Holy Women Hardcover – 1 Jul 2011
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This is a collection of articles on seventeen holy women of the church throughout the ages, most of the women are saints, though not quite all; most were nuns, but again not quite all. These writings are "derived from catecheses given by Pope Benedict XVI during his weekly general audience from September 1, 2010 to April 6, 2011." They have only been edited slightly to fit the book form. These are brief histories but meaty with information and inspiration, Benedict gets right to the heart of matters and tells a history of the woman's life, what lead her to her religious/spiritual way of life, tells us what these women achieved, how some were honoured and respected while alive, how others were martyrs for God. The Pope then winds each article down by placing the woman's achievements/religious teachings in our own modern times, showing how what she did or said is still relevant today and each ends with a relevant prayer. Most of the women are from the middle ages but the time span covered is broad ranging from 1098 to 1897 and the women are presented more or less chronologically with only slight deviation. The women included are:
St. Hildegard of Bingen
St. Claire of Assisi
St. Matilda of Hackeborn
St. Gertrude the Great
Bl. Angela of Foligno
St. Elizabeth of Hungary
St. Bridget of Sweden
Marguerite d Oingt
St. Juliana of Cornillon
St Catherine of Siena
Julian of Norwich
St. Veronica Giuliani
St. Catherine of Bologna
St. Catherine of Genoa
St. Joan of Arc
St. Teresa of Avila
St. Therese of Lisieux
The book is short and written in a very readable voice making it possible to quickly read through the book, however, I decided to take my time and read a biography a night so I could digest and process the information on each woman before going on to the next one. An highly enjoyable, entertaining, informative and, inspirational read!
Naturally, these are not exhaustive biographies; rather, the pope's talks provide an quick sketch to orient his audience about when the mystic or contemplative lived and about the main events in each of their lives. Each chapter also connects the virtues of the given woman to what we can do in our own lives. For instance, although Joan of Arc is famous for her military year and for being burned at the stake, Pope Benedict reminds us that she was first and foremost a dedicated spiritual being whom we can emulate: "Dear brothers and sisters, with her luminous witness St. Joan of Arc invites us to a high standard of Christian living: to make prayer the guiding motive of our days; to have full trust in doing God's will, whatever it may be; to live charity without favoritism, without limits and drawing, like her, from the Love of Jesus a profound love for the Church."
HOLY WOMEN allows us to see these great women of the Church through the words of wisdom of Pope Benedict. Some of the seventeen are more familiar than others, but in each case, the pope's brief dissertation can prompt a desire to learn more about the respective servant of God. I'll just mention two volumes in my own bookcase that offer more extensive essays on a number of these same women and might be useful to others for further reading: Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics and Women Mystics in Medieval Europe.
In the opening talk about St. Hildegard of Bingen, the pope begins by noting that Bl. John Paul II wrote, " 'The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the *feminine* 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms that the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.' "
This little book is a gentle commemoration, from the current Vicar of Christ, of some of those women.
A lesson for all of us is the following from the first chapter: "The person endowed with supernatural gifts never boasts of them, never flaunts them and, above all, shows complete obedience to the ecclesial authority."