One of my goals this year has been to read more books this year. Specifically, my goal is to read at least 15 books by the end of 2020. And while they won't all be books of spiritual nature, I wanted to do a lot more reading on things that would help me with my ministry and this podcast. So naturally, I wanted to read up on the feminine genius, Pope St. John Paul II, and Theology of the Body!
To start, I wanted to share a book that many people had recommended to me when I was first getting into this subject area: Discovering the Feminine Genius: Every Woman's Journey by Katrina Zeno (Pauline Books & Media, 2010).
Overview of the book
If you're wondering what exactly the feminine genius or Theology of the Body are and you're a little wary of getting right into the thick of reading all of JPII's writings on it, I found this book to be an excellent primer and introduction to all of that and more. It's not a thick book at all! In 9 chapters, Katrina Zeno cover topics that can help you learn what the feminine genius is and what your unique feminine genius might be. The book is written in a very conversational tone that makes the book easy to read, and Zeno's experiences, analogies and stories throughout the chapters helped me to relate even more to her. What's more, some very complex topics are presented very plainly and simply, but not in a 'dumbed down' type of way. Rather, it is through her stories that makes the material very approachable.
The order of the book is extremely easy to follow and logical: there is a great introduction to a truth that sometimes we overlook, and that is our identity as daughters of God first. From there, Zeno unpacks the differences between male and female and goes on to introduce JPII and the idea of the feminine genius. As mentioned previously, Theology of the Body is intimately connected with this concept, and the discussion around our relationships with our bodies and spirit and how this reflects our femininity is an excellent stepping stone into reading deeper material on this topic.
What I found to be really unique about this book is that there is a chapter that is dedicated to men and the masculine genius. It made a lot of sense to have this chapter in the book, because we know from Genesis that God created us in His image,"male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). We live in this world not in silos but in community. I found this perspective on masculinity to be quite refreshing and interesting, and what stood out to me was this idea of "spiritual priesthood". Men are called to lay down their lives in the way that Christ does for His Church, and though not all men are called to be priests, all men have the universal call of holiness and to care for all the way Jesus does. So not only is this a book for women, but men can also benefit a great deal from it, too!
Favourite quotes from the book
On our feminine design: "A woman's body, mind, spirit, and fertility together image the Trinity— the fruitful, self-giving love of the Trinity." (p. 59)
On change and growth: "Through it all, one thing in life is predictable: change. Not only thaat, things change and change again. Change, however, isn't arbitrary. God allows the stretching, fracturing, and reconfiguring of our lives in order to weave our unique tapestries in a more holistic (and holy) way." (p. 79)
On spiritual motherhood and spiritual priesthood, the feminine and masculine genius: "Spiritual motherhood and spiritual priesthood go hand in hand: as men lay down their bodies and blood to purify and redeem the world, so women lay down their lives for union. The result is astonishing. The more we are purified, the more we can live in union with each other and God. And the more we live in union with each other and God, the more we want to purified so as to deepen that union." (p. 139).
Something new I learned
One thing that really surprised me was a quote that was taken from a closing statement of the Second Vatican Council. This surprised me because of how current this quote was. Call it my own ignorance, but I only learned through reading this book that the Second Vatican Council ran from 1962 to 1965. Vatican II looked at the relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world, and though it happened more than 50 years ago, Pope St. Paul VI's closing statement to women is still relevant now. I took some time to read through it and I was struck by Pope Paul VI's conviction for women to achieve their own feminine genius. Keep in mind, the 20th century saw the movement of the feministy movement. The Equal Rights Amendment in the US only passed Senate in 1972. It's fascinating to see the parallels between the secular world and that of the Catholic Church and how, in 2020, there is still a great need for the words of Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI.
This part from the first paragraph of his closing statement really struck a chord with me:
"As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman, and in the course of the centuries, in diversity of characters, to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling."
Zeno's last chapter of the book is dedicated to women living in the third millennium, which is us right now! This call from Pope Paul VI for "women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel"is a call for all of us to really dive deep within ourselves and seek our unique feminine genius. The hour has indeed come where the world needs us more than ever to stand tall in our beliefs and genius. This again comes back to the universal call to holiness and mission — regardless of who you are and what you do, even if you aren't called to religious life, we are ALL called to be holy and witness the Gospel to others. The way each of us does that will be different and will be based on the gifts and call that God has entrusted us with.
So if you're looking for a way to dip your toes into the feminine genius, Theology of the Body, and the universal call to holiness, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Discovering the Feminine Genius: Every Woman's Journey by Katrina Zeno. It's a book that you can definitely read easily and you won't be bogged down by technical terms or jargon! It also is an accessible way to get your feet wet and prepare yourself for more serious and heavy reading on the subject. And best of all, it's quite fun to read and super relatable!
To read Pope Paul VI's Address to Women from the closing of the Second Vatican Council, you can check it out here.