St Matilda

Widow (entered heaven this day in 968)

Dear Regina,

It must be a relief to have finally decided on a major.  Frankly, I am quite pleased with your decision; if there’s one place in academia that needs a Catholic presence, it’s Women’s Studies.  You will do a great service to the department (and your fellow students) if you are able to combine modern scholarship and the ancient wisdom of the Church as you tackle this exciting subject.  I only have one caveat for you: watch out for the anti-feminists (sometimes they conceal their true agenda by calling themselves “feminists”). They are the ones who think that true feminism consists of de-feminization, in obliterating any gender distinction except purely biological functionality.  This, as you know, is contrary to human experience, as well as opposed to God’s revelation. The Church has always taught and strived to live (not always successfully) a vision of gender identity based on integral complementarity: God created the human person in his image, “male and female he created them.”  In other words, men and women have the same human dignity, but offer complementary emotional, spiritual, biological, and intellectual traits, and only by consciously bringing these traits together will we fulfill our human vocation. True feminism, therefore, will strive to understand and release authentic femininity (and authentic masculinity) for the benefit of all and the glory of God.

I have always been impressed by the great female saints of the Church.  They reveal the feminine genius in the most varied and unlikely situations, and yet (in my opinion) they are too little known.  Today’s saint is a perfect example. When we study medieval history we all hear about Otto the Great and how he “saved the papacy” from the Roman mob and set in motion Europe’s recovery from the second wave of barbarian invasions.  We almost always hear about St Bruno and his brilliant revitalization of the Church in Germany and France. We hear more than enough about the great French kings who furthered the cause of Christ in a myriad of ways. But have you ever seen St Matilda mentioned in your textbooks?  She was Otto the Great’s mother, St Bruno’s mother, and her daughters married into the great French families, infusing fresh devotion where it had dangerously waned. She was the daughter of nobles and grew up under the care of her grandmother in a German convent. There she grew to womanhood and exceeded all her peers, so the records say, in beauty, piety, and learning.  She married the German King’s son (who was eventually made emperor) and devoted all her energy and talent to keeping a royal house worthy of being called Christian. Towards her servants and the members of her court, she acted less like a queen and more like a loving mother, and they repaid her with diehard loyalty and confidence. She made her marriage to Henry a happy one for the whole family, and never failed to balance out his tendencies to superficiality and impulsiveness.  As a result, his rule was marked by success and prosperity in every way (the people always attributed his victories in war more to her prayers than to his prowess). As a mother, she suffered much at her five children’s squabbles and excesses, but the results of her efforts speak for themselves. As long as she lived the wealth and influence of the imperial court was ever at the service of the Church, of the poor, and of the sick. After her husband died, she dedicated herself even more intensely to caring for the poor, and to her many monastic and conventual foundations.  Her last days were spent visiting these religious houses, and she passed away in one of them. She was buried beside her husband, and from the moment of her death, the crowds hailed and venerated her as a saint.

The influence of that one woman reverberated down through the centuries.  Some would argue that it was felt even up to the French Revolution. She had indeed released in her own heart and life the feminine genius, and it flowed out from her in a way proper to her times and circumstances.  May your studies help you tap into the same genius, so that it can have a similar influence in these very different times and circumstances.

Sincerely, your uncle, Eddy

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