WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Colleen Carroll Campbell says women saints are models of how to overcome the struggles that all women face.
What is passed off as women's spirituality these days is downright absurd. Peruse the women's section of any religious bookstore, and the selection focuses on diets, boosting self-esteem and looking pretty for Jesus.
But Colleen Carroll Campbell says God did not make women to shop, diet or boost their self-esteem.
"We're born to love," she told Catholic Family Ministries' Women of Dignity conference April 13.
Being feminine is not about padded bras, acting helpless or "looking hot," she said. Secular feminists have flawed views that the pursuit of sex, money and power are what being a woman is all about.
Women, said Campbell, do not assess others based on their usefulness, intelligence, strength, health or beauty. Women have an inborn gift for valuing people, not for what they do or what they possess, but simply for who they are.
"Rather than using our cultural influence to amass more power or buy more stuff, we're called to make our society more welcoming, gentle and humane," she said.
More than 400 women attended the Women of Dignity conference, held in the arena at St. Albert's Servus Place.
Campbell is an author, columnist, and television and radio host. She writes commentary about religion, politics, culture and women's issues. In 2002, she worked for President George W. Bush, writing his speeches on education, the faith-based initiative, the fight against AIDS and judicial appointments.
Since 2006, Campbell has hosted her own international TV and radio show called Faith & Culture. Her latest book is My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir.
In the 1960s, women turned to higher education and landed jobs previously available only to men, she said. It led to a sexual revolution. Consequently, there was a rise in promiscuity, abortion and maligned marriages.
"In the Sixties, the perception was that women should seek their fulfillment in careers and politics, and not in marriage and family. This became the mantra for a generation," said Campbell.
Throughout her five talks, she spoke often of Pope John Paul II who used the term, "feminine genius." His opinion was that men and women have common values, but enrichment comes through their diversity.
"Pope John Paul lamented the tendencies of our technological age to value things more than people, and to measure a person's worth for what he can produce.
"The pope believed that this mindset leads to a loss of respect for the intrinsic dignity of the human person and for the very values that make us human," said Campbell.
The pope believed authentic femininity is connected to a woman's capacity for motherhood. Women have an innate gift for caring for the human person, what he referred to as spiritual maternity, she said. Women learn and teach others that human relations are authentic if one is open to the idea of accepting the other person.
"The pope introduced something very important and countercultural here. In a society that treats motherhood like a trivial pursuit, he offers the opposite: motherhood is crucial to the transformation of culture."
Not all women are called to marriage and motherhood. A single, childless woman can still demonstrate spiritual motherhood, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta proved. Similarly, women are not limited to the helping professions either. But their predisposition for nurturing is a gift that helps them in whatever they pursue in life.
"We see spiritual maternity in the teenage girl who risks her popularity to befriend a classmate on the margins. We see it in the nurse who treats the whole patient, rather than just his disease. We see it in the foster mother who embraces the child that others have dismissed as damaged goods."
Men can do these things too, but they tend to take an altogether different approach, having natural instincts to protect and provide, and take on bold adventures for the sake of those they love, she said.
No two men are alike, of course, just as no two women are. But both men and women operate out of their inherent differences. It only makes sense that when a woman approaches a problem, she approaches it differently than a man, Campbell said.
"Too many women try to squelch this feminine difference for fear that it will be a liability in their work or home lives. In fact, our spiritual maternity may be the key to our professional creativity and artistic originality."
Campbell said a woman's style can pay off at work, in parenting, and other avenues of daily life, bringing order and unity to situations full of chaos.
Recognizing authentic femininity is one thing, but to live it is quite another. Factors such as stress, sin, work hassles, family feuds, ill health and unforeseen disasters get in the way. Women endure one exhausting day after another, and feel more like feminine dropouts than feminine geniuses.
"Here's the good news: it's not our job to fix ourselves or to mould ourselves into the perfect Christian woman. Our job is to surrender to God and let his grace do for us what we cannot do for ourselves," she said.
Structuring one's day that leaves the door open to God's grace is vitally important. By allowing God into one's life, a woman can achieve much, she said.
Many Protestants question why Catholics put so much emphasis on the saints, rather than just focusing fully on Jesus.
Campbell's response is that looking at Jesus is like looking directly at the sun, his goodness and virtues brilliant, blindingly so. Looking at the saints is more like looking at the moon, and they reflect the light of Christ a little softer, and are easier for our imperfect eyes to take in.
"When we're striving for feminine holiness, it's helpful to look at these women saints who faced the same struggles that we do and emerged victorious," she said.