Back in college, I read “Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul” by John and Stasi Eldredge. It was a good book, touching on many themes I had studied and discussed growing up, but it had a gaping hole: no Mary and no saints. This was not surprising since it is not a Catholic book, but disappointing nonetheless. Pat Gohn’s book, “Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood” starts to fill that gap.
While not an in-depth study of womanhood — it basically scratches the surface, serving as what Gohn calls a “springboard” for deeper study and discussion — the book does make that connection with Mary. Gohn demonstrates how the big picture of God’s plan for women is manifested in the Blessed Mother and is essential to understanding the dignity and beauty of womanhood.
“Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious” is very much testimonial in style. It is an intimate look into the life and struggles of a woman who searched and found her own beauty and purpose. Gohn offers very personal insight from her experience with decades of women’s ministry and as a wife and mother. Her stories are very relatable, but they do at times tend to overpower the subject matter of the book.
The book is divided into the three sections identified in the title: blessed, beautiful and bodacious. The initial “blessed” section looks at the basic dignity of women. While Gohn does beautifully describe how God’s relationship with Mary helps shape that identity in the second chapter, the first and third chapters tend to describe the dignity of humanity in general more than it actually unpacks the dignity of women in particular. While this general synopsis was not as specific as it could have been, the general explanation of human dignity and our relationship to God is still valuable.
In the “beautiful” section of her book, Gohn identifies what she calls the four universal qualities of womanhood, gifts that are “innate in every woman, inherent in her nature”: receptivity, generosity, sensitivity and maternity. These four chapters, one devoted to each trait, were quite inspirational and can help the reader identify areas for personal growth. However, without contrasting these purportedly feminine gifts with those more inherent in men, parts of this section felt lacking in strongly portraying all four traits as fundamentally feminine gifts. To see that reciprocity, complementarity and deeper distinctions between womanhood and manhood could have given a fuller understanding of these gifts.
The third section, “bodacious,” will tug at the heart of any woman. It goes into detail about “recovering our bodacious mission to be mothers.” Gohn explains that everything we do as women is influenced by our femininity, the core of which is “our design and capacity to receive, conceive and nurture the gift of life.”
This is something that has been lost in our culture, where the gift of maternity is often seen as an obstacle and an unjust intrusion on a woman. But Gohn captures the truth: that maternity is an incredible blessing and defining gift of women.
Overall, Gohn offers a lovely introduction to Catholic womanhood. I recommend it for anyone who is new to the topic. It’ll give you a taste of feminine genius and encourage you to keep digging.
Jennifer Rey is web editor at Our Sunday Visitor.