Discovering the Feminine Genius presents a framework in which women can discover and understand their human and spiritual journey as a daughter of God, a woman, a unique individual, and spouse of the Spirit. Katrina Zeno, renowned speaker on the theology of the body, explores the role of women in our complex world and explains the concept of the feminine genius.
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Discovering the Feminine Genius
Every Woman’s Journey
By Katrina J. Zeno
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Zeno, Katrina J.
Discovering the feminine genius: every woman’s journey / Katrina Zeno.
ISBN 0-8198-1884-4 (pbk.)
1. Catholic women—Religious life. I. Title.
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America, copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. — Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.
Quotations from Pope John Paul II used with the permission of the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 00120, Città del Vaticana.
Excerpt taken from Hans Urs von Balthasar, You Crown the Year with Your Goodness: Sermons Throughout the Liturgical Year (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989). Used with permission.
Many manufacturers and sellers distinguish their products through the use of trademarks. Any trademark designations that appear in this book are used in good faith but are not authorized by, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Cover design by Rosanna Usselmann
Cover photo by felinda / istockphoto.com
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
“P” and PAULINE are registered trademarks of the Daughters of St. Paul.
Copyright © 2010, Katrina J. Zeno
Published by Pauline Books & Media, 50 Saint Paul’s Avenue, Boston, MA 02130-3491
Printed in the U.S.A.
Pauline Books & Media is the publishing house of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of women religious serving the Church with the communications media.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 14 13 12 11 10
First a Daughter, Then a Bride
Why Male and Female?
The Feminine Genius
Sin and the Spousal Meaning of the Body
Weaving a Tapestry of Life
The Spouse of the Spirit
What About the Men?
Women Priests: Why Not?
Women in the Third Millennium
On June 16, 1992, I met the pope! It was two days before my son’s fifth birthday, and we had requested to attend John Paul II’s private morning Mass in Rome as a special birthday blessing.
Our request was granted, and, after Mass, we were ushered into a large audience hall outside his private chapel. As John Paul II shuffled to greet each collection of visitors, he was visibly in pain. However, his face lit up whenever a child or baby was in the group.
Our turn quickly arrived, and John Paul II handed each of us a papal Rosary. In return, my son handed him a small book, The Titles of Mary. Delighted, the Holy Father bent down, embraced my son, and kissed him. Then he placed his hand on my forehead and blessed me.
It was a blessing I will never forget. The vicar of Christ imparted a portion of his spirit to me. Next to the birth of my son, it was the most beautiful moment of my life.
In my spirit, I sensed I received new graces for motherhood. These graces were indeed for motherhood, but not biological motherhood. They were for spiritual motherhood.
At the time, I didn’t even know such a thing existed—that I, as a single mother and laywoman, could be a spiritual mother. I was still navigating the turbulent waters of an annulled marriage. But God was way ahead of me. He was already charting a new course and infusing my being with the grace I would need. He was also introducing me to my spiritual father, John Paul II, who would guide me through the process of discovering the beauty of the feminine genius along with the meaning and purpose of the body.
The meaning and purpose of the body? Who ever thinks of such a thing! As busy women, we rarely take time out to focus on the intricacies of our (very complicated!) spiritual journeys, much less why God created us with this particular body. More often, we get along on minimal or maintenance rations — giving ourselves just enough emotional and spiritual food to get through each day. Yet, deep down, we feel a deeper yearning. We want to know there’s more to life than conquering ten loads of laundry, correcting homework, or searching for “the one” on an Internet dating site. Every once in a while the insistent cry of our heart escapes and we dare to ask: “Who am I?”
If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, you are not alone! Mothers who have packed their last child off to college, widows who have felt dismissed from life, and single professional women hemmed in by the dull routine of everyday life have all breached this same question. Now through the insights of Pope John Paul II and his theology of the body, we as women can tackle this question with fresh energy and vigor. We can lift the curtain on the feminine genius and discover its meaning for every woman’s journey and definitively answer the question: “Who am I?”
First a Daughter, Then a Bride
Life was supposed to be oh, so simple: I’d grow up, get married, have a family, enjoy my grandchildren, sit in the sun during retirement, and die at a happy old age. But that’s not what happened.
Somewhere along the line, the Author forgot the story line. It changed. I changed. My whole world changed. I had to search for a new identity, a new understanding of God, and a new mission. Instead of getting the life I signed up for, I had to discover the one God designed for me from all eternity.
My life had all the makings of Fortune 500 success. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, when it was a sleepy big city. Located one mile from the beach, our house was perched on a mountain that connected the middle-class suburb of Pacific Beach to the ritzy suburb of La Jolla. I could walk to public grade school and then later bike to my high school on Mission Bay.
As a teenager, I thought nothing of taking the bus by myself to downtown San Diego for gymnastics, or of playing hide-and-seek with my friends in the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Life was safe, secure, and comfortable.
Ditto for home. As the fifth of six children in a wonderful Catholic family, I thought everyone grew up with their father emptying the dishwasher, taking the family camping for vacation, having meals together, and playing “spoons” until midnight on New Year’s Eve.
My Catholic upbringing was especially rich. My mother was ahead of her time. Or, I should say, Mary Reed Newland,1 whom my mother read and imitated, was ahead of her time.
There was no need for Santa Claus in our home. We festively celebrated Saint Nick and his feast day on December 6. Lent meant getting a purple bean for each sacrifice we made and praying the Stations of the Cross with fourteen candles.
Holy Thursday found us gathered around the Passover table, where the menu included bitter herbs (from the dandelions in our front lawn) and red bricks made from gelatin. We spent Good Friday in quiet from noon until 3:00 p.m., with the phone off the hook and a “do not disturb” sign on the front door. My family celebrated baptismal days, feast days, Advent, and Pentecost in creative, tangible ways.
Getting to Know Him
Even with this rich upbringing, I lacked one thing. I knew a lot about Jesus, but I didn’t know Jesus personally. It would be as if I told you about my good friend, Maureen. She has red hair and freckles, played the trombone in high school, and is easygoing. However, you wouldn’t know her personally until I actually introduced you to her face to face. It was the same with Jesus. I knew a lot about him, but I didn’t know him personally.
All that changed when I was sixteen. While most of my peers were rejecting religion, I attended a Youth Encounter Retreat weekend. I noticed that the people there had something I didn’t have. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted to find out. As the retreat progressed, I heard for the first time that I could give my life to Jesus and know him personally as a close friend.
I took the plunge. On Sunday of the retreat, I asked my small group to pray for me to give my life to Jesus. As they prayed, I cried. As they continued to pray, I continued to cry. When they stopped praying, I was still crying. I felt as if Mount Olympus had been lifted from my shoulders even though I didn’t know why I was crying.
Of course, I realize now that God was answering my prayer. He was helping me release my life to him, with all its pent-up hurts and anxieties. Jesus was no longer someone “out there.” He was now close and personal. I’d met God face to face, or more accurately, heart to heart.
A new life began for me that day, although I didn’t experience a dramatic external change. I was a straight-A student, I never smoked or drank, and I obeyed my parents. However, an interior change began to take place. God had taken the central place in my life. Jesus was becoming my best friend, and I started reading the Bible to get to know God better.
In the brashness of my late teens I can remember thinking I was never going to go through crisis. I knew my identity was in God and that was that. It would carry me through to my grave.
I was wrong.
Over the past twenty-five years, and especially the past fifteen, I have asked myself many, many times: “Who am I?” It’s amazing how many times in life we revisit this question. It’s like a pesky fly that won’t go away. You bat at it, and it goes away for a while, but it returns again and again. Finally, out of desperation, you get a fly swatter and smack, victory at last! But it’s only for a little while, until you hear bzzz, bzzz … and the cycle starts all over again.
How do we deal with this pesky fly that won’t leave us alone? Is it possible to answer the question “Who am I?” once and for all?
I thought I had the answer down pat: At sixteen, I had given my life to Christ and made him the focus of my identity. At eighteen, I graduated as valedictorian of my high school with a 4.0 GPA. At nineteen, I married my high school sweetheart, and at twenty-one, I left San Diego to study theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. (Yes, you read it right. I left San Diego for Ohio.)
In Ohio, we had a couple of rough transition years, but we managed. We became part of a dynamic Catholic community of families. I graduated third in my college class and received the senior theology award. My husband opened his own business. I worked for a pro-life organization for a year, and then our wonderful son, Michael, was born.
I had the life I signed up for—a good husband, a healthy son, Christian fellowship, intellectual stimulation, supportive relationships, and a home in a nice neighborhood. My life was like a seamless garment. Everything was neatly connected: my social life, spiritual life, part-time work, and intellectual life all revolved around the same Catholic community.
Then the garment began to unravel. For many years my husband had struggled with his personal identity. God intervened at certain crisis points and the issue would go underground for a while, but it would always pop up again. I’d run out of strategies for dealing with this. We’d moved, we’d joined a Catholic community, and we’d started our family, but the issue kept resurfacing.
When our son, Michael, was almost three, my husband and I agreed on a temporary separation, intending to later get back together after working through the conflicts. Over the next year, I went through one of the darkest periods in my life. So much pain saturated my mind that I couldn’t think of praying in a conversational way. I turned to rote prayers to give me words to say. I beseeched the heavens for help and discovered Mary as my mother and the saints as my friends.
During this time, my friends often urged me to call them when I was feeling down. I quickly realized this was impossible. I couldn’t pick up the phone and say, “Hi, this is Katrina. I just called to tell you I’m feeling numb and depressed and I’m not even sure I’m going to make it.”
I couldn’t do it. I needed them to call me. So I asked five women in my faith sharing group to each take one day of the week and call me. With their help, I made it through the worst month of my life and started inching toward the top of the pit.
Then God broke through my darkness.
One night at a women’s prayer meeting, I felt suddenly bathed in a shaft of light. I stood there soaking in the light, because up to that point I hadn’t realized how dark the darkness had been.
In that moment, God showed me the value of contrast. Just as parents teach their children right/left, up/down, in/ out, stop/go, so, too, the Lord teaches us through contrast. He teaches us through light and darkness, fullness and aridity, joy and sorrow, intimacy and abandonment. I was so thankful the light had come and pierced my darkness, even though it didn’t remove all the pain.
What was the source of my pain? It was the pain of a crushed identity. My whole adult life I had lived and breathed in the atmosphere of marriage as a sacrament, as a reflection of Christ’s unbreakable bond of love for the Church. Because of my role as a youth leader and then a parish catechist, my friends and family all knew that I believed in marriage as a permanent commitment. But now, with my marriage failing, I was no longer a reflection of Christ’s permanent love for the Church. I felt as if someone had taken my identity, placed it on a table and smashed it into a million pieces. The seamless garment wasn’t just unraveling; it was being ripped in two.
First a Daughter, Then a Bride!
But the Lord taught me something that year on my thirtieth birthday that completely changed my life. In prayer, he told me I was first a daughter, then a bride.
First a daughter, then a bride! Somewhere along the way in trying to figure out my identity as a woman, I’d forgotten the most fundamental truth of my life: before being a wife, mother, friend, teacher, or student, I was first a daughter of God. In his mercy, God ripped out the faulty foundation of straw and hay that he knew wouldn’t last and was laying a new one of gold and precious stones.
I even stumbled on a Scripture that aptly described my situation:
For your Maker is your husband,the LORD of hosts is his name;the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,the God of the whole earth he is called.For the Lord has called youlike a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off,says your God.For a brief moment I abandoned you,but with great compassion I will gather you.In overflowing wrath for a momentI hid my face from you,but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,says the Lord, your Redeemer. (Is 54:5–8)
Since my thirtieth birthday I have never been the same. Certainly, I’ve had to revisit many issues I thought were closed: Should I marry? Should I stay single? Should I work? How much should I work? Should I stay in Steubenville? Should I move back to San Diego? But the one question I’ve never had to ask myself again is “Who am I in the eyes of God?” Ever since that life-changing day, my feminine identity has been securely rooted in the truth that I am first a daughter, then a bride.
For every woman, this is the starting point of the journey: to know she is a daughter of God before anything else. This is the rock-solid foundation that no amount of rain, wind, disaster, or pain can destroy.
Why is this so important? Because knowing the Father’s love is the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus’ mission encompassed many dimensions, including revealing God as “Abba,” “Father.” When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began: “Abba, who art in heaven….” In Romans 8:15, Saint Paul pens the perfect message to announce the Fatherhood of God: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery leading you back into fear, but a spirit of adoption through which we cry out, ‘Abba!’ (that is ‘Father’).” That message belongs on every billboard on every road to constantly remind us of this indelible truth.
The tragedy of modern culture is its attempt to remove the billboard, to wipe out the Fatherhood of God. Nothing could be more harmful to the journey, to discovering our identity as women. If God isn’t our Father, then we aren’t his daughters. And if we aren’t his daughters, then we are orphans. We’re alone and destitute, with no one to help us.
A friend of mine once described her fear of being an orphan in this way: She saw herself as a little girl running down the sidewalk, when suddenly she fell flat on her face. Her automatic response was to stuff away the pain, scrape herself off the sidewalk, and keep going.
One day, in prayer, she felt the Lord telling her to remain on the sidewalk, and to wait face down. Fear gripped her being! She was scared no one would come to help her. She was afraid God would leave her there as an orphan.
God the Father did come to help, and it was one of the biggest breakthroughs in her spiritual life. She finally realized she didn’t have to do it on her own. She experienced God as Father and herself as a beloved daughter.
This attack on the Fatherhood of God didn’t originate with modern culture. It was Satan’s strategy from the beginning. Ever since Adam and Eve, Satan has been trying to convince us we’re orphans, that we don’t have a loving Father, and we’ll be left face down on the sidewalk having to fend for ourselves. Satan is the father of lies, and this is his most destructive lie because it goes to the core of our identity.
The best way to combat a lie is to replace it with truth. The First Letter of John 3:1 tells us the truth of our relationship with God: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called children of God! Yet that is what we are.”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus constantly talks about his relationship with the Father. “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30). “I am leaving the world and am going to the Father” (Jn 16:28). And my favorite verse: “I am not alone because the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32).
We are never alone. The Father is with us. The Father is with us even when we feel alone, isolated, flat on the pavement of life. The truth is the Father is always with us.
Jesus told a beautiful parable about our relationship with God the Father and how each of our lives is like a pilgrimage to the Father’s house. It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
I thought nothing more could be said about this parable until I attended a conference in Walsingham, England, in the summer of 2000. There, Bishop Joseph Ekuwem of Nigeria said that the parable of the Prodigal Son tells each of our stories because it tells the universal story of mankind.
Here’s how he described it: At one point in time (before original sin), we lived in harmony with the Father (God) and the elder brother (others). We lived in the Father’s house. Then, through our offense (original sin) we broke our relationship with the Father and went our own way.
However, despite our unfaithfulness, God has always been faithful. He constantly watches for us, expecting our return. When we return, the Father not only forgives us, but he also reconciles us to the family. This is the symbolism of the ring, robe, sandals, and festive celebration—it means the Father welcomes us back into the life of the family. Bishop Ekuwem stressed this important point: God the Father goes beyond forgiveness to reconciliation. The Father doesn’t just forgive us and keep us at an arm’s distance. He welcomes us back into the family. He not only restores us to the same relationship we had with him before any offense, but also raises us to the status of adopted sons and daughters through the redemption Christ won for us. The elder brother, however, goes ballistic. He’s furious at his father for bringing his irresponsible younger brother back into the family with the same status and privileges.
But notice what the father says to the elder brother: “You are with me always.” Frequently, this sentence slips by us, but it’s the most important thing the father could have said! He’s reminding the elder son (and us) that the essence of fatherhood is not provision, but presence. His fatherhood impelled him to welcome back his child not as a slave, but as a son, so he could be in the father’s presence.
To the Father’s House
This is where we need to find ourselves—in the Father’s presence, in the Father’s house. Not only have we been forgiven by the death of Jesus Christ, but we’ve been reconciled to God the Father. God welcomes us back not as a slave, but as a beloved daughter. Jesus Christ brings our relationship with God to a higher level than it was before any offense.
Take a moment and ask yourself: Do I experience my life as a journey to the house of the Father, a Father whose unconditional love has melted my heart so that I know I am his daughter?
Or am I struggling with my foundational identity, with my self-worth? Do I draw my identity mainly from mothering, from how well my children act at a restaurant, in church, at school, or when company comes over? Am I afraid others think poorly of me because of choices I make, or my husband makes, or because of family struggles with alcohol or addiction? Do I try to validate and prove my worth through my work, looks, or sexual relations?
Perhaps you’re not married, and you feel you’ve been forgotten and ignored, that you’re missing out on life because you’re not a bride. Or maybe you’re a widow or divorced, and you’ve been through the same wrenching I have, and you’re not quite sure where to turn to reroot your identity. Or maybe you’ve been hurt, abandoned, or abused by your earthly father or another man and the thought of a heavenly Father does not console you, but frightens or repels you.
For all these reasons and more, it can be difficult for us to relate to God as Father, to know our foundational identity as a daughter.
We must beg God to bring us into his presence, to remove the faulty foundation of straw and hay in our lives and replace it with the one that will last forever.
Entering the Father’s Presence
I invite you to take fifteen minutes in a quiet place and prayerfully read the following meditation. I suggest you close your eyes and begin with a short prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help you enter into a deeper relationship with your heavenly Father. Then, as you read through the meditation, stop and imagine the various scenes that are described. My prayer is that this will help you rediscover your identity as a daughter and begin the journey anew in the Father’s presence.
Imagine yourself in the home you grew up in as a little girl. Look around, smell the familiar smells. See yourself sitting in the living room or family room as your father walks into the room (even if you never knew him). He stops, sees you, and walks over to you. He sits down opposite you, looks you in the eyes, and says to you, “How do you feel about me?”
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