Thursday, December 13

I've often recommended the Christianity Today weblog as a valuable source of religion news. It is! They did something amusing and illuminating today: Go here and scroll about halfway down. They line up all the headlines from the major news services regarding the Pope's most recent statement on the war and find startling differences between what is communicated.
Waiting for the world's Moslem leadership to decry bin Laden's religiosity as a perversion of Islam. Waiting for this country's Moslem leadership to separate their faith from what bin Laden articulated today in The Tape. Waiting. Waiting......
Go to Michael's blog for news of upcoming speaking engagements and book signings for both of us. Add to that a talk at the National Catholic Education Association convention in April for me.
It seems to me that anyone who thinks the current conflict will end with Afghanistan, or is only between the US (and Britain) and al-Qaeda, and will end once bin Laden is captured or killed, needs to take a look around the globe. Islamist militants have been on the rise for years, and after some quiet this fall, things are heating up again, and it looks as if yet another redefinition of this conflict is in the near future, and yet another re-evaluation of Islam:

Indonesia group tied to al Qaeda kills Christians

Israel breaks off contact with Arafat in wake of terrorist attack on bus.

Suicide Squad attacks Indian Parliament; 11 dead.

If you've ever seen a picture of a girl holding her eyes on a platter, know that it's St. Lucy you're looking at. St. Lucy, whose feast is celebrated today, was one of those early Christian female martyrs who got into trouble because she refused marriage. It's an interesting subtext in female sanctity, and one that runs right up through the Middle Ages: Girls and women vowing themselves to God alone, only to have their parents try to force them into betrothals and marriages. St. Lucy was denounced by her pagan intended and then martyred in the most spectacular fashion:

The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger

There are stories of others with similar desires who, once Christianity was legal, weren't martyred for their refusal to marry, but in order to avoid it, resorted to rather dramatic measures: St. Oda of Hainault left her own wedding ceremony, announced that she would "not have this man, nor any other mortal man for her husband, since she had already chosen her heavenly spouse." She returned home, withdrew to her mother's bedroom, got a sword, and sliced off her own nose.

On another level entirely are the actions of many groups of nuns during the brutal days of the Dark and Middle Ages who, in response to threats from marauding attackers, would, en masse disfigure themselves before they had a chance to be assaulted. Most well-known is St. Ebba and her nuns of Coldingham.

....the abbess, with an heroic spirit, affording to all the holy sisters an example of chastity profitable only to themselves, but to be embraced by all succeeding virgins for ever, took a razor, and with it cut off her nose, together with her upper lip unto the teeth, presenting herself a horrible spectacle to those who stood by. Filled with admiration at this admirable deed, the whole assembly followed her maternal example, and severally did the like to themselves...

It sort of worked. The Danish invaders were, indeed horrified at the spectacle of the blood-covered, facially disfigured sisters, and set aside any plans they had to assault the women, but they burned the place down anyway, and the sisters perished as martyrs.

By the way, I quoted these stories from Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, 500-1100, an excellent study which moved Christopher to ask, when he saw me reading it a couple of years ago: "What - did they get amnesia or something?"

Eye-catching headline: Church accuses Santa of being a fat drunk. It reminds me of our parish's associate pastor who, last week on the feast of St. Nicholas, told the children in his homily at the school Mass that because of Santa, we'd "thrown St. Nicholas in the monkey hole." He's from Sri Lanka. I guess that's what they do with the unwanted in Sri Lanka: into the monkey hole.


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