own age I gain confidence in my ability to be a woman of God. It is so important to me to be completely open about who I am to anyone I meet.

Do not be afraid to be a woman of God, do not be made to feel small, do not suppress the beautiful, intelligent, Godly woman you were created to be!

“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Marianne Williams

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

My Friend and Namesake: St Jane Frances de Chantal

This post was originally written for Sarah’s wonderful series – Our Friends, The Saints – but, incredible woman that she was, Jane Frances was snapped up quickly as a favourite saint (look out for that post this Saturday!). Keep a look out for a guest post coming there soon...


        Ever since I can remember, my parents have loved to tell me the story of how they chose my name. There wasn’t a moment, they tell me, when they doubted the names God had given them both: Esther Jane Frances. Esther, after the beautiful Persian queen who stepped out in faith to defend her people. A story of bravery, strength and complete faith in God’s deliverance. A story that so many people know and take courage from. Yet Jane Frances has an equally inspiring story – one which fewer people know of…

        My middle names were chosen to honour my mother’s favourite childhood saint, who has since become one of my own favourites (not just out of bias!). The daughter of a wealthy Baron, Jane Frances was married at 20 and widowed with 4 young children by the age of 28. At a relatively young age she had already lost her two oldest children and several other members of her family as well. She could hardly have been blamed had she become angry with God or even turned away from Him. But instead she did something remarkable.

        She took a vow of chastity and dedicated her whole life to the Lord. With the help of St Francis de Sales she moved to Annecy and founded the Congregation of the Visitation – a religious order which accepted women whose unbridled desire to serve God had been rejected by other orders on the basis of age or ill-health. What’s more, they were among the first female orders to actively take the word of God out into the community in a time when female religious were generally expected to remain cloistered. She worked tirelessly to spread the message of the order – one of love, humility and charity – to the extent that by the time she died in 1641 the order had 86 houses.

        Jane Frances de Chantal was a woman of courage, who judged people only on the desire of their heart. And yet she did all of that quietly and unassumingly, with a generosity of spirit and humble attitude. She lived each day for the glory of God, aware that her good works were done not by her own strength alone. The enormity of her legacy demonstrates the fact that aggression and forcefulness are not necessary to get things done. She showed us that meekness does not equate to weakness.

"Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to him. That is all the doing you have to worry about."
St Jane Frances de Chantal

        When I was a child we visited Annecy on a family holiday. We entered the Cathedral to look around and found that, out of sheer divine providence, mass was just beginning. I was too young to understand fully, but I can clearly remember the peace I felt there, in the place that my namesake had walked daily – celebrating mass and receiving the Eucharist where she, too, had done so. She had already begun to intercede for me to my Father in Heaven, with whom she is celebrating eternal life.
        Esther and Jane Frances. Two lives of courage, selflessness and determination – 2000 years apart. I pray that I may be able to emulate just a fraction of their strength in my own life. May their unending intercession instil in me – and in all of us - the confidence to hear and obey God’s call wherever it may lead. May we challenge the fear of failure in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, and be an unshaken voice for the voiceless.

St Jane Frances de Chantal… Pray for us.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Guest Blog: Cindy Hurla

Cindy blogs at The Veil of Chastity.  She is passionate about ministry for single women and aims to offer them wisdom and hope. After enduring many years of singleness, she and her husband - both reverts to their beloved Catholic faith - have been married for over 11 years.

    My first reaction to the question “What is it like to be a woman in the 21st Century?” is:  

 This is a wonderful time to be a woman!  

    I feel we women have the best of all the potential worlds as well as the support system in place for whatever 'world' we choose.  When it comes to careers, friendships, our faith, personal goals and the many shiny things available to us, the 21st Century is a pretty friendly place for women.  

    There are many things I appreciate about my 21st Century life but I will share one aspect that is particularly sweet:  The internet.

Love and Life

    What?  Why, you ask?  What about my husband?  What about our child?  Oh, yes of course they are my life but keep in mind that I would not have met my husband if it were not for the internet.  We met online (read our story here)!      

    And, after several miscarriages, I learned about timing and ovulation and so forth…..on the internet!  This gave me great hope, insight and encouragement!  God is the author of all technology and He allows us to apply this gift to accomplish His will!

Faith and Knowledge

    What about my faith?  Well, I am able to Google anything and everything.  For example, I heard about a novena to untie the knots in my life.  My friend Mr. Google led me right to it.

    You know, back in the 20th Century if you wanted to find out about our faith, you had to go to a Catholic book store.  Not that going there was terrible! I actually loved going to see the nuns at the Pauline book store.  But, it was like finding a needle in a haystack.  Today, if I need a book, I go to Amazon and LOOK INSIDE!  If it is what I need, I put it in my shopping cart and it arrives 2 days later.  Maybe a bit too friendly....but still friendly!

Facebook and Mercy

    In addition, Facebook has opened up my world because I can quickly keep up with friends and family. Sure, it is easy to get bogged down by Facebook, but I just treat it like a mini-newspaper. Dare I say Facebook provides an opportunity to practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy?  An opportunity to rejoice, comfort and mourn with those I love and care for. An opportunity to be reminded that not everyone thinks the way that I do.  An opportunity to be humbled, to forgive, to be tested, to ponder and to pray for others.  

Spiritual and Virtual Motherhood

    In the last 18 months my world has opened up tremendously through the blogging world.  I now have friends from all over the world and enjoy the role of Spiritual Motherhood to those that are struggling with extended singleness. None of this would be possible without the internet.  Nothing like this existed in the 20th Century. It has blessed me abundantly!

A Blessing or A Curse?

    Is the internet a blessing to single girls?  Some say that technology gets in the way of dating and marriage because our world has become so impersonal.  I am going to take the half-full approach to technology and say that it has opened up the whole world to us.  Just because a guy tries to get to know you via text or facebook does not mean you need to follow his lame lead.  You can be sure that a guy who is serious about you will want to be in your presence.  As I always like to say, "He will want to be near you so he can smell you!" :) 

    Let us see the possibilities and capitalize on the opportunity that is before us today.  Let’s reach out to each other as Sisters in Christ thanking God for our ability to meet, support and show love to one another!

God love and bless you, Cindy