What follows is a text version of our talk given at the Dynamic Women of Faith conference. It follows the introduction found here.
What is The Feminine Gift: Tricia
What is the feminine gift, metaphysically speaking? Well, it stems from who you are. You are a woman, and your very being is a gift. Does it matter that you are a woman? Yes, it does. You are different from a man. You share human nature with him, and aside from your femininity you have the unique gifts God has given to only you, but you are a woman, and that informs everything about you.
The feminine qualities speak of a woman’s heart. She is drawn to people rather than things, her preference is for relationships over concepts, her focus is on the personal rather than the theoretical. She is generous, receptive, desires to serve, is maternal. She has a capacity for spirituality, and has natural piety. She is attracted to beauty, and is creative.
Every book we’ve read about women and femininity acknowledges that women are inclined to piety. Teresa of Avila says that more women than men receive extraordinary mystical graces; Alice von Hildebrand says our one great advantage is that we know we are weak, and God is always choosing the weak, the helpless, the defective. (Pope Francis’ motto is “Lowly, yet chosen.”) It is a woman’s receptivity that opens her to holiness: she is receptive to God’s grace.
It is also our yearning for connection, for relationship that impels us toward God. Our joy as women is union with God, either mystically as singletons or religious, or sacramentally with our husbands.
Human beings are comprised of mind, body, and spirit. Women more fully integrate all three then men do. We use and apply all three in every aspect of life. Pop psychology tells us the same thing: men are in boxes, and women multitask. Turns out there is a spiritual reality to that – it is God’s design that we be that way to complement each other.
Edith Stein says the main function of a woman is to protect, preserve, shelter, guard, and help. These are the qualities of maternity. We are formed for a distinct purpose. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the soul is the form of the body – which means that a woman’s soul is distinct from a man’s. We are not neutral in either body or soul. You, as a woman, are Woman through and through! Therefore, a woman is both physically and spiritually endowed to be wife and mother. It means, as Edith Stein writes, that woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning. She aspires to a totality of mind, body, and spirit and wants the same for others. The mark of a woman is her concern for the whole person. This is the maternal touch. It’s why women touch and hug, ask questions, share personal details, and do so over food.
To be developed in its full sense, maternity must be interpreted as supernatural as well as natural. Supernatural maternity can be disassociated from natural maternity – by that, I mean a woman is maternal even when she doesn’t have natural children of her own. Our gift is to bring that maternal heart to every person we meet. Think of Teresa of Calcutta and the many thousands of souls who call her Mother. Think of the powerful force she was, and still is, for the Gospel message.
The question of femininity is tricky because the issue strikes so closely to the identity of a person, how we perceive ourselves, how we evaluate our purpose and worth. It is also often a touchy subject because many women do not understand how they have been formed by the feminist movement. Cardinal Ratzinger – before he became Pope, called contemporary feminism “one of the greatest threats menacing the Church” which has, as Alice von Hildebrand writes, “taken hold because of a lack of faith and a loss of the sense of the supernatural”. Even as strong Catholic women, we have been hearing the messages of feminism our whole lives: a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle; free to be you and me; it’s your body, your choice; you can be anything, do anything just as good as a man.
Without going too deeply into the errors of modern feminism, modern feminists start off on the wrong foot by assuming that gender is irrelevant. Feminism is a metaphysical revolt against the characteristics of women, and it seeks to turn them into a caricature of men. Women are following along, because society has forgotten the hierarchy of values we are taught in scripture: blessed are the poor, the meek, the lowly – they shall have the Kingdom of God. Without that proper understanding, power seems to be located in strength – physical strength. We have forgotten that our strength as women lies in our receptivity, our maternity, our weakness. A woman’s power lies in her influence, not her physicality. Some of this awareness lingers in our culture though – the singer Beyonce reminds us in one of her songs: my persuasion can build a nation. (Run the world, girls)
The world is very masculine today. It focuses on accomplishments, and physical strength. It is trivializing the personal and the sacred. For this reason, the world really needs women to be women. In the closing remarks of the second Vatican council, the Church encourages us: “Now, at a time when women have power like never before, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do much to aid humanity in not falling.”
The Feminine Gift –our blog – aims to counteract the errors of feminism. We want to reassure women that your femininity is indeed very relevant, and that it is a wonderful, beautiful gift. In recognizing and accepting our femininity, we recognize and accept who we are in all the unique wonder of God’s marvelous design. That acceptance leads to freedom. A woman opening herself to that freedom, allows men to also embrace their own identity as men – and we desperately need them to do that.
Our new Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father Pope Francis, models this freedom perfectly. When he stepped onto the balcony after his election to greet the crowd, I noticed his serenity, his quiet confidence. What we have seen of him since then has made it all the more clear: he knows God’s will for him, and he is living it. I think it goes deeper than his vocation as priest and bishop, and encompasses his personhood. He knows his identity; he very clearly knows who he is in God.
Sarah and I want that for us women. We started The Feminine Gift because we want women to recognize the special gifts we have to offer, the powerful influence we have in the world by virtue of our femininity. We want to reawaken awareness of the spiritual reality that strength and weakness in God’s kingdom are very different from strength and weakness in the world. As Pope Frances told us on the day of his installation, “Authentic power is service” which is not a message the world preaches, but is a message a woman’s heart understands.
The Feminine Gift blog hopes to be true to a proper hierarchy of values, to look at things in the right, eternal perspective. We want to provide a place for women to connect with each other and receive reassurance that it is right and fine to put aside the lies of secular feminism. We want to encourage women to be women so that men can be men.
Our mission statement reminds us of our purpose which is to “Bring our readers to a deeper relationship with God and His Blessed Mother by encouraging and teaching women to be authentically feminine; real with themselves and others.” We included this addendum: “This site isn’t about the feminine arts, but about the art of being feminine.”
Our hope for women: Sarah
Dietrich von Hildebrand once said that the greatest apostolate is the apostolate of being. It is not what you say or what you do, but what you are. Catherine Doherty says something similar – she said, “What you do matters, but not much. What you are - matters tremendously.” We women are extraordinarily gifted because we are the life-bearers of the world. As Fulton Sheen put it, we’re “bearers of the Divine. In fact, a woman has to bring the Divine to the human, otherwise she is not happy, fulfilled.” And we do that by paying attention, being zoned in to the personal, the here and now, who’s happy, sad, upset or sick and “how can I help”. If I were to run crying off the stage right now, all of us would gasp, and half of you would try to find me, and this retreat would be remembered as the retreat where that lady ran off the stage crying. Men would be all like, “huh. Something’s wrong with her – hope she’s ok” and move on. And that’s just the way it is - Man cooperates with nature – with facts and figures - but woman cooperates with the Spirit - persons. Fulton Sheen says, again, for Woman to be happy, she must be a co-worker with the Divine; she bears what God alone can give. So what we are does actually matter tremendously not only to our friends and families, but to our communities and countries as well because the level (and health) of any civilization is the level of it’s womanhood.
And it is for just this reason that the evil one takes great pleasure in wounding our femininity, getting us to hate everything about ourselves in any way he can and steering us off course to being who we are meant to be . As Stacy Eldredge puts it in her book Captivating, "If you listen carefully to any woman's story, you will hear a theme: the assault on her heart. It might be obvious as in the stories of physical, verbal or sexual abuse. Or it might be more subtle, like the indifference of a world that cares nothing for her but uses her until she is drained." Satan has an intense raging hatred for all things feminine – all things life-bearing and life-affirming - for you and for your heart and soul and he works fiercely to shatter you completely. And if he can’t shatter you, he’ll drown your soul as much as he can because he can’t have women out there being happy, fulfilled, working with God to bring life to the world!
So he lies to us - telling us absolutely anything that will wound us. He knows each of our particular gifts, and he knows our most vulnerable weaknesses. So he tells you whatever you’re most afraid to hear – and he becomes that little voice nagging and accusing you – you’re never enough just as you are. You’re too emotional, you wear too much makeup, you’re too old, you’re too young, you don’t know anything, you’re too skinny or not skinny enough, you can’t cook, who would want to love you. And in the end he convinces you that you’re ugly, unwanted, unloved, and that your heart will always be alone – a terrible thought for someone who’s heart is made to be in communion with others.
But the unwavering truth is that I am enough, you are enough – just as you are. And you are always loved. We’re deeply loved and cherished because we are all daughters of the Father – first and foremost. Katrina Zeno in her book Discovering the Feminine Genius writes about every woman being a daughter of the Father as her primary vocation in life. And it’s universal – every woman, the moment she is conceived, is our Heavenly Father’s daughter and when we know this – when we are deeply convinced that we are loved, everything changes. We’re able to be so much more than we thought we ever could be.
Katrina also talks about a secondary vocation – which is also universal – and it is according to our gender. We are created to make a feminine and sincere gift of self to others, and this can most especially be seen through maternity and motherhood –but is also seen in many other facets of life. When we are called to give of ourselves, even in the smallest way, this is where we tap into this vocation. There’s also a third vocation – which is more specific to each woman – it is each woman’s unique vocation, a beautiful tapestry…that is woven through the course of her life using her unique circumstances, struggles, gifts and talents. Through her unique yes, she opens up countless possibilities for fruitfulness through the Holy Spirit.”
St Edith Stein, one of the great saints of our time and a patron of The Feminine Gift said, “Living our vocation as a daughter of the Father heals the rupture between us and God. Living our vocation as women heals the rupture between us and others. And living our unique vocation heals the rupture between body and spirit. ”
It is merely the act of living all three vocations out, just being who and what you are within yourself that activates the healing process.
When we first started the Feminine Gift I have to admit, I was totally lost and embarrassed. I had no idea what I was doing or what to write about. I knew I wanted more femininity in my life, but I had no clue where to start. So I began reading and exploring general feminine qualities and talents, things like compassion, fierceness, motherhood – and I read a lot of articles and books. I was a little obsessed. But this is what helped me – well, started me on the road back to my own heart….that and a whole lot of spiritual direction with a good director. As I worked to clear away all of the fears, noise, wounds and trivialities that were drowning out my heart – while allowing myself plenty of time and space to do it - I started to notice my very self take shape again – or at least notice what kind of shape my “self” takes. The English mystic Caryll Houselander refers to that shape as the “purposeful emptiness” like the hollow of a reed or cup. Our feminine souls have a specific form given to it by the purpose for which it’s intended. Take a look at Joan of Arc, Esther, Therese of Lesieux or the women at the foot of the cross. They’re all saints (or important women in the history of Catholicism) yet with completely different roles. Fulton Sheen says the very uniqueness of the roles they played was due to the spiritual qualities they possessed. The shape of the “purposeful emptiness” within them predisposed them to say yes to God when he called.
Katrina Zeno said, “As I embrace more fully my unique vocation, I no longer experience a disconnect between who I am and what I do. More and more, they are the same thing. At times, I experience an incredible oneness of body and spirit that is so freeing, passionate, and full of life that I want to shout with Saint Symeon the New Theologian: I see how I was and what I have become. O wonder! ...God is writing an original script with each of our lives – none of our souls have the same shape. He’s not writing a remake or adaptation of someone else’s life, but something never before written.”
I have found out that my heart likes words and their meanings, putting them together into neat little phrases to describe my thoughts. I like food – a lot – I like cooking it and eating it. And wine. And tea. And most surprisingly to me, I have found my heart craving the feminine in every situation.
And that is our main goal at tfg - to encourage women to re-discover who they are at their core – what we all have in common, but also what shape their souls take specifically. We want to encourage women to say yes to God and be who they are, exactly where they are, despite what the world thinks! My spiritual director, Fr. Tom says that a woman’s heart is an enclosed garden where everything is taken in and pondered – and then flowers grow if given enough time and space. And that’s what we try and allow - time and space to come to understand and love your own femininity and who you are within it. I know this is a tall order for a little blog, but we have big dreams.
I've heard so many women, both religious and non-religious say things like "If I had my choice, I would love to stay home with my children." or "If I'm honest with myself, I would tell you that I actually like housework because I love having a clean home - yet I would NEVER admit this to anyone." It's not "cool" for women to be into housework or to be stay at home moms. In fact it's not "cool" to be anything but a man-hating feminist. Compassion, empathy, vulnerability - these things are not cool things for women, or anyone, to be - but generally speaking, they are desperately needed our communities, workplaces, homes and churches need to see much more of quote unquote the feminine qualities. So why not just live freely – the world doesn’t love you and it will always find fault!? So why not be who you are? When people see the light in your eyes and the joy that radiates when you talk about your passions they'll want what you have - and then you can tell them about Christ and everything He's done for you…best way to evangelize – being who you are! Who knew??
I will leave you with a quote by Josemaria Escriva - “To fulfil [her] mission, a woman has to develop her own personality and not let herself be carried away by a naive desire to imitate, which, as a rule, would tend to put her in an inferior position and leave her unique qualities unfulfilled. If she is a mature person, with a character and mind of her own, she will indeed accomplish the mission to which she feels called, whatever it may be. Her life and work will be really constructive, fruitful and full of meaning, whether she spends the day dedicated to her husband and children or whether, having given up the idea of marriage for a noble reason, she has given herself fully to other tasks. Each woman in her own sphere of life, if she is faithful to her divine and human vocation can and, in fact, does achieve the fullness of her feminine personality. Let us remember that Mary, Mother of God and Mother of men, is not only a model but also a proof of the transcendental value of an apparently unimportant life.”
So with the Blessed Mother in mind, let us never underestimate the power and fruitfulness of our ‘yes’ to God.