Pope Francis' Beautiful Affirmation of the Feminine Genius

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This week, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation this week titled Gaudete et exsultate, “Rejoice and be glad”.

So just what is an apostolic exhortation? According to a guide for church documents published by EWTN, an apostolic exhortation is used by the Pope “to communicate to the Church the conclusions [the Pope] has reached after consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. He has also used it in other circumstances, such as to exhort religious to a deeper evangelical life.” 

Apostolic exhortations are usually written as the Pope reflects on a Synod of Bishops. In the case of Gaudete et exsultate, the Pope’s writings will reflect on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter to bishops. The letter was issued in the beginning of March and discussed topics concerning Christian salvation. Apostolic exhortations are considered to be some of the highest ranking papal documents, ranking after Encyclical Letters

In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis encouraged all people today to embrace the call to holiness in today’s modern world. But this apostolic exhortation isn’t just about understanding what holiness means.

Instead, Pope Francis’ goal with this apostolic exhortation was to re-propose the call to holiness. “What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification,” Pope Francis wrote in the first few paragraphs of the apostolic exhortation. “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”

This apostolic exhortation is full of practical, beautiful wisdom. Everyone should read Gaudete et exsultate – but, to get you started, here is the beautiful message the Pope Francis wrote to women and their role in striving for holiness:

"Within these various forms, I would stress too that the 'genius of woman' is seen in feminine styles of holiness, which are an essential means of reflecting God’s holiness in this world. Indeed, in times when women tended to be most ignored or overlooked, the Holy Spirit raised up saints whose attractiveness produced new spiritual vigor and important reforms in the Church. We can mention Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Bridget, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. But I think too of all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness." 

Pope Francis not only affirms the writings on Saint Pope John Paul II on the feminine genius, but encourages women specifically in their specific, feminine style of holiness. He calls this feminine holiness essential to reflecting the goodness and love of God into today's culture.

Precisely in the moments of history where women were overlooked, the Catholic Church saw the rise of incredible women saints. But holiness is not just for these amazing women, it's for us, too. Pope Francis affirms that each woman, in her own, unique way, is called to transform today's world with a beautiful life of holiness. 

Want to read more about the Pope's latest writing? Check out the full document on the Vatican's website (trust me, it's a beautifully easy read). For commentary on the rest of the exhortation, check out these seven things that Pope Francis wants you to know about holiness