Mary Glowrey – Part 3, Her Feminine Genius

Let’s now turn to a reflection on Mary Glowrey and the “feminine genius.” Of all the characteristics of Saint John Paul II’s notion of the “feminine genius,” perhaps the most primary one is receptivity. It is on the foundation of receptivity that other characteristics, such as sensitivity, generosity, service and maternity, can grow.

Receptivity is not mere passivity. It is not a sitting back, letting God do what he wants, but rather a straining towards God’s will, a constant readiness to embrace the impulses of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Virgin Mary, of course, is the most perfect example of this disposition of love and obedience. Saint John Paul II reflects on this feminine receptivity in the following words, “The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the “feminine genius” and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth.”(5)  The disposition of active receptivity is a theme that runs throughout all of Christian tradition. As Hans Urs von Balthasar recounts, “The Fathers called it “passionlessness” (apatheia); the Middle Ages, Gelassenheit (meaning not remaining attached to worldly things); and Ignatius of Loyola “indifference” (meaning being content with everything God decides for us). All of these are merely variants on… Mary’s Yes…”(6) 

In the life of Mary Glowrey, we see a profound embodiment of these foundational themes of Christian existence. Her constant desire to do God’s will her devotion to the Holy Spirit, attest to her disposition of receptivity. I would like to quote a beautiful testimony to Mary Glowrey’s Gelassenheit written by Sister Peter Julian:

In all her activities Sr. Mary was always most interested and zealous, yet at times she could appear wholly indifferent and utterly detached as well. On an occasion one of the Sisters suggested that she would like a few hours all to herself just to sit down and thus try to concentrate on a particular work – but Sr. Mary’s answer to this was: “that this may not always be advisable, as one may become too attached to the work in endeavoring to accomplish something and the success obtained may lead to pride, and then it would be no longer God’s work but just her own.”(7) 

Mary’s ability to work zealously and simultaneously be receptive to the impulses of the Holy Spirit was essential. According to Balthasar, if the disposition of receptivity is lacking, then even noble works can fail. He writes:

“If this readiness is lacking, if the one sent is negligent or is not selfless or mixes other personal motives and aspirations with his mission, then even important missions can miscarry, and the injury to the Church is so much the greater. If, on the other hand, the two factors, the objective and the subjective, are in harmony, the result is a Christian life that the Church can hold up… as exemplary and worthy of imitation, inasmuch as it reflects the splendor of the holiness of God and Christ.”(8)

Ultimately, while receptivity may be characterized as a “feminine” trait, it is the project of every member of the Church, male and female. For every member of the Church, Christ seeks to form us into his likeness, but we must willingly participate in his action, by actively cultivating a disposition of receptivity. I would like to finish with a quote from Balthasar, who writes the following of Our Lady’s interior reality:

“This creaturely and Christian obedience characterizes all existence: it embraces even death… it renounces all private ideas and objections in order to accept the entire workplan from the Lord’s hands and to place all one’s own energies, both bodily and spiritual, at its disposal. This obedience is in this respect the opposite of a passivity that forsakes real co-operation so as to ‘let God do what he will’: the handmaid, rather, adopts an attitude of constant expectancy… With all the powers available to her, she is always at the ready to be engaged in this or any other way, or even, if it should be the Lord’s will, to be passed over, forgotten, neglected in a corner. Her ‘waiting for the Lord’ is her permanent attitude… this ‘watchful waiting’, this ‘active readiness’ is the wet clay in which alone the Christ-form can become impressed.”(9)

These words, although intended to refer to Mary, Mother of God, capture something of Mary Glowrey’s spirit, too. They are also reflective of the spirit of the Holy Myrrh Bearers, the guardian saints and spiritual mothers of Anima, who were “disciples of Christ, drawn together by concrete encounters with His saving and divine love.”(10) Ultimately, this is the spirit of the Church, and of every Christian, and in today’s world can be reflected by all of us striving to live the fullness of the meaning of “feminine genius.”

~ By Helenka Pasztetnik

5. Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, 1995,, accessed 21 September 2017, 10.
6. Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Mary in the Church’s Doctrine and Devotion,” in Mary: The Church at the Source, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 120-1.
7. Sister Peter Julian, “Her Zeal,” in Autobiography, 47.
8. Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The Marian Mold of the Church,” in Mary: The Church at the Source, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 137.
9. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics: I: Seeing the Form, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 563-4.
10. “Feminine Genius,” The Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga,, accessed 4 October 2017.