I was made to consume and be consumed.
I find it difficult to take spiritual counsel from other women. I could enumerate the reasons why: that I am proud and selfish, that there always seem to be too many words and qualifying statements involved, that I don’t like You Go Girl anthems, nor their opposite, the glorification of failure.
But the bottom line is that I’ve ceased to consider my soul a problem requiring a few tweaks and tune-ups here and there in order to run smoothly. The solution my soul most often requires, is not counsel so much as relationship—what Pope Francis refers to as “the Art of Accompaniment.” Of course, Jesus is my primary source of accompaniment. He’s also much more than that—he’s food, he’s mercy, he’s consummation, spouse, brother, all in all.
I have a few real life friends who also accompany me, but for the portions of my heart I cannot lay bare, my female companions have become a cadre of mother saints: Saint Anne, Saint Elizabeth, Saint Monica, Dorothy Day, and the Blessed Mother.
A priest once told me in Confession to seek out Saints who faced challenges or struggled with temptations similar to my own. I’d only ever thought of saints as a sort of blueprint or mould into which I should try to conform my own soul, but I have been learning that the struggle of particular saints, and their subsequent triumph over sin with the help of God’s grace, has sanctifying value that transcends time and place—even their own lives—and affects the entire body of Christ. In short, their struggle is my struggle, and their graces, my graces.
Saint Anne gave birth to purity. The fruit of her womb was purity. When I talk about purity, I’m not really referring to sexual purity but to spiritual virginity, the absence of duplicity in my heart. A heart full of the one spouse. One thing. To be in love with one thing is purity, to be filled with the One, with Jesus. Saint Anne was the mother of the mother of God, and she received the blessing of participation in shaping the lineage of all Christians. The legacy I leave on my children will play out in their children, and their children’s children. Can I change the effects of my history and its effects on them? Can I give birth to purity?
Saint Elizabeth, patroness of hospitality, whose womb was patient, who was fulfilled in her old age, consecrated to the holy one, mother of a baptizer, the baptizer of Jesus himself. Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? She beholds the holiness in other women. All that she is and has conceived leaps for joy in the presence of the Pure One. Hail, Full of Grace. The Lord is with thee. She beholds the sacred tabernacle that contains the Son of God. This in her old age when she is tired, and heavy with her own child, and a young virgin has come to wait on her. How easy it would have been for someone like me to express cynicism in that moment in which Saint Elizabeth rejoices.
Saint Monica weeps, she mourns, she beseeches for as long as necessary. She didn’t set any limits, saying, well, I will just mourn for this period of time, and then straighten myself up and get on with life. She did not deserve what Augustine did to her, nor what her husband did to her.
I like Monica because she’s a beseecher of heaven. Blessed are those who weep and mourn. She will be satisfied. If a woman is unshakeable, how will she know what to pray. What will be left for her to feel, to suffer? I don’t want to be unshakeable anymore.
And the Blessed Mother. I think of the wedding feast at Cana especially, that the Blessed Mother was able to see what was divine in her son and provoke him to exhibit it. I put a lot of responsibility on my children. I push them in academics and athletics. I like for them to be social and active in the community. But when it comes time for spiritual things I coddle them, the gentle boost, never the strong assumption of their leadership in this realm. I would like to obtain the discernment that the Blessed Mother had, when she let her Son know that it was his time. There is no wine.
Servant of God Dorothy Day is one of the very few of all saints and Blesseds whose life gives utterance to a struggle with lust. I’ve never been content with any concept of Jesus as the chaste boyfriend, the placeholder within whose eye I rest when I don’t get to have real sex with my husband.
I was made for consummation, I need it, and if I can’t get it in Eucharist and service, then my errant soul seeks it in less worthy occupations. Like Dr. Donne says, “For I/ Except you enthrall me never shall be free/ nor ever chaste except you ravish me.” I cannot even begin to have a pure heart until it is satisfied in its deepest well with a satisfaction that is both spiritual and physical.
I was made to consume and to be consumed. I know this with the same barely speakable certainty that I felt when I first rested without shame in my husband’s arms, that— my gosh— I wanted to eat him, and also, if it wouldn’t yield certain death, I might cut him open and climb inside. I wanted to live within that intimate intercourse, and have it live in me.
In the glorious mystery that soon followed—that backwards way in which God answers every prayer—another soul did come to dwell in me, and then another, and four more. My six children, whom I then nourished with my own flesh, the placenta which fed them in the womb, and my milk once they emerged. I was made for consummation, and so were they, to feed on the body of Christ, which is the Eucharist, and also my flesh and theirs sacramentalized by His covenant.
My children, of course, would have no idea what I’m talking about, nor would they even be aware of their own longing for such a thing, though it first manifests with their own desire to be seen and known, to love and taste the fruits of love, followed quickly by awareness that it’s not enough, the human eye, the human body—they are not enough in themselves. Even the gaze of God, for all its glory, is only the beginning.
As C.S. Lewis famously said, we must go further up, and further in. Does all of this sound crazy sexual? Well it is. I’ll leave it to our friends in the entertainment business to alleviate the stigma of feminine sexuality. My calling in life, if I ever get around to it, is to alleviate the stigma of feminine spirituality, which has too long been cloaked in pastel colors and saccharine devotionals.
Ravish me, o Lord! And walking in companionship with your chosen Mother Saints, help me to bear fruit in due season.
Elizabeth Duffy blogs at Patheos, writes at Elizabeth Duffy: Perspectives on Catholic Life, Family and Culture, and has work published or forthcoming at OSV, On Faith, The Catholic Educator, and Image.