Washington, D.C. — “Men want sex.” Gloria Purvis is quite blunt speaking to a group of about 130 young women from around the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. This is the GIVEN Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum, being held, not for the first time, at the Catholic University of America. The theme of the forum, and of the GIVEN Institute, which runs it is: “Discover the gift that only you can give, because of the gift that you are.” Her message to these young women, under 30, is that we need a civilization of love, and that it is possible only if women know their own beauty — and their critical good influence on men. It’s a message all women — and men — need to realize, to treasure one another and our gifts, and not use one another, as the culture often sets young people up for.
When Purvis was preparing for her talk the night before, her preteen daughter walked into her room with a joke that hit a little too close to the message Gloria wanted to relay. “Why can’t a nose be 12 inches long?” Maybe you’ve heard it before, Gloria hadn’t. The answer: “Because then it would be a foot, silly!” We, of course, live at a time when we are trying to make noses feet. I increasingly see anarchy graffiti in New York City. That’s the flavor of our times. A boy says he wants to be a girl? We talk about puberty blockers. A girl has some health challenges? For a number of problems, the medical protocols are to put her on birth control — the assumption being she is going to be having sex anyway, so birth control will possibly help her avoid pregnancy. These things are harmful and, frankly, abusive.
The GIVEN Institute and this gathering in D.C. this month is a solution to the problem of suppressing or trying to medicate away our natural physiological wonder, really. The natural order is amazing, even when there are imperfections. Gloria Purvis is a woman who revels in her femininity, unique as it is in each woman. (She lets the young women here know she owns a pink crowbar.)
A favorite woman in this crowd is Saint Edith Stein, also known by her Carmelite religious name Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was a philosopher and a convert to the Catholic faith who died at Auschwitz. To get a taste of her thought: “Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning.” And: “The soul of woman must be expansive and open to all human beings. . . . It must be quiet so that no small weak flame will be extinguished by stormy winds; warm so as not to be numb fragile buds; . . . empty of itself, in order that extraneous life may have room in it; finally, mistress of itself and also of its body, so that the entire person is readily at the disposal of every call.” And: “Do not accept anything as love which lacks truth.”
GIVEN is a haven. A first post-COVID gathering for many of these young women (there are masks and distancing) — all seeking resources to live in the light of eternity. Gloria Purvis was a breath of fresh air for so many of them. A wife and mother who lets her opinion be known in the world (she’s got a new podcast with America Media) who loves her Catholic faith and lives in the real world, not some pious intellectual experiment. She encourages the young women to live lives of “greater virtue and sacrifice. This is how you build a civilization of love.”
Multiple doctors here have talked about their struggle over the question of whether to prescribe birth control. They’ve come to learn that it isn’t good medical care. It’s not care for the whole person. It’s not recognizing the tremendous gift that is woman and all that that entails. Sisters here want to walk a walk of sanctity. To be a soldier for Christ, as Sister Dede Byrne just put it, as I type.
“Our bodies tell us deep spiritual truths,” another speaker, Leah Jacobson, said. “We lactate for a reason. Children need us for a reason. . . . Don’t fear your body.” Yet another speaker, Sister Maria Theotokos Adams SSVM, a member of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, said, about biological maternity and spiritual maternity: “There will be a suffering and there is sacrificial pain in bringing forth life.” This is the truth, about love and life, that we often try to avoid talking about. Suffering and sacrifice can be beautiful when it’s for the flourishing of another.
The absolutely most repeated Stein quote at the GIVEN forum every time it’s convened is: “The world doesn’t need what women have; it needs what women are.” This week, young women are coming to peace with who they are and what a gift they are, given love by God to be love in the world. That means being maternal, in whatever vocation they find themselves. This is the tender reality our confused culture and lives desperately need.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.