Every college student knows life can feel like a mad dash through a fountain of Post-It notes, clothing pieces, event reminders, alarms, and books. Your highschool friend texts you, “How’s life?” Family asks during a weekend Skype, “So what’s this week going to be like?” A roommate questions when you’re finally both in the bedroom at the same moment, “How’s it going today?” There’s usually one answer: “I’m doing pretty well. 😀 It’s crazy as usual.”
Under such circumstances then, how can we be expected to pray without ceasing (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)? Or as St. Frances Xavier Cabrini said: “We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of mankind does not depend on material success…but on Jesus alone.” I have been tempted to ask with a smidge of astonishment in my voice, “How does that work?”
When I visited Ireland this past Easter break, I stopped at a souvenir shop in Dublin and picked out a Claddagh ring. Usually I don’t buy souvenirs or gifts for myself—I like to give them. This time, however, I did.
Wearing a claddagh ring is a very beautiful tradition. The heart stands for love, the giving hands for friendship, and the crown for loyalty. Worn on the right hand ring finger with the heart facing out is a sign that the wearer is unclaimed. Worn on the right hand ring finger with the heart facing in means that the wearer is in a relationship (dating, etc.). When the ring is switched to the left hand and worn with the heart facing out, that means the wearer is engaged. The ring on the left hand with the heart facing in means the wearer is married.
This is one of my top favorite paintings. The lady of the castle perches on the battlements finishing the standard that her knight husband’s squire will bear before him into battle. She is a woman skilled in the accomplishments of needlework, personal presentment, raising children, handing on the Faith, and keeping hearth for her people. But up here on the castle wall, she also commands view of the surrounding countryside. Should a messenger arrive at the fief she will be there to greet him. Should an enemy mass she will help her husband prepare the garrison and command the defenses. Should the town be struck by fire or pestilence she will rise up and assist them. Should a mob break out she will go down to address them. Should capture or another woe befall her husband’s troops she is versed enough in regional politics and customs to negotiate the best outcome for his safe return. And that is exactly what she must be prepared to do. She is the lady of her lord, the queen of their lands, the heart of their castle. As the keeper of her knight’s heart, she is also his most able partner. Because of her upbringing and her presence at his side, when he rides away to war, he will have no qualms about leaving her in charge of their kingdom. No matter how large or small their holdings, he knows she is prepared with the skill and insight of a wise ruler to lead after his own heart until he returns. And when he returns she will sit at his side with valuable contributions while he rules.
Regardless of what dark legends say about the Middle Ages, the truth about Medieval Europe is that the majority of women were raised with just such an ideal in mind. Peasant wives worked alongside their husbands on their fiefs. Craftswomen had their own guilds same as the craftsmen. Of course, the peasant women did not haul stones from the fields; they helped plant them. Of course, the craftswomen did not quarry stone and mold windows for cathedrals and palaces like the men; they made beautiful pottery and jewelry and woven tapestries and embroidered cloths for the cathedrals and palaces instead. Just as there were valets, pages, and squires to aid the stewards, there were also maids and ladies-in-waiting and cooks. Each had a crucial place in the medieval round of life. As for the ladies, princesses, and queens…
You know the way for me, you know the time; Into your hands I trustingly place mine. Your plan is perfect, born of perfect love; You know the way for me—that is enough.
I was the girl who assumed that I would graduate college by the time I was twenty-one. I thought my sisters and I would always be together for Christmas and summer reunions. I was the one that wanted to be married by twenty-one and somewhere in there start realizing my hopes of many kids—yes, fifteen is what I always said. (I am still discovering how that plays out with my future husband or the film industry, but that’s part of the adventure.) Anyway…
Obviously, a couple different things have happened along the way!
The Knight in Shining Armor. It’s a rather big issue today in our culture of fairy tale heroes, hot actors, and saintly lovers. Many girls have a specific Wish List for their future Prince Charming—perhaps tall, dark haired, with a dimple in his left cheek. Or cute, humorous, manly, and with a winning grin. Or all of that put together. You name your type. Catholic girls want all that and the strong-in-his-Faith, morally upright, chaste man.
(So, guys, if you can’t be all that then go home, be depressed, and eat chocolate…Oh, wait, you don’t eat chocolate when you’re down, do you? I forget, that’s usually a girl thing.)
I’m sure many guys feel that way though; I’ve heard many of them complain about the “I deserve somebody perfect” attitude that creeps in everywhere with the ladies.
Recently I asked one of my guy friends, “So what do you think about the whole knight in shining armor idea?”