October 21, 2011

Women's Conference

Connect faith with femininity, speaker tells conference participants

By Mary Ann Garber

Colleen Carroll CampbellJournalist Colleen Carroll Campbell of St. Louis is fascinated by the writings of Blessed John Paul II on the feminine genius and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on spiritual maternity.

Campbell is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, published by Loyola Press in 2002 and now in its sixth printing.

The former speech writer for then-President George W. Bush also served as a delegate for an international Vatican Congress on Women.

In addition to writing a column for several newspapers, she has hosted “Faith & Culture,” an international television and radio show, since 2006 for the Eternal Word Television Network and serves as a guest commentator on secular networks.

The busy mother of twins is expecting her third child later this year, yet still found time to present a keynote address during “God Alone,” the Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference, on Sept. 17 at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

“I’m always struck by the strong demand for this sort of gathering among Catholic women,” Campbell said. “I think it signals a growing recognition among women today that we need to be more intentional about connecting our faith with our femininity.”

St. Paul reminds us that “we are all one in Christ Jesus,” she said, quoting from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Gal 3:28).

“The equality that men and women enjoy as children of God doesn’t erase our differences,” Campbell explained. “A woman’s feminine distinctiveness can be a source of strength on her spiritual journey.

“… Down through the ages, Christians have struggled to articulate how a woman’s feminine nature informs her approach to God and to the world, how it shapes her priorities and conventions of her heart,” she said. “… Nearly half a century after the modern feminist revolution, women enjoy impressive educational and professional opportunities, but our understanding of femininity is more impoverished than ever.”

Women should look to Mary and other female saints for genuine Christian role models, Campbell said, and reject societal pressures as well as secular media messages that promote superficial, sexual images of femininity.

The secular feminist movement of the 1960s “raised awareness of women’s rights, and propelled women into higher education and professions in record numbers,” she said. “It also ignited a sexual revolution that celebrated promiscuity, promoted abortion and denigrated marriage. And in the end, many women discovered that their inner emptiness still lingered, unabated by attempts to fill the void with money and sex and power or a feminist ideology that treats women as clones of men.”

Blessed Pope John Paul II noted, in his writings on “the feminine genius,” that women are created to love, Campbell said. “Embodied in this term is the idea that a woman possesses exceptional ability and originality for living that is directly related to her identity as a woman. She finds her fulfillment working with, not against, her feminine nature.”

The late pope’s 1988 apostolic letter on “The Dignity and Vocation of Women” was the first document of the Catholic Church’s universal magisterium dedicated totally to women, she said, who have a natural inclination to intuitively grasp the dignity of every human person.

Women are called to make our society more welcoming, gentle and humane, Campbell said, as well as transform our culture in ways that support life.

The writings of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross offer insight on how to do that, Campbell said, which can be described as spiritual maternity.

A teenage girl who befriends a less popular classmate, a nurse who treats the patient rather than the disease, a foster mother who raises a child that others did not want and a religious sister who offers spiritual direction to wayward souls are exercising their gifts for spiritual maternity, she said. So are an adult daughter who chauffeurs her elderly mother to the doctor, a wife who lovingly cares for her husband suffering from dementia even though he has forgotten her name, a grandmother who teaches her grandchildren to love God and pray the rosary, and a friend who stands by another woman as she journeys through an unplanned pregnancy.

These are all important things done with great love, she said, to bring beauty and order to situations of chaos and pain.

And the greatest gift of spiritual maternity, Campbell said, the highest use of a woman’s maternal gift, is to nurture the spark of life in another soul. †

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