Painting by William Henry Margetson (1861–1940)

Part One is here.

from The Privilege of Being a Woman by Alice von Hildebrand

The liturgy of the Holy Church gives testimony to the role of the heart in religious life; she has blessed us with a litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There is no litany dedicated to the divine intellect or the divine will.

When Christ in agony spoke the heart-breaking words —”I am thirsty” — the Holy One was thirsting for our love. The heart is where love resides. The heart needs to be vindicated and this can best be achieved by distinguishing between valid and invalid feelings, legitimate and illegitimate feelings, “baptized feelings and unbaptized ones.”

Failing to “discriminate” between them inevitably leads to a denigration of this rich field of human experiences, and was bound to have a negative effect on women who, traditionally, have been called “the heart of the family.”

The greatest and deepest religious and human experiences are related to the heart. It is our heart that makes us vulnerable. The heart of the Savior was ‘bruised by our sins.”

It is the heart that loves, that is merciful, that has compassion, that feels contrition, that cries over sins, that is wounded by wickedness. Saint Francis’ heart was bleeding “because love was so little loved.”

It is the heart that suffers with the beloved and would be happy to suffer for the beloved. Christ tells us that “He is meek and humble of heart.”

Spiritual guidance aims at purifying man’s intellect and leading it to an ever-greater and deeper knowledge of truth; it aims at strengthening the will. But wise spiritual guidance should show great concern not only for the elimination of illegitimate feelings, but also for the blossoming of noble, sublime, and generous feelings which flower in a pure heart.

That holiness carries with it a transformation of the heart is shown best by the tenderness that great male saints exude. Let us think of Saint Bernard and his homily upon the death of his beloved brother, Gerard:

“Cruel death! By taking away one, thou has killed two at once; for the life which is left to me is heavier than death.”

Saint Francis de Sales also comes to mind: his innumerable letters express a sweetness admirably combined with holy manliness.

These saints, masterpieces of God’s grace, combine all great male virtues with female gentleness.

Great female saints, while keeping the perfume of female gentleness, can show a strength and courage that sociology usually reserves to the male sex. It is typical of the supernatural that such apparently contradictory features can be harmoniously united.

Some may claim that the metaphysical inferiority of feelings is clearly proven by the fact that the body is involved with them (for example, our heart beats faster when we experience a great joy or fear). To deny that physical manifestations of profound spiritual experiences can validly and meaningfully be expressed in the human body is a prejudice that should be eradicated from a Christian mind.

From the beginning, Christianity has waged war on any form of gnosticism—this ever-recurring error of despising the flesh, born of pride. For the Word itself became flesh. Since the greatest event in history took place, it is clear that we should not despise physical manifestations of deep psychic and spiritual experiences.

This truth is also expressed in the Canticle of Canticles: “stipate me malis, quia amore langueo” (“refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love”).

Man is a union of body and soul; just as the body will partake of man’s beatitude or of his damnation, it is proper and classical that in the course of this earthly life, the body should mirror the experiences of the soul. Far from being an indication of inferiority, the connection between body and emotion sheds light on the deep link existing between man’s body and his soul.

The most powerful manifestation of the union between soul and body is to be found in the phenomenon of stigmata. One certainly can reach sainthood without duplication of the wounds of our Savior. But that there are cases, fully validated, in which man’s body partakes of the tortures that Christ suffered when crucified, is a powerful expression of both the union of body and soul, and of the closeness which exists between a creature burning with love for its Creator, and gratefully partaking in the immensity of His pains.

Saint Benedict has understood this union so deeply that, in his Rule, he keeps stressing the importance in religious life of a reverent bodily posture. It does make a difference whether man kneels or stands, whether one bows or not, whether one sits straight or yields to “the law of gravity.”

One of the regrettable things which have taken place in the wake of Vatican II is that all these so-called “exterior” manifestations of piety which speak to the senses of the body have been abolished. Statues have been removed from our Churches; the violet cloths that used to cover statues from Passion Sunday onward are no longer used.

So many exterior reminders that we are here on this earth to serve God have been eliminated, with all the deep consequences that we now know.

In my country, what used to be Catholic Belgium, one could not take a walk in the beautiful forest surrounding the capital, or in the countryside, without seeing small little chapels dedicated to Christ, His Holy Mother, or some saint. It was a constant reminder that faith should animate all our actions.

The devil is a master psychologist and knows exactly how much we depend upon visual perception to buttress our faith. Destroying the physical signs of faith that move our affective reception certainly was not ordered by the texts of Vatican II. Who is the culprit?

The great defense of the body and the nobility of its relation to feeling is the profound fact of the Resurrection. How deeply Christian is the dogma of the resurrection of the body: To be human is to be a person incarnated in a body. It is therefore proper and just that this companion of our earthly life should partake in the glory or ignominy of our eternal fate.

Man’s soul is immortal and survives the destruction of his body; but the fullness of human nature calls for the resurrection of the flesh. The soul can exist without the body, but is widowed when the body dies; it then longs for the reunion with its companion.

The conclusion we can draw from this brief survey of feelings is that it is unwarranted to regard women as inferior because feelings play a central role in their lives. If the feelings vibrating in their hearts are noble, appropriate, good, legitimate, sanctioned, and pleasing to God, then they are precious jewels in God’s sight.

It is wrong to strip our altars and our Churches of all the splendid display due to Our Lord. “The saints have always shown wholehearted zeal and resourcefulness in seeing to the beauty and tidiness of the house of God, because, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, it is necessary to take care first of the real Body of Jesus, then of His Mystical Body.” -Jesus, Our Eucharistic Love, (afflink)


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