Great and Noble Catholic Women of Substance (Part 1)

Sr. M. Rosanna  Emenusiobi IHM (Ph.D)

In the last series in Woman & Feminine, our conversation was on the “feminine genius”. I am very hopeful that by now, you have understood, at least to some extent, the import of that great and noble terminology. Thanks to Pope St. John Paul II. Is it not a privilege to be a woman, more so to be a Catholic woman? Yes. It is. Period.
In the current edition, our search light beams on two great catholic women: St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) and Dr. Alice Hildebrand. These articulate women are renowned for their intellectual and spiritual acumen; famous for their boldness and clarity of purpose in belief and practice of the Catholic faith in the same century but in different periods similar in outlook: feminism and secularism. As a follow up to the “feminine genius”. I would like you to hear from these noble women, who celebrate womanhood and femininity in an age of misconstrued gender equality and misguided woman emancipation, which at their worst masculinise the modern woman. I came across these women on the Internet. Fr. Michael Rennier wrote a fascinating article on Edith Stein, while the Institute on Catholic Culture made an excerpt from Alice Hildebrand’s book: The Privilege of Being a Woman. I was captivated by these write-ups and thought of making them our inspirational reading for this edition of Woman & Feminine. Enjoy and internalise.
What It Means To Be A Woman In The Modern World
Brief Biography
Born in Germany in 1891, and eventually known by her religious name, St. Teresa Benedicta, Stein could have been expected to lead a quiet life out of the public eye — since women at the time were offered a significantly smaller number of roles to play in society than men. Instead, she chose to blaze a new path and follow her true vocation, which led her first into a highly respected philosophy program at the University of Gottingen, then to teaching schoolchildren and converting to the Catholic faith, and finally to entering a Carmelite monastery.
Stein’s fascinating life was cut short when she was martyred in a German death camp during the World War II, but due to her variety of experience and thoughtful intellect, she was able to write and publish perceptively on the topic of women and women’s vocations during the years she had. Her ideas were particularly influential for Pope St. John Paul II, who canonized her in 1998, saying, “This woman had to face the challenges of such a radically changing century as our own.” Stein is a saint for modern times, and is particularly insightful about what it means to be a woman in the modern world. She explains the unique and irreplaceable gift that women are to the world.
Here’s a sampling of what she has to say to us today about Womanhood and Femininity taken from some of her writings. Thanks to Fr. M. Rennier.
“To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.” (From: The Significance of Women’s Intrinsic Value in National Life)
Edith never doubted that to be a mother is an irreplaceable vocation to which many women are called. Not all women need to be mothers (she herself was not) to lead happy and fulfilled lives, but only a woman can be called to this beautiful vocation. Often overlooked or seen as less important, Edith insisted that it is one of the noblest of callings. If you are a mother, be reminded of the dignity and importance of your vocation.
“Every profession in which woman’s soul comes into its own and which can be formed by woman’s soul is an authentic woman’s profession.” (From: The Ethos of Women’s Professions)
So, if women are not limited to motherhood alone, what options are there and where is the limit to what a woman can do? Edith insists the list is endless, and the possible vocations available to a woman are every single profession or calling in which her soul finds its true dignity.
“The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” (From: Fundamental Principles in Women’s Education)
What she means here is quite profound. One of the questions she constantly asks is, “Can we truly know other people, particularly the way that they feel?” Her answer is, “Yes,” because the nature of the human soul itself, the reason it exists, is to find itself in relationship with other souls. This is a complicated way of saying that what truly gives meaning to life is our relationships. To her, women are specifically gifted with the ability to open up their souls, which imparts purpose and meaning to the lives of others. In the modern, practical world, empathy is not really understood or practiced because we do not think it is possible or simply do not value it, but Edith insists that it is a valuable vocation.
“The soul of woman must be expansive and open to all human beings, it must be quiet so that no small weak flame will be extinguished by stormy winds; warm, so as not to benumb fragile buds … empty of itself, in order that extraneous life may have room in it; finally, mistress of itself and also of its body, so that the entire person is readily at the disposal of every call.”
(From: Fundamental Principles of Women’s Education)
To Edith, a woman who is in full control of herself is free to live for others. True strength lies in sacrificial love that holds up the weaknesses of others. In a world where power, wealth, and attention seem to gather all the applause, this is a good reminder that a woman actually finds joy and contentment by making her soul beautiful first.
Each woman who lives in the light of eternity can fulfil her vocation, no matter if it is in marriage, in a religious order, or in a worldly profession. (From: Spirituality of the Christian Woman)
We all have different callings in life. Not every woman needs to be a mother, or a nun, or president of a company, but whatever a woman is called to be, she will best fulfil it by understanding what she is on this earth to do, and how it will contribute to her lasting happiness. Edith Stein believes that whatever your vocation, you should let God be a part of it.
Woman, naturally, seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth, is her natural, maternal yearning. (The Ethos of Women’s Professions)
All of us are flawed, yes, and we are all probably embarrassed about mistakes we have made in the past. Edith insists that women can approach these feelings almost the way a mother would, by seeing flaws, not as a single trait to be relentlessly criticized or as a way of defining an entire life, but instead to follow a better way and see people as a whole, as works-in-progress, and capable of being nurtured into greatness.
“Women comprehend not merely with the intellect but also with the heart.” (From: Problems of Women’s Education)
The intellect is valuable for insights into basic truths and skills, but when we truly know a person or thing, our knowledge helps us to also love them. The goal of knowledge is to love those beautiful and wonderful truths we uncover. This means that the heart, when combined with the mind, is necessary to knowing the world around us. The gaze of the lover sees most clearly, which means that whatever we love best, we can also know best. In a world where science and technology dominate, let us not neglect the valuable knowledge that comes from the heart, especially of a woman. Women are really unique and irreplaceable. (to be continued)

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