The CET Email Discussion

A Possible Solution, a suggestion by Regina Doman

Dear friends,

I'm writing to initiate a group discussion by mail with all of you. The format I had in mind was that I would send each of you whose names are above a copy of this letter. If you like, you can copy the letter and pass it on to others who might be interested. If you'd like to make a response to this letter, don't send me back the letter. Just send your response, and I'll copy it and send it off to everyone on this list. If you're wondering why I included you in this discussion, it's because I thought you might have at least a passing interest in this topic, and because I value your insights.

I'm also sending this letter to Jack and Jean Ann and company in the Bethlehem Community (of Bethlehem Books), because I think that their continued experience in communal living (for over ten years) will be valuable. I tried to have a copy of this letter sent to everyone I could think of who would be interested, but I may have overlooked somebody. If you see someone's name missing from this list, please send them a copy of the letter.

First of all, an apology for writing a letter like this on a computer. But I am a hassled mother of two after all. What I need is a good Latin phrase to start off all letters of this type, something like Apologio Ad Computeris or something. (My Latin is terrible) I say this because I think that for my purpose, a handwritten letter would have been more beautiful and effective. So I apologize. I'm writing this letter as a result of a sort of brainstorm I had after talking with other like-minded Catholic women regarding "the conversation" – that is, the discussion that Caelum et Terra started about how to live a simpler, richer, more Catholic, more beautiful, less technological, less materialistic, more child-centered, more Christ-centered life. Many of us punctuate these discussions by yearning aloud for a Catholic community that lived out these ideals. We then usually discuss the possibilities of such a community and close concluding sadly that such a community is not possible for us, at least, not any time in the near future.

Juli Loesch Wiley, I think, once wrote (in a piece I can't find now), "Make way for the Catholic Bruderhoff!" But for most of us, joining some type of Catholic Bruderhoff or Amish community is years away. Now, some of us involved with Caelum Et Terra have been able to buy farms, move close to other farming families, and start living this way of life. But many of us just can't, much as we would like to. Finances are often a problem. Most of us just choose to wait patiently for sometime in the future when the opportunity will come to buy the land, build the house, get the horse and buggy and sell the car.

There's nothing wrong with this, but the other day it occurred to me that there might be another step we could take as a group that would bring us a bit closer to our goal. I remember Dan Nichols, speaking about the founding of Caelum Et Terra, said that at the end of an early phase of "the conversation," someone said, "What can we do?" And someone else (Daniel?) said, "First, we start a magazine." And as we all know, they did, and it's helped to widen and broaden the conversation considerably. My husband and I are among the many who joined "the conversation" at this point. Now, I'd like to tentatively take the conversation to another phase. I can't pretend that this idea is original, since for all I know, one of you might have suggested it before.

Our topic: Incarnating a Catholic culture – How?

I'm going to start by making a few observations about culture, germane to the following discussion. (Many of these ideas have been discussed at length in the pages of our late lamented periodical) Feel free to challenge any one of these observations, especially if you see it affects my conclusions. First of all, culture (in the Catholic way of paradox) is both very important and not important. Most of us recognize that it is not important regarding salvation ("In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek ..."). But at the same time, it is vitally important, and often overlooked in this "time of warfare" we are all living in.

Culture is the incarnation of our ideals. It is the "fleshly" part of our beliefs as Catholics -- where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. I believe some have compared it to the Incarnation of Christ, analogous to Christ's human nature. His divine nature was universal, unchangeable, eternally relevant. His human nature -- His maleness, His Jewishness, His language and His trade was specific to one time, place, and people. (So while all of us are called to be Christians, we are not all called to be Semitic male carpenters from Galilee) Culture is what brings the faith close to our hearts -- it feeds us, clothes us, teaches us how to live our faith. It is intensely personal, and probably generates the most arguments among Catholics today. The Church is of one faith but is multi-cultural -- and has always been. Much as we might love a particular culture, a particular expression of belief, we have to admit that the Church won't baptize a particular culture as being for "all men at all times." (Although you can argue that at different times and places, she has endorsed certain cultures as good for many men – I won't go into that now).

Now, Caelum Et Terra as a magazine was unique to its times in that it focused a good deal of attention on how to re-create and actively live out an authentic Catholic culture. Some consensus on certain issues (but not full consensus, and not on all issues!) had begun to emerge -- or at least a pattern of "likes and dislikes" among the readers. Many of us saw these patterns to perhaps be the basis for some type of formal community. And most of us have seen that while it's impossible to "legislate culture" for the Church as a whole, it is possible to legislate culture for a particular voluntary group within the Church. These groups have been called religious orders, and their espousal of a particular way of life (or "culture") has affected and blessed the whole Church.

Let us once more consider St. Francis of Assisi, whose peculiar vision of the Gospel was not for everyone (at least the Dominicans would agree with this). His "culture" – characterized by his marriage to Lady Poverty, his "Rule", etc. -- was not made into the rule of life for all Catholics (although many Franciscans might have liked that). But at the same time, by becoming an order, Francis's witness affected the whole Church, including many who never joined his order. And we all know that the witness of that one Italian youth has reverberated throughout the generations, giving the Church more of her saints than any other order, and continuing to affect people today, even those outside the Church. So St. Francis is a witness to the power of culture. So is St. Benedict, but I won't detail his example here (my husband would say this is mostly due to prejudice, given my latent Franciscanism!).

So, in the past, "legislating culture" led to the formation of religious communities. As we know, there are lay communities today that follow the Franciscan or another rule – the St. Martin De Porres community, the Beatitudes Community, the Bethlehem community. Now, there are several obstacles that make it difficult for most of us to join a "formal religious community" of this type. I mean, aside from the fact that many of us simply don't feel called to such a lifestyle.

Our Obstacles

1. Religious communities, as typically lived out, were originally designed and run by and for celibate religious, not families. Families can live in community (as do the Bruderhoff and the Bethlehem community) but only with a lot of energy being spent to make sure that the autonomy of the individual family is not threatened. This is because each family is a community in itself (a sacramental community formed by the bond of marriage between husband and wife), and it's difficult to put this primal sacramental community under the authority of a non-sacramental community. To not impede on the autonomy of the individual family requires a delicate balancing act that is achievable only with extreme difficulty, weakness, and effort.

2. Hence, most couples raising small children lack the energy needed to juggle community bonds and commitments as well as their own sacramental duties in their domestic church. Most couples we know also lack the time. Maintaining their own marital relationship, fulfilling their obligations of love to the Church, keeping up with their children and with their extended family, as well as other activities like homeschooling and farming, keep most couples too busy for the stress of group living, or even frequent meetings with another group. In addition, many agrarian-minded people are involved in their own apostolates and services to the Church that they would be hesitant to drop to put their energy into a community.

3. In addition, since families are already a community, there is a tendency for them, as well as for groups of like-minded families, to become "closed in on themselves." Attempted communities often result in groups of families who have no time for outsiders, no time for the stranger at the door, the new family in town, or for their needy and unchurched neighbors. This poses a clear spiritual danger. Becoming "closed in" can lead to elitism, to judging others not in the community as "lesser" Catholics, and many other bad fruits (including children rejecting the community, rupturing family relationships, creating bad situations with Church authorities, etc.)

I think we can all recognize these obstacles. So can we then agree together that if we were to start or join a Catholic agrarian community, it would have to -- respect and not impede the individual authority of the family? -- allow the families involved to fulfill their existing obligations to each other, to the Church, to their extended families, and to their various vocations? -- be an "open" one, one that is easy to share with others, one that others can participate in without fully joining the group, and most of all, a vision that sees itself in service to the wider Church in some concrete way? I would like to hear people's responses to these conclusions of mine!

A Fourth Difficulty

Dan Nichols has before observed a fourth difficulty specific to our situation. Most of the people who are attracted to these counter-cultural ideals (including many involved in this discussion), are independent souls to begin with. Since culture involves the personality of the individual, many of us have come up with "little visions" of community for ourselves and our families that frequently clash with other's visions of community. This has hindered attempts to set up communities in the past, and no doubt will continue to hinder us now. As one of our group has wryly observed, "My husband and I spend a lot of time talking about community. But yet, if a Catholic community were set up, we would probably be the first ones to leave it!"

We also should recognize here that the vocation of a wife and mother is to create, maintain, and teach culture. Since every woman is unique, this means that Catholic women will hold very strong and very different opinions on how to best go about doing something. (In our age of fragmentation, this individuality is heightened) This has led to the common-sense maxim of having "one woman per kitchen," and the saying, "Ten women in a room, ten different opinions in a room." This shouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle, but we have to recognize and anticipate this fact. Also, since the creation and living out of a culture is one thing that is most fulfilling to a woman, if she is frustrated in this desire, she will be fundamentally unhappy, perhaps even bitter. In other words, if someone says, "No, you can't do it your way, you MUST do it this way, like the rest of us are," she will suffer, even if she hides it (and many women in communities do).

This can be answered by saying that in community, everyone needs to give and take and suffer, which is true. But all the same, it would be better to avoid any gratuitous suffering to individuals when considering community.

Can we then agree that the vision of a Catholic community must allow for generous amount of leeway for individual personalities, particularly for the choices and preferences of wives and mothers? (And, incidentally, in a community primarily centered around culture, women become extremely powerful. Which is why we've never seen the "Amish Women's Liberation Movement")

So "how then shall we live?"

My spiritual director in the Friars of the Renewal once told me, "Pray as you can, not as you can't." Perhaps we should now try to "do what we can, not what we can't." I think myself that I would be willing to spend a life of praying, arguing, and working in order for my children to be able to live in a Catholic agrarian community, either one like the Amish (groups of homesteads) or the Bruderhoff (communal housing). I would guess that many of us feel the same way. I think others would agree with me.

So what is the next step? Maybe the first step is to form another type of community -- the type now recognized by the Church as a personal prelature, a community where the members are not restricted to any kind of location or diocese. Although group living might be practiced, it's not necessary in order to be part of the prelature. Opus Dei, of course, was the first personal prelature approved by the Church. Someday there may be a second.

What I suggest is the formation of a personal prelature, a "work" similar to Opus Dei in some respects. The goal of this prelature would be to build up a Catholic culture -- specifically, a home-centered, home-based, low-tech, simple agrarian way of life, characterized by common festivities, common fasts, and perhaps by common dress and common lives. In all other communities that I know, such as the Brothers and Sisters of Charity (a.k.a. John Michael Talbot's group), common living is the rule, and living apart from the community is the exception. Hence those who live apart from the BSC group houses in Arkansas and elsewhere are called "associates." Whereas, in Opus Dei, those who live in the group houses (I believe those who live in group houses, to serve the rest, are called "luminaries") are the exception, and those who live and work at their specific professions in the world are the rule. It seems to me that this would be ideal, since most of us are already doing this!!!!

The purpose of this community, as I said, would be to serve the wider Church by living out and drawing others in to Catholic culture. Any commitments should be designed with the idea in mind that most of the people practicing these commitments will be mothers and fathers of small and numerous children. So that is my suggestion, which is open to discussion and elaboration by anyone. I feel myself that I have maybe eight of the twenty-some pieces of our current puzzle -- maybe more, maybe less. And I don't, of course, know how one goes about getting "prelature" status, although I suspect we might not bother about that yet.

Possible Commitments of the Prelature

Here's a few ideas I will throw out. I am trying to sum up what I know other people are striving to do in their own lives. Suggestions, additions, and subtractions wanted.

Incarnating Our Ideals
Taking the monastic ideals of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience as a rough outline, here's what I came up with. Mother Teresa's "vow of cheerfulness" also came to mind.

1. The incarnation of the ideal of Poverty would be lived out by a commitment to simplifying our lives -- an ongoing process, as we all know. There are many works by Catholics and others (Wendell Berry, the Mennonites, etc.) who can help us out here. Also things like Sandra Felton's Messie Manuals and Don Aslett's cleaning books (the housewives might know what I mean here --we're getting REAL incarnational now!) Perhaps something regarding a preferential option for the low-tech could fit in here. I'm not sure how to word it. Would an "inherent suspicion" of technology be enough? Or would we get more specific?

2. The incarnation of the ideal of Chastity for us would be modesty. I know this is something all Catholics should be practicing anyhow, but perhaps we should go above and beyond the American standard of modesty (if such a creature still exists). We can clothe this out later (as opposed to fleshing it out, pun intended).

3. The incarnation of the ideal of Obedience would be – uh -- okay, I'm foundering because I think this ideal is too obvious -- whole-hearted assent to the teachings of the Church and promoting them as our apostolate leads us to. That means, like, never having dissenters speak at our conferences, should we have conferences -- I don't know. Perhaps the masculine minds can help me out here.

I don't think we need to stop there. Additional commitments might be:
A commitment to Beauty. Christ, as the source of all Beauty, needs to become incarnate in our lives and homes -- in the ways we live and in the ways we dress. That might mean a commitment to keeping a clean and beautiful home (I bet I'm losing some of the men here), a commitment to dressing ourselves and our families in a neat and beautiful way. I really think the importance of this is overlooked, especially in spiritual circles. Time for beauty is time for Christ, Who deserves our best. Look at the Amish -- isn't there a beauty in their simplicity and in their cleanliness? Sure, I don't think their dresses are particularly attractive, but notice that very rarely are they dressed sloppily? (And as a mother of two babies, I know we'd need to approach the "neatness" commitment with a sense of humor and common sense. No excommunications for bringing a toddler to Mass with gum in his hair or anything.)
A commitment to Joy? Lisa Delmare has noticed that the Mennonites and Bruderhoff, etc., are not only always neat-looking, but also always seem to be cheerful and peaceful. "Now why aren't we Catholics like that? Why don't we even talk about being like that?" I would love to see "our prelature" (if I can use the term) address something like that. Perhaps a commitment to cheerfulness might be in order? (I don't mean this kind of plastic upbeatness that some Christians have. If you've met peaceful Mennonites, you'll know what I'm talking about.) This commitment might be important in our spirituality because the tendency of our age is to depression, cynicism, and melancholy. We have much to mourn for, but we also have much to rejoice over. And I don't mean the touted "Catholic renewal," nor our own strength and vigor (which will wane). I mean the truths of our faith, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Coronation of Mary, the Return of Christ -- those truths the Church asks us to return to and meditate on and rejoice over year after year and month after month. Incarnating these ideas in our lives will help us.
A commitment to Just Stewardship of the Earth, or something like that. I know that Caelum Et Terra discussed many of these issues, but I'm not sure how to formulate them into a commitment. I also am guessing that some leeway on philosophical stances might be needed here – considering the arguments some of us have gotten into about the place of technology, economics, etc. But I think the prelature should be a place where Luddites and distributists and their like should be taken seriously and learned from. Maybe someone else can help me out here.
And a commitment to fostering the arts that spring from Catholic culture, in some manner. Michael O'Brien has pointed out that the Church has called for artists to form communities where Church arts can flourish, and that this hasn't happened. Many artists, like himself, plod along in the wilderness. Perhaps this prelature might be something for them to espouse, in order to be supported in their work. We can at least encourage them to join us. I think we can learn from the French Beatitudes Community here, who recognize artistic talent as an apostolic vocation just as important as teaching or preaching. To incarnate this "appreciation," we could utilize these artists whenever we can --buy their art for our churches and buildings, hire them to design things for us, as well as using our own talents and creativity within our families and parish groups. Also whenever possible in our celebrations, use live musicians instead of taped music, and foster musicians among us, for dancing and liturgical music (which are not the same thing, obviously). More input on this issue is desired.

Regarding commitment to prayer, I don't think it should be overmuch. Not because prayer isn't important, but because many of us are involved in other prayer apostolates (the Legion of Mary, the Blue Army, Knights of the Immaculata, etc.) that require additional prayers from their members. I think that maybe a hearty endorsement of either daily Mass or daily Rosary, or both (with frequent confession) might be enough. I know it's hard for families of small and numerous children to do either one, but I think we should strive for it. Perhaps prayers like the Angelus could be part of our commitment, and maybe Total Consecration to Mary, either under de Montfort or Kolbe. Input? Also, I would like to suggest (as a way of incarnating ideals) a commitment to sing a Morning Song and a Night Song together as a family. The song can be any religious song, a traditional, contemporary or one composed by the family. It can be the same song or it can be chosen by the parent spur-of-the-moment. A Song before meals might be good, too, but at least two songs a day. This is an effective way of passing on to our children our rich musical heritage. I am thinking of the "Salve Regina" or the Tallis Canon for Nightsong, and maybe something like "Great is Thy Faithfulness" or "Sing of Mary" for Morningsong. It's an effective way for People of Small Attention Spans to pray. Also harried parents. And singing, as we all know, is praying twice.

It's sort of obvious that for families in a prelature, our work life will have to be our prayer life, offering up everything good we do to God for His glory. Hence the importance of Total Consecration. Also, the Church Herself dictates how we should pray and we can follow different ways of prayer (e.g. fasting and celebrating) in the appropriate seasons.

A Commitment to Celebration

Which brings me to the final Commitment -- the commitment to celebrate. I suggest that this will be our apostolate to the larger Church. The reasons I suggest this are
1. No one else is doing it, and it's needed.
2. It effectively counteracts despair.
3. It draws us together. I think when we have a potluck meeting to discuss some issue, we often get more out of the potluck than we get out of the issue. It's a culture thing. The people who celebrate together often find it easier to think together and get along together.
4. It's a great way to do "soft" evangelism, the most effective kind, the evangelism of charity. It's a lot easier to invite people to a party than to invite them to a prayer group. And, as we know, if they come to the party, they may end up coming to the prayer group. The Friars of the Renewal spend lots of energy having parties for the street people, running camps for young people, playing basketball, etc. because they know how effective it is. Also, because it helps us to love other people who we don't have much in common with.
5. It keeps us from becoming "closed in" on ourselves, which as I mentioned is a real danger. 6. Because celebration is seen by many as a "neutral" topic, a "fun" thing with no bearing on our beliefs, it can be an effective way to sidestep the liberal/conservative, dissenting/orthodox divide polarizing many parishes. A liberal pastor might forbid Eucharistic adoration, but he might give the nod to an Epiphany party. Culture can distract people from the issues temporarily, and they might return to those issues with a more open mindset.
7. It can generate a spirit of charity among us for those we disagree with. For example, our family once had a hard-core traditionalist over for a Jewish Sabbath. He was a lot less inclined to bash us for our "Vatican II ideals" after he'd eaten our food, drunk our wine, eaten our desert, and laughed with our children. We felt a little better about him, too. Charity covers a multitude of sins.
8. The Holy Father has called for Christians to be prepared to celebrate the Third Millennium. Notice how foggy our ideas of celebrating something holy is? This kind of apostolate could remedy this in the minds of many people. I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

A collary to this commitment to celebrate could be a commitment to abstain from passive entertainment – that is, television and movies. The reason for this would be to have more energy available for REAL culture. A penitential element could be involved – sort of giving up these things because other people have and are abusing them. But we can discuss this. It's just an idea.

I would think that we should try to add to the celebration of the feasts and fasts of the Church in our larger parish community, whenever possible. Our celebrations would center on individually-created things like songs, music, dancing, eating, and games. This can be as big or as small as the families involved. Some examples of things that have been done or could be done, ranging from small to large: -- Christmas novenas. This year, I'm organizing a Christmas novena at my parish that the kids can participate in. It's a simple procession with prayers for the eight days before Christmas. It will take place after the daily Mass each day and between vigil Masses on Christmas Eve. The way the homeschooling group runs it here is that each mother is only asked to organize one thing a year, and this is my "thing."

This might be a good principal -- if the prelature in your area consists of your family alone, start out by committing to organizing one manageable thing a year with your parish and doing the rest of the celebrations on a family-size scale. input wanted, here.
-- Organize a Christmas party (or a series of Christmas parties) for the Twelve Days of Christmas. This could be a simple as a family music night or a full blown thing with the Three Kings holding a party on Epiphany, a day of reparation in the middle of things on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, carol singings or plays for the other feast days, the whole works. The advantage of doing the Twelve Days is that it frees up Christmas Day for family commitments (which many of us have and feel we shouldn't neglect). The same with Easter.
-- The San Egidio Community in Rome (which has the same loose communal structure of a prelature) holds annual dinners for the homeless on Christmas and Easter. Many soup kitchens and ministries do this. -- perhaps one way to start out might be to volunteer to provide the entertainment for a local soup kitchen's Christmas dinner -- a play, a carol singing, music, or whatever. Nursing homes love these things, too.
-- All Saint's Day parties are a great thing to organize. With luck and several years tradition, these things can become bigger and more anticipated than Halloween among the kids. -- A Living Way of the Cross, similar to what is done in Hispanic countries, with actors going through the streets carrying a cross or playing the spectators. Can be very effective. (And ecumenical). Living Stations in the Church can be powerful, too.
-- Mary Feasts, held in May or around a feast days, similar to ones in the Middle Ages, with songs and plays about Mary. If things really got going, you could even host apologetic events in the midst of the festivities – like having a talk explaining the Biblical foundation of devotion to Mary. For many suspicious conservative people, this would give a "legitimacy" to organizing such events in the first place.
-- Celebrating the Hebrew feasts (on a small or large scale) is something the Association of Hebrew Catholics wants to promote, as a way of making the larger Church aware of our Israelite heritage. Judy Bratten and Ronda Chervin have done work in this area. Perhaps a prelature might want to become involved in this in some way. Celebrating the Passover is a great education for our kids, as many of us know.
-- Also "real" harvest celebrations when more of us actually have some farms to harvest! -- Since we are all spread out, I think that it might be a good idea to organize annual festivals or gathering, sometime when the farmers among us aren't busy, to encourage and strengthen each other. We do this already with the Caelum Et Terra gatherings, and we all get a lot out of it. Maybe we could pick a feast day and make it "our" feast. Ideas welcome here.
-- Also, I think we should look towards organizing an annual Youth Festival or Gathering for our teenagers and college kids. Even if we do nothing else, we should do this. It's an investment in our future. Prelature or no prelature, we are building up this culture as something to be passed on, and our young people are the ones who will do that. I envision a Festival that would have craft contests, sporting events, folk dances, costume parties, camping, scavenger hunts, singing, music-making, along with praying (chanting) the Office and daily Mass and Rosary. It should probably be about a week long, or a generous weekend. The goal here is to give our young people something they can call their own and so that they can meet each other. And let's be practical -- many of our children are being raised in a way very different from the ways their peers are being raised. About the only chance they have now of meeting and marrying like-minded people is by their parents making a huge financial investment in one of the Few Good Catholic Colleges. This really doesn't make sense, especially given the annual tuition hikes at these institutions. I know many of us spend lots of time keeping our teens away from the dating scene, but we've got to provide ways for them to meet suitable dates. I think we parents should expend some energy and time to make this possible. Also, I've heard that the single greatest reason that Amish youth remain Amish is that when they leave the group to live "among the English," they find they just don't have as much fun. They realize that no one can recreate like their people, with their songfests, corn husking parties, quilting bees, and so on. Don't we want to give our children a heritage like this?
I was thinking that the Bethlehem Community would be a good choice for hosting such a gathering (although they couldn't be the sole ones responsible -- I know how busy you are, Jack and Jean Ann!), partly because they have a large communal house and partly because they have eligible young men who need wives (I smile). But since North Dakota is far away for many of us, perhaps a more Easterly location could be found as well.

Other Questions To Consider

Regarding a common dress, this may be something to discuss down the road. We'd have to give a generous leeway to individual choices here, since it's hard to find a fashion that everyone likes which flatters everyone. Perhaps, as I suggested in my Seven-Dress Wardrobe article, we should merely dress with the liturgical seasons. As I said before, the advantage is that it simplifies our wardrobe (and frees up energy for other things) and incarnates our ideals of celebration. And we've got to remember our commitment to beauty. Maybe a preferential option for natural fabrics – cotton, wool, and silk over synthetics. For those of you who haven't seen me lately, I now wear cotton-knit medieval style jumpers in the liturgical colors (green, red, purple, blue, white for high feasts, pink for low feasts, and a favorite color for Sundays) with contrasting or matching shirts. Dresses were just too hard with messy children. I dress my kids the same way – turtlenecks and T-shirts for my boy, knit dresses with cotton pinafores and bloomers for my girl. My husband sort of does it too, but he feels luxurious if he has more than five shirts, so I don't worry about him too much. A lot of men are like that anyhow.

I also wear a cotton hair net to Mass (because babies pull off mantillas and kerchiefs give me headaches). Now other women have other ideas for dress. Cricket Hayden and her daughters are devising Clothes for a Working Woman (on a farm). We don't farm, so I can wear the cotton knit jumpers. (Cricket says knit is too modern and I should wear linen instead). Other women I know have a system of cotton dresses or denim jumpers. The Bethlehem Community already has a distinctive garb of cotton dresses, denim vests and kerchiefs. Their men wear black suspenders with their usual clothing. And I'll cast my vote for we women wearing skirts in public and head coverings to Mass. (Again, we can discuss this) In society, only the most important people get to wear skirts – judges, kings, etc. In our society, only women have the privilege of wearing dresses every day if they so desire. I think in public we women should take advantage of that as much as possible. After all, we are the "culture goddesses" (I smile. What I need here is a Latin or Greek scholar to coin a really good mysterious term for a culture goddess so that we keep everyone in awe of us.). Also, as Scott Hahn has pointed out, you put a veil over something that's sacred. We women are sacred. Again, I think we should choose to exercise this privilege of covering our heads and incarnating our beliefs about women as the crown of creation, as the hearts of the home and the Ishtari* of culture.

Another advantages (disadvantage) of some rule of dress like the liturgical code is that it would help give us a concrete identity (aside from not having televisions). But perhaps it's too early for this question. Input wanted here.

Well, I'm about running out of things to say. I am anxious to hear everyone's response. As I said, there's a lot of pieces to this puzzle that I don't have. One other thing to consider is what the spirituality of such a prelature would draw its inspiration from. Would it be, like Caelum Et Terra, a blend of the Franciscan and Benedictine? Or more?

A priest once said that a spirituality for an order is defined by how they see Christ (e.g.: Jesuits see Him as military leader, Carmelites as a Sacrificial Victim, etc.). I would hazard a guess that we would see Christ as "the Word made Flesh" or "the Inspiration of Culture, the heart of Culture." With our Marian focus being on Nazareth. Perhaps the more spiritually-minded among us have an idea. Also, patron saints elude me at this point, save St. Isidore the Farmer.

On the eschatological end of things, another purpose of this prelature might be to provide a place where our brethren the Amish and Bruderhoff might someday feel at home when God calls them back to the Catholic Church. The Association of Hebrew Catholics has this vision for the Jews, and they practice it by affirming the beliefs and practices of the Jewish people in their Catholic lives. The early Church built much of Catholic culture on the foundation of the pagans. Why shouldn't we build on the foundation of our separated brethren, especially since they share our common baptism and might someday share more with us? And, once again picking up the resounding theme of this letter, if we really believe in and pray for the eventual reunion of all Christians, perhaps we should somehow incarnate this ideal in our lives?

So, what do you think?

*Tolkien term, for those who don't know.

Doman writes from Front Royal, Virginia. "Puzzle Pieces,” later “the CET Conversation, is an informal discussion among friends, Catholics interested in low-tech, agrarian culture and the apostolate of beauty. To add your comments to the discussion, email Christopher Zehnder.


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