Dr. Alice von Hildebrand is a Catholic philosopher and theologian, and the widow of philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. She taught philosophy at Hunter College and has written several books. In a recent wide-ranging interview in her New York home Hildebrand spoke at length on topics ranging from womanhood, marriage and celibacy, to the eternal destiny of the human soul. This is the sixth article in a series of excerpts from this interview:
Mary wasn't impressive, not in the way the world thinks. Her glory was an inner one. Just as Christ was the most beautiful of the sons of men (as stated in the Psalms), Mary was the most beautiful of all women; her female body was a combination of physical and spiritual beauty. Today, however, we have made a cult of the body, of outer beauty. I recently got a flyer in the mail from the local pharmacy – fourteen pages long. Eight new cosmetics! If you use that one, it's going to rejuvenate you, and this one for your eyes, with new colors for here and there. All this makeup costs a fortune, and tomorrow you or I may be dead.
Now if we paid as much attention to our souls as we do our bodies, well then this crazy world of ours might be a lot saner. But people simply have no time for what is important. Just think how long it takes a woman to put on makeup. I mean, there are women who spend up to an hour a day in front of the mirror to work on themselves. Well, I'm not going to say what I think about cosmetics, but I'll tell you one thing, they don't improve anything. When God creates, he knows better. Today the fashion is to have colored nails. The cult of the body is crazy. What about the soul? What about holy cosmetics? We need to spend a lot more time beautifying our soul.
Today's woman has betrayed her real mission. She wants to look good, but also to be head of state. I always feel uncomfortable when women are just trying to be like men, because they do it so badly. Today we mix it up, and this is why so many men are effeminate, and why so many women try to be like men. I won't comment about the men, but the women do it so badly they make themselves look ridiculous!
Many years ago, when I was in Oxford, there was a woman smoking a cigar. She believed that by smoking a cigar she could show men she was their equal, that she could be manly. I'm not joking. Well, I don't know about you, but a cigar certainly doesn't make you look any better, believe me! I don't think it can accomplish anything else either. Today is no better – so many women trying to push ahead in the world but getting nowhere, and living emptier lives.
Now let me tell you about a woman who knew how to live. I met Mother Teresa twice. She was in the United States and I was giving a lecture where she was one of the main speakers and I was one of the small ones at the end. At the time my niece, Chantal, in Belgium was dying. She had an undiagnosed allergy to gluten and so I asked Mother Teresa to pray for her. She normally weighed 125 pounds, but was losing five pounds a week because she was being poisoned by food, and the end of the story was that she died, weighing only 45 pounds.
The other time I met Mother Teresa was about four months before she herself died. She was again in the United States and when she arrived she immediately called me on the phone, wanting to know how my niece was doing. Don't forget – this woman met and knew thousands of people. And she had only met me accidentally at a conference. Yet months afterwards she calls me up to ask how my niece was doing. That is Christian love. It is also typical of holiness.
It also gives you an idea of who Mother Teresa was. She was a tiny little thing. She didn't have an impressive personality nor was she very brilliant in her delivery. But I tell you, she feared nothing. She would speak in front of Bill and Hilary Clinton, about the horror of abortion, and people would be clapping, and all the Clintons could do was sit there. She feared nothing. And she feared nothing because she simply wanted to obey God.
Once when traveling in Rome she was accompanied by a priest who was her chauffeur. To enter the Vatican one needed a special permit. Well, this priest drove her to the Vatican. He was about to let her off when she asked him to come with her. Of course he protested, since he didn't have a permit. She told him not to worry and just stick close to her. Well, she comes to the first guard who naturally asked for his permit, and she said that he didn't have a permit but that she had allowed him to come along with her. So the guard had nothing to say, and they went on in. As they made their way down the corridor, they met another guard, same story, and finally the chauffeur gets all the way to the pope!
When a woman works for God she cannot be conquered. I mean it! When she is truly working for God she is the strongest force in the world. She may have no authority, but she has something infinitely more important: influence. Authority commands actions. Influence changes your being. That is a woman's mission! Let us not betray it.