Who would dare take such a deep gaze- to really see what lies at the heart of a woman…that place where so much mystery resides?
Only one who lived and died by these words of Christ: “Be not afraid.”
St. John Paul II led the way into the feminine heart by setting time apart throughout his life and pontificate to gaze and study the heart of woman deeply. What did he find there? He called it the feminine genius.
Just as one would ponder the wonders of a starlit night sky, or the fathomless depths of the sea, our Holy Father was given a glimpse of her glory, as God revealed to him the deep mysteries of what it is to be a woman. The numerous addresses, letters, and recognitions of the role of women in society are consistent in their message. What corresponds to what is specifically unique to women is an exceptional intellectual and creative power.
And why did St John Paul II see the need to describe the feminine in this way? Because he knew the world was becoming impoverished without recalling it. He spoke, taught, and proved in action that her true gifts are essential to keep humanity from falling.
He saw the world offering women a different narrative for her power. In the world’s view, she would be the same as men. She would follow his fall in the Garden. She would dominate, ignore her charisms, and strive to use her freedom to be egocentric. She would define herself as she saw fit, without interference or responsibility to anyone, even if that meant abandonment of family, sexual license, and/or loose and conditional relationships.
She would grasp the apple again in the Garden, and define herself in her own terms. And our world was rotting at the core.
Never did St. John Paul II neglect to mention how woman got here. Her dignity had been ignored, her deep heart wounded. She was doing all this to protect herself, but was losing herself in the process. And so, he offered woman a gaze from the Heavenly Father- to remind her of who she was.
This is the feminine genius: receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. These are the gifts that are unique, but also complementary to men. Only woman is the one to receive, conceive and give birth! And her motherhood, biological and spiritual, is necessary in every aspect of culture and society. At home or at work, in marriage, mission, or religious life, this is her true path to be whole again, and so to be holy.
The feminine genius affirms woman’s strict equality with men in the dignity of being persons made in the image and likeness of God. This was revealed to us in Genesis, the beginning, when God made the human person, male and female, in his image. Woman’s beauty and glory was reaffirmed by Jesus Himself, in countless Gospel stories. His was a strikingly revolutionary treatment of women- one of deep respect and the reverence of a daughter of the Father.
And so St. John Paul II gives women the truth of who they are: equal but not the same. Perhaps this new definition of feminism will take time to be received. After all, the gift of receptivity in women is essentially what has been wounded- by culture, by affronts against our dignity perpetuated by others, and by the lies we have believed and which we have allowed to penetrate our hearts.
Once again, St John Paul gazes deeply into the heart of the feminine and patiently teaches us to reject the age-old lie accepted by Eve. Then he points out a new model for us.
Contemplating the purest woman to ever live most likely gave John Paul his insight. To the all -beautiful Mary, the New Eve, who showed him her Immaculate and feminine heart, he learned that to “serve is to reign”(Letter to Women, 10). Self fulfillment as a woman would come with these few words uttered to the Creator: “Be it done to me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:38). Mary said this with all freedom, and now all generations call her blessed.
Mary knew that it is in the gift of self that we find our true meaning, in communion with with others. Sensitive and generous, she received the motherhood of God. Her “fiat” bore the True Fruit of her womb, Jesus Christ. Her communion with God gave us the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is the height of exceptional intellectual and creative power. This is feminine holiness. This is the true feminine genius. And it shall not be denied to any woman who opens to receive the gaze of the Father into her own deep heart.
St John Paul II, pray for us!