The world tells us every day what women should be or should not be, sentiments like; ‘you should look like this’ or ‘have this successful career’, etc. This is exhausting. As women, we should strive for good faith formation, cultivate beauty, and look to our eternal destination which is heaven. It is in our very nature to seek to know who we are, “we will always find fundamentally the compulsion to become what the soul should be” (Essays on Woman 94). We are daughters of a King in Heaven. Edith Stein once said; “The world doesn’t need what women have. The world needs what women are.” Edith Stein wrote a series of essays for women, where she explores the importance of intentionally forming the souls of women. In this blog article, I will explore some of these words of wisdom for women. But first let us look at what is the feminine genius, as for us to better understand Edith Stein’s words we should have a good understanding of the feminine genius.
In his 1988 encyclical, Mulieris Dignitatem (“On the Dignity and Vocation of Women”), Pope St. John Paul II first taught us about what he calls the “feminine genius”:
The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine “genius” which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness. (Mulieries Dignitatem 31).
So what are these fruits and these gifts of the feminine genius? The four possible aspects of the feminine genius can be summed up as the following: receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. As Catholic women, we can bring awareness of the feminine genius to our workplaces and push for leadership roles so that men and women can bring their gifts equally to the organizations where we work. If we choose to stay at home and be a housewife or a stay at home mom, we can use these gifts to help cultivate the home and family.
Let’s look at these aspects:
By discerning the best way to use the particular gifts we received, we demonstrate receptivity. This should not be confused with passivity. Mary’s fiat is the greatest example we have of receptivity when she said yes to receive Jesus, she was actively accepting God’s will. Each of us is a gift to others, with everything we do it is an opportunity to develop our feminine virtues. In this digitalized era it is easy to depersonalize everything, but each of us has inherent value and dignity. Being receptive means listening to others, and really hearing them.
By being receptive, we are being attentive to the other person and really listening. The next step is to respond and this is part of sensitivity. As women, we have an intuition to help and respond to those around us. Look at the example of Mary when she went to visit Elizabeth, Mary knew her cousin needed her during the time of her pregnancy, even though she was pregnant with Jesus at the time, she responded with love and went to her cousin.
In Mulierius Dignitatum Saint John Paul II wrote, “A woman’s dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity; it is likewise connected with the love which she gives in return.” The love a woman gives in return is rooted in her generosity. The generous hospitality of Martha and Mary has universal appeal to all who yearn for the warmth of human communion. Jesus trusted women’s generous hearts with his own human need for hospitality, support, and understanding of his mission.
The feminine genius isn’t exclusive to physical motherhood. It encompasses what, in his 1995 Letter to Women, John Paul II describes as an “affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood which has inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society” (9). St Pope John Paul II highlights maternity, biological and spiritual: “Woman is endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human being in his concrete form” (MD 18). Motherhood is not only biological maternity. It is spiritual maternity. There are hundreds of people all around who are desperately looking for a mother. A mother is the very essence of femininity. To love those that are weak, unhappy, helpless, and unloved. Sometimes you can do this just by saying one word.
Desire for Heaven
According to Edith Stein, at the core of every woman’s being is “the deepest feminine yearning to achieve a loving union which . . . furthers the desire for perfection in others” (Essays on Woman 94). This means that women have an internal desire for eternity, and the destiny of ourselves and those around us. Emotional intelligence and maturity are fundamental to the growth of a woman’s interior life. Quite often women are ridiculed for being too emotional. It is no coincidence that one of our greatest gifts from God is frequently attacked. Our will and intellect help us, women, to direct this power and our emotions can help us bring others to God and fulfill his plan. Interestingly, Edith Stein encourages us to develop our souls and not suppress our emotions. This can be done through our work, daily interactions with others, and through our education, so we can respond to the Truth. Our emotions can unite us more closely to God. Whether it be a career, a primary vocation, or service to the community, each of us was created to offer something extraordinary to the world. As Catherine of Siena said, ‘be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire’.
Now is the Time
The hour is coming, in fact, has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect, and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling (closing message of the Second Vatican Council).
Ultimately, feminine genius is centered on the redemptive act of Jesus Christ. Alice von Hildebrand remarked that “when piety dies out in women, society is threatened in its very fabric, for a woman’s relationship to the sacred keeps the Church and society on an even keel, and when this link is severed, both are threatened by total moral chaos.” We are blessed to have a perfect model of femininity with Our Lady, she provides an example of the virtues women should strive for; gentleness, humility, kindness, tenderness, and generosity. ‘I, therefore….beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love’ (Ephesians 4:1-2).