Some of the most beautiful women I know are over 80.

An odd confluence of circumstances led me to this conclusion. First, I went to a funeral this weekend. My college roommate’s Dad passed away at the age of 87. Although I only saw him a handful of times over the course of many years, he was a true character.

At age 80, he had a number of professional photos taken of himself. He put one on his desk, and with a booming voice would exclaim, “That’s me when I turned 80! How many people look this good when they’re 80?”

He also had a favorite word: pulchritude. He appreciated feminine beauty. His wife, every bit his match in wit and intellect, wasn’t threatened a bit. To him, she personified the word. She was completely secure in a relationship that was grounded in faithful, abiding, marital love.

The same day, I got an email from my friend Randy Hain, recommending an article by Fr. Robert Barron entitled “The Acts We Perform; the People We Become.” Not to spoil the article for you, but here’s Fr. Barron’s brick-in-the-face crescendo: the particular things you choose to do are inevitably shaping the person you are becoming.

Some of you are thinking… well, duh. You’re either unusually perceptive, or over 40.

So here’s where the two ideas come together. I was thinking about pulchritude, and Fr. Barron’s article. It hit me that I know many women who choose to do things that inevitably shape them into… pulchritude. Even better, it increases with each passing year!

One terrific example is my wife Kathi’s grandmother (pictured above).

Grandma was married for over 60 years before Grandpa passed away. She has spent her life as a daughter, mother and sister. She gave life to children, nurtured others, built them up, served them, encouraged them, and laughed with them. She has numerous descendants, to the point of great-great grandchildren. I sent her the manuscript for my first book a while back, hoping she (as a Baptist) would enjoy it. The letter I received in return was magnanimous, even poetic in its affirmation. I re-read it every night for weeks. It meant so much to me – because it came from her.

Here’s the bottom line: the line that beauty is only skin deep is garbage. Beauty is something that permeates a woman’s entire being, her essence, her soul. Some women spend their lives choosing to do things that enhance their personal dignity in ways a plastic surgeon will never match. They love. They give life. They support. They suffer. They encourage. They cry. They nurture. There is no measuring the beauty this kind of life produces.

So next time you see a woman who might outwardly appear a little frail, look deeper. For those who are willing to focus beyond the merely physical, here you will find pulchritude of the highest order – that which emanates from the soul, a reflection of the sublime, of goodness, of self-gift – of beauty itself. It’s the mark of a life well lived.

As usual, Blessed John Paul II articulates this…well, beautifully. In Mulieris Dignitatem (31) he says:

“The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine “genius” which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.”

Thank you, indeed. Feminine holiness is the most attractive thing I’ve ever seen.