Alice von Hildebrand featured
The Paradox of “The Weaker Sex”, Part 1: The Story of a Polish Nun6:00:00 AMAnne Foster
Allow me to describe to you one of the most incredible and inspirational human beings I have ever met.
Picture this: a 90 year old woman, frail and weak. The days when she is in the most pain, she must rely on the assistance of others. She is always indebted to another, always saying, “Thank you.” When she enters a room, she does not command it with her presence, nor does she put on airs of seniority or superiority. Rather, when she enters a room she does so slowly, often times grasping onto the arm of whoever is guiding her to her seat. When you walk up to her, bending down so as to make eye contact, her face lights up as if she has seen her long lost friend. She pulls you in for a hug and a kiss. She is giddy with the joy of a child. She makes you feel like the most important person in the world and most importantly she makes you feel loved.
This is certainly not a description of the “inspirational human being” our society and the media typically portrays, especially to it’s young women. But if you met this woman, you might understand why I would claim that she is one of the most amazing people, let alone women, I have ever known.
Who is this mystery heroine of mine?
Her name is Mother Amabilis.
A survivor of World War II, a Catholic nun, someone I have been blessed to be able to call my friend.
Mother Amabilis Debicka was 13 years old when Germany occupied Poland. She was abducted and taken into Germany to work on a potato farm until she was sold at a slave auction to an SS family who wanted to adopt her. Her father who at the time was in a concentration camp refused to give his permission. She stayed with the SS family till the end of the war when she and another girl decided to walk home from Germany. To escape, they disguised themselves as a German lady with her servant. The conditions of their journey were so terrible that Mother Amabilis acquired TB. It was in the TB sanitarium that she learned of the Sercanki (The Sacred Heart Sisters), a Catholic religious order.
Mother Amabilis the night before coming to America (1961)
Only a few years after taking her first vows, she would be sent to establish a convent in a small town in Pennsylvania. Mother Amabilis instituted the first American foundation of the Congregation, and would become their first Provincial. 50 years later Mother Amabilis has witnessed the fruit of her labors as their community has grown and flourished. She has even experienced two of her friends become canonized saints, John Paul II and Mother Teresa.
So yes, certainly you could say she is an accomplished woman who has led an extraordinary life. But, truly it is not so much her remarkable past or accomplishments that I most admire, but who she is now at the age of 90, beautiful, youthful, joyful, and humble. It is as she is now that evokes such unequivocal admiration from myself and others.
In my last post I invoked the wise advice of Alice von Hildebrand, who encouraged women to look at their gender and their role in society “under the aspect of eternity”. When we look at ourselves and the circumstances in our lives under this spiritual light, our weaknesses become our strengths and suffering and persecution become our greatest triumph.
I would venture to say that the way in which Mother Amabilis has humbly resigned herself to her old age, infirmities, and weakness, has made me rethink the term weakness entirely.
We are taught from a young age that weakness is the enemy, and only the strong are the heroes of the story for it is always the weak who are defeated in battle. To be considered weak is always an undesirable trait and to be called weak is considered one of the greatest insults.
It is no surprise then that many women are insulted when referred to as “the weaker sex.” No one would deny that the male physique is more capable of attaining and retaining muscle, there is little debate there. However, issues arise when the phrase is interpreted to include in its meaning: less intellectual, talented, or moral.
That being said, the wise philosopher Alice von Hildebrand, would attest that when Christian thinkers such as, St. Paul and the Fathers of the Church, referred to women as being “the weaker sex,” they meant it as a complement and even more so as a privilege. For “weakness” is one of the great paradoxes of this universe. In the eyes of the world it is a flaw, but under the gaze of heaven it is a gift. Understood as the gift of humble self awareness, I believe now more than ever before in her life Mother Amabilis is aware of her metaphysical stance before God.
The proud, strong, and self-sufficient do not easily recognize their need to better themselves, nor their lack of virtue and need for the Divine Physician. Therefore, it is in the woman’s favor that she is able to recognize the aspects of her nature which are frail, vulnerable, and sensitive. Alice von Hildebrand makes the bold statement that, “women are more geared to piety because they have a keener awareness of their weakness. This is their true strength.”(1) In addition, was it not the holy and esteemed St. Therese who wrote, “I am weakness itself” and St. Paul before her who said, “It is when I am weak that I am strong”(2)?
Weakness viewed under such a spiritual lens, destroys the labels of inferiority which the world has placed upon it. Consider our greatest enemy, who aims to poison and corrupt all of our talents and gifts, yet the humble and the weak he cannot stand against. And we must not forget he was defeated through weakness, it was the soft delicate heel of a woman which crushed his head.
In the life lived by Mother Amabilis this paradox of weakness is clearly made manifest. If to be “the weaker sex” means possessing the beauty, joy, and piety of a Mother Amabilis then count me in.
Lucky for you, the reasoning behind this paradox does not end there for I do not presume that you have been entirely convinced. I have just begun to scratch the surface of not only the paradox of weakness but it’s relation to the female sex. For there are many different and fascinating facets to the “weaknesses” of the feminine nature which I have not yet addressed; pros and cons which testify to the mysterious depth and paradox of “the weaker sex.”
- Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, p. 66
- Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, p. 94
Image 4Image 5