Radiant Femininity

On a recent retreat, I meditated on the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. What icons of radiant femininity these women of God are!

The episode (Lk 1:39-56) is familiar. Mary has just found out she will be the mother of the Messiah. She has also learned that her aged cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant. So she makes the trek to the hill country of Judah, to congratulate and to help Elizabeth in the final months of the latter’s pregnancy. When they meet, joy and celebration break out. Elizabeth’s baby, John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. Elizabeth cries out how blessed Mary is. Mary praises the wonders of the Lord.

Radiant femininity shines out throughout the passage. Mary has just received the joyful yet disturbing news that she will bear a son from no human husband. She puts her cares aside to help her elderly relative. Unasked, she sees what needs to be done and does it. She breaks out of her own compartment into another’s. Doubtless, when she got to Elizabeth’s house, she saw a dozen things Elizabeth hadn’t been able to get to – which a guy visitor would have missed completely, I think – and did them.

Years ago, I was visiting my wheelchair-bound cousin, Patrick. I commented how, at holiday dinners, the menfolk would tend to sit and chat before and after dinner while the women unobtrusively cleaned up around them and got the table cleared for dessert. How unthoughtful of the men! Meanwhile, my aunt Katherine was quietly cleaning up the tea things around us while I sat and chatted with Patrick. Patrick smiled a bit as the irony of the situation dawned on me.

When Mary arrives, Elizabeth exclaims with joy, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. (Lk 1:42-45)” In her radiant femininity, her praise of Mary is full, unabashed. Filled with the Spirit of Love, she cries out in love. How easy it would have been for her to rush up to Mary and say, “Mary! Wait until I tell you my news!” But she unselfconsciously lays it aside to rejoice with her cousin.

Women at ease with their femininity are amazing at this. They affirm each other with an openness that would feels awkward and forced among guys. “I love your dress! Where did you get it? And you did something with your hair – it looks fantastic!” “You do such a wonderful job with your Christmas decorations! And the dinner was delicious. I could never pull that off.” A friend of my wife’s told her, “We need to go for a long walk soon. I need my Mary fix!”

What in a group of men would be gushy and weird comes across as warmly comfortable with women. Had I been the one to greet Mary at the visitation, I probably would have said, “Yo! Great news, I hear. You must be very pleased.” Pleasant, but understated. If Joseph had strolled up with Mary, I might have added, “Good to see you, buddy!” Friendly, but not over-the-top.

It’s not just how women can be among themselves. It is so refreshing when a wife openly praises her husband, or a sister her brother, or a woman her male friend. I say “refreshing”  because our society fights against such expressions. The unwritten rule is that women and men must be in competition. In sitcoms, ads, and movies, women and men score laughing points by sniping at each other. Witty sarcasm, not open affirmation, is the politically correct requirement. How healing when genuine affirmation nevertheless happens. How radiantly feminine! This goes both ways, of course. A few years ago, the bumper sticker “I Love My Wife” was popular. You’d think that such a sentiment hardly needed to be expressed. But that it, too, had a healing quality highlights how rarely we openly appreciate the other gender.

Mary’s radiant femininity blazes in fullest force in the Magnificat. She praises the Most High, who reverses the fortunes of rich and poor, proud and humble, well-fed and hungry,  kings and lowly ones. Her heart is wide, wide open, in the perfect humility that is truth. All generations will call her blessed – but it is the Almighty’s gift. She is a lowly handmaid – but “He has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”

There is nothing so radiantly feminine as a woman wholly in love with the Lord. There is nothing so wonderfully masculine as a man passionately in love with Jesus. Our femininity, our masculinity become most feminine, most masculine, when we become most ourselves. And the only path to complete, full, radiant identity is to lose ourselves and find ourselves in Him. Mary and Elizabeth, in their radiant femininity, have done so on a scale few of us approach. Let us pray for a portion of their spirit.


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About admin

I am a Catholic clinical psychologist with a solo practice in Omaha, NE. In the Franciscan seminary, I completed about 2/3rd of an M.Div./MA in Scripture. In my 3rd year of temporary vows, I discerned a call to the married life. My lovely wife Mary and I have a son, Michael, as well as a number of children preceding us to Heaven through miscarriages. We are delighted to be in the Omaha archdiocese and love the Heartland.
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