Mary Jo Anderson explains how the innate power of the feminine genius comes into focus only when the vocation of women is
grasped properly. The Church recognizes that the culture of death is successful wherever women abdicate their unique calling; she
therefore calls women to recover the fullness of their vocation. Anderson discusses four aspects of feminine genius, which are key to
the battle plan to "aid humanity in not falling": receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity.
Larger Work:This Rock Pages: 18 – 21 Publisher & Date:Catholic Answers, Inc., July / August 2005
It’s the Church’s Stealth Weapon for the Twenty-First Century
By Mary Jo Anderson
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).
Critics of the Catholic Church frequently mock the Church’s insistence that women have unique gifts for the
Church and the world. Indeed, Pope John Paul II’s exhortations to women that they employ their "feminine
genius" to build a culture of life often are met with a chorus of dissent from within and without the Church. The
tired mantra is that "until women are ordained to the priesthood, the Church is guilty of discrimination."
How should Catholics respond to these charges? How can Catholic women communicate the deeper truths of the
"effect and power" of the feminine vocation?
First, is it logical to think the Church would entrust the enormous mission to "aid humanity in not falling" to second
class citizens? Of course not. Indeed, the Church has called women to be the stealth weapon of the twenty-first
century. It urgently needs and seeks the particular, active participation of its daughters.
But the innate power of the feminine genius comes into focus only when the vocation of women is grasped
properly. The Church recognizes that the culture of death is successful wherever women abdicate their unique
calling; it therefore calls women to recover the fullness of their vocation, the fullness needed to "aid humanity in
This fullness of the feminine vocation is missing in the debate over "power-sharing" in the Church and the
insistence on the ordination of women, because the fullness of the human experience can be realized only when
the inherent gifts of each gender are ordered to each other. This is the "known but forgotten truth" that has proved
prickly for those who are critical of the Church.
Dignity and Vocation
The phrase "feminine genius" is attributed to John Paul II, but the concept is outlined in some exhortations of
Pope Pius XII, in particular to the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (1957). The Second Vatican
Council further elaborated on the timeliness of the definitively feminine contributions to society. Yet the most
comprehensive summation of the meaning of womanhood in light of this "hour" of history is Mulieris Dignitatem
(On the Dignity and Vocation of Women). Promulgated by John Paul on the feast of the Assumption in the Marian
year of 1988, Mulieris is a reflection on the spiritual and moral strength of the woman. The Pope further reflected
on the subject in his 1995 Letter to Women, which addressed the challenge of contemporary feminism—and
offered a warning about forms of feminist ideology that are more destructive than constructive.
It is clear that the Church sees an almost startling importance in feminine attributes and their potential to build a
culture of life, and Mulieris offers women practical ways to apply their feminine genius to the world around them.
Four aspects of that genius are key to the feminine battle plan to "aid humanity in not falling": receptivity,
sensitivity, generosity, and maternity.
It was a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who first received the Son of God. The essence of Mary’s fiat is
feminine receptivity unblemished by original sin. At the Annunciation, heaven invites—it doesn’t force—Mary to
receive God-made-Man. Like Mary, all women are called to be a "genius" of receptivity—biologically, emotionally,
and spiritually. Women’s bodies are created to receive new life, but in order to be fully feminine, women’s hearts
and spirits must be receptive also.
Women’s receptive nature is paramount in understanding women’s genius. Men’s nature is generative: Men are
called to give their lives—even unto death—for the defense and protection of women. But men’s nature and gifts
are only half of God’s design for humanity. His gift of himself and his masculine way of relating to the world are
stunted and sterile when he cannot understand himself in relation to women, both physically and spiritually.
In Genesis, Adam lacks a suitable partner until God creates Eve. She is like him in her humanity but delightfully
different in her specifically feminine mode of being. Likewise, she is complete—fully feminine—only in relation to
the masculine dimension of human being. Thus, masculine and feminine attributes can be understood only in
relationship to each other.
Thus, we see that God entrusted the future of humanity to woman and her ability to love sacrificially and that the
dignity of every woman is complete when she loves mankind in her capacity as an image of God. In Mulieris, John
Paul writes of God’s "feminine qualities" found most prominently in the Old Testament (e.g., "As one whom his
mother comforts, so I will comfort you" [Isaiah 66:13]). When the woman works within her natural, receptive
nature, she is personally fulfilled and the community around her is blessed by the feminine aspect of the human
When women are open to receiving life, the world flowers once again.
Receptivity is the foundation of all other feminine attributes. The woman finds in each life something
unrepeatable, something wondrous. The gift of self for the woman is a gift of life for all of mankind. When women
work in concert with the principle of receptivity, they encourage pro-life and pro-family policies in the workplace
and in the culture.
A woman’s receptive nature is at the heart of her sensitivity. Having the capacity to welcome life within her own
body makes her ever alert to the inner life of others. Before the world knows this new being, she is sensitive to its
needs and has hopes for its future.
Many people see sensitivity as a weakness, not realizing that it is actually a strength, a gift that women have to
see beyond the exterior and look into the deepest needs of the heart, never separating the inner person from his
This sensitivity to others can be employed in the public realm and have an incalculable influence on public policy.
When one Catholic teenager took on the fashion dictates of a giant department store, the store listened to her
demand for fashionable clothing that was also modest. When nurses spoke out for increasing nutrition for
unresponsive patients, hospital policies changed. In a significant number of these "hopeless" cases, the increased
attention brought patients back to health.
When women lobby for more humane treatment of prisoners, laws are changed. When women fight against the
sex industry’s assault on community values, zoning laws change. When women fight against pornography’s
assault against the human person, public policy follows their lead. (Many women have been duped by the idea
that "sex work" should be legal so a woman can "choose" to demean herself. The Church refuses to allow women
to be oppressed in this manner, however "legal" it may become. Nothing could be more insensitive to the human
person than reducing human bodies to a commodity to be sold. If women do not employ their sensitivity to oppose
it, a brave new world of clinical cannibalism looms before us: wombs for rent, human organs for sale, cloned
human beings being parted out like an old car.) The Church urges women to exercise their sensitivity to restore
awareness of the humanity of each person.
Women can show society, private and public, how to be open, receptive, and sensitive to the deepest human
A woman’s capacity for generosity is tied intimately to her receptive nature. Generosity makes a woman available
for the needs of her community and her profession—needs that go far beyond operational efficiency.
The first generous act is to welcome new life, and in this, Mary is our best example. But there are many Gospel
accounts of generous women. For example, the story of the widow’s mite reminds contemporary women that the
size of our offering is less important than the orientation of our hearts. And the woman who anointed Jesus with
the precious perfume teaches us to recognize human value over material value.
The generous hospitality of Martha and Mary has universal appeal to all who yearn for the warmth of human
communion. Critics who mistake their generous service for servitude are missing the point: Jesus exhibits a keen
interest in the lives of women and their surroundings, and he invites them to participate in his work. His desire for
human communion is met not only by the apostles but also by women such as Martha and Mary. This is
demonstrated in his deep spiritual and intellectual exchange with Martha (John 11:21–27). Jesus trusted women’s
generous hearts with his own human need for hospitality, support, and understanding of his mission.
The Church perceives the grave danger of propaganda that seduces women away from their inherently generous
nature and argues that all levels of human interaction benefit from the influence of women as women—that is, in
accord with their authentic feminine nature. That natural generosity, a weapon against dehumanizing scientism, is
manifested when women emphasize the social and ethical dimensions to balance the scientific and technological
achievements of mankind (see Letter to Women 9).
The mystery of motherhood cannot be exhausted or captured by words, but it has been jettisoned by some
women who wrongly believe that equality will be achieved by obliterating the differences between men and
women. Some would have women emulate masculine traits to achieve equality, but the sad result of that
approach has been a diminishment of the authentic feminine aspects of the human family.
John Paul writes that women exercise "an affective, cultural, and spiritual motherhood, which has inestimable
value for the development of individuals and the future of society" (Letter to Women 9). He also highlights
maternity, biological and spiritual: "Woman is endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human being in
his concrete form" (MD 18). This singular feature—which prepares her for motherhood, not only physically but
also emotionally and spiritually—is inherent in the plan of God, who entrusted the human being to woman in an
altogether special way (cf. ibid., 30).
John Paul understands that it is this maternal orientation that builds cohesive, life affirming communities. It is
maternal influence that promotes unity within families and is the genesis of peace in the whole of the human
Mary Ann Glendon—wife, mother, and professor of law at Harvard University—reminded women that they are the
transformative presence in the culture. And it is a hallmark of Catholic Christianity that we do not have the option
to turn our backs on the sinful world; we’re not allowed to throw up our hands and retreat into private life. . . . For
the shaping of culture comes down to the nurture and education of human beings, one by one. And women as
mothers, teachers, and in countless other ways have long played a decisive role in the transmission of culture.
That is why Pope John Paul II says in Evangelium Vitae that ‘in transforming culture so that it supports life,
women occupy a place, in thought and action, that is unique and decisive.’ And that is why he has asked women
to be in the forefront of efforts to build a culture of life.
The Time Is Now
The Church has placed enormous emphasis on women at this hour of history. The culture of life simply cannot be
built without the influence of women. Happily, the hope in women as agents of this restoration is well founded on
a key demographic: Women, as never before in history, hold crucial positions in the public square. The gains that
women have made professionally and culturally place them and their "feminine genius" at the epicenter of societal
change. Women can open new vistas for the culture of life from the authority and power of their places in a
society that values women’s rights. Of course, only women with a formation in and an understanding of their
feminine genius can bring about those changes.
Pope John Paul writes that "woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the
Church." Thus, "situations where women are prevented from developing their full potential and from offering the
wealth of their gifts should therefore be considered profoundly unjust, not only to women themselves but to
society as a whole" (Angelus message of July 23, 1995).
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
Women who desire to take their position in this war for life must anchor their efforts in the Eucharist, which
"expresses the redemptive act of Christ" (MD 26). It is women, joined to Christ eucharistically, who have the
power and perseverance to extend that redemption society in their unique, feminine manner.
Mary Jo Anderson is a contributing editor for Crisis and is on the editorial board of Voices (the journal of Women for Faith and
Family). She lives with her husband in Orlando, Florida.
Moms’ Ministry Discussion Questions
Please remember…these questions are just created to fuel our discussions and are not meant
to be intimidating…you don’t even have to write down your answers if you don’t have enough
time or free hands to do so…no one will be “graded” ☺
Interesting to think about…
1. Wow! In my very humble opinion, this information about the church’s understanding of “feminine genius”
is very exciting stuff! What do you think? And how much have you previously heard about it? Were you
taught this information when you were young women – college aged or before? Or, is this relatively new
information to you, that you either learned fairly recently as an adult or perhaps even for the first time in
Turning to the article, Scripture and Catechism…
2. What is the only way feminine and masculine attributes can be understood/ordered? Read Genesis
2:18, 22-24, and CCC 370&372 (below). How can this article help you interpret Scripture and the
Catechism teachings about these feminine and masculine gifts?
3. Who is the ultimate creation of feminine genius and how are the 4 gifts exemplified in her?
a. In what 3 ways are women called to be “genius” of receptivity? How do these complement each
other? Is it possible to live God’s plan of receptivity and not be receptive in one of these areas?
b. What happens when a woman works within this natural receptive nature? Besides motherhood,
what are some ways women can express this receptivity? How can you apply this in your life?
a. What is at the heart of a woman’s sensitivity? How?
b. How can women use their gift of sensitivity to benefit mankind?
c. Have you ever been made to feel sensitivity is a weakness? Explain.
a. What human needs did Jesus trust to women’s hands?
b. How is woman’s natural generosity a weapon against dehumanizing scientism?
a. Per Pope John Paul II’s writings, what types of motherhood do women exercise? How can you
apply this in your life?
Real life applications and more food for thought:
8. How can women apply the gains they have made professionally and culturally to help build a culture of
life? How many women in roles in business, government, etc., might not even realize the true meaning of
true feminism and how their gifts can be applied? How many women might have had to repress their
authentic femininity to gain the advances in society needed to allow women of our generation to hold
more powerful roles in society? Do you think they were aware of the great sacrifices on their part?
9. St. Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (see September 2007 Moms’ Memo for
A Saint Story about her) wrote: “Each woman who lives in the light of eternity can fulfill her vocation,
no matter if it is in marriage, in a religious order, or in a worldly profession.” Looking beyond your
role as a physical mother, if you are currently working in a paid, full or part-time position, or consider
previous paid positions if not…Are/were you in a profession that you feel free to use your “feminine
genius” gifts? If not, how do you/did you deal? Would a fuller understanding of these gifts have led you
to choose a different career path? For further reflection, also read below from meditation from Women of
Grace, titled “Womanly Ways.”
10. How can you apply your gifts of “feminine genius” in your marriage? What can you teach your daughters
about authentic femininity to help them understand women’s role in God’s creation? How can you help
your sons value women’s gifts - especially in relation to their masculine gifts - to better prepare them for
dating and marriage and even school and the workplace?
Scripture and Catechism excerpts taken from USCCB website, http://www.usccb.org/
Scripture: Genesis 2
18 The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him."
22 The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the
man, 23 the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called
'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and
clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.
Catechism of the Catholic Church:
370 In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place
for the difference between the sexes. But the respective "perfections" of man and woman reflect something of the
infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband.241
"Each for the other"—"A unity in two"
372 Man and woman were made "for each other"—not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created
them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be "helpmate" to the other, for they are equal as persons
("bone of my bones . . .") and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage God unites them in such a
way that, by forming "one flesh,"245 they can transmit human life: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth."246
By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents cooperate in a unique
way in the Creator's work.247
Additional Resources for understanding and inspiration:
On the Dignity and Vocation of Women
Women of Grace www.womenofgrace.com
Women of Grace™ is an outreach of Living His Life Abundantly® International, Inc. Its purpose is to encourage
and affirm women in their dignity as daughters of God and in their gift of authentic femininity. Through its
conferences, programs, and curricula, Women of Grace™ seeks to authenticate the genius of women (defined by
Pope John Paul II as connoting the essential nature and spirit of woman) so profoundly portrayed in the Blessed
Reflections taken from Grace-Filled Moments on the Women of Grace website
Reflection One: Woman - Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
"It is not simply an accident of nature that my unique personal selfhood was meant to be clothed, as it were, in a
female body … God has chosen from all eternity that I will be a feminine creature … Prayerful pondering of the
mystery of creation brings a woman to consider what role God may have chosen for her in his Kingdom, on earth
and in heaven." Dr. Ronda Chervin
From all eternity you chose for me to be a woman. Why? What is it about my femininity that will lead me closer to
you? How can my femininity bring your life to the world? I desire to know more about womanhood and how I can
experience the fullness of my feminine call. Teach me your truth about my gender. Amen.
Scripture Passage for Meditation:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you …" (Jeremiah 1:5).
God has a specific plan for woman. He has given her a holy mission, a holy call.
We are praying for the grace of authentic femininity and spiritual Motherhood.
Reflection Two: Womanly Ways
The woman’s humanity is realized in the specific ways of a woman. She is a complete human being no less than
the man, but according to her own nature. Her sex is not a mere accidental condition which could be abstracted.
Her sex, on the contrary, is a reality which fundamentally defines her being and acting and corresponds to the
specific design of the Creator. Her physical and psychological qualities proclaim clearly what it truly means to be a
My femininity defines my very being. There is so much for me to learn about who you have designed me to be by
giving me my female gender. Enlighten my mind to understand what it means to be a woman – in body, mind, and
soul. The world has done much to convince me of many things about my sex. Give me clarity to see what is truth
and what is not. Amen.
Scripture Passage for Meditation:
"It was you who created my inmost self, and put me together in my mother’s womb; for all these mysteries I thank
you: for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works. You know me through and through, from having
watched my bones take shape when I was being formed in secret, knitted together in the limbo of the womb."
(Psalm 139: 13-15). Jerusalem Bible
· Quietly ponder the great mystery of your conception and birth. Then, think of how you have been designed by
God as a unique and gifted woman. What about your personhood makes you most grateful to God?
· God has created me as an integrated person. What are the connections between physical womanhood, spiritual
womanhood, and emotional womanhood?
· What does femininity mean to me? What contemporary attitudes about woman conflict with a Christian
understanding of who God created her to be? Are there any conflicting attitudes within me? Specifically, what can
I do to resolve them according to the light of truth?
· What do I see as the role of women today?
Reflection Six: The Nature of Woman
Woman’s nature is determined by her original vocation of spouse and mother. One depends on the other. The
body of woman is fashioned “to be one flesh” with another and to nurse new human life in itself.
You have woven into the very fabric of the womanly heart a longing to be in loving communion with another – a
union that is life-giving and life-sustaining. This is so clearly seen in the nuptial embrace and its openness to life.
But, even the feminine soul longs for fertile communion – a communion with You, which conceives and nurtures
spiritual life. Help me to become a fertile field, ready to receive your seed of grace. Make me pregnant with your
divine life that I may be made holy and become a source of grace for others. Help me achieve my vocation as a
Scripture Passage for Meditation:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you! … Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold,
you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus… The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the
power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God”
(Luke 1: 28,30-32,35). RSV
· Contemplating the virginal conception of Jesus in the Blessed Mother, how does the original vocation of spouse
and mother apply to all women – religious, single, and women married without children? How do I see the original
vocation represented in me?
· What are some specific ways the Lord uses my feminine call as a source of sanctification for myself? For
· Consider the longing to be in loving communion with others and the life-giving and life-sustaining dimensions of
such a relationship. Do I seek opportunities to enter into life-giving relationships with others? In what ways? What
other opportunities for this exist in my everyday life?
More Quotes from Edith Stein
from Fundamental Principles of Women's Education (1931)
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 self, in order that extraneous life may have room in it; finally, mistress of itself and also of its body, so
that the entire person is readily at the disposal of every call.
from The Significance of Woman's Intrinsic Value in National Life (1928)
The intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God's work in the soul...