Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Take Me Away to Monterrey

My Heart Lies South: the Story of My Mexican Marriage, richly depicts a model of what Catholic life can be. Set in 1930s Monterrey, Mexico, where everything is ordered to the Catholic faith, it is a beautiful book written by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. She was an American reporter on assignment to Mexico for the Boston Herald when she met and was courted by Luis Trevino. They married one year later.

Published in 1953, the story relates how she found true happiness not in being an independent, single, American career woman but in becoming a whole-hearted Mexican wife and mother, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law.

Through her eyes we see the panorama of a vibrant Catholic culture where babies are adored, welcomed, and longed for by everyone; the old and the mentally ill are eagerly and lovingly cared for at home, and the maiden aunts embrace a life of service to the extended family.

Central to the maintenance of this Catholic culture is family life, which is firmly guided by Papacito and Mamacita. They nurture it by living the liturgical calendar, sending the children to Catholic schools, and approving of marriage choices. A complex code of courtship is enforced by the community to prevent playing around with tender hearts and to ensure that only the truly devoted make it to the altar.

The groundwork is laid by sending the girls to school with the nuns. They complete "six years of primary education, plus additional work in sewing, home-making and good manners." At 15, girls are introduced to society at The Baile de los Quince, or the Ball of Fifteen. After this "coming out" party, they are ready to receive suitors.

Young men go to school with the teaching brothers. They are expected to finish high school and then prepare for a profession or commerce. Therefore, they are much older than the girls whom they marry.

The marriage ceremony is especially beautiful and full of meaningful customs. The groom gives the bride gold and silver to indicate that he endows her with all of his worldly goods. She wraps him in her bridal veil to symbolize that she will protect and care for his comfort.

Thus, this little seed of Catholic culture grows and fruits bountifully amid everyday activities:

Often, in the early morning, a vendor has begged me to buy a little something "for the cross." This means that he has as yet made no sale, and it is the custom to consecrate the first sale, that God may watch over him all the day. So, after purchasing twenty cents' worth of aguamiel (cane juice) or a few oranges, I would watch the seller make the sign of the cross over the sale, and say a prayer in all solemnity.

The book is packed with such examples, in grief and in joy, in big things and in small, of how the Monterrey community works in a consistent, logical manner to produce the good fruit of Catholic culture. It is a pleasant and valuable guidebook for those who contemplate the devastation of the American vineyard and wonder where to start to rebuild, because, surely

God's heart lies South, too.

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