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Holiness for Housewives (and other working women)

by Dom Hubert Van Zeller

reviewed by Catherine Fournier.

get the book at amazon.com
Paperback (May 1997) $9.95 at Amazon.com
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Sophia Inst Press; ISBN: 0918477476

My thoughts when I first read this title were a blend of satisfied indignation (Finally, someone admitting that housewives work!) and longing interest (I could really use some advice- wonder if I can live up to it.) I expected to read some nice meditations on the service of housework, and some recommendations to pray several times a day.

What I got instead was firm, practical advice. The book simply examines three critical ideas. If we get them wrong, these ideas stand in the way of holiness, but if we look at them in the correct manner, they smooth the road towards it. These ideas are: vocation, obedience and prayer.

A vocation isn't a neat satisfying package, any more than any other part of life, Dom Van Zeller tells us. We are called to find God in the duty of the moment, whatever it may be. "God does not issue two lists of professions: on the one side, those that are conducive to holiness; on the other those that are not ... So it is idle for you to complain about the drawbacks to spirituality that you find in your particular vocation."

Every woman's specific circumstances are certainly different, but the challenges he discusses so clearly here are just as clearly common to us all. Surely every woman has wondered, 'How can I find God when I am so tired; physically tired, tired of the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning, tired of being tired?' By recognising that it is God who given us this work, and the grace to do it too, he answers.

Dom Van Zeller is not the only one who has this to say. Catherine Doherty, founder of the Madonna House Lay Apostolate, and Father Jose Maria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, taught much the same things. What I had not encountered before (and this may due to a lack of disciplined reading on my part) was his teaching about obedience.

Obedience is an especially important concept for housewives. We are largely autonomous in our work, the scheduling of each day is left up to us. We keep the budget and make most purchases. The discipline of the children is ours to determine and implement. Yet, we are to be obedient to God, to our husbands, and to the needs of our children. We are to be obedient in a world that has largely forgotten what the word means.

I had been wanting someone to explain it so clearly.

"Obedience is not the acknowledgement that an unintelligent being gives to an intelligent one. It is the compliment that a lover pays to a beloved. If obedience rested solely on the recognition of a superior intelligence, it would not last a week. We can always persuade ourselves that we know better...

Far from obedience being the submission that the unintelligent yield to the intelligent, it may on occasion be the exact reverse: it may mean that wise men have to defer to unwise ones. Indeed it is in circumstances of this sort that the quality of obedience is shown at its best. A soul is being truly wise when it bows to the decisions of a stupid superior. If our Lord left Himself to be disposed of by foolish and wicked men, His followers should not be too ready to quote 'common sense' against those to whom they owe obedience."

It's really just another way of looking at our vocation. We serve God when we carry out the work he has given us, and when we are obedient to Him by being obedient to those He has placed in our lives. These points made, Dom Van Zeller moves on to give some advice on how to stop romanticising prayer. Prayer is not a recipe, or even a technique. Prayer is whatever works at the moment to "direct every effort toward God." The book closes with a few suggested prayers, and a reading list.

Holiness for Housewives is quite a short little book, less than 100 pages. The average reader should be able to finish it in a week or less. But undoubtedly everyone who reads this book once, will want to read it again, and refer to it often.

A short biography states that "Dom Van Zeller once described his own writing about the Faith as an effort to use the idiom of every day to urge people to embark upon the spirituality of every day." I would say he succeeded.

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