May 1, 2014
We were walking through the Roman Forum, trying to take in the enormity of the ruins surrounding us. Glancing around, a beautiful young woman walking nearby happened to catch my eye. I watched her as she approached, and was stunned when I overheard her conversation: she and her companion were discussing which one of them was thinner.
Surrounded by one of the world’s great wonders, her mind was consumed with an utter banality. Made particularly grievous by its falsehood.
I wasn’t really surprised. But very saddened.
None of the things I would have wanted to say about being young, beautiful and in Rome would have made a dent in her negative self-perception. Reality for young women (and young men) is shaped by a culture that has made a shimmering and photo-shopped representation of physical perfection omnipresent.
There are other women walking the streets of Rome this week who are striking in their radiant happiness. Groups of nuns from all over the world have been here. All different ages and nationalities, and even apparent personalities, but strikingly similar in the joy they project. Without exception, the nuns that I have met are winsome and engaging.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the concept of “feminine genius” that I mentioned in my speech on Friday. What does it mean to be fully feminine? To be joyful in being a woman?
What does it mean to be fully feminine? To be joyful in being a woman?
By contrast, the nuns seem at peace and utterly self-possessed. I am sure there are nuns who struggle with normal human emotions of depression and fear and anger. And perhaps a more serene personality is drawn to a cloistered life. Nevertheless I am challenged and inspired by the beauty I see in their faces, that reflects a life centered on service, a mission focused outside the self, and a passion directed toward praise.
I snapped the picture above of these beautiful nuns who were marching together down St. Peter’s Square the night before the canonization Mass. Just after I snapped the picture, one of the nuns saw me, and I was instinctively afraid she would express disapproval. Instead she looked directly at me and grinned infectiously. I felt warmed and cheered. . . and knew I had witnessed a moment of true feminine genius.
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