Femininity in All of Its Facets: ‘Reveal the Gift’ Highlights Holy Women and the Feminine Genius
Lisa Cotter writes about how the Church celebrates womanly wisdom for ‘understanding the human heart.’
“The woman is a gentle, loving bond who encourages, consoles, builds, reconciles and makes all things new and vibrant. A woman is ingenuous when all fails, resourceful in times of want ...” Mother Angelica said.
I came across this poignant quote from EWTN’s foundress while taking in the heartrending images of Ukrainian women and children fleeing the horrors of war and still more women offering aid at border points in Poland and other nations of refuge and welcome.
And all of this called to mind a recent good read forthcoming from Ascension Press.
Written before Russia invaded Ukraine, Lisa Cotter, in Reveal the Gift, tells women: “The world needs us. It needs who we are. It needs our self-giving, receptive, maternal, sensitive, intuitive, generous, faithful, and strong person-oriented feminine genius.”
This need, highlighting timeless truth, is being illustrated by current events in a heartbreaking way.
“A woman’s awareness of the needs of others is imperative for achieving a just society,” Cotter writes. She also quotes Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Cardinal Ratzinger): “It is women, in the end, who even in very desperate situations, as attested by history past and present, possess a singular capacity to persevere in adversity, to keep life going even in extreme situations, to hold tenaciously to the future, and finally to remember with tears the value of every human life.”
In her book, aptly subtitled Living the Feminine Genius, Cotter encourages readers to look to women saints to cultivate the gifts of the feminine genius — including self-giving, receptivity, maternity, sensitivity, intuition, generosity, fidelity and strength — through concrete actions and prayer.
She begins by quoting Pope St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Women,” including this lovely line that I have long appreciated: “women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts.”
Cotter highlights such gifts by underscoring how the presented women followed Jesus closely.
As she writes, “Nobody will find that the secret to living selflessly with joy is a balanced diet, rejuvenating vacation, or fulfilling hobby. The secret is Jesus.”
I enjoyed learning more about beloved saint friends like Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross).
Edith, whose intelligence paved the way for her conversion from Judaism to Catholicism through study, was known for encouraging others. She wrote to a former student: “I believe in your swan-destiny.” How beautiful! We all should strive to encourage others in a similar manner.
Edith also wrote, with faith, “I will tackle the day’s work which he charges me with, and he will give me the power to accomplish it.”
This holy woman died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, but her womanly wisdom lives on.
Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo is highlighted for her beautiful witness, too. “Surrounded by loss and sickness, she found a way to live joyfully by actively receiving whatever God desired to give her with total trust and abandonment. Even when she did not understand, she put her faith in the Lord. She said yes to his will for her,” Cotter writes.
I appreciate how Cotter underscores how all women are maternal at their core:
“This means that women with kids are not the only ones who possess the gift of maternity. Single women, married women without kids, professed religious women — indeed, all women — have the gift of maternity. As St. Edith Stein put it, every woman has the skills to ‘cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth … [in] all those in contact with her.’”
‘In Her Heart’
Cotter affirms, “Our intuition is best used to support and encourage.” She adds, “Not only does a woman have a physical capacity for another through pregnancy, but she also has a spiritual capacity for another through her gift of self. She makes space for others at her table, on her calendar, and in her heart. In so many circumstances, women offer themselves in ways that necessitate a large dose of generosity.”
One has only to watch the news to see this truth lived out — or look to your mom, sister, friends or women in your Bible study or in the next pew.
And learn from the example of Servant of God Julia Greeley.
“She did not found a religious community or levitate or die a martyr. What she did was generously love,” Cotter states.
And look to the women at the cross, as well, the author encourages: “When all others abandoned Jesus, the presence of his faithful female disciples would have been the primary source of support extended to him during his passion. They were there for him despite the danger. They were there for him despite the emotional agony it must have caused them. Can you imagine actually witnessing Jesus’ passion and crucifixion? It must have been heart-wrenching, yet these women were there because they loved him. Out of gratitude for all he had done for them — the ways he ministered to them and healed them both physically and spiritually — they used their feminine genius gift of fidelity to remain by his side.”
And, so too, are the women of the French Revolution beacons of feminine strength used to save others and save the faith. So inspiring!
While discussing St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and others, Cotter reminds readers, “Within the feminine genius there is so much room for each individual to live and breathe from the unique expressions of their gifts. Additionally, the criteria for their femininity did not depend upon their sense of fashion, ability to cook, job title, or knowledge of the latest Catholic trends. It came down to the ways they loved the Lord and those he entrusted to them, even in their human imperfections. In seeking to live as authentic Catholic women, sometimes they made mistakes, lived selfishly, or failed to be strong for others.”
Mary Our Model
Cotter, of course, looks to Mother Mary throughout. In typical conversational style, as if talking to a dear friend, she suggests, “Consider setting a ‘coffee date’ with Mary. Bring along your Bible to read some passages that tell her story, and bring your rosary so you can meditate on the life of her Son as she leads you closer to him.”
Mother Mary is indeed the model for living out the feminine genius.
As Cotter relates, “Throughout all of history, there is only one woman who was perfect. This woman lived her feminine genius in a way that each of us can strive to imitate. She is the only ideal woman to ever walk this earth. While we, who are imperfect, cannot become ideal women, we can strive to become authentic women by following her example, just as the women we have seen in this book did. Who is the ideal woman? She is Jesus’ mother and ours — Mary. If you ever want to know what it means to be a woman, you can always turn to her.”
“Mary exuded feminine self-giving and generosity,” Cotter writes in the chapter titled “The Ideal Woman,” illustrating how Mother Mary models each of the aforementioned qualities perfectly.
“Mary’s guidance and love always lead us toward her Son and show us what it truly means to be maternal.”
Cotter continues, “Mary exuded feminine sensitivity and intuition. Understanding the human heart, she saw and found ways to meet the needs of those around her.”
“Mary exuded feminine fidelity. Before anyone else followed Jesus, Mary was there. She was his first disciple, the first to believe in him, and the first to learn from him. More than any other person in his life, she knew him, and she was limitlessly faithful to him as she followed him wherever his life took her.”
Mother Mary indeed shows us the way. “Using her feminine strength, combined with an unfailing trust that her Son knew what he was doing, she surely was a ray of hope during a very dark period. When you do not feel strong, turn to Mary. She spent a lifetime using her feminine strength to remain hopeful and be strong for others, and she can show you how to do it too.”
In part, Cotter concludes, “Mary is the ideal woman. Of all of the women who have ever existed, she lived her femininity better than them all. If you want to know what it means to be a woman, turn to her in everything.”
This book is well worth your time. Bolstered by solid questions that aid group discussion among family and friends, and a personal and relatable voice, this book introduces or reintroduces readers to stellar examples of femininity in all of its facets.
REVEAL THE GIFT
Living the Feminine Genius
By Lisa Cotter
Ascension Press, 2022
176 pages, $14.95