On July 8, 2020, I had the privilege of delivering a talk to the DVM Sisterhood, a women's ministry based in Southern California. I had come to meet the DVM Sisterhood over Instagram, and through some back and forth conversation, the relationship that formed led to this beautiful opportunity to share my heart and story. Below is a transcript of the talk that I gave that evening, and I follow it with some additional resources that I brought up during the Q&A.
I want to start off with a verse that comes from yesterday’s Gospel: “Then [Jesus] said to his disciples, 'The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his harvest'" (Matthew 9:37).
I think it’s no secret that as women, we desire belonging. We desire to be understood, needed, and to feel like we are making a difference. We yearn to be loved and accepted for who we are. As Catholic women, these desires take on an added dimension of how God can use us and how we can contribute to the Kingdom of God here on earth. This is a HUGE task!
Now, this presupposes a few things: first, this means that we have a purpose beyond what we might think of for ourselves. Second, this means that each of us on some level has gifts and talents that are usable. Finally, this means that God wants US to work with HIM.
No pressure. No pressure at all.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. A few years ago, after I experienced my conversion moment and said yes to having a deeper and more personal relationship with God, everything seemed to be coming up roses. I was on top of the world. I was in LOVE with God and everything about Him!
However, one thing came up that, at the time, I didn’t have an answer for. And that was this: how the heck am I supposed to be useful in God’s kingdom?
After my conversion, I started to pay close attention to other Catholic women I knew. I started to look around at the women at my parish: the ones who were part of the Catholic Women’s League, the ones in prayer group, the mothers with many children, the elderly women who have been married to their husbands for 30, 40, 50 years. I looked to women that I knew in my faith community – I had friends who were active pro-lifers. I had friends who were in full-time ministry or served as missionaries for different lay apostolates. I knew friends who had tangible gifts that they were using for God’s greater glory – whether it be music, visual art, nursing, or teaching. I saw women who were extremely pious and prayerful, women who veiled, and women who could wake up early enough to go to daily mass.
After I did my looking, I looked back at myself. I asked the question: What did I have to offer God?
I grew frustrated and discontent with myself. I started grumbling at God and fell down a rabbit hole of complaining. “So and so has these gifts and is using it in this way,” I would complain. “What do I have? Why don’t I have x y z?”
Now, I was getting a little stressed out. As time passed, I wasn’t getting any clarity on how God wanted to use me. And I thought that I was seriously wasting time and my talents, and that at the end of my life, God was going to dock me by all the time I wasted not figuring it out! But it wasn’t out of a lack of trying. God had anointed me from the start, and it’s now that when I look back, I can start to connect all the dots. God blessed me with a purpose – and I hope that by the end of this, you will be inspired to recognize that God has blessed you with a purpose.
Perhaps it was because of my own stubbornness or falling into constant comparison that led to God being very, very explicit with what He wanted me to do.
I invite you to come with me down memory lane back to January 2019. I was on a mission with Catholic Christian Outreach – our Canadian equivalent of FOCUS – to Panama for World Youth Day. Given that it was the beginning of a new year and new years always brings about a desire to set new resolutions, I had one thing in mind. I had a simple prayer as I got on the plane and headed down to Panama: Lord, show me what you want me to do with my life. Show me what my vocation is that You desire for me.
No big deal, right? I had faith that God would give me the answer I needed by the end of the trip.
Now, anyone who has prayed to God for something big may tell you that that’s not exactly how that works. That God works in stages, and perhaps He will use different experiences or things to guide you towards that capital V vocation. But at the time, I prayed hard for God to show me what my vocation was.
Instead… all my prayers were infiltrated with really random things. For example, I kept hearing music and sound effects. Different women I knew with incredible stories came to mind. And this: “I’m your host, Rachel Wong.”
I was jolted, and a little confused. What am I hosting?
I shook it off, and like a true Canadian, I apologized to God for being incredibly distracted in my prayer. I tried to push it off and focus in again. Lord, show me what my vocation is that You desire for me.
But there’s something you should know about the Lord: He’s a persistent one. These thoughts came fast and furious, filling up my prayer and really distracting me. At least, that’s what I called it at first. I thought that it was the Panamanian heat that was making me delirious!
I told myself that once I got home, I needed to buckle down. No more messing around! But once I got home and the temperature became a little more temperate.. the distractions continued. I continued to apologize and try to focus on my prayer and listening to God’s voice to tell me what He wanted me to do with my life and vocation.
Fast forward a few months, and I was in Ottawa visiting my friends that I met from my mission trip to Panama. It wasn’t until I was in the adoration chapel attached to my friend’s parish that I encountered these so-called distractions again…and the voice of God.
We engaged in a dialogue. I started off by apologizing for all the distractions, but also expressed my frustration at how distracted all of my prayer the past 5 months had been. And then the Lord spoke to me clearly and loudly: “What if this isn’t a distraction? What if this is something that I’m calling you to do?”
I’m not a mind-reader. But, as the months passed and all of these distractions continued to press on, I had thoughts of starting a storytelling project of some sort. I had desires to meet with women, hear their stories, and share them with others. “Do you want me to start…a podcast?” I asked the Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Conveniently, there was no answer.
I started to throw at the Lord every excuse and fear that I could come up with. I have no time. I have no money. I don’t have any equipment. I have some skills, but not that many skills. But the biggest problem I had was a name – what was supposed to name this project?
The Lord said to me in a soft voice: “You already know.” What the heck!!!
I was all parts confused, a little anxious, but also incredibly excited. The moment my friends and I left the adoration chapel, I did a quick Google search on the term “the feminine genius”.
For a bit of context, I had heard this term before. A few days prior, I was taking the 5-hour train ride from Toronto to Ottawa. I was groggy and sleepy and I listened to podcasts to pass the time. I was listening to Abiding Together – I love those ladies. In their very first season, they did a series on the feminine genius, and that was what I was listening to. Evidently, I must have been so tired that I wasn’t listening properly. The last thing I remember thinking to myself was, “Wow, what a beautiful term, the feminine genius. They should really trademark it!”
Now, back to my Google search. I learned two things from this search. The first was that the domain name femininegeniuspodcast.com was still up for grabs. I promptly purchased it.
The second was this: the feminine genius was more than just an Abiding Together thing. It was a John Paul II thing. The great St. Pope John Paul II – a great man, pope, and saint of the modern age.
This led me to his 1995 Letter to Women – a beautiful document that is a must-read, by the way – and the language that he used to describe the beauty and need for women in the world and church moved me to tears. Here was a man that had such high regard for women and their place in the world – one who encouraged each of us to look closely at our personal feminine genius and use it as a way to evangelize and share God with others.
The Letter to Women was able to reflect ME. For once, I saw that I belonged. I was understood, needed, and really could make a difference. I was, and still am, loved and accepted for who I AM, not who I wished I could be.
After I arrived back home, the month of May 2019 quickly came and went, and by the grace of God, all of my fears and questions about this project were put to rest. On June 1, 2019, I released the very first episode of The Feminine Genius.
41 episodes later, we are just over a year old with no signs (yet) of slowing down. I did a schedule reassessment yesterday and saw that again, by the grace of God, we have interviews that will take me all the way until December of this year.
Sisters, GOD IS GOOD!
So now, I want to come back to a couple of crucial points and some questions that some of you may still have in your hearts. You might be thinking, well good for you, Rachel! But that’s not my story. I don’t have a tangible gift or charism that I can see in my life. I don’t know what my desires are. I’m not like [insert name of some amazing woman here]. Or maybe, your fears are a little deeper and more wounded: I’m ashamed of my past. I am a sinner. How can God use someone broken like me?
I’m going to let St. John Paul II interject here:
"Necessary emphasis should be placed on the "genius of women", not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfil their deepest vocation" (Letter to Women, 1995, 12.1).
"The Church urgently needs, in her daily self-renewal in the light of the Word of God, to emphasize this fact ever more clearly, both by developing the spirit of communion and by carefully fostering all those means of participation which are properly hers, and also by showing respect for and promoting the diverse personal and communal charisms which the Spirit of God bestows for the building up of the Christian community and the service of humanity" (Letter to Women, 1995, 11.3).
"The life of the Church in the Third Millennium will certainly not be lacking in new and surprising manifestations of 'the feminine genius'" (Letter to Women, 1995, 11.4).
And at this point, I’m also going to circle back to the Scripture that I opened with:
[Jesus] said to his disciples, 'The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his harvest.' (Matthew 9:37)
This may seem trivial, crazy, or even anxiety-inducing, but hear me out: the Lord wants to use YOU. There are people out there who don’t know Jesus and may never know Jesus because no one has ever invited them to have that intimate relationship with Him. Perhaps YOU are the bridge to initiate that. You might be the one who strikes up a conversation, invites them to an event, creates a piece of art that moves them, or offers a prayer for them.
In the year that I’ve done this podcast, I’ve shared conversations with 35 women. I have another 19 interviews done that are patiently awaiting release for the rest of this calendar year. And on top of that, I’ve had about 2 dozen virtual coffees with ladies all over this continent to hear their story, what moves them, and what they’re doing for the Kingdom. What excites me is the fact that all of them are so uniquely different – they are artists, scientists, and storytellers. They are single, married, or religious. Some are young and some are young at heart. They’ve seen great trials, grief, and suffering in their life, as well as experienced some immense joys and celebration.
But what unites all of us is the recognition of ourselves as instruments for the renewal of the world. And not just any instruments – we are women: made in the image and likeness of God, different from men and yet complimentary, with a specific and unique purpose fashioned and knit into our physical bodies, emotions, and dispositions. To quote the great St. Edith Stein, “It is the vocation of every Christian, not only of a few elect, to belong to God in love’s free surrender and to serve Him. The further the individual continues on this path, the more Christlike she will become.”
I encourage you to think and reflect on what moves you and excites you. What are the charisms and gifts that you have that you are good at? How have you seen the Lord move and speak to you through different events in your life or times when you used your gifts? Above all, pray to the Lord and ask Him to guide you and show you how He wants you to act. It can be scary to give God ownership over our lives and gifts, but I promise you that the adventure is thrilling. As John Paul II once said, “Life with Christ is a beautiful adventure.”
The world needs us as women for who we are – not who we think we should be. To bring this point home, I love to cite St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12). We make up the body of Christ as many parts that are dependent on one another, and yet independent in our function. St. Paul says, “If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body” (v. 15). And further: “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as He chose” (v. 18).
I’m not here to tell you what part of the body you are, nor is that my place. But I hope that this shows that there is a multiplicity of ways to be a Catholic woman. And at the very heart of it is to be yourself.
It is very easy and sometimes tempting to fall into the comparison trap – wondering why we aren’t good at a certain thing, or worrying that we will never be good enough or like someone else. But you have something that no one else has – your experiences, your personality, and your encounter with Jesus. Skills can be acquired, talents can be practiced. Your voice cannot be replaced. There are some people who will never listen to me or will never be able to relate to me. I can’t reach all the women and men in the world, and that’s okay. This is where other folks come in – to fill the gaps that I may miss. And in turn, I’m here to fill other gaps.
As I continue to emphasize, now is not the time to tear each other down. Especially as women in our world and church, the world needs us to be united and work together. I firmly believe that you can live out your call and still support other sisters around you in their work and vocation. We are stronger together and better together! It’s true that the way you do things, the ministry that you’re called to, or the way that you’re called to serve will look different, but that’s the way it should be!
Take confidence in the fact that the Lord wants you on His team – from the moment of your birth and baptism, you were marked with a specific purpose. In this era of the new evangelization, God needs all of us to do our part, take chances, and be bold. Where is He calling you? What is the mission that He wants you to take on? This can be in ministry or in your parish, or it could be in your secular workplaces. It could be in your families, in your friendships, or maybe you romantic relationships. God wants YOU to be His hands and feet here on earth. One day, when He calls us back home, I hope that you both can look back on your life and bask in the glory that is His goodness.
Sisters, the Lord is calling your name. Will you respond? I pray and hope that you do. God bless you all!
During the Q&A, I mentioned:
Pope St. John Paul II's Letter to Women and Mulieris Dignitatem
"Discovering The Feminine Genius: Every Woman's Journey" by Katrina Zeno
"The Privilege of Being a Woman" by Alice von Hildebrand
To learn more about DVM Sisterhood and to join them at their upcoming digital gatherings, be sure to follow them on Instagram, @dvmsisterhood.