Monday, 23 July 2018

The Questions You Always Had about Christian Women’s Households

Many people in India are shocked to hear that I do not live with my parents even though we live in the same city. I live in a flat with three other women (at the moment, it changes), down the road from the school at which my team serves. There are usually amazed questions that we have all faced from people who think only college students would choose a life like that, and can’t imagine what our life looks like. So here you go, some common questions (plus some we made up) and our honest answers.

So… you cook? 

Amazing at it may seem, I am quite capable as a 32 year old woman who has lived away from home for most of the past eight years, of feeding myself and others with REAL food. I can make bhajis and chapatis, rice and dal, and plenty of other yummy dishes too. Somehow people equate being unmarried with being helpless. MY mum was not just cooking for but also raising four young children when she was 32 (the youngest arrived when she was 33). Each of the women in our household take turns to cook. But of course, we do NOT live the life of a typical Indian wife and mom – we do not cook every day. We schedule cooking every other day, and are quite happy to eat leftovers, and do not demand or expect fresh chapatis at every meal.

Perfectly round chapatis are not usually found in our home. Probably why we're still single.

Every now and again we ‘scrounge’ (as I like to refer to it) when there’s no regular food left. I consider hummus with chips a great in-between meal. Or hummus sandwiches. Or hummus with veggies. (We make GREAT hummus.)

And who cleans? 

Once again, we are adult women quite capable of cleaning our own home. I don’t at all judge those who hire a cleaning lady, especially when they have kids or very demanding jobs. But we don’t need to do that, and take pride in being able to work with our hands. Funny story, when I first moved away from home, I lived with an American volunteer who was shocked that I had a maid growing up. “What does Sue have in common with a princess?” she asked, and then supplied the answer- “She has never cleaned a toilet.” Well, that’s changed. We have a weekly chore chart, and while our house is not always pristine, and we do have messy days, we manage to keep it fairly clean.

Do y’all fight? 

Not really. One of the women I live with is my sister, so we occasionally have disagreements that we talk out. But the beauty of being not very young adults is that we’ve learned to extend grace to each other, not make a big deal about small stuff, and assume the best about each other.

What is the best thing about living in household? 

I read some American Catholic single writing about how hard it is to be unmarried – no one to cook for, to come back home to. I don’t know why people assume marriage is the only way to have community. I love that we have people to do stuff for. If I was alone, I probably wouldn’t cook at all, or follow any kind of schedule, and would probably get pretty depressed. I love that I always have someone to talk to about my day (and my dreams), to go to Mass with, to laugh with and to pray with. It's great for accountability and growth in discipline.

Actually one of my favourite moments each day is at about 9 pm when we gather in our living room to pray the Divine Office and sing the Salve Regina at the end. It is a quiet and peace-filled way to end each day.

I asked my household sisters what their answers would be and they said –

The discipline of our life together, combined with freedom. We follow a common schedule, but with large chunks of time to do our own personal tasks. It’s not like being at home a parent telling you what to do, we choose it freely.

The freedom and lack of guilt or blame – even if we occasionally forget our chores, no one makes a big deal about it, but just reminds us.

The conversations – every night we eat dinner together and just chat about everything.

What’s the hardest thing about living in household? 

For me, it’s balancing the needs of the introverts with the extroverts. I am far more aware in household how an extreme on either side can hurt the other members. Even though I am often a chatterbox, I often withdraw into my own world, with my phone or laptop or book. I can do that for hours at a time. But then I realize I haven’t even asked my household sisters how their day has been, and I wonder if they are secretly feeling isolated or hurt by me. At the same time, I can’t do constant long conversations, because I start feeling frustrated or exhausted, and I know other introverts feel the same way. So that’s sometime hard.

For the others- Not having a water heater (aka geyser) or a washing machine. Technically we could buy them, but this is a temporary home, and we try to live simply, or make do, so we are not planning to do so.

For our newest member who has never lived away from home, it is just feeling a little homesick, and not yet finding her comfort zone.

What advice would you give a group of women (or men) who were planning to set up their own Christian household? 

Do it! It is totally worth it! If you are planning to be married some day, this is a great preparation for married life. You have to adjust, and face your own selfishness and temptation to blame and be resentful. But if you’re willing to learn these lessons of love, how beautiful the resulting fellowship is! And if you're probably not getting married, it's a great opportunity to build a happy home.

My household sisters’ advice –

Learn how to do conflict resolution before you move into a household. Most Indians don’t talk directly about issues, but we have to learn how to do it. We need to unlearn unhealthy habits of communication like being passive-aggressive, or using anger or accusation as a weapon, or avoiding issues.

Be clear about expectations and jointly decide beforehand what your schedule and goals are. When people do make mistakes, do not accuse or make them feel guilty, but gently remind one another about the decisions made.

Get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, needs and schedules, so that no one treads on each other’s toes, and each person has the space that they need.

And bonus question that someone actually asked us – what is one old person thing that you all do? 

Well, we’re all deaf. We constantly have conversations that go –


“What? Are you talking to yourself or to me?”

“What did you say? What did she say?”

 “She said she doesn’t like mumblemumblemumble.”

“She doesn’t like WHAT?”


“Oh, never mind.”

Well, either we’re all deaf, or we all mumble. Quite possibly both.

Us soon.

The other old person thing that we do is Zumba. Or rather Refitrev. You might say that’s a young people thing. But that’s the point, we look at those videos and try to follow along and start feeling our age.

“Why are they all so skinny and chirpy?” (about the dance instructors)

“No, we don’t want to be your friend. We have enough friends.” (When the dance instructors try to have intimate chats with us at the beginning of the videos.)

Sorry, white women, you don't have a monopoly on this.

“How do they even do that step? I’m too old for this.”

“They’re moving too fast! And there are too many steps. How do they expect us to remember all these steps?”

“Never mind, just keep moving your body awkwardly, the point is to be healthy not be expert dancers.”

“I can do THAT! Thank God the windows are closed anyway.”

“How long has it been? I’m exhausted. Twenty minutes? Yup, I’m done.”

 And that, my friends, is a Christian Women's Household.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Great Indian Road Race

Like most young (I use the term loosely) middle class adults in big Indian cities, I spend a lot of time zooming around the streets on my two-wheeler (aka moped by non-Indians). I have often found myself thinking how well Indian roads would lend themselves to an excellent video game. Now granted I’m not an expert on video games, but I remember riding a motorcycle on Road Rash and kicking my competitors. Just empty roads and speeding along them. How much more exciting and challenging Indian roads are! So for all you game-makers out there, here’s my best shot, and I expect a chunk of the profits.

Level 1: Pedestrian 

This is the underdog of the streets, but we must all start here. As the Pedestrian, you must dodge bikes, cars, buses, and excrement (human and animal) while trying to make it from Point A to Point B. You can choose between the streets or the sidewalk. You’d think the sidewalk would be the better choice, but you would find your way blocked by shop displays, parked cars, sleeping animals and drunk men. If you choose the street, you must face blaring horns, while darting across and swivelling your head back and forth to avoid oncoming traffic who ignore the 3 second pedestrian crossing light. If you miss the light (which you will), you must choose the right emoji to gain the sympathy of passing vehicles long enough for them to slow down and let you pass. You must perform tricky manoeuvres (carefully-used umbrella, to avoid the puddles splashed by rude cars during the monsoons. You get bonus points for not using your Curse Button. If you make it to your destination without dying and with relatively clean clothing, you can pass on to the next level…

Level 2: The Cyclist 

The Cyclist has the advantage of speed (at least over the Pedestrian), but cannot control that speed as well. This can lead to an early demise while trying to cross roads. You as the Cyclist are equally prone to mud splashes, perhaps even more so as your cycle kicks up water. You may be excited by specially designated cycle tracks, but you still have to dodge motorcyclists who THINK it’s a MOTORcycle track, not to mention rickshaws with a slightly unrealistic perspective of their size. You also have to juggle a lunch bag on your handle bars, and occasionally a loved one on the back of your cycle. If you make it to the finish line, you move to…

Level 3: The Biker 

The bikers have the power to zoom, but fear not, it won’t be too boringly easy. Even though you CAN go up to 70 km per hour, you never have the opportunity to because of the crowded streets. Instead of speed, you get to use your dodging, overtaking and slipping through cracks skills. For fun, sweet little puppies will shoot out in the middle of the road, and you must swerve without hitting anyone OR killing the puppy.

Cows chilling out in the middle of the road occasionally transform into frisky running cows being chased by a dog. You must have the balance in case you get caught in the middle of uneven slabs of road concrete, and the good judgment to know where a puddle is not just a puddle but a pothole. Traffic lights must be obeyed, but very cautiously so as not to get rear-ended by a less rule-abiding bus. Bonus points for peer-pressuring other traffic into stopping at lights, slowing down so pedestrians can cross, and not getting splashed by cars. Points will be subtracted if you speed up to prevent Pedestrians from being able to cross the road. Your focus on reaching your destination may be taken away by a Road Accident - all bikers MUST pull over to view the accident, join in the argument or just stare. If you get through this, you will reach…

Level 4: Rickshaw Driver 

You have the super-skill of being able to rotate 180 degrees without needing to back up at all. However you may get delayed by irate passengers who flag you down and then refuse your services just because you ask for an extra fifty rupees for return fare. Also, if you catch sight of an Ola or Uber, all rickshaws MUST stop to get into an argument with their drivers. Even if you skip all these potential hazards, you must screech to a grinding halt if the Rickshaw Union calls a strike. Failure to comply can result in loss of life.

Level 5: Car 

Your aim is to not only make it safely to the destination but also avoid any scratches to your brand-new car named ‘Mother’s Blessing’. You get points subtracted for using your Curse Button on pedestrians or cyclists from the comfort of your air-conditioned bubble. You must try not to hit bikes who have sudden changes of mind about their preferred lanes, while also trying to overtake buses stuck on the wrong side of the road, without anyone else hitting you. You can lose your life by getting in an accident with a Sumo full of men in dark glasses, and foolishly getting out of your car to argue with them.

Level 6: Bus 

This is the highest level and takes the greatest amount of expertise. You will have the bulk but must have the corresponding agility of a very large man tiptoeing through the narrow aisles of an overstocked glassware shop (yes, my own take of a bull in a china store). You have the ability to kill, but not the license to do so. You are also on a tighter time schedule than all the other levels. Although you may think your large and threatening size prevents you from losing your life, this is in fact not true, as you will find when you hit a hapless pedestrian attempting to cross the road, and a violent mob materializes out of nowhere holding iron rods and hockey sticks. Your only option is to take to your heels and finish the rest of the race on foot.

Flash Monsoon Round for All Levels 

The skies open and the rains come down causing all traffic lights to go off, instant traffic jams, immediate increase in the volume and duration of blaring horns, and angry, wet and muddy people, vehicles and dogs to swarm the roads. Each level must improvise to survive. The Curse Button will be disabled for this round for fear of being over-used.

Cheat Code: Call on your guardian angel. Only one provided per player. Guardian angels give advice and can help in sticky situations. However if you ignore the advice of your guardian angel, there are no guarantees for whether or not he will show up again.

Okay, this game is just waiting to be created. While we wait, let’s go for a spin on the streets for a little practise. Hope to see you all again on this side of heaven.

P.S. If not a video game, this could also be offered in real life to tourists as a Death-Defying Adventure Sport on the same level as bungee- jumping and paragliding, but without the safety features and more local colour.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Ask Sue - Why 'Till Death Do Us Part'?

So I just started a new feature where blog readers can send in their questions and I do my best to answer them. Questions could be related to faith, relationships, personalities, or anything else I write about here. Just a reminder, I am no expert, so this is just a Woman with an Internet Connection and An Opinion. Feel free to send in your questions as messages as comments. Please ask fun questions too!

Hey Sue, I had a question regarding the wedding vows where people say “until death do us part”. What exactly is the meaning of “death” in case of the union between two people? Is it just physical death? What happens when a couple has kids and one spouse passes away? Isn’t this a case of remarriage too like the ones post divorce? I’ve heard of couples getting an annulment as long as there’s been no sex, else there is almost no or minimal chances of getting an annulment. This is based on what I’ve heard from people, hence, I think that’s how it works, but if there’s something that I’m missing, would be really happy if you can tell me. Also, if what I’ve heard is true, then I somehow don’t feel that remarriage after physical death should be accepted by the church, since it feels contradictory. What are your views on this? :) 

Hi friend,

I can give you the facts of what the Church allows and doesn’t (death does refer to physical death, and Catholics are free to marry if their spouse dies even if they have children, remarriage is not a sin as the exclusive marriage bond does break with death), but it seems as if there are two main questions that you have-

  • Why do we use the term ‘till death do us part’ in a Catholic marriage if it is possible for a marriage to be annulled? 
  • And why should the bond of marriage end with physical death? 

So for the first question- Why do we use the term ‘till death do us part’ in a Catholic marriage if it is possible for a marriage to be annulled?

A lot of people misunderstand what an annulment is. I think most people just think of it as a ‘Catholic divorce’, just a few more hoops to jump through in order to be able to marry in the Church the second time round. But the fact is that the Church believes it CANNOT end a marriage that is valid and sacramental, that the bond that God creates between two people in a valid and sacramental marriage cannot be broken. As this article says, ‘Just as you can’t separate the ingredients of a cake after you’ve baked it, you can’t separate a man and a woman after they’ve been validly and sacramentally married.’

So what’s an annulment then? An annulment is basically saying that the marriage never was a real marriage, (and er… the cake was never a cake, but just bread) because some condition that made it a marriage was missing. There are far more detailed blogs and articles online you can read about it, but I’ll give you a few examples:
  1. One or both of the couple did not freely choose to enter into the marriage. Forced marriages are not valid marriages. Shotgun marriages are not valid marriages. Child marriages are not valid marriages. 
  2. One or both of the partners did not plan to remain faithful or be open to children (planned to use contraception) at the time of the marriage. 
  3. One of the partners had a pre-existing psychological condition that they hid from the other. 
  4. One of the partners was impotent. 
  5. One of the partners hid some important information that could have affected the decision. 

You may notice that all these are pre-existing conditions that nullified the validity of the vows. If both made the vows in sincerity, and one later changed their mind, that doesn’t mean the marriage can be annulled.

What about the sex question? Well, that has little to do with a marriage being annulled. But it is possible for a marriage that was valid and sacramental, but that has not yet been consummated to be dissolved.

Once a couple has been validly married AND consummated their marriage, there is no power in heaven or earth that can break that marriage. Except death, but we’ll talk about that later. So in what seems to be pretty uncommon cases, one or both partners CAN ask for the marriage to be dissolved if they have not had sex.

On to question two: why should the bond of marriage end with physical death? 

Marriage is a pretty big deal if we’re looking at it through Catholic eyes. It’s not just a piece of paper, not just a business agreement, not just a social institution. It’s a big enough deal to make a man and a woman choose to make a permanent choice that will affect everything about the rest of their lives.

So if we can so far as to say for the rest of our lives, or until death do us part, why not say forever, or into eternity?

I’m going to say something that might sound very unromantic – Catholics don’t really believe in soul-mates. At least not in the way that Nicholas Sparks and the hopeless romantics of the world do – that one soul you were fated for all eternity to be united with, the other half of our souls, etc. That sounds great, but it doesn’t hold up to logic or reason which is what our faith is based on. God has a plan, but He works with our choices.

So how can we be romantic enough to say ‘till death do us part’, but not romantic enough to say ‘until eternity’?

It comes down to the true meaning and purpose of marriage. Lifelong companionship is beautiful in itself, but it has been lifted to something even deeper, truer and more beautiful. It is a SIGN, a SYMBOL and a PREPARATION for the Divine Romance, the union of Jesus with the Church, and each soul within it. Whaaaa… Yes, I said it and it’s true. Our faith is ALL about romance. Jesus, the bridegroom, and we (yes, even the guys) are all brides! Okay, not exactly… but the terms and the concepts and even the realities of bridegrooms and brides was created by God to give us a glimpse, a foretaste of the reality of union with Him, which is what our entire earthly life is a preparation for.

You shall no more be termed ‘Forsaken’, and your land shall no more be termed ‘Desolate’; but you shall be called ‘My delight is in her’, and your land ‘Married’; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married…and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:4-5

It’s hard to grasp, right? Especially since most of what we have learned about our faith from our childhood has not introduced us to this radical concept. But think about this – the hunger you have felt deep in your bones, even sexual desire, the ache for something more… all that was supposed to point us to a fulfilment that not even the most dreamy spouse could provide.

All that to say… the REAL Wedding Day is the day we are united with Jesus in heaven. If at all we believe in soulmates, then Jesus is that soulmate, the One who completes us, the One our soul has been waiting for, the One who has waited for us for all of eternity. All love stories are a reflection of and a prefigurement of the Divine Love Story that surpasses all earthly love stories.

Does that mean our earthly spouse means nothing to us in heaven? Not at all! If God created such a holy bond and relationship on earth, why would he just throw it away? Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa says Marriage does not come to a complete end at death but is transfigured, spiritualized, freed from the limits that mark life on earth, as also the ties between parents and children or between friends will not be forgotten. In a preface for the dead the liturgy proclaims: "Life is transformed, not taken away." Even marriage, which is part of life, will be transfigured, not nullified.

But in heaven our love is transformed from earthly limitations. It is not possessive any more. So if someone remarries, it could be a genuine gift from the Lord for the remainder of the earthly life, and not a detraction from the goodness of the bond of the first marriage. I hope this makes sense!

Here's a few quick facts, clarifications and thoughts that came up in my (somewhat) extensive research that might be helpful:

  • Children of annulled marriages are not considered illegitimate. 
  • Annulments are not supposed to extremely difficult to get if there are valid reasons, and the Pope has been trying to streamline the annulment process. 
  • Annulments do not need the consent of both spouses. But there do need to be witnesses, people who have been familiar with the couple and their marriage. 
  • Civil divorce is not a sin, it may be necessary in order to get child support etc in the case of annulled marriages or separations. 
  • Although sacramental and valid marriages cannot be broken, sometimes a couple is advised to separate, especially in cases of abuse of any kind. But they are not free to remarry. 
  • It is never a good idea to judge or speculate on other people's broken or annulled marriages, or think it is a reflection of their character or faith, because we have no idea the kind of hell they may have been through. 
  • All marriages are presumed valid until a decree of nullity is sought and approved. So don't assume anyone has an invalid marriage. 
  • If you have any questions out of more than idle curiosity, every diocese has assigned priests and I think canon lawyers who can guide you through the specifics. 

I just spent the last three days reading and researching annulments, throwing around questions and thoughts like ‘What’s the difference between ratified, valid, sacramental, and consummated, and how are they connected to indissolubility... wait, is that a word? How was Mary and Joseph’s marriage a real marriage if they never consummated it? What if two old people who CAN’T have sex want to get married? Can they be roommates without giving scandal?” Such is life and conversation in my women’s household. :-D But that’s my next post.