In 1991, Cardinal John J. O’Connor of the Archdiocese of New York established the Sisters of Life. Currently, active and contemplative communities reside in New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington D.C. and, as of 2015, the Archdiocese of Denver. As one might assume, the sisters support women in crisis pregnancies and provide post-abortion ministry. But the sisters’ work is not limited to the unborn. Their mission is to uphold the innate dignity of all human life, which includes retreat opportunities and campus ministry. In short, the sisters have a full-time vocation of affirming the Good in our world. And they did just that on October 19, at the Shrine of St. Therese, where The Feminine Genius Brunch with the Sisters of Life was hosted by the Diocese of Pueblo.
Vice-Chancellor Amanda Zurface, JCL with the cooperation of Reverend Michael Chrisman and the staff at St. Therese, invited the sisters who shared their time, talent, and resources with the women of Pueblo. After a prayer and scrumptious catered brunch of local favorites: tamales, posole, eggs, fruit, and fresh tortillas, the sisters offered an inspiring and affirming presentation featuring a talk by Sr. Mary Concepta, SV on The Feminine Genius.
Sister Concepta described a day when she and the sisters encountered a young family while walking in the park. They exchanged pleasantries, but the five-year-old girl simply stared at them, as if awestruck, muted by her apparent shock. As they parted ways, the sisters overheard the child exclaim, “Mom did you see those beautiful fairy princesses?” While all found this humorous, Sister pointed out that all of us, from a young age, desire to be a princess. Actually, we all know, deep inside, that we are, indeed, princesses and this is based in the truth that our Heavenly Father, who loves us, is the King of the Universe.
Next, Sister revealed the core truth she came to communicate: You need only be who you were created to be, a princess. Or, in the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “When we become who we are meant to be we set the world on fire.”
When visiting a home for children with a history of trauma, Sister was struck by the artwork of one very young child. The assignment was, “Draw the most wonderful thing that could happen to you this year.” The little artist drew two stick figures holding hands and the caption: “I will be loved.” While heartbreaking, it speaks to a deep yearning in all of us and a wonderful truth. We are all loved, perfectly and completely, by God. We are living the MOST WONDERFUL thing in the world. His love is what created us and what keeps us in being. And so, to be is to be loved. To be is to be blessed.
Expounding on this point, Sister quoted St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, “The world doesn't need what women have; it needs what women are.” Our value is not in what we can do or produce, despite the protests to the contrary by our modern culture, but in who we are. Who are we? Creatures made lovingly by God for the sole purpose to be loved by Him and in accepting this love, love Him in prayer and love Him in one another. We don’t need to earn it or deserve it, only to accept it. Sr. Concepta related some of her many experiences in which loving another for who she is, rather than what she can do, provided an environment in which a young woman flourished. She challenged us all to actively recognize the ways God loves us in each moment of each day, in our relationships, our world, our bodies, and being.
Pope Saint John Paul II is a personal inspiration to Sister Concepta, since she attended World Youth Day in Denver at the age of seventeen. St. John Paul II coined the phrase, “Feminine Genius”, which describes a woman’s unique ability to “make room for the other”. While there is a powerful reference in this definition to the physical reality of motherhood, Sister explained that this is more profound. “(T)his physical capacity to receive and carry life sheds light on a much deeper reality within the heart of each woman. Our bodies and souls are intimately connected and together they tell us something. As women we have a unique capacity for love—a receptive, sensitive, generous, and maternal love.”
By being receptive, women receive the gifts of life and love and see others as a gift as well. There is an element of gratitude and an element of acceptance, as when Mary said “yes” to the will of God, fulfilling whom she was made to be. In Sister’s words, “God chooses us; we don’t choose Him… A single individual, a single soul, the tiniest, weakest, human being, each one of you, Pope Benedict says, ‘is more valuable than the entire created universe.’ You are more beautiful than anything in all of creation. Very different from the way most of us feel, but it is true.”
We are innately good and always loved as daughters of God. Nothing can take away this, our true identity. God is truth. The way He sees us is who we truly are. The beautiful truth is that when we live our identities as beloved daughters of the most High King of all Creation, when we live as princesses of Heaven, we radiate God’s love and have the courage to share it with others. We change the world. Sister urges us to be women of prayer, so that we may better know ourselves and be open to God’s love. “As we come to know the Lord in prayer He reveals to us more and more who we are.”
Additionally, women have a unique capacity for generosity. Women are more inclined to put others needs before their own. This is counter to the hedonistic attitude prevalent in our culture, and so this generosity must be celebrated and encouraged.
Women are gifted with sensitivity. They more easily see the hearts and yearnings of the soul in others. Women see needs that men often miss. It was Our Lady who felt the social angst of her friends at the Wedding of Cana. This same sensitivity has the complimentary effect of allowing women to more easily see the innate value of the human being, putting people above achievements or accomplishments. Sister explained that this is both inspired by and reflected by “our capacity to literally conceive and grow life with in us.”
This capacity is the final and perhaps most profound element of the Feminine Genius, the maternal nature of woman, which describes a woman’s unique ability to mother physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is a calling for all women, including those single and in religious life. As Sister Concepta eloquently explained, “All women have the capacity and the calling to generate new life in another.” She then offered the powerful words of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross “God combats evil through the power of a woman’s maternal love and this power exists independently of a woman’s marital status but is present simply by the fact that she is a woman and this is an extension of her very nature.”
Sister was able to combine the receptivity, generosity, sensitivity, and maternity of the Feminine Genius into a simple explanation of the ministry of the Sisters of Life in serving women: “Delighting in Her.” The sisters love the women they minister to for who they are and who God created them to be, not what they’ve done or where they have been broken. One woman in their care throughout her crisis pregnancy came back to visit the sisters, happily sharing all she had accomplished in her life as a young mother. “I’m just beginning to experience myself as the person you always believed me to be!” “Delighting in Her” as a mother delights in her child, with sensitivity and generosity and in receiving her as a gift allowed this woman to flourish.
Sister challenged us to be open to the ways in which God may call us to live our Feminine Genius and be more ourselves. Resources to learn more and to love more were provided. Their website offers excellent reading materials, including Imprint magazine, online or by free subscription. Prayer cards for the diocesan Little Way and the sisters’ Litany of Trust were provided as well as resources for Endow, a complimentary ministry which helps parishes begin women’s study groups.
The event concluded with Father Chrisman available for Confession and a Rosary before the Tabernacle where the Sisters offered reflections on the Joyful Mysteries in relationship to the Feminine Genius as evidenced in the life of Mary. The Sisters serenaded their fellow princesses who then dispersed to face the work of their lives, renewed in the assurance and knowledge that simply being themselves is enough to set the world on fire!
Contributor: Kate Daneluk is an author and speaker on education and Catholic ministry and is the creator of the Making Music Praying Twice education program.