I was in my first semester of my freshman year at Arizona State University. As a Catholic who desired to continue living my faith in college, I hoped to find a community of people desiring the same thing. However, my shy personality combined with how overwhelming this new college experience was made me too scared to venture over to the Catholic Newman Center on campus. About a month in to the semester, by what I believe was Divine providence, a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary, Anna, met me on campus and invited me to the women’s Bible study she was leading. I didn’t know Anna and I didn’t know what a Catholic missionary was doing at ASU. But, seeing this as an opportunity to nurture my faith, I agreed to join. The first time I attended that study, I felt so welcomed. I had never been in a Bible study before, and immediately wondered why. These women were freshman, just like me, wanting something more than what the world had to offer; desiring to grow in their relationship with Christ; seeking truth, beauty and goodness.
That year, I learned so much about myself, how God sees me, and what the Church teaches about the truth of humanity and womanhood. I was able to embrace my identity in a way that I never had before. We discussed topics we could relate to, saw what the world teaches us, and looked to the Bible to speak truth into every aspect of our lives. It was as if I had tapped into a whole new part of my faith and myself. During one of our studies, Anna introduced us to something I had never heard of before—The Feminine Genius. We only scratched the surface of what this is but over the next three years, I had the chance to dive deep into this beautiful teaching and even led a semester-long Bible study on it. I saw my womanhood in a whole new light. I learned how much depth there is to a woman’s heart, soul and mind. For the first time in my life, I looked to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model of true womanhood. And I realized there were so many women believing a false narrative about who they are and my heart hurt for them. I wanted every woman to know her worth, dignity, and beauty, to embrace who she is and reject the lies that the world feeds her. This is what led me to become a FOCUS missionary after graduating college and commit two years of my life to mentoring women in the faith.
Saint Pope John Paul II, a great leader of our Church, wrote a Letter to Women during his papacy to thank and encourage women and to proclaim their true identity. This is when “the feminine genius” was born, a phrase and movement he began to describe the special capabilities of women.
“You can see then, dear sisters, that…Necessary emphasis should be placed on the “genius of women”, not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfill their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty—not merely physical, but above all spiritual—which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women.” (Letter to Women, paragraph 12, emphasis mine)
Since it is May, the Month of Mary, there is no better time for us women to commit ourselves to living the feminine genius! Embracing our femininity in this way is beautiful, powerful and makes so much possible.
Women can view their relationship with men as a communion, not a competition
“After creating man male and female, God says to both: ‘Fill the earth and subdue it’ (Gen 1:28). Not only does he give them the power to procreate as a means of perpetuating the human species throughout time, he also gives them the earth, charging them with the responsible use of its resources. As a rational and free being, man is called to transform the face of the earth. In this task, which is essentially that of culture, man and woman alike share equal responsibility from the start. In their fruitful relationship as husband and wife, in their common task of exercising dominion over the earth, woman and man are marked neither by a static and undifferentiated equality nor by an irreconcilable and inexorably conflictual difference. Their most natural relationship, which corresponds to the plan of God, is the ‘unity of the two’, a relational ‘uni-duality’, which enables each to experience their interpersonal and reciprocal relationship as a gift which enriches and which confers responsibility.” (Letter to Women, paragraph 8)
From the beginning of creation, God intended men and women to have equal responsibility for this world and its resources. It was a natural relationship, one in which a communion of love existed. Adam lacked a suitable partner until God created Eve. She is like him in her humanity but captivatingly different in her feminine way of being. Adam shares her humanity, but in his masculine way of being. God did not intend for human beings to be in solitude. Original solitude was overcome by the two sharing life together. This is what we are meant for.
Women can draw closer to Christ, their ultimate promoter
“It is universally admitted—even by people with a critical attitude towards the Christian message—that in the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promoter of women’s true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity. At times this caused wonder, surprise, often to the point of scandal: ‘They marveled that he was talking with a woman’ (Jn 4:27), because this behavior differed from that of his contemporaries.” (Mulieris Dignitatem, paragraph 5)
Jesus views women in the most beautiful way. In His time on earth, He not only trusted his own mother, Mary, with His heart and desire for hospitality, support and understanding of His mission, but so many other women as well. We see this trust portrayed many times throughout the Bible.
He does not condemn Mary Magdalene—the “woman caught in adultery”—for her sin, which at the time was punishable by being stoned to death. He looked at her with love and forgiveness. He challenged the crowd to throw stones if they were not sinners themselves. And they went away. Mary Magdalene became one of His most avid followers, a true disciple. She was with Him in His passion, death, and Resurrection. In fact, she was the first person to witness His Resurrection. In the same way Jesus did not condemn her for her sins, neither does He condemn us to death for ours. Instead, He looks at us with love and offers His forgiveness. He invites us to be His friend, to follow Him, to be with Him in all moments of our lives.
When Jesus meets the woman at the well in Samaria—“the Samaritan woman”—He is gentle with her, speaks lovingly, and reveals to her that He is the Messiah. She is the first person in the Gospel whom He reveals this to. He entrusts her with this good news, and she runs to her town and immediately tells everyone! Because of her testimony, “many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him…” (John 4:39) One could argue she is one of Jesus’ first disciples (different from the Apostles) because of her trust in Him, her testimony, and her choice to follow Him. Again, Jesus shows us how much He values women. He revealed His identity and His ministry to a woman first. How beautiful is that?! He knew she would receive it with openness and action because that’s how He created us.
Women are fully alive through their God-given natural tendencies
If we take a closer look at what has been written on the feminine genius, three natural tendencies that God has imbued every woman with rise to the surface—receptivity, capacity for the other, and resonance of mind and heart.
Women were made to receive—physically and spiritually. A woman receives love from a man when he initiates a relationship with her. In the sexual act, a wife physically receives her husband into the most intimate part of her body. And if God creates a new human life through their intimacy, she receives that life into her body and nurtures the baby for nine months. Because this receptivity is natural to women, they may find it easier to receive love from God. “To accept her state of creaturehood is easier for a woman than for a man, who is always tempted to be in command.” (Mulieris Dignitatem, paragraph 27) Modern feminist thought discourages this receptivity and sees it as a way to define women as weak and passive. But receptivity does not equal these traits. Rather, “…Clearly passivity is inferior to activity, for one is only being ‘acted upon.’ But this is not true of receptivity which involves an alert, awakened, joyful readiness.” (Alice Von Hildebrand, 63)
Capacity for the Other
“Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole.” (Edith Stein, The Collected Words of Edith Stein, Volume Two: Essays on Woman, 43) Not only are women good at receiving, but they are good at looking outward in service to others. This service has great dignity. Perhaps the most miraculous form of service the world will ever see is a woman nurturing another human being in her womb. Women literally have a space in their bodies reserved for another human life. God designed our bodies so intricately and gave us the beautiful gift of capacity to love, care for, and deliver another human being. In this same way, women have the capacity to serve in other areas of their lives, like the workplace. Women can make all professions more authentically human. “The participation of women in the most diverse professional disciplines could be a blessing for the entire society, private or public, precisely if the specifically feminine ethos would be preserved.” (Stein, 49)
Resonance of Mind and Heart
Women tend to see situations with their hearts and minds. Their intelligence is not separated from personal sensitivity. As we saw in the story of The Samaritan Woman, “Christ speaks to women about the things of God, and they understand them; there is a true resonance of mind and heart, a response of faith.” (Mulieris Dignitatem, 15) Women can witness boldly to the truths of the faith because they are deeply and wholly convinced of them.
Mary is the perfect model of these feminine virtues—from her receptivity to the Angel Gabriel to her capacity for the other at the Wedding at Cana (when Jesus began His public ministry) to her resonance of mind and heart when she “kept all these things” in her heart when the shepherds visited baby Jesus and when she and Joseph found Jesus in the temple. Her life is a beautiful example of the feminine genius and can inspire women everywhere to embrace the feminine virtues in their own lives.
Women can reject the false messages that modern feminist culture promotes
Feminism today looks much different than in years past. What used to be a movement fighting for true human rights—the right to own property, have an education, vote, etc.—is now a movement that fights for immoral acts and infringes upon human rights.
Modern feminism encourages the belief that the ability to get pregnant is an impediment to a woman’s freedom, that eliminating a child should be her human right, and anything that gets in the way of that means she’s being “oppressed.”
A woman imbued with the spirit of truth understands that her ability to conceive, nurture, and give birth to new human life is a gift. From the moment of conception, a new life is created, and a woman has the great privilege of nurturing this life in her womb until he or she is born. Eliminating this life is unthinkable because murder is unthinkable. True oppression is killing an innocent life and denying a woman her motherhood when that is her God-given right.
Modern feminism also teaches that there is an inequality between men and women, that men are considered the “enemy” in many situations, and gender equality is something worth fighting for.
It is true and it is good that there are biological, emotional, and spiritual differences between men and women. We were not meant to be 100% equal to one another. Men and women each bring their own unique gifts to the world. God made us different so that we can work well together, not above or below one another. In the beginning of creation, God created Eve from Adam’s rib, signifying that she will rule along with him—not under, not above—with. Man needs woman and woman needs man. He is only complete in his masculinity in relation to her femininity, and she is fully feminine only in relation to his masculine dimension. Men and women are the perfect partners. How beautiful it would be if more of us believed this to be true!
“The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are.” –Edith Stein
Women are called by God to discover and develop their feminine genius in order to bring about a more authentically human world. Women are gifted. Women are entrusted to collaborate, not compete, with men. Women are doers. Women are wonderfully made and inherently good. The world needs us for who we are. We can show the world what it means to love and be loved by God. We are free to make our mark on this world in a variety of exciting ways. There is no need for us to be boxed in by career expectations nor give up all personal interests once babies arrive on the scene. God has entrusted us with much, and we have the beautiful privilege of working alongside Him to bring about a better world. With Mary as our model, we can more fully embrace our feminine genius, which guides us to use the special gifts God has bestowed on us to bless both our families and the larger community. Women play a crucial role in society as mothers, full-time business women, leaders in the community, and so much more. Saint Pope John Paul II writes a beautiful message to all of us in his Letter to Women:
“Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.
Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of ‘mystery’, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.
Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”
-Letter to Women, paragraph 2
Ladies, you are a gift to all of creation! I pray you will embrace the truth of who you are, your feminine genius, for it is then that the world will become a more beautiful place.