What a Woman Must Do
The Feminine Mystique Versus the Brigades of St. Joan of Arc
(The Angelus, September, 2021.)
Forgive me for beginning this article for The Angelus issue on women with reference to a term associated by most Americans with the title of a book published by Betty Friedan in 1963 that played a central role in launching the Feminist Movement in the United States. The reason why I feel compelled to do so is because the word “mystique”, employed in this context, has a very serious and specifically twentieth century Catholic history to it. A brief glance at this background introduces us to a modern Catholic teaching concerning what it is that a woman who wants to be a “real Christian woman” must do if she wishes to “fulfill her potential” and perfect herself. Not surprisingly, that teaching is totally contradictory to traditional Catholic thought on this subject, the nature of which I would like to illustrate through an example offered by Mexican women at the time of the Cristeros War of 1926-1929.
Use of the word “mystique” was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s, primarily in France, Germany, and Belgium, from three interconnected sources: the lay promoters of the many-headed philosophy known as “Personalism”, Dominicans and Jesuits spreading what eventually became known as “New Theology”, and monks eager for a “pastoral” as opposed to a God-centered liturgical reform. Those embracing this term pressed both missionaries as well as militants engaged in so-called “Specialized Catholic Action” among youth and workers to the conclusion that their essential evangelical task was that of recognizing the particular “spirit”---again, the “mystique”---most passionately stimulating the distinct group to which they ministered. Once that specific, invigorating mystique had been isolated, the labor of the activist then became one of “witnessing” to its obvious inherent value, since it could not possibly exercise the vital, passionate impact that it did on the groups in question unless the Holy Spirit were somehow behind it, moving its members away from narrow, self-interested, purely individual goals towards full Christian perfection as communal-minded “persons”.
What might be labeled the ideology of “mystique-ism” is really nothing more than yet another naturalist Enlightenment recipe for accepting fallen nature on its own marred terms, dressed up rhetorically by modern sophistic arguments. Its association of the voice of the Holy Spirit with “vital passions” cannot help but hand over the teaching and sacramental office to the strongest, most willful, most bullying elements of the communities that it targets, with all serious correction of truly narrow sinfulness and real transformation in Christ being abandoned as obstacles to the development of a Divine Plan whose real character it so badly distorts. Under its spell, the duty of Catholics becomes that of keeping their mouths shut, “witnessing” to the triumph of the human will masquerading as that of God, and “accompanying” unrepentant bullies in their work of oppression and ultimate self-destruction. “Mystique-ism” leads to the perfection of monsters; not of Christians.
“Mystique” hunters of the 1920s and 1930s were excited by the thought of witnessing to and accompanying all the contemporary vital forces around them, with Fascist and Communist groups at the top of the list. Let us briefly explore the deeply anti-Catholic consequences for all communities following such distorted guidelines for perfection by returning to our current topic concerning the large community encompassing half of the human race: women. Under “mystique-ism’s” dictates, willful, bullying women ready to impose their uncorrected and sinful desires upon all who share their gender become the determinants of the “feminine mystique” to which all Catholic evangelists must “witness”. The Holy Spirit will brook no obstacles being placed in their totally inward-looking, elitist, self-degrading path. Both the Magisterium as well as a pastoral-minded Liturgy must be reshaped according to the purely naturalist truths the oppressors reveal to us, along with the ever more grotesque practical and moral changes these entail. Toughness, corporate aggressiveness, unrestrained ambition economically and politically, as well as joyful openness to sexual promiscuity and abortion become the marks of the fulfilled and perfected woman. Indeed, they become the signposts pointing to the female Catholic saint as well.
Honest believers can easily smell a rat and understand that “mystique-ism” exalts a revolutionary travesty of the meaning of feminine fulfillment and perfection. For, as St. James tells us in the Epistle bearing his name, every good and perfect gift comes from outside of us, from above, from the Father of Lights, and not from heeding the inward desires of souls that have been directed away from the achievement of God’s good plan for man and nature by Original Sin. When we look purely to ourselves for the source of our perfection we condemn our souls to shriveling and death.
A truly Catholic example of identifying “what a Christian woman must do” in this earthly valley of tears, and at a moment when changing circumstances seemed to call for further and possibly unconventional action on her part, comes from Mexico, in the very same years that “mystique-ism” was rising to the fore in Europe. Those wishing to explore in greater detail what I will merely summarize below should read an article by Sister Barbara Miller, “The Role of Women in the Cristeros Rebellion”, published in The Americas in January of 1984 (Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 303-323).
Most Americans are unaware of the brilliant Mexican Catholic Social Movement born in the years preceding the Revolution that erupted in 1910. This came to full maturity in battles against an increasingly anticlerical government in the decades that followed; a conflict at first fought peacefully, but then ultimately by force of arms in the Cristeros War of 1926-1929. Part of that Movement was distinctively feminine: the Union de Damas Catolicas Mejicanas. Founded in 1912, the Damas Catolicas really blossomed from 1920 onwards as one of the four central branches of Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores ‘(1888-1927) national Union Popular and then his Liga National Defensora de la Libertad Religiosa.
The Damas Catolicas recognized that Mexican society was facing many new problems raising social justice and moral questions, including those connected with young women independently entering more and more into the public workforce. Their answer to these developments was not to investigate their own passionate feelings about such matters, followed by a call for alterations in Church teaching, liturgy, and morality to respond to them. Rather, it was to promote more extensive access to quality Catholic education and devout reception of the Sacraments so as to be able to confront the changing world around them with a deeper understanding of the Faith and the need for Grace: both of them coming from outside themselves, “from above, from the Father of Lights”.
If was to assure the proper fulfillment of this outward-looking, basically educative mission that the Damas in 1926 became more activist than they had ever dreamed possible beforehand. During that year, the revolutionary government significantly tightened its controls over the Roman Catholic Church, closing large numbers of Catholic schools and expelling the teaching religious, many of them women, many of them foreigners, from their houses and the churches serving them. The Damas moved from dispatching simple letters of protest to militant street action, blocking the doors to schools and churches to the entry of the troops sent to dislodge religious from them. These latter actions resulted in dramatic encounters with soldiers and government ministers who often treated the protestors brutally, beating and imprisoning numbers of them and even threatening them with sexual violence. “Men of the whole Republic, there are your models”, their journal, La Dama Catolica, proudly boasted on May 1st, 1926, after the first of their women had taken to the streets. “Go hide your shame in the dark caverns of our forests”.
Calls to further, still more unconventional feminine action came by the end of that year with the outbreak of actual hostilities in the Cristeros War, to which the Liga gave its full support and sought to direct. Once again, women judged what was proper for them to do in the midst of this terrible crisis on the basis not of their passionate internal feelings, but with reference to what needed to be accomplished to ensure external access to the teachings of the Faith and transforming sacramental grace. Dealing with the latter necessity became particularly dramatic since the government’s effort to determine which clerics it would or would not allow to perform Church services had gone so far that the bishops suspended all regular sacramental activity to avoid it.
By June of 1927, Mexican women had formed Las Brigadas Femeninas de Santa Juana de Arco, to whose success they bound themselves with vows to resist the revolutionary government to the death. At their height, these “Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc” numbered fifty six squadrons enrolling twenty five thousand militants. But their story is a complicated one, their members including or at least being aided by three types of women: the señoras, the religiosas, and the jovenes.
As far as I can determine, the Damas Catolicas composed mostly of middle and upper class women from the very start of their apostolate, formed the bulk of the señoras. These women could not bring themselves to accept an actual fighting role in the Cristeros War, but did absolutely everything that they could to support the cause. The Damas courageously remained the active, open “voice” of the movement for the defense of Catholic freedom, printing broadsheets against the government and even organizing illegal processions in honor of Christ the King. Members hid hunted priests and wounded fighters, raising money to ransom captive prisoners and provide for the families of those who were fighting.
A second militant component, that represented by the religiosas, the female teaching religious, played a less passive role. Unlike the señoras, they either had to flee to Cristero held territory or go underground, often living under conditions of extreme harshness, moving from den to den, and sometimes suffering an imprisonment and bestial treatment therein. Their chief apostolate was to sustain the spirit of the soldiers. They prepared meals for and nursed Cristeros in towns in which they could function openly, organizing espionage networks for them in places where they had to hide. In fact, they even told the great Cristero General, Enrico Goristieta (1888-1929), that they were ready to take up arms alongside the regular male soldiery if absolutely necessary. “We were young”, one of them said later, “but we suffered for Christ enthusiastically. I am happy to have suffered in that time”. They were ready to carry on “until victory or death”. “Fulfillment of their personal needs” meant nothing to them whatsoever.
Finally, the third segment, the jovenes, the young, overwhelmingly lower class in background, while also seemingly mostly engaged in gun and ammunition running, as well as nursing, openly fought as well. In June of 1929, one of the founders of the Brigadas, Luz Laraza de Uribe, better known as “General” Tesia Richaud, was captured, beaten and tortured. She died not for the victory of the feminine mystique but for the glory of her Savior, her final words of "Viva Cristo Rey" preparing her path to true perfection and eternal life in heaven. Is it any wonder that one of the Cristero leaders rhetorically asked the question: “What would the Mexican men be if the Mexican women did not exist”? One answer to that query is that they would have lacked a brilliant example of what all Catholics must do properly to “fulfill themselves”.
Señoras, religiosas, and jovenes all did what they believed that they had to do in to keep the outside channels of the Faith and Grace open to themselves and their loved ones. Although the end of the Cristero War was a messy one, involving much in the way of betrayal of the cause by an all too accommodating Vatican and those Mexican bishops in alliance with it, by 1940 the situation of Catholics in that troubled country had significantly improved. Mexican women of all of the three categories that appear to have played some role in the general labor of the Brigades of St. Joan of Arc then asked nothing better than to return to more quiet educative tasks to perfect and transform themselves in Christ.
Although an examination of the collapse of civilizations provides us with the dreary sight of one sinking ship after another, such gloom and doom is usually relieved by the identification of at least some political, social, or cultural vessel still sufficiently seaworthy to allow those seeking to escape a given historical tsunami some viable ark on which to survive. What comes most readily to mind in this regard is the situation in the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D., where the complete ruin threatened by the dissolution of the secular imperial order under the pressure of barbarian invasions was step by step averted through the unexpected political efforts of wise and holy popes and bishops whose real mission was nevertheless dedicated to the creation of a supernatural community.
No such solace can be found in the midst of our contemporary catastrophe. Today, literally every single social pillar has been diverted from its proper function to grotesque ends. All of them---Family, Labor, Capital, Education, State, and Church---exalt naturalist Enlightenment mystiques demanding submission, as they always do, to the triumph of the willful, passionate powers that dictatorially define what these mean. Each has been so perverted that its chief function has become that of drowning the individuals it was meant to help clamber aboard its distinctive ark to avoid the floodwaters of earthly misery. All forces essential for the creation, preservation, and exaltation of the lives of human persons are united as never before in assuring individual degradation and destruction, with the current Pontiff serving as Supreme Spokesman for “mystique-ism”, “witnessing” and “accompanying” the reigning Oligarchs in their oppression of all men and women of good will.
Good popes forced by historical circumstances in Late Antiquity to undertake certain tasks that were not intended to be part of their mission were at least themselves also servants of a living social institution and took their responsibility to maintain the full Catholic Tradition seriously. It is now atomistic individuals, stripped almost entirely of communal aid, who are in the unenviable position of having to assume a much wider gamut of responsibilities totally on their own.
What is an individual woman, thrown back on her own devices, to do under such alarming conditions? Under no circumstances is she to turn inward to consult “the feminine mystique”. She can spare herself the effort because this, as usual, will be infallibly defined and shoved down her throat by the most aggressive ideologues and criminals in union with the Global Oligarchy of our day anyway. Her effort will only serve their cause.
Instead, she is to do what Catholic women---just like Catholic men---have always been obliged to do: aim her mind and spirit outward and upward, to the correction and transformation in Christ that alone will truly fulfill and perfect her. To a large degree that means simply holding firm to the Tradition, for, as Archbishop Lefebvre said, “our future lies in our past”, and it is our duty to pass on what we have received from that Tradition untrammeled. But to hand down that Tradition effectively under the dictatorship of the ruling Oligarchy today will mean imitating the activist example of the Mexican señoras, religiosas, y jovenes at the time of the Cristeros, if only to carry on the basic familial mission of protecting one’s loved ones. Mistakes will be made in the process---there is no doubt about it. But, as Napoleon was wont to say, when battle is forced upon us, on s’y engage et puis on voit—one engages the enemy and sees what happens. The unum necessarium is to look to the supernatural message of the Cross and not to the natural one of the willfully manipulated and sinful mystique. Christus vincit; Christus regnat; Christus imperat. Viva Cristo Rey!!
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