‘The soul of woman must . . . be expansive and open to all human beings,” said Edith Stein, the Jewish philosophy professor who converted to Catholicism and died as a Carmelite nun at Auschwitz. The soul of a woman, she continued, “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, it is mistress of itself and also of its body, so that the entire person is readily at the disposal of every call.”
Stein’s words are quoted by Pat Gohn in her new book, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood. As the title suggests, it spells out just exactly what it is Catholics believe about women and motherhood. In addition to being an accessible and spirited primer on that topic, it offers a more healthy outlook than others in our culture on what it is that makes woman unique.
Gohn talks to National Review Online about women, men, complementarity, and moving forward.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “A woman needs to know she is blessed, that she is a treasure, and the reasons why.” Don’t men need to know they are blessed, too? What’s so special about women?
PAT GOHN: A good point! This book was written with a women’s audience in mind, and without any malice toward men. Of course, all human persons have need of knowing the sources of their goodness and blessing! This helps us live our lives to the fullest.
It’s been my experience that many women I meet cannot articulate what is true, good, and beautiful about themselves. I’d like to change that by applying the beautiful message that the Church articulates about women today.To begin to describe the specific feminine genius that each woman has, I start with a foundation that looks at us from the inside out. I begin with the very basics of who we are and how we are made, that we are destined for eternity. One of the important bricks in that foundation is learning to treasure our own human dignity — and that of others. A Christian perspective of this dignity comes from knowing and trusting that we come from a loving Creator. This means that we reflect the goodness of God in our very being. Furthermore, Christians also believe in the blessing that is our baptism, whereby we become beloved children of God. So we see human life as sacred in its origins, and it becomes even more through the sacraments of the Church.
LOPEZ: Surely this isn’t true of every woman. We’re not all Kate Middleton.
GOHN: Kate Middleton is as unique a treasure as you and I or any other woman. Our human dignity is not based on one’s status or fame or power or any other narrow criteria. It is based on being created in the image of God. Every human person shares that, even if they disagree with a Christian worldview. In short, every single human life is of incalculable, inviolable, and enduring value.
LOPEZ: Why is it that “too many women doubt” that they are, as you say, “blessed, beautiful, and bodacious”?
GOHN: That’s a great question. After raising a family and working with women over the years, I’ve witnessed some great joys. But honestly, I’ve probably seen way more heartaches, depression, fears and anxieties, broken relationships, problems, and fill-in-the-blank pain and suffering than I’d care to mention. Any kind of suffering — physical, emotional, spiritual — can beat us down, and rob us of the knowledge of being blessed and beautiful unless our idea of who we are is informed by something that is unchanging and eternal.
I think the struggles we face both as individuals and as a culture chip away at our understanding of the truths of our human dignity little by little. Most of the problems that we face in this life come down to this question of the value of human dignity, and to whether or not we are honoring, protecting, cherishing, and loving it in one another. Violations of our human dignity takes a toll on our psyche. That’s why I spend one third of the book describing the blessed dignity we all have. If we don’t accept that our dignity is crucial to our identity, anything troubling that comes along can cause us to doubt the goodness of ourselves. Some of us need to discover our dignity because no one has ever shared these ideas with us, and some of us need to recover it because of the erosion that our sufferings have caused.
LOPEZ: Cardinal Dolan was proclaiming the other day that life is about babies, and Catholic bishops seem to be talking about marriage and babies a lot these days. What does that mean for the infertile? For the unmarried?
GOHN: Human life is something we must celebrate, cherish, and protect. Babies help us understand that very well. For me, that’s the first take-away from the bishop’s enthusiasm for marriage and babies. The second is this: Children are the fruit born of the love between a man and a woman. In a Christian marriage, love between spouses is designed to be life-giving; it finds its fulfillment in the fruit it bears, namely children and the loving service the married couple bring to society at large.
What does this mean for people who suffer infertility and for the unmarried? Nobody who desires biological children and for whatever reason is thwarted from having them can have an easy time dealing with that.
A single person who may long for family of his or her own, but does not have a marriage partner, may feel a similar deprivation. But there is a deeper call to be heard in the midst of this. It is a call to love and to be a person whose love is life-giving. In spite of the heartaches, a person’s loving actions and service can bear good fruit.
Infertile married couples may discern that their fruitful love will be manifest in building a family through adoption, fostering, or through service to the lonely, the poor, the elderly, or those similarly in need. A single person might become a mentor to children and others through volunteerism or advocacy. These questions of infertility and single life show us that we ought to look at the gift of maternity in a broader and more universal way, rather than thinking of it as limited to nine months of gestation and however many months of lactation.
Maternity can and does have spiritual qualities, and this is a subject that we do not hear enough about. In the writings of Blessed John Paul II, we learn that a woman’s relationships with others can be fruitful spiritually regardless of whether they are fruitful biologically. Her loving ways can bear fruit of a spiritual, moral, emotional, or cultural nature in the lives of the people that she loves and serves. This is what is called spiritual motherhood.
Read the rest at NRO.
What inspired you to write this book?
The opportunity to pass on what I’ve received! It’s a synthesis of my years of reading, countless cups of coffee and conversation with women, and a faith in Jesus that has truly benefitted from a deepening relationship with Mary.
For years I have been inspired by the writings of Blessed Pope John Paul especially about the feminine genius and theology of the body, and the role women have in God’s plan to build a culture of life. The more I read and prayed over these ideas, the bigger they grew for me. They helped me discover and accept my own dignity, gifts and mission as a woman. My church work in women’s ministry sparked the development of the Among Women podcast as a place to discuss themes that affect a woman’s spiritual life.
When an editor at Ave Maria Press reached out to me inquiring about my interests, I was ready to share what I had learned. And I was very excited that the publisher was able to release the book during the Year of Faith.
You talk about your relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as central to your identity as a beloved woman of God. But that wasn’t always the case… your fondness for Mary came later. What held you back from loving Mary earlier in your life, and how did that come to be transformed?
In the beginning, I ignored Mary out of my own ignorance. Marian devotion was not popular when I was growing up. I only encountered Mary in the scriptures now and again, and in the Christmas crèche, but I treated her largely as a historical or biblical character, not someone who was “alive” to me. Then there were other people I knew who dissed Mary and criticized Catholic belief – but I did not know enough to defend Mary. I also had trouble relating to Mary – wondering what a women from first century could possible say to a modern woman? It was a form of snobbery on my part, and as I look back, I embraced other people’s misguided opinions about Mary as my own – instead of trying to discover what God’s opinion of Mary might be.
The transformation occurred in my early mothering years. I was struggling with my role and identity as a new mother and really needed some “spiritual” mothering. That came in the form of some wise women friends who pointed me in Mary’s direction. I began to pray and meditate on the life of Jesus and Mary in the mysteries of the Rosary more and more, and things slowly started to change. Those scripture verses that relate to the mysteries or events recounted in the rosary began to work on my heart. I realized that if I really loved Jesus, I must learn to love the woman he loved. If we call ourselves Christian, it is because we are trying to be more Christ-like. Jesus loved Mary. And no human person loved Jesus more than Mary.
I started to see Mary as more of a friend and mentor in my role as a wife and mother. She was much more than a character in a story, she was a real living member of the communion of saints, and enjoyed God’s favor.
Years later now, I look to Mary as a mother for me. She rescued me from trying to survive motherhood on my own, with my own strength. Her guidance brought a deeper meaning to the way I lived my marriage and family life. Mary taught me how to say yes to the love of God and to others.
So – blessed, beautiful and bodacious – that’s quite a feminine trinity! Can you spell out what those three words mean to you in your book, and can mean for us as women of God?
These three adjectives – blessed, beautiful, and bodacious –are words that describe certain aspects of the feminine genius – or the genius of women. Specifically, they describe our blessed dignity, our beautiful gifts, and our bodacious mission as women in the world today.
We are blessed. Two things that form the basis for our human dignity. The first is knowing the blessing of our unique creation by God. The first blessing in the bible comes after the creation of man and woman. God creates man and woman and it is very good, and then he blesses them. The second blessing, is the gift of our baptism that brings us into the family of God, makes us beloved daughters of God, and offers us an eternal destiny.
We are beautiful. There are four universal gifts that women have in and through their femininity: receptivity, generosity, sensitivity, and maternity. There are relational gifts that open us up to love and service. Paired with the graces of baptism and the Christian life, these inherent gifts help equip us to bring love and life into to the world.
We are bodacious. That is, we have a most excellent, remarkable mission. A bodacious woman lives her dignity and her gifts in tandem and brings life to the world. Indeed, the particular gifts of qualities of womanhood dispose women toward either physical or spiritual motherhood. Sometimes, it is both.
Claiming our bodaciousness, in particular, strikes me as quite wonderful. How can we live into our bodaciousness?
- Stay close to Jesus. Pray and ask him how he wants you to serve best. Say yes to love, and stay receptive, open.
- Seek to be better physical and spiritual mothers. This doesn’t mean a woman cannot or should not work outside the home. It means that she brings her gifts – and, in particular, her maternal gift — to everyday situations.
- Strive to build a culture of life, and work toward a new Christian feminism: Value complimentarity, and do no harm to men as it seeks to uphold women, build a strong sisterhood woman to woman, and respect all human life, from conception to natural death.
Read the rest here.