Bishop's Column

The Feminine Genius

Like sons and daughters across America, I sent my mother flowers and a card on Mother’s Day and I gave her a phone call on Sunday afternoon to tell her how much I loved her. In a lot of corners, Mother’s Day is criticized: people say it is an invented secular holiday; an excuse for cards, flowers, and candy. In some ways, they’re right — Mother’s Day in America is a secular holiday with commercial origins.

The American celebration of Mother’s Day began with a Philadelphia marketer, John Wanamaker, in 1908. The first Mother’s Day celebrations took place in department stores. From the beginning of the holiday, cards and flowers and brunches have been promoted as an appropriate way to honor mothers.

But we shouldn’t disregard Mother’s Day because of its history. Setting aside a day to honor mothers is the best kind of secular celebration. In fact, celebrating and understanding the vocation of motherhood is particularly important in our contemporary culture.

All too often, our society fails to appreciate the important differences between men and women. A great deal of popular culture is devoted to celebrating the "independent" woman, the woman who pursues her own goals without lasting attachments to others. Motherhood is often presented as a burdensome compromise, something that keeps women from living just like men.

This view is badly misguided. It is unreasonable to treat men and women as interchangeable, or to minimize the differences that make the two sexes complementary. If we truly respect women, we will honor their unique nature and gifts—which can be understood most easily by understanding motherhood.

Blessed John Paul II saw motherhood as the key to understanding the vocation of all women. Some women, he wrote, are called to grow life within them — and become biological mothers by accepting and nurturing the goodness of new life. But all women, even those without biological children, have a unique gift of being able to make space for others, of being able to accept others and to nurture others — which is at the heart of motherhood.

To understand motherhood is to understand the feminine genius.

Blessed John Paul understood that women are made by God to nurture goodness, virtue, and beauty. Motherhood — whether physical, spiritual, or cultural — is the practice of cooperating with God, as others grow in goodness and become more beautiful, more holy.

We need to celebrate every form of motherhood, and to understand the feminine genius that makes it all possible.

And the Church is called to help all women respond to the genius of their nature and vocation. One of the Church’s great teachers of womanhood, St. Edith Stein, was not a mother in the biological sense. After an accomplished academic career in philosophy, she found her calling as a Carmelite nun – a bride of Christ. While she had no earthly husband or children, St. Edith faithfully lived out her calling to spiritual motherhood. Her writings reflect a deep understanding of women’s maternal essence.

Because of women’s great vocation, St. Edith wrote, "the soul of woman must therefore be expansive and open to all human beings; it must be quiet so that no small weak flame will be extinguished by stormy winds; warm so as not to benumb fragile buds; clear, so that no vermin will settle in dark corners and recesses; self-contained, so that no invasions from without can imperil the inner life; empty of itself, in order that extraneous life may have room in it; finally, mistress of itself and also its body, so that the entire person is readily at the disposal of every call."

Husbands and fathers, pastors, and brothers should all work to support women in their vocations. And in the Diocese of Lincoln, I am very pleased to support an apostolate designed precisely to help women grow in the vocation of their feminine genius. Endow is an apostolate which forms groups of women to study the teachings of the Church. Its acronym stands for the "Education on the Nature and Dignity of Women."

Endow groups study the works of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium. They also study the great ancient and modern thinkers of the Church — St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Edith Stein. Because Endow forms groups of women, it provides a forum to support all women — married, single, or religious — in their vocations to physical, spiritual, and cultural motherhood.

In the months to come, Endow will be present in many of the parishes of the Diocese of Lincoln. I hope you will consider participating, or inviting the program to your parish. And I pray that all of us will celebrate, proclaim, and support the vocation of women — the feminine genius on which all of us depend.

For more information visit the Endow website at http://endowgroups.org.

Bishop Conley

 

 

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