Monday, March 5, 2007

Book Review: The Authentic Catholic Woman

And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people: and God himself with them shall be their God. Apocalypse 21: 2-3

Having been bombarded with feminist literature in college, I have since made a point of avoiding books dealing with “women’s issues,” other than those that cover pregnancy and childbirth. I often thought that someday I would write a book about Catholic womanhood, based on Scripture, church teachings and the writings of the saints. Genevieve Kineke’s The Authentic Catholic Woman (Servant Books, 2006) is the book I would have wanted to have written myself. It is inspiring and current, but timeless, bringing the reader to the place where Heaven meets earth. A practical approach mingles with eschatology, making the church teaching applicable to the everyday lives of women.

It is a fallen world, and yet we are each called to reach our fullest potential. Genevieve’s book is a pondering of authentic femininity, of the ways in which women are called to model the Church as brides and mothers. Many books about women start from the point of view of radical feminism, judging women by the achievements they have made in professions which traditionally have belonged to men.

One of the most appealing aspects of the work is that Genevieve approaches the role of women from the high ground of Church doctrine, as well as from the realities of daily existence. It is taken for granted that even women with demanding careers are still the ones who oversee the running of the house, the care of the children, and arrange for the needs of elderly parents. Some women are more burdened than ever before. As the author points out:

….The final danger for women is to create for themselves unrealistic images of piety that no mortal can imitate….Many wrongly assume that authentic femininity means a blissful marriage, abundant pious (and well-mannered) children, a husband to rival Saint Joseph, an orderly home, a variety of community and parish activities, an even temperament, ample time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy, cheerful generosity toward extended family (also pious of course) and a prayer life patterned on that of any number of saints and mystics. This sort of conjecture can indeed be a woman’s worst enemy. (p.6)
Much of this mirrors some of my own experience of Catholic womanhood. We should all be striving for holiness, but many Catholic women take on too much. They are hard on themselves and on others. Ladies’ church clubs and home-schooling groups are too often pervaded by a nit-picking, critical spirit about one another’s homes, husbands and children. I have seen such attitudes (and the gossip which flows as a consequence) destroy relationships which could otherwise have been a source of moral and spiritual support for Catholic women alone in a pagan world.

We ladies need to start being sisters to each other and not in constant competition. That is why it is excellent that Genevieve recommends devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A true devotion to Mary fills the heart with joy and trust, helping the soul to move beyond all pettiness.

Mary is the first fruit and most perfect image of the Church. Truly, she is the pilgrim who walks before us, the perfect follower of Christ and the model of faith we should all revere. But more specifically she is the archetype of bride and mother who teaches all women how to live authentic femininity. From her acceptance of God’s plan at the Annunciation to her Assumption, she exemplified receptivity to the Father in a way that was life-giving and grace-filled for and all who know her. (pp. 67-68)

In the central part of the book, the author carefully builds a case as to how Catholic women are called to embody each of the sacraments, showing how every Christian woman is a living microcosm of the Church, the Bride of Christ. All are called to be mothers, on either the spiritual or physical level, or both. “Rather than being a job wedged among other responsibilities, motherhood is a vocation—and a powerful calling at that, since it speaks to the essence of a woman’s being.” (p 58)

Therefore, motherhood demands the “total gift of self” (p.58) We stand with Mary at the foot of the cross, in patience and humility. “This view of feminine love is a relief during times of trial, when we place the burden of concern at the foot of the cross where it belongs. Such is the vocation of mother; such is the Church that waits to embrace us all.” (p 85)

The Church as Bride and Mother is manifested in Sacred Scripture (pp. 87-103), and continues to shine forth to the world, as a builder and bearer of culture. (p.105) Indeed, “faith cannot endure without culture…. [the early] Christians built culture around their faith in order to nourish it.“ (p.107) Each Catholic dwelling, each home, is a “sacred space” and “should reflect the order inherent in God’s creation.” (p.108)

The home should be a place of beauty and peace, with art that lifts the heart to God, while avoiding clutter. Genevieve discusses how it is the special role of women to “enhance their living spaces” (p.109) through tasteful decorating; to create the ambiance of welcome, of safety, of fun, so that the house becomes a place where love can grow. This has less to do with money and more to do with prudence and thrift. What makes many homes unattractive is the overabundance of material possessions. (p.109) Simplicity is a form of beauty and sometimes less is more.

Family rituals and celebrations which reflect those of the Church add meaning and dignity to the everyday routines. “Children cling to ritual and are comforted by it,” as every parent and teacher should be aware. (p.111) The most important role for wives and mothers is to raise the children in their care to be good Christians.

Etiquette is an important part of this, for children need boundaries in order to thrive and build safe relationships. “The ultimate goal of etiquette is to enhance the dignity of the person. Etiquette can be a tremendous vehicle for ordering the culture along the proper lines. It certainly has the capacity for being abused or misunderstood when it becomes reduced to ‘manners’ and ‘protocol,’ or when it becomes detached from charity.” It should not be used to alienate others, but to embrace them. (p.114)

Modest and appropriate attire is also an integral part of building a sense of worth in our children. (p.115) It is crucial for adolescents to be guided in avoiding garments which over-sexualize, and can indeed build strength of character when our teenagers are encouraged not to go along with the crowd. (p116)

It is for women, in imitation of Mary, to build a culture of joy. None of our labors will bear fruit overnight. “God’s timing cannot and should not be rushed, and Mary reminds us to think about the future with trust.” (p.118) Culture is a “means to an end” (p.119) not an end in itself. Perhaps this is why the culture of our western civilization has so deteriorated, because over the years, especially after the secularization of the French Revolution, culture became an end in itself, rather than a means of giving glory to God.

The Authentic Catholic Woman offers a great deal of hope to women and their families. While exploring the pitfalls and challenges of modern life, the psychological damage caused by broken homes, Genevieve also emphasizes “the depths of joy that attend motherhood and its glories,” as well as the “risks of loving.” (p.123)

I think that many young women are told of the burdens and inconveniences that accompany having children, but they are not told of the great happiness that children bring, a happiness for which women of past generations longed and prayed. Love and sacrifice go hand-in-hand. To forgo the struggles of love, marriage and children, or the oblation of consecrated virginity, in favor of unfettered sex and total freedom, is to choose emptiness.

By modeling the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church, by overcoming fear and trusting in God, and by imitating the Blessed Virgin Mary, women can reclaim the world for Christ.

Every woman can do her part to restore the image of the bride. Women together can embrace motherhood in all its forms: nourishing, teaching, building bridges, healing, confirming the beauty in souls, forgiving, building Christian culture in a myriad of ways and radiating purity. Thus they give flesh to Holy Mother Church for the world to see. (p.150)
Sometimes, that means seemingly insignificant tasks, like taking clothes to the thrift shop, or sitting up all night with a sick child, or listening an to an old person repeat themselves. Such situations, which the world does not esteem, require a great deal of love and patience.

It is in those little ways, however, that we rebuild the kingdom of God, and prepare the way for Christ in souls. Men as well as women would do well to reflect on the deeper mysteries as presented in Genevieve's book, and seek the sublimity which too often is buried beneath the frantic quest for pleasure and wealth.



Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Several "blogging friends" are reading this, and I've been intrigued. Thank you for your wonderful review. Can't wait to read it too!

elena maria vidal said...

Great, Suzanne! It really is an anointed book! I found myself having to stop and just pray over certain passages.

Anonymous said...

The author certainly takes the 'Hood' out of Motherhood.

Anonymous said...

A wonderfully written review!! Sounds like the things my mother used to drum into my head about sanctity in the creating of the home, which in turn came from her missionary upbringing, although without the Catholicity, but definitely involving the concept of the sacred space.

Anonymous said...

Wow! This book's going on my reading list!


Anonymous said...

Sounds great. Wow!
I am breathing a sigh of releif to read that it's ok and still possible to pursue holiness, even if you don't have perfect self-discipline, perfect housekeeping, perfect marriage, or perfect children! And yes, i agree, too many "holy catholic ladies" spend too much time comparing themselves to each other, and to others, at the cost of personal and family growth. What a dreadful mistake, we end up either feeling like total failures, or else give in to the temptation to puff up with pride at our own "one upping".
I too am putting this book on my reading list! Thank you Elena Maria!!
Beth Groves

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, GSK's book is for real women where they are now.