Church Teaching on Feminine Holiness Touches Hearts
How Blessed John Paul II’s writing reaches women through the Endow organization.
BY AMY SMITH
| Posted 11/19/13 at 5:31 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan Burke interviewed Terry Polakovic on the Register Radio show Nov. 15.
Endow (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) is celebrating 10 years of teaching women about feminine dignity through small-group study courses for adult women as well as middle-school and high-school students, based on John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity and Vocation of Women) and his “Letter to Women.”
With headquarters in Denver, the organization now serves more than 122 dioceses to transform the hearts and minds of women by inviting them into the joy, freedom and dignity that come from living out the gift of authentic femininity in Christ.
In honor of the anniversary, Endow’s co-founder and president, Terry Polakovic, spoke with the Register about the group’s mission and achievements.
What has Endow achieved in the last decade?
I think the Holy Spirit has done so much through the instrument of Endow in the last 10 years. Through our studies, the messages women need to hear — the truth about their origin, identity and destiny — have transformed the minds and hearts of more than 25,000 women and girls. There are so many confusing messages in the world today, as if all the signposts are pointing in the wrong direction. The real issues and concerns of women are often ignored or dismissed, while the agendas of the day shout louder and louder.
What we do is deliver study materials based on the teachings of the Church on the dignity and vocation of women. We have 13 adult study guides and two youth studies all driven by the same message: the freedom, joy and dignity that come from living out our femininity in Christ. We use Church documents and the lives of the saints, each saying the same thing in a different way. We have reached 25,000 women and girls through our studies, conferences, retreats and talks worldwide in Canada, the U.S. and Australia.
Our greatest gift and accomplishment is seeing the lives of women and teenage girls transformed. There are so many beautiful stories from those we serve: stories of marriages saved, families strengthened, teenagers finding hope and a homeless woman who understands for the first time that she is truly loveable.
Women learn the teaching of the Church on their dignity, origin and mission: Who am I? Who am I in God’s eyes?
How does your mission relate to the 25th anniversary of Mulieris Dignitatem?
Blessed Pope John Paul’s writings on women were the inspiration to start Endow. John Paul II reached out to women. He knew the influence women have on the family and the culture. Blessed Pope John Paul II gave a great gift to the Church in his articulation of the reality of the identity of the human person, and in particular of women.
Most noteworthy are his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem and his 1995 “Letter to Women.” He expressed to everyone that “woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church.”
In a culture that promotes selfishness, disregard for human life and worldly success at any cost, women in particular have gifts that answer the loneliness and emptiness of these false gods. There is so much that can be said of women’s contributions and gifts, but our genius as women is particularly tied to our receptivity and our capacity for others. Our receptivity is a gift, especially for receiving love; and as we receive love, we can make a profound gift of ourselves. Our identity as women is also intimately linked to our feminine capacity for others and our ability to recognize them as persons deserving of respect and reverence. The fruits of the feminine genius include generosity, compassion and the spirit of maternity (biologically and spiritually), among other things.
John Paul II’s writings help unpack the greatness of our feminine genius, and Endow specifically helps to unpack these writings, article by article. Women and girls start studying the beauty of these truths, and they just love it.
We serve women in the city, the suburb, the farm, the convent, the homeless shelter and the jail. John Paul II’s message is directed at all of us, every single woman. And the need for this message is great, because the level of any society or culture is the level of its women.
Even recently, Pope Francis was inviting us into a greater understanding of a theology of women. There is more to study and discover in our specific feminine genius — and our mission in living out our feminine genius is urgent in these times.
I like the phrase “the fruits of feminine holiness” in Mulieris Dignitatem, as well as what John Paul says in his “Letter to Women.”
Nothing is more attractive than holiness in general — that’s what people see in Pope Francis — and that’s true to women. When they have the love of God, you can see it in their eyes. There’s a peace about them — whether they run a Fortune 500 company or have 10 kids, or both.
You mentioned your outreach programs. How did they come about?
Pope John Paul II begins his “Letter to Women” with this line, “I greet you most cordially, all women of the world.” The message of Truth — as well as the freedom and joy that come from discovering it and living it — are for every woman, everywhere.
Our outreach program started when a Capuchin priest called to ask us to consider leading a study group for the women at the local homeless shelter, but it has now expanded to include women in jails, prisons, homes for battered women and homes for pregnant mothers in need.
There have been beautiful stories [that are shared with us] from these women, including this one from a few weeks ago:
“Today in our jail ministry, a woman inmate who had been gang-raped and given birth to a daughter heard these words by Pope John Paul II in his ‘Letter to Women’: ‘What great appreciation must be shown to those women who, with heroic love for the child they have conceived, proceed with a pregnancy resulting from the injustice of rape.’ This woman, who is deaf in one ear from being beaten during the incident and suffering effects of heroin abuse in desperate attempts to numb the pain, learned today that she is a hero. A while later, another woman opened up about being raped, and this woman got up and put her arms around her, displaying her feminine genius that no one can take from her.”
How urgently does our country and world need the message of Mulieris Dignitatem and Endow?
In the last 10 years, it’s incredible how the culture has changed.
Even 10 years ago, it wasn’t on my radar — or most people’s radar — same-sex “marriage” and gender issues were not front and center, or even contraception: Things have evolved to such a dark place. Thank God we are prepared for the New Evangelization; we’re well prepared for the New Evangelization by the grace of God.
What’s next for Endow in the next five or 10 years?
There are lots of things, but there are two areas we’d like to focus on. First, college campuses. We have done studies on campuses, but there is a need to have women be there constantly as mentors. In Boulder [Colo.], several moms lead a study. They invite the girls over for Sunday lunches or take them shopping. They are “moms away from home.” I’d love to replicate that in other places.
Second, I have a son who is an officer in the Marines, and I’d like to reach out to women in the military, whether they are in the military themselves or their spouses are. They struggle to live their faith with the government’s message. They are asked: “Are you taking contraception? How many children will you have?” And when they move to a new place, chaplains there may not always be Catholic.
We also have ways to make the studies more accessible via e-books and videos. We are looking for different ways to reach women, such as selling the guides individually, though I encourage women to study with a group of women to have the dynamic of the group.
We have reached 25,000 women already. Perhaps we will reach 250,000. I don’t know. It’s important to reach women on the individual level. I have seen beautiful transformations: We’ve had blessings of marriage saved, children born, women changing their minds on contraception and women going to confession after abortions.
Through our teen program, we are starting to do events in high schools. We recognize the need in high schools. We have materials for the classroom — middle schools too. We train moms, teachers and youth ministers to teach the curriculum in the classroom, at retreats or after school.
We are hosting a Dec. 7 conference, joining with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The conference is titled “The Feminine Genius: Every Woman’s Gift.” We are so excited to reach out to women and girls for this one-day event to explore the richness of our femininity before Christ. The day includes special tracks for adult women (in English and in Spanish), as well as a special teen track for girls.
During Advent, we’re inviting women to stop for a moment to reflect on their own gifts and mission — and to do so with other Catholic women.
And for fun, we even have a “Christmas Market” for a little shopping during breaks.
We have wonderful speakers, including Jeanette De Melo (National Catholic Register), Mother Agnes Donovan (Sisters of Life) and Damon Owens (Theology of the Body Institute), to name a few. (For more information about this conference, please visit CatholicWomensConference.org).
Our goal is to reach more women who haven’t been exposed to Church teaching with the message of John Paul II’s “new feminism” in order to touch their hearts.
Amy Smith is the Register’s associate editor.
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