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Authentic Femininity

Mary Garbriel, author

In my early twenties, like many women that age I was finishing my college degree and making plans for my future. I was living a committed Catholic lifestyle, therefore it was a natural time to seriously think about my “vocation”. I found myself bouncing back and forth between wanting to be a Religious Sister and wanting 12 children. I would beg God to tell me what He wanted me to do! When asked what my biggest fear was, I remember telling someone “Not doing God’s will for my life”, but I felt like His will was a mysterious puzzle that I had to somehow put together all on my own. I was experiencing what many would call a “vocational crisis”.

This fickleness marked by urgency and uncertainty continued for far longer than I like to admit. Until one summer day a year after graduating from college, I saw this image in my mind during a time of prayer. Jesus was standing before me… in one hand was a wedding ring and in the other a Religious habit. I saw myself glancing from one to the other and at times reaching out for them intermittently. Jesus with such love in His gaze and patience in His voice… invited me to stop. To stop reaching, to stop grasping, to stop obsessing, and to just kneel before Him with my gaze set on Him (and not what was in His hands). He asked me to wait with my hands open, ready to receive the gift that He wanted to give me, the gift of my vocation.

This time of prayer changed my life and my discernment forever. I finally realized that no amount of worry, panic, and obsessing would help me “discover” my vocation, but that it was really about patience

and receptivity in my relationship with Jesus. Most importantly I learned in a deeper way that God is not primarily concerned with what I “do” for Him, but that I “am” His. I had known for years that Jesus was my greatest joy in life, but I was starting to realize that I was His joy too! Jesus once said to St. Faustina “You are My joy, you are My heart’s delight (Diary of St. Faustina, Paragraph 27)”. I was started to understand Jesus felt that way about me too!

Father Timothy Gallagher talks about how with any discernment, the first thing one must do is to recall God’s great love for us. It is absolutely essential that as women we have experienced God’s great love for us and have an understanding that above anything we could do for God… that we are His daughters and He loves us and delights in us merely because we are His daughters. It is who we are, not what we can do! It is enough that I am His daughter. The Lord was showing me that as any good Father would want to do, He wanted to give me good things (even my vocation) but in His timing. I needed to stop making a false god out of vocation and let God be Lord of my life.

A few years later my understanding of vocation was deepened even more as I sat in a Christian Marriage class at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The professor spent almost the entire first class talking about Baptism and near the end of the class asked, “I bet you are wondering why I spent so much time talking about Baptism when this is a Marriage class.” He went on to explain that through the waters of Baptism we have become Jesus Christ’s and therefore Jesus is the only one who can give us away at the altar. In a flash I had an image of Jesus presenting a bride to her groom and directly following Jesus walking a young woman to the doors of a convent. In both images in my mind – Jesus was the one that was was giving the young woman as a gift to either the man or the church in holy service through a Religious Community! For so many years I looked at my vocation as something that God would give me, that it was this great gift that He had for me. However, this one class opened my eyes to the fact that not only is my vocation a gift to me, but I am a GIFT. That I am a gift that He longs to give to either my spouse or to His holy service as a sister!

“In our own days too the Church is constantly enriched by the witness of the many women who fulfill their vocation to holiness. Holy women are an incarnation of the feminine ideal; they are also a model for all Christians, a model of the “sequela Christi”, an example of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom.” – Mulieris Dignitatem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Bl. John Paul II

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