Mulierem fortem quis inveniet? {Who shall find a valiant woman?}

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But some of the Israelites continued to love and to serve the Lord in humility and detachment from the world, for they knew that the Saviour would come to free men from the oppressor within their own hearts.

It was from these pure families that, by His grace, God developed and guided the ancestors of His future Mother. They were extremely simple and devout persons, very gentle and peace-loving and charitable. Out of love for God, they always lived a very mortified life. Often the married couples practiced continence over long periods of time, particularly during holy seasons, for their highest ideal was to raise saintly children who in turn would contribute toward bringing salvation to the world. They lived in small rural communities, and they did not engage in business. They worked on the land and tended flocks of sheep; they also had gardens and orchards. They were very conscientious in fulfilling their religious duties. Whenever they had to go to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices in the Temple, they prepared themselves by prayer and fasting and penance. When traveling, they always helped as best they could any sick persons or paupers whom they met. And because they led such an austere and detached life, these good people had to endure the scorn of many of the other Jews.

Thus Mary’s grandparents inherited from their ancestors a love of humility, chastity, mortification and the simple life. Her mother, St. Ann, and father, St. Joachim, were the very finest products of this long line of pure and holy servants of God.

The Life of Mary as Seen By the Mystics (compiled by Raphael Brown)

* * *

Today is St. Anne’s feast, and it ends the nine-day novena in her honor. There is a real peace and expectancy, even gratitude, that settles over the soul at the completion of a novena, isn’t there? I remember, as a seventeen-year-old, praying what was probably my first novena to her with the intention of asking her to find my future husband. Or maybe begging would be the better word . . . On the final day, I practically skipped into the nave of our old parish with my eyes absolutely peeled for the sudden appearance of “Him.” (I don’t think he was there 😉 )

And now, three years later, I’m finding myself at the end of a full circle: at the end of another novena to dear St. Anne. My sister and I prayed the final prayers last night, and woke up with smiles and exclamations of, “Happy feast day!” before settling down to the Mass in her honor.

But not it’s not the “end” I would have expected three years ago. Three years ago, I probably would have anticipated something like engagement by now, in answer to my novena to St. Anne. But this end . . . it’s infinitely better.

It’s called peace. It’s called the rose.

These three years have been both a very long and very short time for me. They charted me growing out of childhood; they wrote the beginning of an unexpected story, its middle and its end; they were suffused with joy, difficulty, sometimes confusion and pain, much learning and slow transformation into what I hope is a better, more God-honoring woman than I used to be.

I admit that the strength of my devotion to St. Anne depended on how close I thought I was to marriage, depending on the place I stood and how the climate was looking, during those three years. Eventually my prayers to her fell dormant, when I retreated into discernment and questioned as to whether I was I even called to marriage at all. I don’t think it was a conscious omission as much as it was the state of my life not inspiring me, or reminding me, to pray to her. Either way . . . I wish I had prayed to her more.

As the three years wore on, and I entered into this last year of my Latin Mass “love story” and my discernment, while I didn’t pray to St. Anne regularly, I began to learn so much. It was as if streams of truth were being poured into my thirsty heart. So much about what the Sacrament of Marriage means; so much about how the Sacrament must be lived in order to achieve the sanctification of the spouses and their children; so much about the role of the wife, in particular, and what she should be to her husband. So much about what I needed to be, if I were called to that state. It was all being poured over my soul . . . and now, I can’t help but realize that it had to be due, at least in part, to St. Anne’s intercession for me. Help me find my future husband, I’d begged her as a seventeen-year-old. But how could I be actually ready to find my future husband if there was still so incredibly much I needed to learn, as a girl growing into a woman, about marriage and the duties of holy Catholic spousal life; if there was still so much in my heart that needed correction and illumination, so many preconceived notions that needed to be replaced with Christ’s Truth, before I could proceed to embrace the Sacrament, if God were calling me to it?

* * *

From the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

The more easily to preserve the holy state (of marriage) from dissensions, the duties of husband and wife as inculcated by St. Paul and by the Prince of the Apostles must be explained.

Duties of a Husband: It is the duty of the husband to treat his wife generously and honorably. It should not be forgotten that Eve was called by Adam “his companion.” “The woman,” he says, “whom thou gavest me as a companion.” (Gen. 3:12). Hence it was, according to the opinion of some of the holy Fathers, that she was formed not from the feet but from the side of man; as, on the other hand, she was not formed from his head, in order to give her to understand that it was not hers to command but to obey her husband.

The husband should also be constantly occupied in some honest pursuit with a view to provide necessaries for the support of his family and to avoid idleness, the root of almost every vice.

He is also to keep all his family in order, to correct their morals, and see that they faithfully discharge their duties.

Duties of a Wife: On the other hand, the duties of a wife are thus summed up by the Prince of the Apostles:Let wives be subject to their husbands: that if  any believe not the word, they may be won without the word by the conversation of the wives, considering your chaste conversation with fear. Let not their adorning be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel: but the hidden man of the heart in the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. For after this manner heretofore the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” (1 Peter 3:1)

To train their children in the practice of virtue and to pay particular attention to their domestic concerns should also be especial objects of their attention. The wife should love to remain at home, unless compelled by necessity to go out; and she should never presume to leave home without her husband’s consent.

Again, and in this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.

* * *

As this past year wore on, my sister and I discovered the devotion to St. Raphael. He was and is such a great consolation, and devotion to him really did capture my heart; but at the same time, I came to where I was practicing this devotion with constant caveats and ifs, because I was afraid of desiring Marriage to the point where I would stop desiring the will of God.

And so, nine short days ago, I began my novena to St. Anne. My intention was that I would just know and do the will of God in my life. No specifics, all simplicity.

As I was praying the novena, a good friend lent my sister Woman in Love by Katie Hartfiel–a beautiful love story, but most importantly, a Catholic vocational story. (I haven’t read all of the book, but I watched the Hartfiels on Life on the Rock several years ago and so I know the factual plotline 🙂 )

In the past, I’d been familiar with the concept of writing letters to one’s “husband to be” as a way of praying for him daily and uniting with him in spiritual love and faithfulness, even before you knew who, precisely, he was. Over the past few years, I’d tried it myself, several different times. But it was stilted and uncomfortable. I felt unrecognizable in the words I was penning down, and I would stop after a letter or two. I lacked clarity; I lacked healing; I lacked knowledge of what I was desiring.

Until this novena.

Let me know and do the will of God in my life, I asked the mother of my most Blessed Mother. Let me know.

The seventh day of the novena, I was sitting on my bed, Catholic Girls’ Guide in my hands, and I was in tears, not because I was feeling depressed or discouraged, but because I felt so overwhelmed with the love I ached to give as I contemplated possibly being married and having children.

On the eighth day of the novena, I observed my sister writing her own Woman in Love letters in a notebook. (Ironically enough, it was the notebook I’d bought to write my letters in, months before, the practice of which I abandoned shortly thereafter. 🙂 ) Even as I recollected my failed attempts, I felt moved to try one more time. I found looseleaf paper and a pen . . . and the words poured and poured. I’m not sure I can describe it well. But I was myself; I was earnest; my heart was alive and full of clarity and hope. I felt I was able to at last unite my new desires for holiness, for pleasing God and doing His will, with my long-held desires for Marriage (my rose), for a husband, for children. I felt as though I was beginning to know.

Yesterday, the final day of novena . . . I sat down and wrote “The Rose” itself. It was as if the last clouds had cleared; it was an epiphany, of sorts. At the end of my novena, I’d been given the gift of clarity to see that I should be giving my Lord what I have–and not emptiness. I saw that giving Him my desire for Marriage as an actual gift was not closing myself to His will; but rather, it meant trusting Him all the more with my life, my future, my salvation.

The relief and joy was palpable; it was a moment of true grace. I feel I can now embrace whatever God’s will is for my life, and also yet embrace my hope for the Sacrament of Marriage wholeheartedly, and to pray for my future husband, as I believe now there is one. There is no longer a contradiction between my two desires.

So, needless to say, my devotion to St. Anne is renewed. I began praying to her as a girl who knew very little about the things I wanted; and I’ve come back to her again as a young woman who’s learned much through her often unnoticed intercession, and through the work she has done to bring me to her daughter in Total Consecration. She has, indeed, taught me what it means to be a valiant woman, and what I must do to pursue that end. Without my even knowing it, she has taught me about holy marriage; she has helped the rose of my desire for Marriage to grow into something more pleasing to God. While I have still so far to go, I have learned more modesty, more submission, the value of prayer, more joy, more authentic femininity, more domesticity, more trust. I feel the need to thank her for that.

And so how could today’s Epistle have brought me anything other than joy and delight, as I contemplated the mother of my Mother, all she has done, and all she has yet to do for me?

Who shall find a valiant woman? Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her. The heart of her husband trusteth in her, and he shall have no need of spoils. She will render him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She hath sought wool and flax, and hath wrought by the counsel of her hands. She is like the merchant’s ship, she bringeth her bread from afar. And she hath risen in the night, and given a prey to her household, and victuals to her maidens. She hath considered a field, and bought it: with the fruit of her hand she hath planted a vineyard. She hath girded her loins with strength, and hath strengthened her arm. She hath tasted and seen that her traffic is good: her lamp shall not be put out in the night. She hath put out her hand to strong things, and her fingers have taken hold of the spindle. She hath opened her hand to the needy, and stretched out her hands to the poor. She shall not fear for her house in the cold of snow: for all her domestics are clothed with double garments. She hath made for herself clothing of tapestry: fine linen and purple is her covering. Her husband is honorable in the gates, when he sitteth among the senators of the land. She made fine linen and sold it, and delivered a girdle to the Chanaanite. Strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh in the latter day. She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue. She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle. Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her. Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all. Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands: and let her works praise her in the gates.

Proverbs 31: 10-31

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