Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Ind., 2012; $14.95
This book bothered me right at the beginning. Something about the cover image — a woman wearing a polka-dot dress, 3-inch heels and a halo while sitting on a cloud — turned me off. The word “bodacious” in the title made me wonder if the book should be taken seriously.
So what made me change my mind while reading “Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious”?
First I noticed that the history of author Pat Gohn’s relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus, is quite different from mine. Gohn grew up with little personal connection to the Blessed Virgin and many misconceptions about her. Eventually Scripture and the writings of Blessed John Paul II changed her views and led her to love the mother of God.
I, on the other hand, was devoted to Mary in childhood. When as a young woman I got to better know her Son and developed a relationship with all three persons of the Trinity, my relationship with Mary shifted.
So I became curious as to how much the author and I share, or how different we are, now that we are both more mature. Curiosity prompted me to read.
A good clue that there would be similarities came when I read the question that opens Chapter 3, “Are you a beloved daughter?” The question impelled prayerful meditation, and not for the first time in my life. Gohn’s reflections are the culmination of her explanation of a woman’s blessedness, which comprises this book’s Part One.
Gohn says blessedness is church-speak for happiness. How are you and I blessed, made happy? “You belong to God. You were made for truth. You were made for goodness. You were made to know beauty. You are beautiful. You are loved.”
I recognized other similarities between the author and me in Part Two. Gohn describes having been caught up in the need to achieve and be considered good enough. We were both honor students, the first women in our families to earn college degrees, strong women who assumed leadership roles and achieved firsts in our fields.
As our relationship with God grew, so did our realization that we are beautiful. Our feminine gifts — receptivity, generosity, sensitivity and maternity — are God-given, not earned by our own efforts. God has given us the means to bear love to the world. God made us beautiful.
In this section of the book, Gohn shares more of her story about her relationship with the Blessed Virgin. Along with a devotion to Mary, she loves to pray the rosary and has shared the rosary with other women. At one difficult point in her life she reaped much consolation from that form of prayer and from her relationships in two women’s groups.
Gohn shares enough about herself throughout the book that a reader gets a good sense of what she is like as a person and how enthused she is about her faith and her message.
In Gohn’s framework, the third part of the church’s vision for women, along with their blessed dignity and gifted beauty, is a sacred mission. Here in the book’s Part Three is where she uses “bodacious” to describe the call to motherhood. By “bodacious” she means a combination of attractive and audacious. And by motherhood she refers to being either a physical or a spiritual mother, or both.
The chapter on bearing and raising children is an extended meditation on “This is my body, which is given for you” (Lk 22:19).
Every chapter immediately hooks the reader with a provocative word or sentence. The word “Tears” is the first line of one chapter; “Gifts” opens another. “Receptivity. Now there’s a word.” Those teasers are a sample of Gohn’s lively style, as in “I’m not talking about fairy godmothers here.” That’s the opener for a chapter about spiritual motherhood.
While the word “motherhood” best fits Part Three’s theme, spiritual “sisterhood” might sound better to many women. Aspiring to be a spiritual sister seems more attainable. Whether you aspire to sisterhood or motherhood, Gohn has a number of practical suggestions for you: Make (three) friends; be a catalyst for joy; pray with one another (and she tells how to proceed); listen; learn; add “love language” to your communication; be generous, sensitive and maternal.
She says enough about each recommendation — all based in sound principles about friendship and proven through the author’s experience — to make them realistic.
It is apparent in Pat Gohn’s personal story, her speaking engagements, her work producing a Catholic women’s podcast and this book that she enjoys being a spiritual mother to many. “Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood” will likely attract new spiritual daughters who will appreciate the many friends to whom she introduces them.
They will meet St. Louis de Montfort and St. Therese of Lisieux, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and Elisabeth Leseur, and many more through print or electronic resources. Whether or not you like black-and-lime dresses and spike heels, look beyond this book’s cover.