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Catholicism gets a bad reputation, at times, when it comes to its treatment of women and the subject of womanhood. One accusation in particular one tends to hear, is that the Church treats women unfairly because they are denied the opportunity to serve as priests. While it is true that women do not serve in this role, to indict the entire Church, as some will do, paints an incomplete and–dare I say it–unfair picture of Catholics and the lessons of our faith.
One need only to delve into the basic teachings on Mary to recognize the ways in which the Catholic Church honors not just the mother of our Savior, but also the mutual role women play in our society. Consider, for example, the women who have become saints and how the Church has emphasized the importance of womanhood since the beginning of creation.
Women share an equal role to men. The Church reminds us of the inherent beauty and the unique qualities women possess which allow them to fulfill their special purpose, one that is different, but certainly no less important than the the role to be fulfilled by men.
As (now Saint) Pope John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Women,
The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.
However, an all-too large segment of our society prefers to stick with the story that the Catholic Church oppresses women.
Therefore, when I was offered an opportunity to review the latest book by Ms. Maria Morera Johnson, I was excited. Having missed her first book, My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live, I was intrigued at the concept presented in Super Girls and Halos: My Companions on the Quest for Truth, Justice, and Heroic Virtue.
What first piqued my interest was the premise, in which Ms. Johnson explores modern fictional heroines, draws comparisons with historical female figures within the Catholic Church, and questions how we can grow in the cardinal virtues exemplified by both fictional and non-fictional characters.
Ms. Johnson separates the cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance into distinct parts of her book, allowing for an easy reference back through the chapter. Within the discussion of each cardinal virtue, Ms. Johnson highlights four different women: two fictional heroines and their saintly counterparts—the Super Girl Saints, if you will.
I will be honest – I had trouble, at times, connecting with some of the fictional heroines, but that was due to my own background and not Ms. Johnson’s narrative. In my childhood and teenaged years, I had very little exposure to science fiction, something that drives my Sci-Fi loving husband to distraction. At first, I had difficulty grasping the full nuances of the Wonder Woman, Rey, Black Widow, Dana Scully, Storm, and Lt. Uhura. And, while I knew the stories of Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen, Ms. Johnson’s writing forced me to look deeper into each character’s psyche. And when I did so, I “Marveled” at how these fictional characters have helped shape an entire generation of strong-minded female readers—and movie-goers, I guess.
When Ms. Johnson discussed the saintly counterparts to these fictional heroines, this book became an even greater treasure trove of encouragement. Within the connections built between the these pairs of women, from Wonder Woman and St. Katharine Drexel to Katniss Everdeen and St. Mary MacKillop, to Lt. Nyota Uhuru and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the reader is lovingly reminded that each of these cardinal virtues will help lead us to a path toward Heaven. No matter how difficult things may seem, the readers are shown how the tests we face in our lives serve to mold our characters and shape our virtues. And, if we are vigilant, we are able to look to even modern-day fictional heroines as acceptable role models, knowing they are a small representation of some seriously holy heavy weights in our Church.
Within Super Girls and Halos, the reader is exposed to Church teachings, serving as a subtle reminder of the power womanhood holds, contrary to popular secular beliefs. We are encouraged to recognize the moments in which we can bring the “genius of women” to bear upon the challenges we face in our lives, and provide help to those around us, perhaps in ways that the men around us are simply unable to do.
Furthermore, because Ms. Johnson delves into tried and true examples of womanhood by highlighting some amazing saints, readers find encouragement that facing obstacles in our path, and bringing that feminine genius to our daily lives, are not the impossible tasks we may, at times, believe them to be.
Real women, who have gone before us, have also stayed true to their gender while accomplishing incredible things in their lives! Surely then, we can do so as well.
As St. Pope John Paul II wrote,
Yes, it is time to examine the past with courage, to assign responsibility where it is due in a review of the long history of humanity. Women have contributed to that history as much as men and, more often than not, they did so in much more difficult conditions.
Being able to recognize the history and the role women have played is something which must be focused-on and highlighted.
Being able to point to heroines, both fictional and real, makes our examination much easier, as they show us a model of womanhood which we do not see typically emulated in our secular society today.
Growing in justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance can serve to strengthen each of us, if we can stay true to who God made us to be.
And, through it all, we can begin to reclaim the “genius of women” from the detractors in the larger society around us.
Most importantly of all, Ms. Johnson shows us why our duty to uphold womanhood as a core value is of utmost importance not just to ourselves, but to the world around us all.
For more insights and reviews on this book, or to join the giveaway, please hop over to Allison Gingras’ page, Reconciled to You, and read her interview with Ms. Johnson. Be sure to click the links to the other bloggers’ pieces as they write about how this book impacted their lives!