Is There a Definition of a "Catholic Wife?" How I Found My Identity in the Feminine Genius.

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

So many of us pray throughout engagement and marriage to be good and holy wives. What does that actually mean, and how does it look in each woman’s life? For several years, I struggled to define who a holy, truly “Catholic” girlfriend, fiancee, and wife actually was.

I first heard the term “feminine genius,” as coined by Saint John Paul II in his apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women, on a summer retreat. The retreat introduced me to the letter and to Love and Responsibility, John Paul’s work illuminating the dignity and purpose of the human person, particularly as it relates to sexual ethics, the complementarity of men and women, and the real-life implications of how men and women relate to one another. 

These texts wrecked me, in the best way. My simpler, more youthful deas of love as feelings and gestures were torn down, replaced with the principles that love is an act of the will. Self-gift.

I attended the retreat with my college boyfriend. To be in a serious dating relationship, while reading a book about dating and all the potential obstacles to authentic love, struck me with insecurity. All of these ideas--love over utility, sincerity, honesty, chastity--grabbed my heart and made so much sense, yet they seemed like impossible standards. 

As a result, for several months I overanalyzed the nature of complementarity: I wondered if my actions communicated a sense of receptivity that the Pope said was integral to womanhood,while letting my boyfriend take a more initiating, leadership-focused role. I frequently questioned if I was living in a way that was truly “feminine.” 

My heart lived in a tension: I desired to be what I mistakenly perceived as the holiest type of Catholic woman, while also resisting passivity or weakness. When I was so concerned with whether I was being feminine in the right way, I wasn’t free.

Have you ever had a similar experience, wishing to be a prayerful, feminine, holy wife who is also a woman of strength and conviction? I found freedom in looking to Our Lady.

As I returned to school after the retreat and began attending a Marian prayer group, I delved into the mysteries of the Rosary for the first time. As I grew in devotion to Our Lady, I realized there is no single “type” of feminine genius, nor type of Catholic spouse, I needed to live by or fit into, because it is already there, integral to who we are. 

Within the term feminine genius there are as many ways to express femininity as there are unique, unrepeatable women in this world. Each of us is loved and willed into existence so specifically, with our own particular gifts.

If you find yourself looking for your purpose, particularly in preparations for marriage, I invite you to contemplate Mary as our ultimate womanly example. In her Magnificat at the Visitation, she joyfully proclaims, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” 

As women, we deeply desire to be seen. We can also help others to see the presence of the Lord. Mary proclaimed God’s love--magnified it--with her life. A prayer to do just that--to reveal God’s love to your husband, in body and spirit--radiates the Lord’s love. 

Where I used to mistakenly believe femininity meant a singularly calm, pious womanhood, I now know, through Mary’s making visible God’s love, that in reality the Father wants and needs women of all temperaments, spiritualities, hobbies, and strengths to make known his kingdom through their vocations. Only you can tell your story and share the love of God in a particular way; can love and sanctify your husband and future family in the ways they most deeply need.

The only true definition of a “Catholic wife” is the one specific to who you alone were created to be.

When I met and began dating my husband, there was an immediate ease. I saw “...that femininity doesn’t mean one thing only: it’s not always being the asked, never the asker; always the pursued, never the pursuer; always the comforted, never the comforter. It doesn’t mean being afraid to argue or voice strong opinions. It means loving my husband, in his uniqueness, and every person I encounter, in the specific way only I can.” 

My favorite Adoration chapel has a monstrance in the form of a wooden sculpture of Our Lady, holding out her arms. In her arms is the space for the Eucharist. We see how a woman is both holding--receiving--and magnifying her for all to behold. If we look to her, we can constantly revisit what it means to reveal him to others and bear his face, not our own, to the world.

In our identity as brides, the feminine genius calls women to be like a monstrance: only a vessel--a beautiful one, in soul and body--for revealing the Lord to our beloved, magnifying his love and presence to others. 


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Newlywed Life | Ora et Labora, Prayer and Work

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

As I walked down the aisle on my wedding day, I was relatively aware how “everything” was going to change. In one day, I acquired a new roommate, an abundance of new household appliances and a new last name. Simultaneously, my husband and I were preparing for an international move—transitioning out of our jobs and community and into a new world of people, places, and norms. 

PHOTOGRAPHY:   MEL WATSON PHOTOGRAPHY

I did not have the same awareness of the resulting changes to my spiritual life and prayer routine. 

Following our wedding day, early mornings at an adoration chapel were replaced with making breakfast and enjoying coffee with my new husband. The spontaneous decision to attend daily Mass disappeared due to a lack of access to daily Mass in our new community. The experiences that once nourished my soul and my heart gave way to the new gifts and specific circumstances of married life. 

I’ve gained encouragement in my new role as a wife through the Benedictine saying, “Ora et labora,” or “pray and work.” This philosophy intertwines the responsibilities of vocation with our hearts’ longing for God. 

In this season of life, my “work,” my vocation as a wife, looks like cleaning the house and preparing meals, washing the dishes and doing laundry, planning a vacation and keeping in touch with extended family. 

In accordance with the Benedictine philosophy, the household chores, fulfilled as acts of service and love, can become a form of prayer. The active doing with my hands is a tangible form of prayer, of becoming a longing for God.

As we purify the intentions of our hearts and bring God to the front of our minds, every action—both at home and in our communities—becomes prayer. Waking up early enough to make a cup of coffee for your spouse is a prayer for his goodwill. Keeping in touch with extended family is a prayer of thanksgiving for your origins and support system. Upholding an orderly house as a practice of discipline is prayerful preparation to model a virtue of self-control to future children.  

If you, like me, are wrestling with the tension of incorporating old habits into new circumstances, take peace in knowing God is right where you are. Molding our prayer life according to our new vocational life does not mean surrendering spiritual practices altogether. Our hearts yearn for intimacy with both our spouse and God in a personal, trinitarian relationship. Lean into the ache to see how loving your spouse and God are united in the same action.


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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Reflections in a Chalice

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

There are several moments from our wedding day frozen in my mind as a still life memory. These memories become as clear as a picture when I tell a story from that day. Sometimes, an external trigger causes one of those freeze frame moments to captivate my full attention like a daydream.

Recently, as I participated in the Liturgy of the Mass on a routine Sunday morning, I was transported to a vivid memory, but relieved the moment with entirely new perspective.

During the Eucharistic prayers, the literal surroundings faded out of my periphery and I was transported to the Eucharistic prayers during our wedding Mass. On our wedding day, I noticed a reflection in the chalice; the image fused itself to my mind as a picture I will never forget. It wasn’t until the most recent trigger of that moment when a rush of the Holy Spirit brought meaning to my grace-filled memory.

I felt my husband kneeling by my side at the foot of the altar. Our beloved priest lifted the chalice high above our heads, as he stood with power and grace in persona Christi. As I looked up in wonder and awe and complete surrender to the beauty of that moment, I was captivated by mirror image of myself and my husband, dressed in white, on our knees in prayer and thanksgiving. Our picture was the image in the shimmering gold of the chalice.

The chalice is the cup which holds the red wine: the juice of the fruit of the vine. Through the Eucharistic prayers and the Liturgy of the Mass, the wine becomes the Blood of Christ.

The contents of that chalice become a mingling of water and wine, humanity and divinity, mercy and love, death and new life.

As we knelt far below the greatness of that chalice, my husband and I were the visible reflection in its surface. This image is a metaphor of a powerful truth: on our wedding day, we became the visible reflection of Christ’s sacrifice, physical bodies to share sacrifice as love.

This is the call of the vocation to marriage.

In marriage, a bridegroom and his bride become the image of Christ and the Church. The two become one reflection of Christ’s love. Like the blood turned wine, acts of sacrifice are transformed into acts of love. Like the intoxicating effects of wine, the fruits of love are intoxicating in the most holy, joyful, and abundant ways through marriage and family life.

In the sacrament of marriage, God offers brides and grooms a gift. He offers men and women the glory of the Passion, so husbands and wives may both receive God’s love and become co-creaters of new love—new life—to share Love within in their homes and communities.

Where did the wine, the blood, in that chalice come from? Jesus carried a wooden cross on his back then he died upon that cross. The pain and agony of that experience is real. In the same way, there will be pain and agony in our marriages. But this is not the end. As we see a foreshadow of our vocation in Christ’s story, we too can have constant hope in the joy of the resurrection: the infinite pouring and sharing of love for ages to come.

The next time you attend Mass, pray for the eyes to see your own vocation on the altar, being broken and shared as a visible sign of love. God desires to share these graces with us. This is the joy we are called to live on this side of heaven.


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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Your Wedding is an Icon.

KIKI HAYDEN

 

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

The wedding at Cana became an icon when, through Christ’s signs, it revealed Christ’s glory to his disciples. In her book Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols, Madeleine L’Engle writes, “…an icon…is an open window to God.”

Orthodox and Eastern Catholic priests speak of traditional painted icons in the same way: Icons are windows. An icon provides catechesis that transcends the boundaries of literacy and education. Like the marriage at Cana, your own wedding is an icon—a window to see God’s love.

At your wedding, you and your beloved are witnesses to the greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When you and your beloved join God in a sacramental covenant, you become a visible truth of love, just like a traditional painted icon. Your guests not only see an exchange of human love, but also gaze through the window of your wedding to see a beautiful image of God’s love.

Even within the strict traditions of painted icons in Eastern Christianity, iconographers bring personal interpretations to their creative work. I have seen several different icons depicting the wedding at Cana. In many, Jesus and Mary are conversing privately in the corner. In some, they are instructing the servants. In one, they are larger than life, embracing the newly married couple like children. In its own way, each icon is a reminder to “Do whatever he tells you.”

Just like painted icons, Catholic weddings follow a structure. Every Catholic rite—Roman, Byzantine, Chaldean, etc.—fulfills the sacrament in a different way. Within each tradition, every couple infuses their wedding day with a unique flavor.

You probably didn’t choose the basic order for your wedding ceremony, but you chose the hymns to set the mood. And while your reception may include a traditional set of events, such as the first dance and cutting of the cake, you and your family have selected the décor, food, and music. Even the way you interact with each other, your guests, and with Jesus throughout the day can have deep positive effects that only you can offer.

There is no other couple exactly like you, and you are an icon of God’s love in all your quirks, your challenges, and your strengths.

Unplanned moments on your wedding day can become small icons when they are windows for others to see God’s love. For me and my husband, one surprising iconic moment was during the dance of Isaiah. During this event in the Byzantine Catholic wedding ceremony, the priest leads the bride and groom in three circles around the Gospel book: a tradition full of symbolism.  

As we began a slow, reverent march, Father smiled slyly and reminded us this was a dance—he instructed us to “Give it a wiggle!” He encouraged us to literally dance our way around the Gospel. I assure you, “Give it a wiggle” is not written in the liturgical books. That dance became a surprising icon for us, and for our guests, to see God’s joy and delight.

Iconography is crucial to Eastern Christian  spiritual formation because icons have many layers of meaning. Regardless of a person’s background or education, they can look at a spiritual image, understand some part of the story, and relate to the depiction of a human experience. God can infuse truth and hope in the hearts of everyone who views the icon.

With greater knowledge of symbolism, theology, and iconography, a viewer can glean more nuanced truths from the image.  The colors of robes and the placement of hands, for example, impart specific spiritual messages.

Your wedding also has many layers of spiritual teachings. Guests with no religious convictions, people of different faiths, and seasoned Catholics and Christians can all encounter Jesus’ love at your wedding. Whether they are moved by the beauty of the day or the beauty of two lives becoming one, your wedding guests can reflect on the human experience and spiritual truths of union, covenant, and love.  

Prayers, readings, hymns, and traditions can be a window to see God for those more familiar with Church teachings. Jesus knows the hearts of everyone present, and he will use the day to draw each individual into his loving embrace.

The story of the marriage at Cana shows us how Jesus abundantly blesses weddings and reveals his great love through weddings and receptions. He will love your wedding. After all, your wedding is an icon, a beautiful and unique window to his divine love.


kiki hayden.png

About the Author: Kiki Hayden is a writer and Bilingual Speech Therapist living in Texas. Her dog is named Goldberry and her husband is named Michael. She is a Byzantine Catholic. To find out more about how God is changing her life through speech therapy, visit her website.

Newlywed Life | When Your Relationship Feels Stuck in a Rut

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

At 23, I thought I was entering into marriage without any veils of illusion or idealism, understanding that love runs far deeper than emotion. Yet there’s an undyingly romantic part of my heart that still expected married life would be a constant adventure.

I found myself surprised, then, when several months into our vocation my husband and I both found ourselves...restless. We were far from family and seeking community, eating similar meals each week, watching The Office every night. Even as we savored the newlywed days of discovering what our life together would look like, we searched for a sense of direction.

We craved routine, but didn’t want to be bored. We knew we weren’t one another’s ultimate earthly fulfillment, yet still desired to feel fulfilled.

Have you experienced a relationship rut like this? Maybe your own sense of restlessness has looked like mine, in the form of seeking more variety in your newlywed life after the activity-filled periods of your wedding planning and honeymoon. Maybe it’s a lack of quality time together in seasons of travel, deployment, or new parenthood.

While I can attest to the benefits of resisting idleness, pursuing new hobbies together, and establishing meaningful morning and bedtime routines, I also encourage you not to push your restlessness aside, eager to fill it and move on. Instead, lean into your sense of hunger. Ask  yourself why that sense has taken root.

In my experience, Saint Augustine’s famous words that only in the Lord do we find true rest are the reason I ache. A longing for the Lord--the source of all beauty, fulfillment, joy, adventure--is why I find myself particularly unsatisfied on the days I don’t pray, the days I can’t stop the social media scroll, the days I selfishly prioritize myself over my husband and children.

It’s good to shake up my routines, to seek new pursuits that make my mind and soul come alive, to create a sense of order within my day. Yet I remind myself these goods can become distractions if I forget they’re rooted in who I am: a person, willed out of love and made for more than this world.

When this deepest truth of my identity gets pushed aside for worldly things, that’s when boredom and restlessness settle in. Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “this aspiration in the human heart is indelible...the thirst for the infinite that dwells in men and women is not slaked. Instead a frantic, sterile search for ‘false infinites’ begins, that can satisfy them at least for a moment...We must uproot all the false promises of the infinite that seduce men and women and enslave people. Truly to rediscover ourselves and our identity, to live our dignity, we must return to recognizing that we are creatures, dependent on God. The possibility of a truly free and full life is linked to recognizing this dependence — which in our inmost depths is the joyous discovery of being God’s children.”

In those early days of marriage as my husband and I struggled against what felt like the mundane, the Father, in his loving grace, gently drew our focus back to him. I felt a pull on my heart to invite him into my daily tasks and maintain a dialogue of prayer throughout the day; truly, this practice began to center me. My husband and I began attending weekly Adoration hours and gradually became involved in ministries and relationships at our parish.

We found when we followed through on commitments related to our personal holiness and worked on developing a shared spiritual life, the restlessness faded into the background. We felt more alive in our marriage and our daily responsibilities. At the same time, everyday rituals and hobbies came more easily and organically; there was less Netflix scrolling and more seeking beauty, more long walks to explore our new state, more literature, more putting our phones away.

What’s more, the mundane suddenly didn’t seem so difficult. Daily prayer and a sense of intention in our actions brought a new sense of contentment and purpose to laundry, dishes, and errands. Even less-fun tasks felt more meaningful when I stopped to remind myself that this, a shared life with a man who cherished and sanctified me, was what I always dreamed of.

I still recall this sentiment several years later, as our daily lives are heavily focused on raising our young children. These are the days I prayed for; may I not lose sight of these gifts.

Boredom, I now realize, is the Lord urging us to return our gaze to him.

The parable of the Prodigal Son comes to mind when we find ourselves in a rut: it is a hunger, an ache for more, that leads him to seek that which is away from God. Ultimately, it is that same hunger that brings him home, back to rejoicing and to the true feast.

If your own current season feels aimless, restless, or boring, I encourage you to sit for a moment in your feelings. Embrace quiet or discomfort, and listen for the Father’s voice. What is it he is calling you to?


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Modeling the Catholic Home in the Monastic Style

CARISSA PLUTA

 

For over 2,000 years men and women have set out for places of seclusion and peace in hopes of finding communion with God. While our vocation to marriage looks vastly different from the call of monks and nuns, we ultimately desire the same end.

PHOTOGRAPHY:    AN ENDLESS PURSUIT

PHOTOGRAPHY: AN ENDLESS PURSUIT

Most of us can’t pack up our stuff and move our lives to a quiet cabin in the woods, but we can learn so much from our brothers and sisters who live within the monastery walls; many aspects of the monastic life can be modified and applied to the Catholic home in order to help married couples and families grow closer to God.

Create a Rule of Life

Monks lead lives of discipline and order. Each religious order has their own set of precepts called a Rule of Life, which serves as a guide to keep their eyes fixed on God while living in their vocation.

Building a structure that influences your day-to-day is a beneficial practice for every couple and family that will help you and your marriage flourish.

In our vocation of marriage we have duties to our husbands, to our family, to our home, to God, and to ourselves. Having a Rule of Life helps ensure that each of these areas are receiving the attention they need, allowing you to find a deeper peace and a more profound freedom.

Create a Sacred Space

Monks and nuns in a contemplative order will spend much of their lives praying in a place secluded from the rest of the world. For those of us called to the vocation of marriage and family life, that isn’t really possible (nor should it be!)

However, we can create a space in our homes that functions as a “little monastery.”

Your home’s sacred space doesn’t have to be elaborate, it adds a lot of beauty to your home, and setting aside a wall or corner that fosters prayer and contemplation will help you refocus your attention on God.

Pray Daily

Every successful rule of life includes daily prayer, a necessity for anyone striving for holiness. Even incorporating simple daily prayers can bear immense fruit and can easily involve your spouse and your children.

You might consider praying a rosary (or a decade of the rosary) everyday, or take up saying the Liturgy of the Hours. You could also add an Examen to your evening routine, or if possible, go to a daily Mass at a nearby parish.

Cultivate Silence

In the words of monk and author Thomas a Kempis: “In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture.”

However, work, kids, and the constant buzzing of our phones and social media apps can make silence difficult to find outside of a monastery. Thankfully, there are many little changes you can make to cultivate silence even on the busiest of days.

You can try limiting your phone usage especially in the morning or before bed. Or you can try waking up before the kids and enjoy your coffee, or turning the radio off on your commute.


About the Author: Carissa Pluta is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. She is the author of the blog The Myth Retold. Read more

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The Visitation and Friendship

CARISSA PLUTA

 

In my group of friends, I was the first to get married and it was a honor to watch many of them enter into the same sacrament that brought so much joy to my life.

PHOTOGRAPHY:  AVENUE CREATIVE

PHOTOGRAPHY: AVENUE CREATIVE

These women were pillars in my life before and after my wedding day but I found that as we each entered into our vocations, our friendship deepened and took on a new life.

Today’s feast of the Visitation has much to teach us on the beauty of friendship, especially while living out our vocations. Henri Nouwen writes:

“The story of the Visitation teaches us the meaning of friendship and community. How can we ever let God’s grace fully work in our lives unless we live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it, and strengthen it? We cannot live this new life alone. God wants us to form new friendships and renew community – a holy place where grace can grow to fullness and bear fruit.”

The grace conferred on us on our wedding day is meant to strengthen the couple in their love for one another, allowing their love to reflect that of the Creator. And while this grace is a gift freely given, we must cooperate with that grace.

But we can’t do that alone, or even simply with our husbands. We need community.

We need women with whom we can walk side-by-side as we strive to live out our wedding vows. We can not pursue holiness in our vocation in isolation. We especially need the friendship, solidarity, and wisdom given to us by other married women.

After receiving the news that she was to become the mother of God, Mary was also told by the angel of her cousin Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy. And so, Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary did not undertake this arduous journey to verify the news that what the angel said was true, her but because had faith that God had worked in this woman’s life and she wanted to be there for her to rejoice with and support her.

Similarly Elizabeth, having only heard Mary’s greeting, was “filled with the holy Spirit...and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…’”

The joyful reception of Mary and Elizabeth perfectly illustrates the way that two women, who recently realized a new depth to their feminine genius, can recognize and build one another up in the graces God bestowed on them.

Pursuing holiness in marriage isn’t easy. I often find myself turning in a special way to the other married women in my life when I need encouragement and support in my role as a wife, and when I need a reminder about my identity as a daughter.

I look to them as examples of what holiness looks like.

I look to them to speak truth into my life when doubt and fear creeps in, and to recognize God’s presence in the seemingly mundane.

I look toward the women who can recognize the same grace in my life that has and continues to work in theirs, to strengthen it and help it bear fruit.


About the Author: Carissa Pluta is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. She is the author of the blog The Myth Retold. Read more

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