Monday, January 26, 2009

Time for Another Book Recommendation

Memorial of
Saints Timothy, Titus
and Paula Too!

Seems entirely fitting that on the day following our remembrance of the Conversion of St. Paul and the close of the Year of St. Paul, we should be remembering two of his loyal disciples, Timothy and Titus. Isn't it amazing to think that within so few years after the death of Jesus Paul should be able to exercise so much influence? To think of the loyalty to his person he was able to engender and, even more, the absolute attachment to the person of Jesus Christ in his followers. This is even more breath taking. He had the Madison Avenue advertizing executive's power to persuade without modern trappings, media or dreadful jingles! It seems he was chosen by God expressly for the message. What exciting times those must have been!

But in my breviary, appears a small, simple penciled note next to the names of Timothy and Titus. It just says, "St. Paula." This was noted because one of our sisters bears her name. Now Sr. Paula's names and feasts are rather convoluted because her name in religion was Sr. Mary Peter and she returned to using her baptismal name, Paula, many years ago. The feast of Sts. Peter and Paul seems to suit her these days. But it is good to remember St. Paula too.

What I have learned about Paula comes chiefly from a marvelous book by Patricia Ranft. The following comes from Macmillan Publisher's website.

Patricia Ranft, Professor of History, emerita, at Central Michigan University, is the author of numerous studies on religious, intellectual and women’s history. Her books include Women and the Religious Life in Premodern Europe (1996), a History Book Club selection; Women and Spiritual Equality in Christian Tradition (1998); A Woman’s Way: The Forgotten History of Women Spiritual Directors (2000); and Women in Western Intellectual Culture, 600-1500 (2002), all published by Palgrave Macmillan. With this current study she returns to her earlier interest in the medieval religious renewal movement, about which she published some dozen articles.

In writing about Paula, Ranft quotes extensively from St. Jerome. Now Jerome has a reputation for being somewhat of a curmedgeon, to say the least. But, it turns out that some of his best friends, supporters and intelectual partners were women. One third of his surviving letters were written to women. He met Paula and her circle of influential and holy women friends in Rome. She and her daughter followed him to the Holy Land. Later she founded monasteries, mastered Hebrew and continued to assist Jerome. He wrote, "If all the members of my body were to be converted into tongues, and if each of my limbs were to be gifted with a human voice, I could still do not justice to the virtues of the holy and venerable Paula." He praise her as a mother, scholar of Holy Scripture, linguist, and advisor. The great variety of her roles is particularly attractive to this contemplative nun who has her own checkered past as wife, mother, scholar and now nun. What a model she provides.

It is no wonder that Professor Ranft includes Paula in the ranks of female spiritual directors of note. Her book is a fascinating and informative corrective to many erroneous notions about the influence and contribution of women through the ages of both secular and religious history.

More about spiritual directors will come on another day.

HAPPY FEAST DAY to all named Paula loving and serving God as wives, mothers, teachers, scholars, advisors AND spiritual directors.

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