What does it mean to be a woman? Certainly there are a lot of conflicting responses to that question. Catholic women in particular have a rich history and wealth of tradition in the theology of femininity. A lot of what we talk about, though, has to do with motherhood – both physical motherhood and spiritual motherhood. But for women dealing with infertility, this can be a painful thing to think about.
Shortly after my diagnosis (in my late-teens) I went through a gender identity crisis. If I was born without a uterus – actually created by God, but without a womb – could I truly call myself a woman? I bought a copy of Alice von Hildebrand’s “The Privilege of Being a Woman”, hoping that it would give me some answers. When I got to the part near the end (maybe the 7th chapter?) where she begins, “Every woman has a womb…” my eyes welled up with tears and I threw the book in a rage. I cried and cried, and told my mom, “I just wish someone would write a book to tell me what it means to live and be a woman with this condition.” My mom is no theologian. She didn’t know how to answer. But she did say, “Maybe you’re the one who’s supposed to write the book.”
Maybe. Does this blog count?
It’s been over 13 years since I started this journey, and I’m finally at a place now where I can enthusiastically answer this question:
What does it mean to be a WOMAN who is a follower of Jesus Christ, a Catholic, a daughter of the Most High?
Let’s take a look at some real-life examples (who also, coincidentally, were not physically mothers).
St. Mary Magdalene
Contrary to Dan Brown novels, Mary Magdalene didn’t become the secret matriarch of a centuries-old bloodline. But she did have a unique relationship with Jesus.
Mary Magdalene was a woman who, in her desire to be loved, fell into sin and became broken. Jesus saw her in the midst of this, and had compassion on her. He lifted her from her life of sin, freeing her from seven demons and accepting her beautiful act of contrition and repentance saying, “Her sins are forgiven her, for she has loved much.” She understood what it meant to be loved and rescued by Jesus, and wanted nothing more than to sit at his feet and listen as he taught her. She was the first one whom he appeared to after his Resurrection.
Having finally known true love, she gave her whole heart to Jesus. She teaches us that to be a woman means to love deeply, to run and jump into our Savior’s arms, and never look back. She shows us that, as women, we have the privilege of having a special, deep love relationship with our Rescuer. A woman’s relationship with Jesus is a very different thing than a man’s relationship Jesus, something that is worth reflecting on further.
St. Joan of Arc
Jumping 13 centuries into the future, we find the most adventurous example of Catholic womanhood the world has ever seen. This peasant farmer’s daughter bravely gave her “yes” to God when she was asked to leave her home and lead the French army during the Hundred Year’s War.
What is perhaps most impressive about Joan is her profound courage and trust in the Lord. She went where he led her, even though it was unheard of for a woman (let alone a teenage peasant) to go before the future King of France and be given leadership of his army. She trusted in her Voices (Sts. Michael, Margaret, and Catherine) and not in herself. When she realized that she had been trusting too much in herself, she confessed the sin of pride. After that, she gave everything she had over to the Lord, even though it led to her death by burning at the stake. In her last moments, she asked that a crucifix be held level with her eyes, and as the flames roared around her, witnesses say she called out the name of Jesus.
Joan of Arc teaches us that to be a woman means to be brave. It take courage to give our full trust and reliance on Jesus, no matter the circumstances. Courage and bravery are things we typically associate with men, but Joan of Arc shows us that they belong just as much to women, and perhaps more so. Her unyielding loyalty and trust in the Lord are uniquely feminine as well.
St. Therese of Lisieux
Being a woman means being the Lord’s daughter, and no one understood that better that St. Therese. Jesus was her first and only love. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is full of sweet, simple thoughts about how a “little” soul like hers can reach the heights of sanctity simply by giving every little thought, word, and action over to the Lord. She writes that Jesus never showed himself to her in a vision, never even in a dream. But “weak” and “little” as she was, she knew that Jesus loved her, and would always carry her in his arms.
Therese shows us a uniquely feminine combination of gentleness, humility, and trust. She fully embraces the Lord’s words, “Unless you become as little children…” No matter what happens, no matter what you do or do not achieve in this life, you are Jesus’ little girl, and nothing will ever change that.