In these months celebrating both the canonization of Pope St. John Paul II and our Blessed Mother; it is good to look at how Pope Francis is reaping the fruits of one of Pope St. John Paul II’s greatest contributions to the Church. This contribution is the emphasis on the Marian dimension of the Church particularly through what he called the “feminine genius.”
John Paul emphasized Mary as a model for us or as St. Louis Marie de Montfort would say, “The mold of God” in which we fulfill our humanity. This mold of Mary emphasizes the “Feminine Genius” and this is what Pope Francis is building upon to revolutionize the Church. He points us to five aspects:
- The Church is first bride and mother
- The Church as Mother keeps her children not only knowing the rules, but abiding by them
- The Church as Bride keeps her spouse grounded and connected; thus keeps the family together
- The Church loves with a mother’s love
- The Church as Bride/Mother is a helpmate, not replacement
Let us look at each of these briefly.
First, Pope Francis asks us to remember that the Church is first bride and mother. He said this in numerous addresses and homilies. The Holy Father echoed Vatican II saying, “The Church is our mother in faith, in supernatural life.”
Why does the Holy Father remind us that motherhood must take precedence in the life of the Church? It is because of its nature. A mother receives the love of the Father, lets it dwell and grow inside of her, and then bears the fruit of that love to the world. This is the mission of the Church, to bear the Good News of the Father’s love to the world. In order to do that however, we must first be still and receive that love. This is the key to doing great things for God. Pope Francis tells us this by showing we must be like Mary and first “let it be done unto [us] according to [His] word” (Luke 1:38). Otherwise, that word “will not bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-20).
This brings us to the second aspect of Pope Francis’ Feminine Genius: orthodoxy should lead to orthopraxis; right faith/belief should lead to right living. Pope Francis is emphatic about this since a head without a heart is only a “big head” or a prideful person. He puts it beautifully in a homily he gave in October 2013 when he said when, “we accept the faith and then do not live it, we are Christians only in memory.” It is as St. Paul tells us, “even if I have faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1Corinthians 13:2). Jesus also emphasized this, “Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mark 3:34-35). A mother makes sure that her children not only know the rules, but live by them. This is what the Pope wants the Church to do for all of us.
The third aspect Pope Francis’ speaks of in the Marian dimension is keeping her spouse well grounded and connected to the family. Now of course, the Church does not need to ground Christ the Head since He is perfect. However, she does remind Christ the body, those who act in Persona Christi and speak in the name of Christ, i.e. the clergy and laity alike, that “all of have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He did this in a major way through his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
In this exhortation, Pope Francis challenged not only the clergy, but all who have leadership roles within the church to be not chief administrators or rulers, but chief servants or holy fathers. Like a loving spouse, he knocks us down only so we can be built back up. This is important because if we are not grounded every now and again, we become disconnected to our family. And if we become disconnected to our family, we become unable to relate to them and then we lose our ability to guide our children because they think of us parents simply as enforcers of rules, not someone who loves them and has their best interests in mind.
The Holy Father picked up on the fact that this is happening too often in the Church and so challenged the parent figures within to be “shepherds with the smell of their sheep.” He reminds us to serve as he says, “It is an ugly thing when one sees a Christian who does not want to lower himself, who does not want to serve, a Christian who parades around everywhere. It’s terrible, no? That person isn’t a Christian: he is a pagan! The Christian serves (and) lowers himself.” The mother reminds the family that they are not above one another, but serve one another and grow as one family. Pope Francis wants to remind the Church to do the same.
Being able to relate to one another as family brings us to the fourth aspect of Pope Francis’ Feminine Genius, to love with a mother’s love; to love unconditionally. A mother knows that her kids mess up and mess up quite often, but she loves them anyway. Pope Francis encourages us to do the same because this is how God loves us. He loves the sinner, but hates the sin. In this, he echoes the words of Pope John Paul II; we “are not the sum total of our faults and failings, but the beloved of God.” Pope Francis tells us that this unconditional love is the thing that the Church must extend to the sinner because sin isolates, but God wants people, especially sinners, to know they are never alone.
He says, “We must make it so that our brothers and sisters never feel alone. Our presence in solidarity to their side expresses not only with words but with the eloquence of gestures that God is close to all.” Jesus also says this with his three parables of mercy in Luke 15: the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son.
The last aspect of Pope Francis’ Feminine Genius is the Church as bride, mother, and helpmate. Pope Francis reminds us that woman originally was not made to be in competition with man, but “as a helpmate” (Genesis 2:18). This is important because this is the context in which he makes his comments about “women having a bigger role in the church.” He wants women to know that they do have an important and irreplaceable role in the Church and that role will grow. At the same time however, that role is not to be clergy as women are helpmates, not replacements. Man and woman, clergy and laity are meant to work together to spread God’s word and build the kingdom of God.
In conclusion, we see that Saint John Paul II’s emphasis on the Marian dimension and Feminine Genius is bearing great fruit through the Papacy of Francis. We see that the Holy Spirit truly is “Genius” by appointing a Pope that is helping the Church “to get in touch with her feminine side.” In doing so, not only is He laying down a springboard for the New Evangelization, but also a firm foundation to build upon for years to come.
Mary, Mother of the Church and Bride of Christ, pray for us
St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us.