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Ronda Chervin on a Divine Plan for Happiness

HEBBRONVILLE, Texas, JAN. 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Ronda Chervin, a retired philosophy professor, author and convert to the Church, has felt compelled in her speaking and writing to share her joy about being a woman of God.

Chervin explores the depth of Christian women's joy in her contribution to "God's Call to Women: Twelve Spiritual Memoirs" - Servant Books, a compilation of 12 women's journeys to Christ and the Church, edited by Christine Anne Mugridge.

She shared insights on the fullness of joy God that gives women when they commit themselves to Christ and their vocations.

Q: What is God's special call to women? How did he call you?

Chervin: Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter on "The Dignity and Vocation of Women" expresses this so beautifully.

Women are called both to bring their distinctly feminine traits created and graced by God as a gift to all those they come into relation with. But they are also to respond to an individual call as were the women Jesus encountered in the Gospels. Mary Magdalene had a different call than Mary, Mother of Jesus, for example.

Jesus called me in the 20th year of my life from an atheistic background. Back then, in 1958, I had three main images of women: Scarlett O'Hara of "Gone with the Wind," representing the flamboyant "femme fatale"; the character named Melanie from the same movie, representing the traditional, sweet, good, meek female; and Katharine Hepburn, the actress, representing the free-spirited, witty, more intellectual woman.

When I met the Catholic women surrounding the great philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand, and then when I read about the women saints, I was amazed that some holy women could be as exciting as Scarlett transfigured by grace, as sweet as Melanie without being weak, and as famous and interesting as Katherine Hepburn without being acerbic.

When I became a Catholic I was not sure what kind of woman I would become, but I knew it would be something marvelously better than being just a bundle of cells hitched up to a Freudian ego, superego and id as most atheists thought was the limited nature of all humans.

Q: What was the theme for your spiritual memoir in this book? Why did you feel compelled to write about the joy of being a woman of God?

Chervin: My contribution is entitled "The Joy of Being a Woman of God." I felt compelled to express my joy because so many Catholic women baptized as children lacked the contrast between the bleakness of atheistic womanhood and the richness of the Catholic feminine vocation.

Chervin: My contribution is entitled "The Joy of Being a Woman of God." I felt compelled to express my joy because I met many Catholic women who took their God-given femininity for granted, I think because they lacked the contrast between the bleakness of atheistic womanhood and the richness of the Catholic feminine vocation.

After a shot at trying to be like Katharine Hepburn in the form of studying philosophy, and trying unsuccessfully to be a Scarlett O'Hara in the form of troubling love affairs, I was ready to commit suicide.

Even though there are a sizable number of Catholic young women who are in despair now due to tragic childhood experiences, there were so many in my day brought up with the sense that being a woman would mean a chance to be fulfilled by love: love of God, love of the needy and love of family in the call to religious life, married life, motherhood or single life.

Even though my own married and family life included some terrible tragedies, I was so happy to fall in love with the soul as well as the body of my husband-to-be. I was so happy to appreciate the unique individuality of each of my children, even though I found raising them to be very difficult. After all, how good are philosophers -- who are used to dealing all day with ideas -- at teaching little tots how to tie their shoelaces?

Even though there were problems with being a woman professor in the largely male field of philosophy, it was such a joy for me to teach in a basically feminine way -- integrating head and heart, with lots of attention to the needs of individual students.

Most of all the joy of being a woman of God is to be the beloved of a perfect divine lover as experienced daily in holy Communion.

Q: In a world filled with stress and struggle, how much happiness can a Christian woman expect to have this side of heaven?

Chervin: No one, woman or man, can be happy on earth if they have unrealistic goals. If your goal is to eliminate on earth or in your own life all stress and struggle you will never be happy at all.

If your goal is to use God's gifts to you to love each person God sends you each day by giving them consoling smiles, encouragement, appreciation and help with their crosses, then you will always be happy -- even in the midst of stress and struggle.

Typically men can be somewhat happy meeting work goals even if their personal life is not that great. But most women, for reasons I will explain later, will be very unhappy if they are not giving love to others in a heart-to-heart manner even if they are doing fine in their work.

Q: What key elements lead to unhappiness for Christian women?

Chervin: Unrealistic expectations of self and others make us unhappy. Fantasies of being beautiful, intelligent and a high achiever in a worldly sense or of finding the perfect boyfriend, boss, husband, pastor, etc., lead to disillusionment and bitterness.

Usually such needs come out of childhood insecurity. A girl who was cherished for her real self as a feminine person, with defects and limitations accepted, will be less likely to seek the compensation of praise for surface success.

For Christian women this problem can take the form of wanting to be a perfect follower of the Lord in a particular manner -- versus being a struggling sinner like all the rest and leaving it to God to make us saints in his own unique, often painful ways. Idol worship of projected self-images and admiration of unattainable ideal others leads to disappointment and despair.

We need to see ourselves as funny, frail, striving little sinners in need of mercy and forgiveness. The more we believe we are forgiven, the more likely we will be to forgive others.

Q: What elements increase the chance for Christian women to be happy in this life, and why?

Chervin: Happy women slake their thirst for absolute love at the fountain of Jesus' love. This makes it possible to lower demands for love from limited humans, but respond with gratitude for every good thing that is given by those same humans each day no matter what other negative things happen.

Q: Your answer to the last question could apply to men and women. What specific form does your advice take for women?

Chervin: I believe that the greatest writer who addressed the Christian woman was Edith Stein, a single woman who was a teacher and philosopher, then a Carmelite and martyr-saint.

St. Edith Stein teaches that because the woman's body is meant to give a home to a tiny human being, the baby, even women like her who didn't conceive have a built-in tendency to want to be intimate with others. After all, the most famous "mothers" of the 20th century were Mother Teresa and Mother Angelica, neither of whom were biological mothers.

In the negative, the desire for intimacy is displayed by inordinate curiosity and gossip. In the positive, it gives women an edge in nurturing and empathy. As a result, I would add, thwarted loving tendencies because of bitter non-forgiveness makes women especially miserable.

Q: What part do men play in a Christian woman's happiness?

Chervin: The holy men of Scripture from Abraham to St. Paul are strong, protective, providing, prudent, intelligent and leading. Women seek this in Christian men because even though good women have those same qualities in a feminine form, good men have them in a masculine form.

Women, whether single, married, mothers or consecrated, are happy bringing their own gifts into complementary service in the company of men.

On the other hand, there is another gift men can bring to women -- women need to feel cherished. A man could be wonderful at leading, protecting and providing for his women friends, co-workers, wife or parishioners, but if he doesn't delight in them in a response to their unique personalities they will feel cheated.

Why? God, who is love, did not create us as repeatable persons, but as unique individual persons. Creating us male and female, he wanted women to appreciate the unique selves of the men in their lives and the men to appreciate the unique selves of the women in their lives.

In the past, when most men worked outside of the home and most women inside the home, women felt bad if they were treated as a household drudge and men felt bad if they were admired only for their paycheck. In our times this lack of appreciation on a warm personal basis still exists in other forms.

I believe we have a long, long, way to go before male and female relationships become what Jesus and Mary would like them to be.

Q: How do faith and a relationship with Christ play into a woman's happiness? Into spiritual healing of unhappiness?

Chervin: My experience is that women who go to daily Mass as often as they possibly can -- I wheeled my little twins in a stroller and took in the consecration and holy Communion, even if the twins were too wild for a longer stay -- allow Jesus to come right inside their bodies to fill them with love.

In his apostolic letter on "The Dignity and Vocation of Women," John Paul II points out that no matter how badly a woman might be treated, her dignity comes from her union with God.

For me, daily Mass, eucharistic adoration and continual dialogue in prayer with Jesus, Mary and Joseph is what gives me peace and joy even in times of great misery -- such as the natural death of my parents and husband, and the death by suicide of my son, all within a short period of time.

Q: What can the Church do to help women who struggle with happiness?

Chervin: I see much growth in woman-to-woman ministry on the parish level. Availability of Christian counselors is also a great help. I have made much use of the help of psychotherapists as well as spiritual directors to get at root causes of emotional extremes.

Johnnette Benkovic has just started a movement called Women of Grace in order to start study groups in parishes where women can learn more about the beauty of Church teaching and also support each other in friendship and prayer.

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