Another Thought for the Ladies

May grace and peace be yours in abundance through knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.

-2 Peter 1:2-7
This was the first reading for Mass today at the Novus Ordo. I find it encouraging in my renewed pursuit of theological inquiry. It reminded me why I chose to study theology in the first place. It is very easy for me together caught upon the particular details and forget the reason for doing theology. The scripture above explains that God has given us what we need to have a life of devotion to Him (through His gift of the Holy Spirit, the Church, Tradition, and Revelation). He is calling us to be divinized, and to escape the “corruption that is in the world.” The following sentence gives us instruction on how to live our faith by seeking virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, devotion, mutual affection, and love.
And I realize now that it is love that lead me to examine the issue of makeup. Love for my husband who raised the question, but also love for my fellow women who think they need makeup to be beautiful. It seems that we all would benefit from a man who tells us that we look more beautiful without makeup. God made us all as He wished us to be, and who are we to criticize the face He gave us and seek to change it according to the corrupted standards of the world. So, ladies, please remember that you are beautiful and that you are loved.

On the Morality of Wearing Makeup

Update July 24, 2018:
I have a complete opinion on this matter that I wrote last December.

She came back from the job interview with a job offer in hand. As I talked to her about the student work position on our college campus, she mentioned that her new boss told her that she would be expected to wear makeup at her job. While I knew that women often wore makeup to work, I had never been required to wear it to work. I felt a little upset for my friend who sat through being told by a man that she — a young, pretty woman — had to wear makeup while men who worked in the same workplace had no such requirement.

Up to this point it had seemed normal to me that one would choose to wear makeup in a professional or formal setting, but when it was imposed on my friend I started to feel that there was a problem with it. With so many women coming out with their stories and accusations of men treating them with impropriety, we need to dig deeper into the causes of this problem. The expectation that women use cosmetics is just one of many contributing factors our society’s tendency to reduce women to objects to be used rather than human persons to be loved.

Read the rest here.

Lately, I have been thinking about the morality of wearing makeup. As in all moral questions in this household, St. Thomas Aquinas gave his opinion from the Summa Theologica first. If you don’t want to read the questions linked, I will make a brief summary.

In the first article he asks if there can be “virtue and vice in connection with outward apparel”? He answers that the vice one could have from outward apparel comes from the person using the apparel immoderatly, 1) being contrary to the customs among those whom one lives and 2) by having immoderate attachment to the apparel. Under number two one can have these vices a) dressing to seek glory, b) too much attention to sensuous pleasure (only focusing on the bodies pleasure in dress), and c) being too solicitous in regards to one’s outward attire. Thus, one must seek the virtues of humility and contentment to overcome the vices of immoderation in dress.  While one can be too focused in this way, one can also be deficient.  In neglecting one’s outward apparel, one can also be seeking glory by giving the appearance of being in the service of God, thus deriving glory from others’ opinions. But one can also be deficient in the social customs of dress and neglect to have the correct knowledge of how one is to present oneself. One last point is that one should dress according to one’s station in life so as to be truthful in how one presents oneself.

So, how does this apply to makeup and cosmetics? The second question is “Whether the adornment of women is devoid of moral sin?”

Okay, I am not trying to make anyone angry, and I am not trying to offend anyone. Part of being a Christian is examining our lives and choosing to live morally. I am simply trying to examine the morality of wearing makeup which is so culturally expected and in many cases required of women. Be prepared for a shocking response….

St. Thomas says that a woman should dress so as to not lead others into sin. That sounds about right. He also says that a “married woman can adorn herself to please her husband without sin.” So, if one’s husband prefers it (and it does not violate moral law), she should please him! What if one is single? If one has no wish to marry, then it is wrong to wear things that incite men to lust, especially if that is one’s intention.

St. Frances De Sales says in Chapter 25 of Introduction to the Devout Life, that “a wife may dress to please her husband, and that it is lawful for a maiden to dress to please her friends.” He explains that “propriety in dress consists in material, fashion, and cleanliness.” And as “to the material and fashion of clothes, propriety in these respects depends on various circumstances such as time, age, rank, those with whom you associate; and it varies on different occasions.” This sounds reasonable and even very practical. One dresses nicer for a wedding than for everyday occasions. And it would be silly to paint the house or scrub the floor in my best clothes! Once again one is to pay attention to the social acceptability. When considering cleanliness there is frequent bathing (which is often hard for mother’s of young children) and maintaining other hygienic habits.

One thing I want to say here is that the social customs, no matter how prevalent, do not usurp the moral law. And while I will not list them here, there are a number of common social customs that are clearly in violation of the moral law. That being said, it is possible for social customs to be wrong.

Now we come to Question 169, Article 2, Objection 2 (links and text from the source linked above at Cyprian says (De Habit. Virg.): “I hold that not only virgins and widows, but also wives and all women without exception, should be admonished that nowise should they deface God’s work and fabric, the clay that He has fashioned, with the aid of yellow pigments, black powders or rouge, or by applying any dye that alters the natural features.” And afterwards he adds: “They lay hands on God, when they strive to reform what He has formed. This is an assault on the Divine handiwork, a distortion of the truth. Thou shalt not be able to see God, having no longer the eyes that God made, but those the devil has unmade; with him shalt thou burn on whose account thou art bedecked.” But this is not due except to mortal sin. Therefore the adornment of women is not devoid of mortal sin.”

St. Thomas responds to the objection with this: Cyprian is speaking of women painting themselves: this is a kind of falsification, which cannot be devoid of sin. Wherefore Augustine says (Ep. ccxlv ad Possid.): “To dye oneself with paints in order to have a rosier or a paler complexion is a lying counterfeit. I doubt whether even their husbands are willing to be deceived by it, by whom alone” (i.e. the husbands) “are they to be permitted, but not ordered, to adorn themselves.” However, such painting does not always involve a mortal sin, but only when it is done for the sake of sensuous pleasure or in contempt of God, and it is to like cases that Cyprian refers. 

It must, however, be observed that it is one thing to counterfeit a beauty one has not, and another to hide a disfigurement arising from some cause such as sickness or the like. For this is lawful, since according to the Apostle (1 Corinthians 12:23), “such as we think to be the less honorable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honor.””

The main objection is that when one puts makeup on a human face, one is creating a falsehood by presenting ones made-up face as one’s own face, and further “assaulting” the “Divine handiwork.” These are strong accusations and I have already heard several reactions to them.

1) These statements were made for that time and not our time. I do not see this a a good objection. Women throughout history have always worn makeup and covering one’s face in the past is not different than covering one’s face now.

2) Makeup is to accentuate one’s beauty and does not cover up God’s creation except the blemishes which St. Thomas says is okay. I think this is a valid point and can see how makeup does not cause one to counterfeit one’s appearance.

3) What about social custom?  It is socially prevalent, and one person compared it to “shaving legs.” Another person pointed out that there is a material difference between removing body hair and applying layers of chemicals to one’s face creating a sort of mask.  Another point is that are the social customs just adding to the objectification of women? If a woman does not wear makeup in the workplace is she seen as less? Is expecting woman to wear makeup making her lower than men? (I have heard from a trustworthy man that he has heard many negative things about women who don’t wear makeup from other men). If a woman in Western society does not wear makeup, is she deficient in the social customs category? Does it depend on how socially acceptable her natural complexion is?

These are all questions that have disturbed me while considering the morality and I really am not sure how to answer them. If you have an opinion, I would love to hear it. Please comment here so as to keep the discussion in one place!

One thing is clear to me, and that is if there is vanity and lack of humility in one’s personal wearing of makeup, then it is sinful to do so. The points about seeking glory, seeking pleasure, and inordinate attachment to are applicable to wearing makeup. Can one also be deficient?

The Temporal Benefits of a Virtuous Life

My latest “assignment” for M.’s Catholic Social Teaching class (which I am endeavoring to do the reading for) was Rerum Novarum (On Capitol and Labor) an encyclical written by Pope Leo XIII. I decided to read the assignments for this class, because the last time I read anything on Catholic social teaching was my junior year of high school, and I understand far more now than I did then. The topic seems particularly relevant these days.

There were many selections of texts that stood out to me as I read, but the one below in particular I wanted to elaborate on:

“28. Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; it powerfully restrains the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure-twin plagues, which too often make a man who is void of self-restraint miserable in the midst of abundance;(23) it makes men supply for the lack of means through economy, teaching them to be content with frugal living, and further, keeping them out of the reach of those vices which devour not small incomes merely, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance.”
It never ceases to amaze me how virtue completely affects one’s life in every regard. I used to think of virtue as being good so that I can get to Heaven. When I learned more about virtue, I discovered that one forms virtue by starting with good habits. And virtue does not suddenly disappear once one has it, when one is truly virtuous, she has to make a conscious effort to be vicious and is aware that it will harm her character.

Here Pope Leo XIII explains that Christian morality leads to temporal prosperity. My first thought was, wait a minute, look at all the saints who were poor on purpose, they were not prosperous. But then I thought more and realized that they never were in want of things that they did not have. A virtuous life is important for rich and poor alike. The poor necessarily need to live a frugal and thrifty lifestyle if they want to live within their means. Too many poor do not know how to live within their means and find themselves in all sorts of debt. To live on little one has to be smart about what she buys and when she buys it. Is a television in every room really necessary? (Then again is it really necessary for anyone?) One can save a lot of money by not eating out and making her own meals. One can save a lot of money by purchasing clothing at garage sales or second hand stores, and one does not have to settle for one ragged clothes either. Also, the store brand often saves more money than coupons and are often just as good. However, to live this way one has to be virtuous. It takes a lot of self control to pass up an impulse to go out to dinner or order a pizza. When the commercials tell one to, “Buy, buy, buy,” how does one say, “I don’t really need that.” Here is where one turns to the Church, whose “desire is that the poor…should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life.” She does this“by the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice.” It is only through the Church and her Sacraments that one can truly become virtuous. When one practices the teachings of the Church, one creates good habits, which become virtue. And then even someone with little income can experience a sort of temporal prosperity.

But what about the rich, who have plenty of money. Jesus said it would be harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to enter the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). Still the Church is concerned for all people, and wants the rich to also be virtuous and holy. The rich need to not squander their wealth, invest it well, give to the poor, and remember that “God who is the source of all blessings” is what will truly make them happy. Self-restraint is a virtue to strive for, not overindulging oneself, but praising God by appreciating a His creations in a moderate fashion. The rich should still ask, “Do I really need it?” It is more important to become holy than it is to have the latest technology or newest car. If one’s old car still works, then still use it, or if one really needs a new car and the old one still works, give or sell the old one to someone else who needs it for a fair or even low price. It seems the most important thing a rich person can do is to be generous with her abundance of earthly goods and remember to take care of her soul. Taking care of the soul means frequenting the Sacraments, but also doing the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy. (These should be done by all no matter what one’s income level). And remember that frugality is a virtue for all. And as a bonus, it is a way to preserve the worlds resources!

How A Liberal Education Can Continue Even When You Are the Mother of Small Children: Part One Prayer

I remember how it was my first year out of college; I had just gotten married and had my first child before that first year was up. I was thrilled to read whatever I wanted to read and claimed pregnant brain whenever my husband tried to bring me into an intellectual discussion. I confess that I was jealous for about two days when he went back to school for graduate work in the fall and I was at home with morning sickness. After G. was born and the realities of parenting hit me, I really started to miss my old intellectual life of graduate school, studying in the library, going out after dinner, etc. While I was a pregnant, we continued to go to daily Mass, go to Eucharistic Adoration, frequent confession, and had a full prayer life; similar to college. When I was stuck at home without a car and a newborn on my lap, none of this seemed possible. But, as my loving husband always does, he pointed out to me the ways I was unhappy and the ways I could become better, and I realized I needed to make a change.
I decided to sacrifice ten minutes of nap time for doing whatever I did during nap time for prayer time. I discovered that God can hear me even if I don’t go to Adoration in His Real Presence. Because, get this, while the Eucharist is amazing, wonderful, and so necessary for the Sacramental life, we still have Jesus in our hearts where ever we go. And He is in our children, and our husbands. He is also everywhere, and God holds us in existence moment to moment, constantly sustaining us. During my prayer time I read Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. It is such a practical prayer book, divided into short but pungent sections that teach you how to pray always and takes into account every state in life. While I do not follow the advice to wake up and pray for an hour before the household is awake, I have taken up many of the smaller less time consuming ways to pray and be mindful of God throughout my day. Now I no longer use nap time, but just after the kids bedtime, and get this, my husband and I take this time together. Also we try to have one of us go to Adoration every week, so that we each get to go every other week. When you spend the whole day with little kids, the solace of Eucharistic Adoration is pretty amazing.
Another thing I resumed after my first child was several months old, was to make daily Mass a priority. My first reason was that she was up before 8 am everyday, so why not go to Mass? When my second was born and I was not physically capable of going daily, I remember how I felt the graces of all the Masses I had gone to before I have birth sustaining me day to day. And now thinking about it, my reason is not because the kids are up, but because it is God I encounter at Mass every morning (when I get myself up to go) and it is totally worth it to wake up 45 minutes before my kids so that I can take them to Mass most days to experience Christ’s sacrifice extending throughout time and space to the very altar in our church.
The third thing I have been able to do even while having little kids is frequent Confession. St. Francis De Sales recommends weekly confession, and some weeks I wish I did. My husband and I aim for every two weeks; we make this work by going to different churches’ Saturday confession times that are different by 30 minutes. He goes to one church’s scheduled confession time, and when he gets home I have just enough time to get to the other one early. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is by far the best way to learn where you can be better in day to day life, and where you fail to be the best wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, etc. you can be. This Sacrament is such a gift! In this Sacrament, we can know our failings, be forgiven for them (wiped clean!), and then be given the grace to become holier! What more can a woman want?
The point of this essay is to show how stay at home mothers do not have to give up ate daily Sacramental life of the Church; they just have to discover how to fit it into the new life that is quite different from the liberal arts educational experience.
Next week: Part Two The Intellectual Life

The Examined Life

Between Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman’s Life by Giuliana Pelluchi, and Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers, I have had time to reflect on sainthood and the call every person has to it.

Merton reflected that every person is different, yet we are all called to be like God, and when we become holy we become like God; each individual person reflects God in a different way. We can all become super holy, be like God, but also be entirely different from each other! Which makes a lot of sense when you look at the variety of saints we have out there. Though they all have in common, a strong love of God and others and a life of prayer with loyalty to the Church and her teaching.

So, what can we learn from all these Saints. When I think about Saints, I often look at the seemingly glamorous things they did, by glamorous I mean attractive because they were super holy and beyond what the average person does, i.e. stigmata, martyrdom, extreme poverty. Then I think, wow my life is pretty boring and slow-paced compared to that, there is no way I could become a Saint. Plus, I fail at living up to my calling everyday; I sometimes think the only way I could be super holy is to experience extreme persecution or start having super mystical experiences. Seriously, that is the stuff you here about in the lives of the Saints that inspires you. When you read the little bio in the breviary or missal, you generally ignore the “she lived a really holy life” and skip straight to the she had her breasts cut off and they grew back and then she was martyred. But if you think about it it really was the holy life before these great acts of holiness that made them a Saint. St. Gianna already lived a saintly life before she gave up her life for her child. Thomas Merton had potential to become a Saint in his striving to become holy day by day and eliminating his tendencies to sin. Space Vulture could have become good if he turned from his mortal sins.

St. Francis de Sales lays out the framework for holiness in his book. He explains that to be holy one has to live an examined life–every detail surrounding sin must be explored and weeded out. It is a tedious process, and it is difficult, but with grace we all can become saints. It is the daily choice all saints make to pray, to love God and others, to grow in virtue, to embrace one’s state in life.

I feel very fortunate that my desire to be a wife and mother has been fulfilled so early in life, and now I am realizing that it is a day by day choice to love and serve. By doing this and by seeking God’s grace in all I do and allowing him to work through me; that is how I will become a saint. Pray for me.

On Living the Catholic Life in the World

Sorry it has been so long. Big changes have happened in my life. The baby was born and it has been a very long transition.

M., G., and I spent the last few weeks traveling around the Midwest to see family, and long car trips make for good conversation as long as the baby is not crying. While we discussed, I started to see more clearly the life I am called to live in the world. Last year I posted about living simply because of our own limited resources, but I am starting to see that the life we have chosen is truly Catholic and even if we had all the money in the world we would still choose to live the way we do—though we might spend more money on food so we could eat finer meals.

The question is, what does it mean to be Catholic in the world today and how does one best live in the world but not conform to the world. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) It is hard to find the balance between the extremes of entire worldliness and a puritanical lifestyle. For example, I could look at how some people indulge in drinking to extreme drunkenness and lose a sense of the goodness of alcohol. There seems to be goodness in the creature of alcohol that not many people have a sense of in modern America (or even Europe). They drink what M. and I have referred to as “beer substitutes,” which are more like water than beer. And they call it drinking… They also abuse alcohol in other ways by simply drinking too much. I have found that drinking good drinks is enjoyable. It is nice to have at the end of the day, or in the evening with dinner. God made it good, and it can lead us to God. Thus, it would be wrong to entirely reject it. I know some of you are laughing at me now remembering my former views on drinking, and I thank you for helping me come to a better understanding.

Another example of what I am trying to express is the modern understanding of reading. A while ago C. sent me an article about kid’s books about bodily functions to simply get kids to read. It showed me that there is a huge focus on getting kids to read. It does not matter what they read as long as they read. Is there virtue to simply reading no matter what it is? I spent much of my childhood reading books like the Baby-sitter’s club, but I wonder if I would have spent my time just as well playing video games and watching cartoons on television. It does matter what you read. Reading should be for the sake of forming one’s character, leading one to grow in virtue. The great books that are remembered teach people about life and what it means to live well. However, it is not easy to choose to read something that will form character. It is much easier to read a blockbuster novel than something like Les Miserables, but I am certain that Jean Valjean can teach me much more about virtue than whoever is in the other book.

So, what does it mean to live as a Catholic in the world. I am seeking to live a truly sacramental life. This means I must give up certain things the world sees as normal, but not live to such an extreme that others cannot relate to me. I want to live in such a way that leads others to God and makes them wonder what they are missing. One thing I am thankful that I live without is a television. For a year now I have lived without a television in my home, and I do not miss it at all. Whenever I am around television, I am disgusted at the content of the shows and the consumerism present in the commercials. There are certain things I might miss, like speeches and news, but these things I can find on the Internet as well. M. and I will kill your television for you if you would like. While I was pregnant we got in the habit of watching a movie almost every week, and after G. was born we started looking at our movie watching habits, realizing that our reasons for watching them were more and more out of laziness and less and less out of a desire to see a certain good movie. My philosophy of movie watching is similar to that of book-reading. If it is no good and does not lead me closer to God, then it is not worth watching. So we decided to limit our movie watching, and hope that by limiting it to a certain number a month, we can be virtuous in our choice of movie and find the ones worth watching.

Another thing to be careful about is the use of the Internet. It is so easy to get sucked into it and waste time on things that are stupid (such as reading my blog…lol…but seriously I hope this blog does some good for somebody even if it is just me). I know this is a place I need to grow, so I am seeking to become virtuous in my use of the Internet, such as blogging on important things…and using facebook well (is that possible?).

Living a Catholic life in the world calls for finding the good and truth in society, accepting it and allowing it to bring one closer to God, and being careful not to get caught up in the evil in the world. It is an extreme way to live, but it seems to be the right way to live. I know I have not touched on every aspect of life, but this is just the beginning…

On Expectation-Thoughts from Advent

Last month M. and I were discussing why pregnancy is often described as “expecting.” This I probably a more appropriate topic for Advent, but here it is now. I started pondering the idea and realized that there are many expectations I have as a pregnant woman about what the future holds, but I do not think that is the whole answer.

So, during Advent I began thinking about the Blessed Mother and her expectancy of Jesus. Really she did not know what to expect—the angel came to her and she gave her “fiat.” Then she heard about Elizabeth and went to hang out with her for awhile. I wonder what she and Elizabeth talked about together, after the leaping in the womb but also as women. Whenever I talk to another pregnant woman, or even new mothers, we always talk about being pregnant and compare stories of aches, pains, and the stuff we have gotten so far for the baby. Maybe they talked about how to take care of babies, but maybe they also realized that there was something greater than they could ever expect in both of their children. John the Baptist was sanctified in the womb when he recognized his Savior and Elizabeth knew God had chosen him for something great! Mary knew that her son was also God. They must have had great awe when thinking about their children. Dom Gueranger wrote in The Liturgical Year about how Mary must have contemplated her child in the womb and meditated upon who he was. It seems that “expecting” is more than having expectations, but involves wonder at the miracle within oneself.

Now I know that my child is not God and has not been sanctified already, though I have tried to find a way to validly baptize it before birth, but I do relate to the Blessed Mother in her expectation and I pray that my motherhood will at least have some of the grace her motherhood has.