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a very simple woman

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 02, 2005

NCR contributor Peg Helminski gets a phone call from an African Catholic woman, agitated by a report that the Catholic Church was about to ordain women, and asking Helminski for reassurance that it wasn't so. Helminski sees a clash of cultures. In reality, there's a clash of faith:

"Abena," I sighed with regret, "You and I will not live to see such a day in our Catholic church. This will not happen in our lifetime."

"Oh, thank you! You give me so much hope and happiness." But, suddenly serious, she said, "I think this cannot happen ever -- as it was in the beginning it shall be in the Catholic church until Jesus comes again."

Her distress evident, she continued:

"I do not know why women keep trying to be Jesus. They should try only to imitate the example of humility and obedience of our Blessed Mother."

"Abena, are you saying that men should not try to imitate the example of Mary?"

I struggled to contain my anger. And I succeeded because this was Abena, a very simple woman, not a bishop, the pope or a Vatican spokesperson, all of whom, I think, should have a broader view of church history and the place of culture in determining our ever-evolving, collective understanding of God.

She laughed readily, "Of course, we all should. But what is more important is that women learn the beauty of raising children.

"Just today God has answered my prayer. The husband of a sister of ours planned to divorce her because she has not been pregnant in many years. I learned today that she is two months with child. God is so good!"

My blood nearly boiled at the sexist content of this assertion and her archaic proof of God's mercy. Yet, I forgave her immediately because I recognized that she is a product of her culture. Only recently from Cameroon, she was jailed there for her faith. Shackled, she was beaten on the soles of her feet. Now, walking is difficult. Wearing shoes is still painful.

"They wanted to break my spirit," she laughed when she told me. "They only strengthened my faith!"

If there's a purer specimen of National Catholic Reporterism, I've yet to meet it.

Helminski, the liberal American feminist (model year 2005), holds precisely and in detail those beliefs anyone would predict a liberal American feminist (model year 2005) to hold. Abena professes beliefs she shares with Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Benedict XV, and Pope Benedict I, and your Uncle Di, for that matter -- are we all unthinking passive products of Cameroon culture? How did that happen?

Peg, my dear, there's another possibility. Has it ever occurred to you that, where immemorial Church doctrine conflicts with the worldview of upper-middle-class Western liberalism, it's the Church's teaching that's independent of time, place, and circumstance, and Western liberalism that's a passing fashion? Can you fail to see the irony in the fact that your opinions are indistinguishable from professional class progressive Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians in your own suburb, while Abena's orthodox faith crosses all lines of race, nation, and class? Aren't you at least a little embarrassed by the fact that your progressive feminist opinions are not only cost-free, but bring you considerable social and professional advantages in your world, whereas Abena went to jail for her faith -- and came out even more convinced in its truth than she was before? Have you ever laughed with joy in your faith as Abena has in hers?

Pointless questions. Progressivism -- in our time, at least -- is an appeal to complacency, and if you look on the Faith of the martyrs with smug condescension, you're not interested in communion, but in displaying your pride in the superiority of your own sympathies -- as Peg would have us understand, "our ever-evolving, collective understanding of God."

I'll stick with Abena, thanks.

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  • Posted by: Sterling - Nov. 04, 2005 9:53 AM ET USA

    Thanks, Pseudodionysius. But you hit the nail on the head. St. Monica's husband WAS a lout. And the guy who is going to divorce his wife because she hasn't gotten pregnant (and it sounds like she HAS already bore him some children) IS a sexist, channel of grace or not. Peace.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 04, 2005 9:04 AM ET USA

    I am amazed. Peg's little diatribe has forced me to go read something more sensitive when it comes to the people of the African continent. I finally found something that is far more open minded than Peg's article, it's called Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 03, 2005 5:34 PM ET USA

    Sterling, I know what you are thinking, but think of St Monica and the lout she was married to. Merely reading one Flannery O'Connor short story should be enough to convince that Grace takes many unusual channels, forms and persons. God bless.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 03, 2005 1:48 PM ET USA

    Let me urge everyone to read the original article -- Uncle Di has understated the situation more than you could imagine. Your admiration of Abena will rise even further, and your astonishment at Peg will explode when you know the whole story. Call it, Beauty & the Beast.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 03, 2005 9:44 AM ET USA

    The West needs missionaries from the dark places of the planet where the faith is still a source of hope and inspiration for those not jaded by the luxuries of the modern world. Maybe then we will convert to an authentic Catholicism like that of Abena instead of clutching to the dying liberalism of the NCR who permit such rubbish to be published. Do they not have editors? Or maybe they just approve of the condescencion.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 03, 2005 3:18 AM ET USA

    Excellent dismantling of Helminski's hilarious exercise in ego and ethnocentrism. It's always entertaining to read the failed liberal project in its throes. Helminski must be immune to irony, which explains why she so unself-consciously bears the White Woman's Burden of enlightening her dark lessers. I, for one, am relieved that she didn't greet the news of God's beneficence with a declamation on condoms.

  • Posted by: Sterling - Nov. 02, 2005 9:33 PM ET USA

    Sorry. I'm getting stuck on the guy who was going to divorce his wife because she hadn't been pregnant in many years. That IS sexist.

  • Posted by: visions - Nov. 02, 2005 7:38 PM ET USA

    Humility, in itself, in its most perfect state, does not consist in being little or feeling little but in making oneself little! Perfect humility consists, therfore, in making oneself small, not for the sake of some personal need or benefit, but for the sake of love, to elevate others. I think Abena got the message.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2005 5:13 PM ET USA

    Quite obviously, Peg Helminski does not have a clue about a quip of Jesus to the effect that unless one has faith like a little child, one cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. Her arrogance and conceit are so typical of the current progressive dissidents who pretend that they are Catholic. Jashu

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2005 5:09 PM ET USA

    Well Peg is a better woman than I, because I am having a hard time forgiving her merely on the basis that she is a rich, white, feminazi and an obvious product of her stunted, anti-life, anti-Catholic culture. Maybe that's because she's anything but a "simple" woman.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2005 3:46 PM ET USA

    Let us hope that for her sake, Ms. Helminski looks back at this post with profound and utter shame. Beyond its utterly condescending tone, it smacks of the worst form of pride, ignorance, and outright ugliness. And exemplifies the late Mike Royko's observation that "we are drowning in a sea of people who are educated beyond their intelligence."

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2005 3:08 PM ET USA

    "If the whole church entered into such respect-filled dialogue, surely the Kingdom of God would be manifest upon the earth." She must actually think that God doesn't care what the truth is; that "dialogue" is our purpose here on earth. I shall keep her in my prayers.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2005 2:52 PM ET USA

    I forgave her immediately because she's a poor, black woman from Cameroon and an obvious product of her culture. What an elegant mix of libertine condascension and sentimentality masquerading as solemnity. No doubt, Peg Hillarinski takes great comfort from the fact it was likely MEN (cue the cackling sound -- fiendish cunning) who beat her in jail. I wonder how the Peggster views St Monica, being beaten and adulterated by her husband. I mean, its not as though THAT family generates Saints!

  • Posted by: Sir William - Nov. 02, 2005 1:25 PM ET USA

    Not a bit of shame for patronizing Abena and is likely the worse for it. I wonder, if confronted with a beating to the soles of her feet for her 'ever-evolving collective understading of God" -- would Peg take off her shoes and offer them to her jailers? Or would her 'ever evolving collective understanding' develop a new take and save her a trip to the store for a new pair of Dr Sholl's later? Is her collective understanding worth dying for? Blessed are the meek, Peg. Blessed are the meek

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2005 12:49 PM ET USA

    You hit the nail on the head, Leo! Ever-evolving?! The patronizing tone of Helminski's article is very reminiscent of the tone taken by Western Anglicans in discussion with African (and other non-Western) Anglicans. There is the underlying presupposition that they are orthodox simply because they are ignorant, combined with a sense that, unlike we Westerners, they are not yet full heirs to Christian tradition in its fullness, and are still muddling their way around its periphery...

  • Posted by: - Nov. 02, 2005 12:36 PM ET USA

    "Ever-evolving, collective understanding of God"? Does she imply that we look to the current zeitgeist in arriving at this "understanding"? Or do we look to revealed truth as handed down by the Apostles? Take your pick. Pick #2 is the Catholic faith. Pick #1 is some other faith.