With a view to helping everyone think "outside the box" for Christmas gifts, how about this for the music lover on your list? The selections are taken from the daily prayers sung by the Bridgettine (or Brigittine) sisters in Finland (previously part of the Kingdom of Sweden).
The songs are known as Cantus Sororum, i.e. the ‘songs of the sisters’. Birgitta wanted the sisters in her order to praise God by using a liturgy created especially for them. The liturgy proceeded in weekly cycles i.e. the same songs and texts were repeated on the same weekdays from one week to the next. The sorority lived week by week and through Mary’s eyes, studied the life of Christ and the life of Mary, the history of Christ’s sufferings and the salvation history from the time the World was created.
Here and there on this site, you'll find background information on Vox Silentii, and a bit about the foundress:
Birgitta Birgersdotter (1303 — 1373) of Sweden was a visionary and the founder of a monastic order. She was canonized in 1391 and declared Patron Saint of Europe in 1999. Birgitta’s spiritual visions, or Revelaciones, were widely known, and about 700 of them were recorded. In one of these visions, Birgitta was instructed by Christ to found a monastic house mainly for women in honour of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The first Brigittine house was inaugurated in Vadstena, Sweden, in 1384. The second Swedish Brigittine house was chartered in Vallis Gracie(Valley of Mercy), or Naantali, in 1438 — Finland being part of the Kingdom of Sweden at the time. Brigittine houses included both a monastery and a convent. Birgitta is reported to have had a rich and varied life. She was of noble birth, a mother of eight children and a socially active figure who turned to her religious calling after being widowed in her forties. Birgitta’s visions had no regard for social status. The message was clear: penitence is essential for everyone. The Brigittine order had two aspects: meditative or contemplative prayer, on the one hand, and active work on the other. The balance between prayer and work was evident in Birgitta’s own life, which was both meditative and ascetic, and highly practical and extrovert. She herself said that there was no conflict between a person’s internal and external life.
For those familiar with Sigrid Undset's most famous saga, the life of Birgitta Birgersdotter coincides almost exactly with the life of Kristen Lavransdatter. (I've just finished the new translation which is marvelously accessible and includes material otherwise abridged in the previous English version.)
As long as we're thinking about musical Women Religious, there is always Hildegaard of Bingen, with a similar background (mystical visions, desire to enhance the liturgy with greater reverence, enriching convent life in general). There is much to choose from, and one I can recommend is a set of CD's called Origins of Fire, which is unlike any chant I've ever heard. Beautiful -- and samples are available online!
No, this post isn't about China, but about Europe, where Britain is doing all it can to adopt the Swedish model of institutionalising children so that more women can work full-time. But after 30 years of near-full female employment outside the home, the numbers out of Sweden are sobering.
children are losing academic ground because of early institutionalisation
teenagers raised outside the home suffer high rates of depression and suicide
women who work comprise only 1.5% of top management positions
between 20%-33% of women are absent from work on a given day (private-vs public sector)
65% of Swedish women want to go home and raise their own children but cannot because of nanny-state tax structures
many of the women end up simply manning the child care agencies to pay the bills and be near children
About these child-care centres, one stay at home mother of four (soon to be five) fills in as a nurse occasionally and shares this dark observation.
She says she has seen babies handed over by their weeping mothers at the doors at 7am before work. Worse, she has seen toddlers screaming as their parents walk away.
"We were told to tell the mothers that their children stopped crying when they left. But the reality is that some didn't stop crying for nearly three weeks, when they gave up hope. For the child, a state nursery is nothing like home. The routine is fixed. These are not relaxed and fun places to spend your childhood. The nurseries have so many rules to keep the children safe. They are often kept awake deliberately so they will sleep at night when their exhausted mother comes to collect them after work. It is like being in an institution."
Well, yeah, that because it is an institution. But women are rebelling and making the necessary concessions to be home when possible.
[Madeleine] gave up her job in computer marketing when she first gave birth and now works part-time from home.
"My children are proud that I look after them. They are happy, confident and contented. They want to run to me after school and tell me what has happened during the day. We don't have as much money as if I worked, we have not bought our own home. But there are other things that are more important for children than money. The parents in Sweden know that something is wrong with this system. But it has been in place for 30 years and most of them have been brought up in state nurseries themselves."
Consider the comment above about the infants ending their crying jags when "they gave up hope." It's impossible to quantify that effect on a generation, but evidently common sense and mother love are recovering, despite the brokenness of the last 30 years. Let's pray that Britain doesn't follow this tragic model that even the former proponents are gradually abandoning.
The Schmitt family in France will have a subdued holiday this year as they mourn their first-born:
Last Sunday evening, Anne-Lorraine Schmitt, a 23-year old journalism student, the eldest of five children from a devout Catholic family, was stabbed to death on the RER suburban metro train. The stabbing happened at Survilliers, between the RER stations of Louvres and Fosses. Anne-Lorraine’s body was discovered in the RER terminus at Creil, 25 kms to the north. A few minutes later the French police arrested 43-year old Thierry Dève-Oglou.
According to the French police, Mr. Dève-Oglou “decided to rape the woman when he noticed that the train carriage was empty.” When Anne-Lorraine resisted and tried to escape, he threw himself on her and stabbed her up to 30 times in the chest and face. When the brave young woman fought back, her attacker cut himself in the hand. Mr. Dève-Oglou left the train station at Survilliers-Louvres, but police officers noticed the bleeding man and took him to hospital, where he was arrested.
It was not his first offense, nor were there any police or guards present on the notoriously dangerous rail line. This "quiet" incident has been overshadowed by the ongoing riots in Muslim neighbourhoods in response to an another unfortunate event. But those who discovered the attack on Anne-Lorraine were devastated, considering who she was.
The worst is that I knew this young woman. I had had time to judge and appreciate her during the two months as a student journalist that she spent last year at Valeurs Actuelles, where I was then editor-in-chief. Her name was Anne-Lorraine Schmitt, she was 23, and she seemed to have been one of those children who are born to fill their parents with joy and pride... During her apprenticeship at Valeurs Actuelles, she impressed the editing staff by her general level of culture, her maturity, the demands she made on herself. Demands that probably were the result of her faith: she was profoundly religious and was deeply involved in the scout movement. None of which prevented her from being a young woman of her times, charming, brilliant and appreciated by all.
And yet, despite the unrelated fury of rioting Muslims, I wonder if we'll be hearing more about this tragic martyrdom of Anne-Lorraine, who died rather than submit to sexual assault. I'll keep you posted, and in the meantime, please remember this family in your prayers over Advent. It's not the Christmas they expected, to be sure.
One of the gifts that my godmother gave to me for my wedding was a cut-up paper grocery bag from the local commissary, which she had nicely framed. That was because there was a time when the sides of the bags were printed with a well-known slogan: "Navy Wife: The Toughest Job in the Navy." She knew whereof she spoke. Her husband was USNA '59 and I was about to marry a member of the class of '82.
Jane Maury of Mobile, Alabama married a fellow out of the class of '46 and her road was the toughest possible, short of becoming a widow. She married hometown sweetheart and aviator Jeremiah Denton and they had seven children. Nineteen years married, her husband was shot down and captured in 1965. She quickly turned her grief into useful action:
While Jerry was captive and tortured, Jane remained strong in her Catholic faith, prayerfully and steadfastly devoted to the souls on her spiritual radar. Jane worked tirelessly raising their children and became an activist for POW and MIA families. She helped found the National League of Families of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action, credited with contributing to the ultimate release of her husband and numerous other POWs. Jerry was finally released, authored “When Hell Was in Session”, retired as Admiral, elected Senator of Alabama, and founded the ADM Jeremiah Denton Foundation, dedicated to keeping America “one nation under God.”
Mrs. Denton suffered a heart attack in October, and died on Thanksgiving day. Evidently, she was a marvelous wife, and mother, as her children attest:
Jane’s children are living testimony to her vocation as an iconic military wife, mother and patriot. “She was the most faithful, selfless and dedicated wife and mother," says Michael Denton. "She never stopped giving," says William.
I had the privilege of living near one of the sons while we were stationed in Virginia Beach, and we swam our dogs off his property down the street. With the integration of women into all sort of formerly all-male bastions on the service and the disintegration of families, the grocery bags would never dare honour "the toughest job" in such "archaic" gender terms these days. But it was true. It worked for generations, and it worked for many families I knew who endured with loved ones deployed, captured, and killed. War is a frightful thing, and without the home-fires burning (which requires particular gifts) the force is diminished. Thanks to Heidi for bringing this loss to our attention, and thanks especially for the beautiful care that Jane Denton gave to her family and her sisters who persevered at home.
The Protestant world is always intriguing in what it prioritises in the Bible. This project to protect the hearts of young women and to foster stronger family links is quite interesting. Obviously, the family (as an institution) is quite weak at present, so any effort to strengthen it is commendable. Something to ponder, as these women already have.
Perhaps you should check your religious items to see where they were made:
Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, held a news conference in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral to call attention to conditions at a factory in Dongguan City where the religious objects, sold in St. Patrick's gift shop, are made.
Kernaghan said the crosses were exhibited at an annual trade show organized by the Association for Christian Retail, a U.S.-based trade association that works with thousands of religious stores across the country.
"I don't think they have a clue where these crucifixes were made — in horrific work conditions," Kernaghan said. He said the mostly young, female employees work from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. seven days a week and are paid 26 cents an hour, with no sick days or vacation. Workers live in filthy dormitories and are fed a watery "slop," he said.
Of course these religious items come with a one-way ticket. Don't dare try to return to China with them in your suitcase or carry-on. Contraband. It will be interesting to see what the Olympic committee will do about religious freedom for visitors and athletes during the Games.