The Mirror of True Womanhood


Omnia honos, omnis admiratio, omne stadium ad virtutem at ad eas actiones quae virtuti sunt consentanae refertur.
All honor, admiration, and zealous endeavor is referred to virtue and to the actions which are conformable to it .— Cicero.

mother teaching child to pray


It is said of one of the most celebrated men of the last century, that, when a mere babe, he was made to love flowers and all beautiful things in nature. His father, a distinguished naturalist, would take the child with him into the garden, and while he was busied watering the plants and examining how it fared with each of them, he would place in the child’s hands and on his lap bunches of the most lovely flowers. Whether or not it was an inbred disposition in the child, he would — so the story of his life relates — amuse himself with the bright and fragrant things, admiring and studying them more and more as he grew up, till this pursuit became an irresistible fascination; and thus, from botany to other departments of natural science, the student progressed, revealing to his fellow-men the wonders that he had discovered, and leaving behind him an immortal name. (Linnæus, or Carl von Linné, born in 1707, died In 1778)

Even so is it possible to place in the hands and keep before the eyes of childhood some of the loveliest and most fragrant flowers of goodness, purity, and heroism which bloom innumerable in the Church of God, and thereby awaken in the innocent soul the sense of moral beauty, till the study and pursuit of all that is ennobling and elevating becomes an absorbing passion.

And talking of flowers, we are reminded of the story of that demented youth preserved among the graceful fictions of ancient Greece. He was a simple child, and would wander away into the neighboring woods and along the pleasant banks of streams. One day as he stooped down to drink from the deep, smooth current of one of them, he beheld his own face in the crystal mirror, and forthwith became enamored of the fair apparition, which he mistook for an inhabitant of the waters. And his passion and his madness grew apace, vainly appealing to the image which gazed up into his eyes, for words of love in answer to his own, till he pined away and died; and from him the beautiful flower Narcissus derives its name.

But in the deep, pure, and never-deceiving mirror formed by that bright, broad river of holiness of life, which springs in Paradise from beneath the throne of Christ, and flows down through the ages to us, — glorious figures appear with which it will be no madness to fall in love. For, to love them, to study their beauty, to imitate their loveliness, to become like to them in thought and feeling and word and deed, — is to become most truly the children of God.

In the Eternal Son of God become for our sakes the Son of the Virgin Mary, we have the Author of our nature living on earth, and displaying in His life the virtues which can make every child born of woman most like to Himself, who is at one and the same time our adorable model and our judge. Generosity, devotedness, self-sacrifice are the characteristic virtues of woman: in Him they shine forth with surpassing splendor; and, next to Him, the Blessed Mother, — so near and dear to Him, — is the most perfect mirror of womanly perfection. She is the “Woman clothed with the Sun.” (Apoc. 12; 1) She gave him the sacred body in which He practiced the sweet human virtues befitting childhood, boyhood, and manhood, — the deeds which graced the lowly home of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth, and those which adorned the three years of his public life, till His work was consummated on the cross. Enlightened and warmed by this close and continual union with Him, who is the true Sun of Holiness, during the thirty years of intimacy at Nazareth, — this Mother, blessed among women, could not help reflecting more perfectly than any other human being the thoughts, the aims the sentiments, — the humility and the self-sacrificing charity of her divine Son. Thus her life was invested from most privileged intimacy, with such a light of supernatural holiness, that it vividly pictured the life of Jesus. She had been closest, nearest, and dearest to Him, had studied Him most attentively and lovingly, had followed faithfully in His footsteps from the manger to the cross, and was, when He ascended to heaven, the living image of her crucified love to all who believed in His Name.

We are all the children of these great parents, and are therefore bound to become like to them in mind and heart and conduct. None can attain to the eternal glory of the children of God in the life to come, but such as will have acquired this living likeness by generosity in imitating God’s incarnate Son. (Rom 8; 29)

It is precisely because women are, by the noble instincts which God. has given to their nature, prone to all that is most heroic, that this book has been written for them. It aims at setting before their eyes such admirable examples of every virtue most suited to their sex in every age and condition of life, that they have only to open its pages in order to learn at a glance, what graces and excellences render girlhood as bright and fragrant as the Garden of God in its unfading bloom, and ripe womanhood as glorious and peerless in its loveliness and power, as the May moon in her perfect fullness, when she reigns alone over the starry heavens.

Nor is it for women secluded in the cloister, or consecrated by religious vows to the pursuit of perfection and the sole love of Christ and His poor, that our teachings are intended. It is for home-life — the home-life of the artisan and the lowliest laborer, much more than that of the lordly and wealthy — that this little book is calculated to bear sweet fruits of manifold blessedness and utility.

Religious Communities are so favoured, in return for their generous devotion to the Divine Majesty, by graces so lavish and so extraordinary and by so exceptional a culture, that they resemble those royal gardens in which bloom the whole year round all the rarest plants, and most exquisite flowers of every clime. But it is the wife or daughter of the man of toil, crushed beneath her load of care and fatigue, or cooped up by night between the narrow walls of an unsavory dwelling in a crowded neighborhood, — that we would fain teach how to rear in the little garden of her soul those flowers of paradise, which will make her a spectacle to angels and to men.

Among the latest heroines of sanctity those women who shine at long intervals of hundreds of years, throwing into the shade the brightness of very many of their contemporarie — like stars of surpassing brilliancy in some beautiful cluster in the firmament — is a poor little peasant-girl, St. Germaine Cousin, canonized with such extraordinary solemnity on June 29th, 1867. Farther on, we shall examine more leisurely the figure of this little French shepherdess, whose life, amid the mountain solitudes of Southern France, was made so bitter by a stepmother’s cruelty, but whose soul soared above the hardships of her condition, to heights of holiness unknown to the great, the rich, the learned in her own day.

How many souls will look into these pages, who have it in their power, with His aid who yearns to help us toward the acquisition of all goodness and the most blessed fruits of all spiritual joy, to rise to these same heights of true womanly greatness, to that near resemblance to Christ and to her who is the Queen of all saints? We cannot say. But this much is certain — that the living lessons reflected from reading must enable every heart which tries to understand them, to be better, stronger, braver, truer, even from looking, for a few moments, on the angelic features of any one of the heroic women reflected in our Mirror.

Chapter Two

The True Woman’s Kingdom — The Home

Who is not struck with beholding your lively faith; your piety full of sweetness and modesty; your generous hospitality; the holiness which reigns within your families; the serenity and innocence of your conversation? —St Clement, Pope and Martyr, First Epistle to the Corinthians.

the Holy Family

We are about to describe the sacred sphere within which God has appointed that true women should exercise their sway, that most blessed kingdom which it is in their power to create, and over which the Author of every most perfect gift will enable them to reign with an influence as undisputed as it may be boundless for all good. The home of the Christian family, such as the Creator wills it to be, and such as every true woman can make it, — is not only the home of the wealthy and the powerful, but more especially still that of the poor and the lowly. For, these constitute the immense majority of mankind, and must ever be the chief object of his care who is Father and Lord over all. From him spring the laws which regulate all the sweet duties of family life, and the graces which enable the members of a household to make of their abode a paradise.

Hence it is, that when the Author of our nature deigned to become man and to subject himself to these same laws and duties, he chose not a palace for his abode, nor a life of wealthy ease, while upon earth, but the poor home of an artisan, and the life of toil and hardship which is the lot of the multitude. It was a most blissful design, worthy of the infinite wisdom and goodness. The human parents he chose were of royal blood, that the highest on earth might learn from Joseph and Mary how holiness can exalt princes to nearness to God, and how the most spotless purity can be the parent of a regenerated world. And he made all his human virtues bloom in the carpenter’s home at Nazareth, in order that the poorest laborer might know that there is not one sweet virtue practiced by the God-Man, Jesus, which the last and hardest driven of the sons and daughters of toil may not cultivate in their own homes, though never so poor, so naked, or so narrow.

So, dear reader, standing on the shore of the calm and beautiful Lake of Galilee, near which our Lord was reared, let us see his humble home and his home-life reflected therein; as in a most beautiful mirror; and with that divine image compare our own home, and the life with which we study to adorn it.

There is nothing here below more sacred in the eyes of that good God who governs all things, and will judge all men in due time, than:

The Family Home.

All the institutions and ordinances which God has created in civil society or bestowed upon his Church, have for their main purpose to secure the existence, the honor, and the happiness of every home in the community, from that of the sovereign or supreme magistrate to that of the most obscure individual who labors to rear a family. There is nothing on earth which the Creator and Lord of all things holds more dear than this home, in which a father’s ever watchful care, untiring labor, and enlightened love aim at creating for his children a little Eden, in which they may grow up to the true perfection of children of God; in which a mother’s unfailing and all-embracing tenderness will be, like the light and warmth of the sun in the heavens, the source of life and joy and strength and all goodness to her dear ones, as well as to all who come within the reach of her influence.
The most learned men of modern times agree in saying, that the sun’s light and warmth are, in the order established by the Creator, the sources of all vegetable and animal life on the surface of our globe. They regulate the succession of seasons, the growth of all the wonderful varieties of tree and shrub and flower and grass that make of the surface of the earth an image of Paradise. They give health and vigor to the myriads of animals of every kind that live in the air or in the waters or on the dry land, and to which, in turn, the vegetable world furnishes food and sustenance. The very motion given to the rain in falling, to the rivers in their course, to the oceans and their currents, comes from that sun-force, — as well as the clouds which sail above our heads in the firmament and the lovely colors which paint them. Nay, there is not a single beauty in the million-million shades which embellish the flowers of grove or garden or field, or clothe, at dawn or noontide or sunset, the face of earth and heaven, which is not a creation of glorious light, the visible image of His divine countenance in whom is the source of all splendor and life and beauty.

Even so, O woman, within that world which is your home and kingdom, your face is to light up and brighten and beautify all things, and your heart is to be the source of that vital fire and strength without which the father can be no true father, the brother no true brother, the sister no true sister, — since all have to learn from you how to love, how to labor lovingly, how to be forgetful of self, and mindful only of the welfare of others.
The natural affection by which the Creator of our souls draws to each other husband and wife, and which, in turn, they pour out on their children and receive back from these in filial regard and reverence, is the very source of domestic happiness. We cannot estimate too highly this holy mutual love which knits together the hearts of parents and children. It is as necessary to the peace, the comfort, the prosperity, and the bliss of every home, as the dew and the rain and the streams of running water are necessary to the husbandman for the fertility of the land he cultivates and the growth of the harvest on which depend both his subsistence and his wealth.

Let the dew and rain of heaven cease to fall on the fairest valley, let the springs of living water be dried up all over its bosom, and the rivers which brighten and fertilize it cease to flow but for a few seasons, and it will be like the vale of death, forsaken of every living thing.

Do you wish, O reader, to learn how the springs of true life, of true love and joy, may flow, unfailing and eternal, within the little paradise of your home? Then weigh well the words of the great Martyr-Pope placed at the head of this chapter. These point out the virtues and qualities which should adorn every household in which Christ is worshiped :—a lively faith, a piety full of sweetness and modesty, a generous hospitality; holiness of life, serenity and innocence of conversation.