“I could never stay home barefoot and pregnant with kids all day,” my twenty-four-year-old law student self thought. “I’d be so bored; I’d go crazy! I’ll miss adult conversation. I’ll waste my education. I couldn’t say goodbye to me-time. I won’t be able to afford designer purses and exotic vacations. I refuse to be a slave to my ovaries and my children. I will lose my identity!”
Through the seasons of life and through discernment with my husband, I worked full time, part-time, stayed at home barefoot and pregnant, and am currently launching a writing career from home.
Fifteen years later, I can laugh at myself as I realize that all those arguments were borne from ignorance. The stay at home wife and mother doesn’t have time to be bored with all the service to her family. She may go crazy if she courses through her vocation without relying on God’s grace but if she does, crazy becomes peace. She will use her education, no matter the degree, to teach her most important students, her children, whose souls she is tasked with nurturing. Being freed from her 9-5 office, she will surprisingly discover considerable time to pursue her interests: photography, writing, massage therapy, art, baking, knitting, homeopathy, decorating, music, blogging, craft, or gardening after taking care of home and family. She will shrug off designer purses from Europe a negligible loss to all that she stands to gain. She accepts her femininity, appreciates her fertility, owns her inherent dignity and finds her identity in the Feminine Genius.
St. Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Women wrote: The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the “feminine genius” and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God’s service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love.”
Let me be clear: I don’t imply that only stay at home barefoot and pregnant women are qualified to be feminine geniuses. I owe my spiritual, intellectual and emotional formation to a working mother, who helped put food on our table. I count the female nurses who ministered to me, the religious nuns who counseled me, the career friends and sisters who spoiled me, the teachers who inspired me, the lawyers who mentored me, as gifts of God. In short, I believe every woman who continuously discerns and obeys God’s will is working in service to humanity right where she is.
There is a place for each woman in this world. We are part of the Body of Christ. Many are called to serve exclusively in the heart of the home; others as head of a classroom, some as the healing hands of the hospital or fingers of a manuscript, a few the voice of the innocent, and for one special woman, the womb of the Savior. If we women are working committedly as “handmaids of the Lord”, we are most certainly part of the feminine genius. The litmus test is beyond what we do and where we work; it’s Who holds our hearts and what we’re willing to give up to follow Christ.
Fifteen years ago St. Pope John Paul II’s definition of “feminine genius” escaped me. I secured my own wants, needs, ambition, comfort, agenda, and fashion before everyone and all else. I roared on the pedestal of self, fighting fertility, babies, children, men, tradition, Holy Mother Church, other women, and myself as I fought the path of happiness that God offered me.
Thankfully, studying the life of Mary saved me from misguided philosophies and my ignorant self. It was her role in the Church, her presence in the gospels, from her Fiat at Nazareth’s Annunciation, to Bethlehem’s nativity, to the foot of Calvary’s Cross, via the kitchen of Cana, that helped me understand God has a destiny for me, and for every woman who loves Him, as He did for his Mother.
Christian women can learn tremendously by contemplating Mary’s example. The Mother of God embraced her virginity and fertility, womanhood and vocation, practiced obedience and humility, in unwavering service to God. Favored by God (Luke 1:30), full of grace (Luke 1:28), blessed is she among women (Luke 1:42). Not even Esther, Ruth, Rebecca, Rahab or Hannah hold Mary’s privilege.
St. Pope John Paul II explains a timeless Christian paradox: “precisely through this service, Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious, but authentic “reign”. It is not by chance that she is invoked as “Queen of heaven and earth”. The entire community of believers thus invokes her; many nations and peoples call upon her as their “Queen”. For her, “to reign” is to serve! Her service is “to reign”!