The Responsibility of Men to Uphold the Dignity of Women by John Gancarz

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33

Christmastime provides the perfect opportunity to contemplate the feminine reflection of God manifested in women. For at the center of the glorious birth of Christ, we find a female – Mary, the virgin mother of our Lord. The fact that God chose to bring us a savior through a woman merits our attention. Jesus did not merely appear out of thin air or descend from the clouds as a babe. Instead, Our Lord became incarnate in the womb of his Mother and came to us through a natural birth on that momentous day two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. It is clear that femininity expressed in motherhood is something precious in the eyes of God. In this context, we also find a man at Mary’s side, Saint Joseph, who continuously supported, protected, and, unquestionably, respected Our Lady during those exceptional days. This standard, so profoundly enacted by Saint Joseph during the birth of Christ, is the one to which Our Lord calls all men. Ultimately, we find this same nature in Our Savior Jesus Christ, the supreme model of manhood. As our modern culture perpetuates the objectification of women, it is crucial for men to uphold women by following Christ’s model and recognizing the God-given dignity of women as revealed to us in His word.

First, it bears value to recall the place of gender in our identities. As written in Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Therefore, we know men and women are both created in the image and likeness of God. As described by Blessed Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of woman, Mulieris Dignitatem, we can draw from this that both men and woman are human beings to an equal degree. We each portray complementary masculine and feminine qualities of God. Furthermore, Bl. John Paul II notes that there is no way to characterize what is human without referencing both masculinity and femininity.

We may ask, “What happened?!” Why throughout history and in most realms of today’s world we cannot find such equality? The answer lies in the fall of humanity when sin entered the world. In Genesis we read God addressing Eve after she and Adam consumed the forbidden fruit, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). Note the order of events; it was not the original intent of God that this inequality would be present, but it came into existence with sin. After the moral order was disrupted after the fall, men came be inclined to objectify women. Of course, this is by no means an excuse for men. In fact, all of humanity should be correctly opposed to this tendency. Bl. John Paul II notes in Mulieris Dignitatem that although women obviously bear the greater pains of this reality, it also lessens the true dignity of men as well.

Bl. John Paul II also cautions us that in our just aim of restoring equality between men and women, we should be no means “masculinize” woman. By “this path, women will not ‘reach fulfillment’, but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness.” Rather, in the pursuit of equality, we must preserve diversity. It is in this way that a woman saves and treasures the unique image and likeness of God shown by her femininity. This is surely a challenge for our generation as we grapple with what is truly feminine. In my experience, far more women renounce what is considered feminine than men renouncing what is deemed masculine. It seems that at least part of the problem is that femininity is sadly confused with a weak, tacky “girly” stereotype that is simply unappealing to many women. This stereotype is almost opposite from the nature of our feminine role models, like the Virgin Mary. While all of humanity is to blame in one way or another for this confusion, men have a tendency to emphasize weakness in women out of insecurity of their own strength. By this, I mean not physical strength, but strength of character and resolve. If men would recognize and value this trait in females, they would reveal greater fortitude not only in women, but in themselves as well.

We can reason that the failure of men to uphold the dignity of femininity is in large part due to a crisis of true masculinity. While the problem of masculinity in this culture is a topic for another posting, Christian men know that the remedy to this lies in aligning one’s life with the absolute exemplar of manhood, Jesus Christ. When we look to the gospels to find Christ’s treatment of women, we find that it was exceptional, especially given the cultural and religious norms of his time period. Again in Mulieris Dignitatem, Bl. John Paul II notes that we cannot find anything in the actions or words of Jesus which show the discrimination against women which was so characteristic in the culture of His era. Bl. John Paul II writes further, “It is universally admitted – even by people with a critical attitude towards the Christian message – that in the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promoter of women’s true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity. At times this caused wonder, surprise, often to the point of scandal.” It is a gift from God that man has such an incredible role model in the most important man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, and that women can always be reminded of their true worth and equality through Him.

An example of Jesus taking Himself “to the point of scandal” is readily apparent in his dealing with the Samaritan woman at the well. It was not the cultural custom of His time to be talking to a woman alone at such a scene, no less a Samaritan woman. His own apostles “were amazed that he was talking with a woman” (John 4:27). Jesus also knew the sin of this female as he says to her, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). Yet, He all the same proclaims the good news to her, “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). We learn through gospel passages such as these that Jesus shares the truths of the kingdom of God with women as well as men.

Perhaps equally as striking is the example of Christ encountering the woman accused of adultery. Jesus tells the crowd ready to stone the woman, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” and once they dissipate instructs the woman, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:7,11). Christ takes the attention off of the woman and instead focuses on the sins of the accusers. As Bl. John Paul II notes, the scenario of this woman is sadly repeated over and over again throughout history. How often is the sin of man hidden, while that of the woman is revealed? The man, also to blame for sins of adultery, does not face the same test and humiliation as the woman. However, Jesus Christ reveals to us that God is aware of all of our transgressions and insists that men also repent and face their wrongdoings.

We can also turn to the context of marriage. St. Paul writes, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife…” (Ephesians 5:22-23). This way of thinking was not foreign to the prevailing custom of the time. The insight of this passage can be understood in light of the previous line in Ephesians, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Bl. John Paul II writes that all motives of the subordination of woman to man must be considered in the context of mutual subordination. It is this mutual subordination for Christ, not only that of the wife to the husband, but also of the husband to his wife which “must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior and customs” (Mulieris Dignitatem). Clearly then, any subordination of woman to man must never lead to exploitation. Rather, Christ calls men to a more intimate relationship with his spouse built on love instead of use and symbolic of the great love Christ has for His Church.

Christ calls each and every one of us to the highest standard as we embrace God’s true plan for humanity. In this way, Jesus specifically instructs men, “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). This teaching and all others of Christ are inseparable from authentic masculinity. On a grand scale, His example commands all men to actively defend the dignity of our sisters. Our faith teaches us that this mission is crucial; the passive approach to the degrading culture of our time is wholly insufficient. Yet, we need not despair in this challenge for we are never alone. Whether in Mary’s womb or as the babe in swaddling clothes, Jesus was truly present to Saint Joseph through the greatest trials in protecting his spouse and child. So too Christ is with us “until the end of the age.” We fight together to realize in our world the words of Saint Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

(Check out Mulieris Dignitatem by Bl. John Paul II:  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html)

Marriage, the Church and the Eucharist by Rebecca Barclay

From the beginning of the book of Genesis to the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, God chose to use the imagery of marriage to show us the relationship He desires to have with His people. Because the human person has been created as a body-soul unity, God uses the physical realities to reveal to us the deeper meaning behind spiritual realities. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” Romans 1:19-20.

I would like to write specifically about the relation between Marriage, the Church and the Eucharist (the Eucharist according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church). This is an inexhaustible subject and all the time in the world would not be enough to penetrate into the depths of this great Mystery.

Like I said, marriage is what God chose to reveal to us the type of relationship He wants with us. So we must begin by asking what is marriage and what does the word of God show us about marriage? Marriage was established ‘in the beginning’ when man was created:
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:18-24

In this passage we are given the ‘steps’ of marriage: “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” From this verse we can see 3 chronological steps that occur in the ‘process’ of marriage. The first is a man leaves his father and his mother. The leaving of one’s father and mother shows that there is a certain type of commitment that must take place. Adam did not have a father or a mother, and so this verse has been given for all those after Adam—to us. In the spousal love between a man and a woman there must be a commitment. This committed love is an essential part of spousal love. Leaving one’s own family signifies the commitment to a new family, a new beginning, new life. The second step is ‘cleaves to his wife.’ This is the marriage ceremony. At the marriage ceremony the spouses cleave to each other. They commit themselves to each other by the total and complete gift of self. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The spouses seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives” (paragraph 1621). The third step is “and they become one flesh.” It is only once there has been the act of commitment and the offering of self, that a man and woman ‘become one flesh’ in the marital embrace. The marital embrace is the consummation of this love. From this moment on, each time the couple again embrace each other in the marital embrace, it is a renewal of their wedding vows. The marital embrace is a re-presentation of the total and complete gift of self offered at the wedding ceremony and fulfilled in the “becoming of one flesh.” It makes present again the offering of the bodies. The union that takes place between the man and woman in the bodies signifies the total and complete gift of self to the other.

And this is the type of relationship God desires to have with us. And Jesus Christ, taking the image that God Himself has given us, brought about and fulfilled the marital union between God and His people. He did this through the Incarnation, His Passion and Cross, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Coming down from Heaven, God is now God-with-us. In Jesus Christ, humanity has been wed to a divine Person and now God is with us. Jesus, leaving his Father, became man for us. And 33 years later, He also left his Mother Mary, for us. Can you imagine the dialogue between Christ and Mary before He left for Jerusalem? The trust that Mary had, knowing that her Son has been destined for “the rise and fall of many” and to be a “sign of contradiction” (Luke 2:33). The depths of Jesus’ love for us, to leave his home, his friends, his family, to embark on a journey of suffering, pain and sin, and death—for us. He who knew not sin came to know sin, for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane we see the free consent and commitment of Christ to us, as He prays only for the Father’s will to be done. Here is the beginning of the wedding ‘process’, the process of total self-giving. Jesus, choosing to give himself to us, unites His will to the Father’s and “moves towards the wedding day and ceremony”. The process of total self-giving reaches its fulfillment on the Cross. When all that could be given had been given, God said “it is consummated”—it is finished. Whenever a man and woman have made this commitment, given themselves to each other, and when the two have become one, God says “it is consummated.” The process of the total giving of self has been finished when the two become one.

When Christ “slept the sleep of death” on the Cross, God brought forth from His side the Church. And this is signified by the blood and water which gushed forth from the pierced heart of Jesus. The water represents the waters of baptism, by which one enters into the Church. And the blood represents the blood of Christ, the blood of the Eucharist, through which we are able to receive Christ’s total gift of self. By Christ’s total gift of self on the Cross, man is able to receive Christ so that the “two may become one.”

Every time a husband and wife become one again through the marital embrace this is what is happening: the husband and wife are making present again the gift of themselves and the gift of their bodies (signifying their total gift) that they presented to God and to each other on their wedding day. Every time the husband and wife become one flesh, the bridegroom gives himself completely to the bride—to be received by the bride; and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. When the wife receives the husband into her body, she is receiving his love and his very life into her. And he is implanting the very seeds of life which could very well grow until a life is fully formed in her. The two, husband and wife, have become one, and very often bring forth another, a child. The two have become one have become three…it is here that the family of man most fully mirrors the family of God.

And how does this happen between Christ and His Church? “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church…” (Ephesians 5:31-32). This is where the heart of the Mass, the Eucharistic celebration, comes into play.

Mass is re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is not a re-sacrificing—the sacrifice is not repeated, rather the celebration of the sacrifice is repeated. That is why it is said that a priest celebrates Mass. During Mass, the priest, along with the whole Church (this includes all the members of the body of Christ, not simply the ones present), brings before the Father the sacrifice of Christ that was made 2000 years ago. The priest presents again to the Father the gift of self that Christ made years ago. The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of a past event and this re-presentation makes present the event being recalled—Christ’s gift, our “wedding day”. Each time we receive Jesus Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity) in the Eucharist, the two become one. The bridegroom, Christ, gives himself completely to his bride and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. The bridegroom gives to us His life and His love. Christ himself said “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…” (John 6:54). Christ, through the Eucharist, plants the seeds of eternal life in us.