ESSAY: Mistress of Her Own Castle

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Secretum Meum Mihi Press

ESSAY: Mistress of Her Own Castle

by Kristen West McGuire

In the Principles of Women’s Education, Edith Stein says, “She is mistress of this castle [the fortified soul] as the handmaid of her Lord…ready for him who was given to her as a visible sovereign…”

Are you the mistress of your castle? When my husband was in the Marines, he had a jaunty title for me: “CINC-house.” (Pronounced “sink,” CINC means “Commander in Chief.”) He knew better than to make plans without consulting his commanding officer, at home or at work. I’m pretty intense.

Everyone, man or woman, has a visible sovereign to obey. Even those at the top of their profession— CEOs, popes and presidents— are not free to exercise their own selfish inclinations, but must serve the common good. Or risk losing their jobs through mutiny or revolution.

Everyone is a follower.

Even a job in an assembly line making widgets will have its share of twists, turns and creative problem solving. Machinery breaks down, co-workers quit, and new managers botch your supply lines. You’ve got to stay awake on the job.

Staying awake on the job comes with the territory at my house. The role of stay-at-home mother appealed to me in the beginning. I’d be the queen of my own universe. My tiara fit well until I realized that my little princess was actually my boss, and I was a rather bumbling handmaid.

Darn! Somebody else got to be the queen! (That used to happen to me at work, too!) Now that she can babysit and drive, I realize how much I’ve learned from her.

She helped me figure out the boundaries of my castle, the limits of my strengths and the reality of my weaknesses. Each child after she arrived only reinforced the point: I needed a King!

I’m a better “CINC-house” in partnership with my husband. He insists that I rest when I am tired, eat salad when I prefer licorice, and write essays even when I am discouraged. Often, he reminds me to keep my priorities straight when daily life bumps me around.

The crucial difference between a beloved “CINC-house” and a Stepford wife lies in the loving embrace of a vocation given by God and refined by mutual sacrifice. This holds true for the working mom as well. Management or labor, husband or hausfrau, we do our best teamwork when we seek to make others shine. Christians don’t center their striving on power, but on virtue.

Obedience in this sense is not a blind following, but receptivity to the gifts of God in each moment, a readiness to mine the grace hidden in the details. Doing your duty implies drudgery in the modern lexicon. But for the handmaid of the Lord, doing your duty reveals a new freedom where treasure is found.

The Blessed Virgin is the queen of receptive hearts. Her silent presence in the background reassures me, especially in my weakest moments. That desperate “Hail Mary” matters. It carries the regal bearing of the mother of all our hopes.

My discouraging days as a secretary and as a mother were no less fruitful than my happy days. There were surprising treasures in all the tense moments of my life. Sometimes I was given painful self-knowledge, and many times I had insights that were useful later. I like the woman my demanding bosses and cranky toddlers helped me become.

The mistress of her castle is ready to be a treasure hunter for God. I may not be the queen, but I know where She lives. With practice, I’ll be ready to follow her home when the Bridegroom beckons us.

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