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2018 in Review: Fontgambault Abbey, France

IMG_6399Last May Red & I were galivanting about France! I’ve been reminiscing of late, reading my journal and looking at photos. Although eventful, the whole trip was very peaceful.

After three days in Paris, and the three day Chartres Pilgrimage, Red & I joined Orbis Catholicus Travel for a 9-day tour, visiting oh-so-many catholic shrines and places!

Tuesday morning, the day after the pilgrimage ended, we woke up to a beautiful view of Chartres from our room window. Packing up onto the tour bus with all the other pilgrims who were joining the tour, we set off with anticipation and joy. I’m not sure there is anything else in the world that can fill ones heart with the type of joy one receives from a rigorous pilgrimage, and with that resonating in our hearts, we set off for three days at Fontgambault Abbey to rest our weary bodies and soak in the spiritual beauty that sits quietly and peacefully, inconspicuous within the Abbey grounds.

We stopped at Tours and Orleans along the way, seeing the Cathedrals and walking the streets.

Fontgambault was a beautiful experience. I would love to go back someday. The men stayed in the Abbey with the monks, while the women stayed in guest cottages on the grounds. The Youngling’s (ie. the single and younger generation of ladies on the tour) stayed in one cottage together.

The monks live a quiet, peaceful life, and visitors are encouraged to join in that same quiet and peace. Most of the monks keep a downward glance as they go about their lives, living the motto of St. Benedict: Ora et Labora – Pray and Work.  It is more or less an “only speak when spoken to” vibe between visitors and the monks, which allows the monks to continue their way of life without constant disruption by visitors (consequently allowing them to stay open to visitors!), and encourages visitors to enter this same spiritual quiet and peace for the duration of their stay. One early morning on our way back from mass, Tall Beauty and I were walking from the Abbey doors to the cottage path when our paths crossed with one of the monks. He smiled at us and said “Ah, headed back for coffee, are we?” We smiled back with an “Indeed, Father!” And he chuckled as he continued on his way. As small an interaction as it was, his love shone through him, and it sticks out in my memory so very well.IMG_6400

Our bus driver took us women into town every mid-morning to buy our food for the day. The gals in our cottage went in on food together, eating all our meals as a group, and going through a shocking amount of wine every night as we sat around the kitchen table in our pyjamas talking and laughing for hours on end.

Our pilgrimage tour chaplain, one of our beloved Canadian FSSP priests, gave the women a very good talk one afternoon on the lawn within the Abbey walls. I am very glad I jotted down notes in my journal as he spoke because his wisdom and holiness permeates his words (whether in the confessional, during a sermon, giving a talk, or just casual conversation) and I now can go back to those notes at anytime and review – much as I re-read various spiritual works over and over because there is always something more to be gained.

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Mornings after mass

My mornings at Fontgambault involved very early wake-ups, walking down the gravel path to the Abbey where 40+ monks all said a private mass at the same time, then walking back to the cottage surrounded by morning sunbeams glistening through the trees and morning songbirds delicately chirping their joy. I would make enough coffee for myself and the other two or three girls who had gone to mass, and we would enjoy a quiet chat over coffee as the other girls slowly got up one by one.

My mornings at Fontgambault involved very early wake-ups, walking down the gravel path to the Abbey where 40+ monks all said a private mass at the same time, then walking back to the cottage surrounded by morning sunbeams glistening through the trees and morning songbirds delicately chirping their joy. I would make enough coffee for myself and the other two or three girls who had gone to mass, and we would enjoy a quiet chat over coffee as the other girls slowly got up one by one.

On the tour with us was a beautiful married couple I am happy I received the pleasure of getting to know. He is one of the very few married Roman Catholic priests, as he was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism. On the second day, this Father gave a talk about their journey through converting, becoming a Catholic Priest, and what their life is like now. His wife quickly became an adopted auntie to Red & I (and Brown Eyed Fun & Quirky Ohio Girl). They would sit towards the back of the bus, just in front of the 10 or so Younglings, and chat with us when we weren’t singing away and laughing. Their own children are the same generation as the Younglings, and they loved us as their own.

The Old Abbot also came out and sat with us women one afternoon and gave us a talk, kindly translated from French to English by the sweet and quiet Doctor S. The Old Abbot is retired from his 40+ year (if I remember correctly) place as Abbot, and now happily carries out his duty as candle stick polisher. His humility emanated from him. It was such a privilege to meet and hear such a man.

One requirement the monks have of anyone who comes to stay (it is free to stay, but traditionally a donation is left in gratitude) is a bit of manual labour. The boys helped the monks pull up old flooring in one of the guest cottages, and the girls were brought piles and piles of apples to peel and slice. With so many hands, the work was light, and seemed barely enough to consider even a fraction’s worth of gratitude for all we were receiving while there. Nevertheless, it is the only work the monks asked of us women. And sometimes it is enough to simply do only what is asked of you.

One afternoon several of us followed our fearless tour leader, the male half of Relationship Goals, across the river and up the mountain a ways to the caves which served as the original monks home, up until the Abbey itself was built.

Red, Quirky Ohio Girl, and I went for a walk one evening with our glasses of wine, through the sleepy streets of Fontgambault, passing meadows and woods and ponds, picking poppies along the way, and soaking in the beauty.

Our days at Fontgambault Abbey were perfect days of physical respite and spiritual nourishment. I will forever be grateful to the monks for all I gained while there.

 

 

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For the Men: Appreciate Austen in your Quest for Fair Lady

The other evening I was conversing with ConvertKat at a social event. Topics naturally changing, it turned to literature, and – to my somewhat surprise – switching from his own conversation to ours was SearchingGuy. SearchingGuy and I are not friends, in fact I barely know him, except from a couple conversations during Sunday Coffee hour. SearchingGuy somewhat interjected and asked abruptly what literature I read. When I replied “classics, mostly”, CatechumanGuy joined the conversation as well. We talked on for a few minutes, and in a natural conversation pause, they both turned to me and pointedly asked “but really, what do you read?” I replied again, “mostly classics, Thomas Hardy at the moment.” SearchingGuy responded with an “ugh, that means you read Jane Austen” and CatechumanGuy chuckled with an affirmative comment I don’t remember. “Whoa! Do I hear tones of condescension?” I asked, in a somewhat louder and probably unintentionally disgusted sounding tone.

I have zero to no respect for men (particularly catholic men) who condescend and belittle females who read Jane Austen novels, and here’s why:

Austen’s work is such a clever and vibrant study of human nature & interpersonal relationships. Not only is her writing witty, but her ability to understand such a variety of characters and personalities is vastly under-rated. Unfortunately her work is painted as the romantic’s fantasy, which is such an injustice. Condescender’s (who have evidently not read her) often think Austen’s work is filled with “ideal men”, and if you read her, your head becomes filled with a type of perfect man that doesn’t exist (which, I gather, frustrates these catholic men because they feel this now excludes them from achieving respect and admiration in catholic women’s eyes).

But upon actually reading Austen’s books, one learns how imperfect her male characters (all her characters for that matter) are. Here is a brief outline of “perfect” male characters our Condescender’s hate on:

  1. Edward Ferrars: unintentionally plays with Elinor’s heart when he falls in love with her but is committed to another. After fostering a friendship which is obviously a bit more, he withdraws and isn’t heard from for quite some time. If it was a modern tale, he’d be a jerk-face at first glance. But then we learn the reasoning behind his behaviour, and suddenly there is an outpouring of respect for him. Do men not identify with this? For whatever reason, their actions are misunderstood, but when it comes to light, they are suddenly admired for those same actions?
  2. Captain Wentworth: after the heroine breaks his heart (eight years before the story begins) he does all he can to move on. Yet he comes back once circumstances change, and, despite still being deeply in love with her, he flirts away with her cousins, trying to both forget her, and pain her in the process. So he’s definitely not perfect, since if he were, his un-dying love would have brought him straight to her feet and begged for her love. But no, he doesn’t do that, because he has pride. Contrary to popular belief, we female readers admire men with healthy pride and self-respect. It’s the vengeance on Anne’s emotions that brings Wentworth lower.
  3. Fitzwilliam Darcy: could there be a more pompous character? Ok, granted, he wasn’t actually that pompous, it was partly a misinterpretation on Lizzie’s part and some mis-communications on both ends. Doesn’t this also happen to modern men? A girl they like perceives them incorrectly and so the story goes… Darcy & Lizzie knowing each other changes both of their characters for the better. But not without some major misunderstandings and verbal disagreements which included both parties expressing their dislikes of the other. This is  pretty standard mis-understanding etc. between men and women that Austen deals with in these two characters. Darcy is a pretty normal guy , striving for virtue, excelling in some, but falling short in others, just like every other catholic guy. Darcy & Lizzie’s relationship is an excellent example of working through mis-understandings & communications, bringing both parties closer & strengthening the bond between them. Contrary to the popular belief of this being a “perfect love story”, what we catholic females actually like about this story is the work put into this relationship on both ends, which blooms into a beautiful romance.
  4. Frank Churchill: Oh Frank. Such a fun, charming guy, who likes to hangout with friends and socialize. But on the flip-side, he gets jealous, and harsh flirts with another girl all the time, just to..what exactly..prove a point? I’m not even sure. He was just being an emotional fool. Something men and women alike fall into.
  5. George Knightly: We’ll just move on from here, since there’s literally nothing wrong with Mr.Knightly. At all. Ever. He is definitely Austen’s perfect man – albeit in a very human way. He reprimands Emma (in all charity) for her mistakes, expects more of her then her laziness sometimes allows, goes the extra length for other’s, not just those he is closest to. He gets irritated, even angry. He strives for self-discipline, and never takes advantage of others, or assumes anything. He’s imperfect in a perfect way. He is forever encouraging Emma in virtue, through friendship and fraternal love, which eventually becomes romantic love. She gets haughty with him at times, but because of his genuine care, character, and the belief that he only ever tries to do that which is good, she always accepts her mistakes, and tries harder the next time. And in turn, her feminine – though imperfect – nature encourages Knightly to be a better example, to be the best man in every situation, and always in genuine humility.

Of course these are all rather watered-down accounts of the various male characters shown such contempt by our jolly Condescender’s. It seems fitting to explain characters in simple ways to people whose simplistic attitude leads them to believe they know what they’re talking about despite never having read a single page of Austen. This sums it up rather quickly. There isn’t a single character in all of Austen’s work who is literally perfect. Her works aren’t about the “perfect romance” like some harlequin romance dubbed a “New York Times Bestseller”, or the latest of Nicholas Spark’s line of cookie-cutter “love” stories. Au contraire, Austen is a true love author. Her works deal with the true and good meaning of love and relationships, be they friends, family, or lovers. None of her heroine’s are perfect, they all have their strengths and weaknesses alike. The same goes for her heroes. Each story is an intricate web of characters, class, life styles, emotions, practicalities, attraction, virtue, vice, and everything else innately human.

(As a side note, I will also point out that Austen’s heroine’s have definitive characters. They have looks, a style of dress, natural virtues & vice, emotions, thoughts, sweet tongues or sassy tongues, every aspect of personality that makes a person individual and unique. Unlike many modern “heroines” who are intentionally written in a vague way, so as to allow any and every woman who reads said book insert herself into said character’s position, and “identify” with the character. I would think this would be appreciated by men, since they complain of this trait in modern stories.)

Appreciating such an authoress and the works she has written that provide momentous opportunity for contemplation, understanding and enlightenment on the subject of human relationships, shows a side of character that women find attractive. A man who shows the ability – or even the attempt – to understand and appreciate (and perhaps even learn to communicate a bit better) through a means that contains such insight into a vital part of the inherent nature of woman, shows himself to be a man who strives to go beyond himself, one who reaches past his own nature so as to form better bonds with one who is the opposite of his own, i.e. woman. I don’t believe men feel the same need to be understood by women, which is simply just a difference in our nature. But I know, personally, I have appreciated Austen’s insight into the male species as well. We won’t understand everything about each other, but the point is to understand what you can, so as to strengthen your relationships and grow in love.

By nature, women are more emotional creatures then men. We form bonds by sharing emotionally with one another, by conversation and a glimpse into one another’s hearts. This is what encourages and forms friendships and love between two people, be they men or women. Yes it comes more naturally to women (it’s a woman’s natural tendency towards nurturing & community, after all). And I’m not of the belief that men must always be in tune with women on a level contrary to their natural instincts. We are different creatures, God made us thus. But are men and women not called to form solid, healthy relationships, where both parties strive to understand and communicate effectively, with empathy and love? My point is that in the attempt at getting to know, appreciate, and have good relationships with women, catholic men would do well to give Austen a chance, and find out what it really is about her books that catholic women enjoy so much. Particularly if said men hope to find the right catholic woman someday. And maybe – just maybe – you’ll end up enjoying Austen’s books, and appreciating her insightful logic and reflections of the opposite sex.

 

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And now for a meme that I hope makes you laugh as much as it made me laugh…note to men: avoid being a Mr.Collins at all possible costs.

Fixing the lack-of-marriages problem

Are you one of those Catholics who sometimes/always comments that there is no one to marry? It’s a typical complaint heard from Catholic young adults. Girls will wail “there’s no nice Catholic guys around to marry!” and the men will begrudgingly whine “but there are no respectable Catholic young ladies around!” And then there’s the dating vs. courtship debate, which is exhausting, since no one has the same definition of either term.

In this day and age, good men rarely ask out good girls, because (and correct me if I’m wrong, men) they are afraid of rejection. And justifiably so. Somehow in the last 50 years, girls have lost sight of the worth in an evening night out with an amiable young man – whether you find him dazzlingly attractive or not. If Catholic girls said “yes” every time a good Catholic man asked us out, the men would be more apt to ask us out more often.

My Irish Grandmother had four marriage proposals – and one was after she was already married! (unbeknownst to the proposer). Now this doesn’t mean we girls wish to flutter about comparing marriage proposals – the point I am trying to make is that my Grandmother went about with several young men, her and her twin sister even switched up dates sometimes. There was no rule that said Suzy could only go out with Fred now, since Fred had asked her to dinner three weeks ago. They went on group excursions, and Bob would courteously ask if he could pick Suzy up for it. Everyone went out with everyone. Eventually there was one you preferred over the others, and eventually he asked you to marry him. And you, of course, would say yes. Men weren’t timid about asking girls out. Certainly men have always had nerves, but it was easier to overcome them because the girls were gracious and feminine. Men will hold themselves up to our standard. Men love a challenge. They bask in fighting for what they believe or want. They were built for that. If you expect a man, then be a woman. And I don’t mean empowering “wo-man”, I mean a valiant woman – a true woman in the eyes of Christ. If you are kind and gracious, the men will rise to the occasion.

The next time a Catholic guy – be he close friend, acquaintance, or someone who just noticed you in mass 😉 – askes you out…say yes. I don’t care if you don’t think him dashingly handsome. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and more often then not, the more you get to know someone, the more beautiful you find them. So give the guys a chance! Let them have the opportunity to be a man and try to woo a pretty girl! And if nothing comes from a date (or two or three), the world isn’t going to end. It’s just a date. The ideal result of this campaign of mine would be more good, strong, Catholic marriages. No one meets new people by staying at home all the time. No one becomes a proficient knitter without hours of learning and practise. Just like no one will get married if we don’t start being open to more of the men/women we meet!

So men, start asking the gals out for casual, low-key dates. And gals, start saying yes.