The Feminine Genius

Blessed Luigi Guanella is going to be canonized on October 23 this year. I first made his acquaintance last year when I gave a retreat to some Sisters of one of the congregations he founded. Last Friday and Saturday I was in Chicago for their "community days," an annual gathering which brought together 43 women from around the U.S., as well as from Mexico and the Philippines. I gave six talks and one of them was entitled "The Feminine Genius."

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary when we remember how Mary, after receiving the news that she was to be the Mother of God, went to her kinswoman Elizabeth, an older woman whom Mary had just found out was pregnant. Her love and sensitivity to her relative's need overshadowed the shock of her own situation. She saw the need of another and responded to it.

That is the "Feminine Genius." It's no surprise that when Fr. Guanella saw the needs of the developmentally disabled people of Nineteenth Century Italy, as well as orphans, the poor, senior citizens, and whomever was marginalized, he turned to women for help. He founded the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence before he founded his congregation for men, the Servants of Charity. Though he may not have used these words of Blessed John Paul II--the feminine genius--he knew their reality.

Here are some excerpts from Pope John Paul II's writings about the feminine genius:

In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favors some, it pushes others to the margins of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that "genius" which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! --and because "the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13: 13). [1988 Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatis (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women on the Occasion of the Marian Year), #30.

[W]omen have the task of assuring the moral dimension of culture, the dimension, namely, of a culture worthy of the person.... How great are the possibilities and responsibilities of woman in this area, at a time when the development of science and technology is not always inspired and measured by true wisdom, with the inevitable risk of "de-humanizing" human life, above all when it would demand a more intense love and a more generous acceptance. [1988 Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World), #51]

Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. ... Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the "genius of women." ... Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. [1995 Letter to Women, #9, 12]

In a word, we can say that the cultural change which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new life-style, consisting in making practical choices--at the personal, family, social and international level--on the basis of a correct scale of values: the primacy of being over having, of the person over things. This renewed life-style involves a passing from indifference to concern for others, from rejection to acceptance of them. Other people are not rivals from whom we must defend ourselves, but brothers and sisters to be supported. They are to be loved for their own sakes, and they enrich us by their very presence. ... In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a "new feminism" which rejects the temptation of imitating models of "male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation. Making my own the words of the concluding message of the Second Vatican Council, I address to women this urgent appeal: "Reconcile people with life". [1995 Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), #98, 99].

The concluding message to which Pope John Paul II refers was part of the solemn closing ceremony of the Second Vatican Council on December 8, 1965. The bishops addressed special messages to various groups including the women of the world. Here is part of the message which once again makes clear how essential the feminine genius is for the good of the world:

Reconcile people with life and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization. ... Women, you who know how to make truth sweet, tender, and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this Council into institutions, schools, homes, and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.