By Dom Hubert Van Zeller

Springfield, Illinois

Nihil Obstat: Georgivs Smith, S.T.D., PH.D.
Imprimatur: E. Morragh Bernard
Westmonaterii: Die XVII Movembris MCML

First Published 1951

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Books should not in the ordinary way need to be explained.  This one, unfortunately, does.  it is written for a particular public, and to catch a particular mood. And so, in fairness to the prospective buyer, its purpose has to e clarified.

Those who are addressed throughout these pages are women living in the world, who, though burdened with the cares of a household, are anxious to serve God seriously and advance in the practice of prayer.  Wives and mothers, then, are envisaged -- souls who are anchored in their God-given vocation, and who, nevertheless, are conscious of their parallel vocation to the interior life.  It is in an effort to show the compatibility, indeed the essential unity, of the two calls that the following prayers and considerations are composed.

The particular mood to be considered here is the post-war* mood of exhaustion and frustration.  Not that these sentiments are particularly new, or even that they are more noticeable after this last war than after the war twenty-five years earlier, but that they are brought about by new conditions and felt especially by a new class of people.  Women working in their homes for perhaps the first time in their lives are discovering a weariness of body and mind which they had never dreamed of before.  This book is designed to show such people how to correct their very pardonable disgust and rebellion, and how to turn the whole thing into a directly vocational service of God.  It is not their fault that the line "men must work and women must weep" is no longer true.  Women at present have no time to weep -- even at having to work.

Perhaps the best way of explaining the need which this book tries to meet is to quote from a letter urging me to preach and write for the benefit of the wife-general.

"I suppose the older women (says my correspondent), or those without children would complain chiefly of monotony.  But when the family is young, life is anything but dull-- not monotonous enough, in fact.  Even washing up gets interrupted and becomes a hazardous operation if the infants get into the kitchen or wherever you are.  And if they happen to be in the nursery or garden, then they are p0robably hitting one another or breaking things.  So the younger wives are much more likely to feel harassed and frustrated than bored.  A quarter of an hour's peace and prayer would put things in perspective -- but we never get it. 
Let me just give you a few pictures of life today which are not a bit exaggerated.  Lots of ex-convent-schoolgirls can't get any help; when they do, it is usually erratic and only in the daytime.  And if you do have a living-in staff they seem to live on top of you more than in our mothers' day.  To save work they often share meals with you, and this means the strain of being considerate and listening to long stories of other people's babies, etc.  Also there's more off-duty (quite rightly) than there used to be, and they seem to be always out.  A month's holiday is becoming the usual thing -- with pay -- and what with half-days and weekends and dances and visits to the dentist and hospitals and courses in technical colleges and evening lectures ... well, it all mounts up.  The modern nannie doesn't sit at home in the evening mending the children's clothes; mamma has to do that.  The next generation will take all this for granted; my generation remembers mamas sailing out to dinner-parties.

"Here are just two specimen bad days.  On the first there is the baby screaming.  It wants to be picked up, changed, soothed, have its gums rubbed.  The telephone rings constantly.  It is laundry day and you have not begun to sort it before the man comes to collect the box.  The postman arrives with a C.O.D. parcel from the dry-cleaners, and while you are looking for the 7/10** the milk boils over.  You put on more milk (if there is any more) and start mopping up, and your second eldest child starts on a long and involved story -- and as an understanding mother you must - when all this is interrupted by the third child wanting to know if some school friends can be brought in for tea and whether she (the third child) can go riding tomorrow?  you weakly say yes -- anything to get the whole lot of them out of the kitchen -- and no sooner have you persuaded the more responsible ones to go round to the stables than you remember that they ought to be writing their "Christmas thank-you letters.

"Then there's the other kind of bad day.   It is late September, the weather shows signs of breaking, you have a large fruit crop all beautifully ripe, and if it is not picked and bottled at once it will undoubtedly "go off."  You know that in the winter you will have to produce fruit puddings for the family.  Also your husband will disapprove of the waste if the crop is destroyed (though heaven knows he does his share of the picking and bottling, poor man, and has to give up his tennis to do so.)  But the immediate thing is that the children's school trunks which have to be packed and sent off by tomorrow morning.  Even if you have done all the shopping in time for the them, there is all the marking to be done, and Cash's names are quite the beastliest things to sew on.  Though I do think that foul marking ink is worse.  While you are coping with some of these things, and at the same time wondering what you are going to write to your mother about her household troubles (with the usual complaint that she has not heard from you for a fortnight), a heavy shower comes down on our wonderful crop of ungathered fruit.

"Those two pictures are honest illustrations of life for people with young families today.  But it's fun really, I suppose, and how dull it will be when the children are grown up!  Anyway, I would rather be myself now than one of the older women.  I am simply existing, spiritually, on those lines of St. Teresa's:  "See, He is only waiting for us to look at Him...  If you want Him, you will find Him."  Oh no, it isn't all awful by any means, but we of this generation do need some rather specialized training in spiritual things."
This training cannot be done by me nor by anyone else.  It can be done only by the combined activity of
God and yourself.  Neither the considerations nor the prayers in this book can do the work for you:  at best they can only put you in the way of it.  Set prayers are not intended to do the praying for you; they indicate the approach they smooth out the avenue towards God.  It has to be you who prays.

The reason why this book is divided into two parts is that without the spiritual reading at the beginning, the prayers which come at the end might not be used properly.  The recitation of the prayers is qualified by the principles enunciated earlier on.  Not that this confines the actual exercise  of praying to the framework suggested in the second part.  The earlier pages may just as suitably provide the prayer form.  Both are meant to relate directly -- though in a greater or lesser degree according to the subject matter -- to God.  It is a common mistake to imagine that only formally arranged prayers are to be prayed.  Anything can be prayed -- even a novel.

If you can pray while you are reading, you can pray while you are writing.  If you can pray while you are writing, you can pray while you are doing pretty well anything.  Which gets us back again to practising ejaculatory prayer and the presence of God.  Which is what this book is all about.

* Ed. note: This book was first published in 1951, a few short years after WWII and at the beginning of the Korean War.

**  Ed. note: If anyone knows what "the 7/10" means, please tell me!

1 comment:

  1. Lisa here. &:0) Welcome to anyone who might have come on around to the back porch, especially after coming here from my main blog, "Are We There Yet?"... I said I would comment here on the question of whether a housewife's life was easier or more difficult in the '50s.

    I don't know about you, but, even knowing a good amount of the history of the western world in the last 100 years, I was amazed at the expectations of a wife and mother sixty years ago. Things have sure changed! The young mother quoted is complaining because her servants want to eat at the table with her and have to be gone occasionally for dentist appointments and such? And the Nannie doesn't sit around in the eavening mending the children's clothes? Argh! To have such problems!!

    She does qualify her belly-aching in the last paragraph or so, saying that the next generation won't expect as much as she does because she grew up when housewives apparently led a REAL life of leisure... But, seriously --

    I am left thinking that women's lib and the conveniences of our time have made women's lives aqctually less liberted and less convenient! (Goodness! To think her husband gives up his tennis so he can help take care of the grounds.... Poor guy! --sigh--