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)

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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.

A Knight Worth Waiting For by Shaina Colucci

To Begin…

Tangled

I may or may not be listening to the Tangled soundtrack as I write this…and I may or may not be listening to the same song from that soundtrack over and over again…I could (and have in fact) gush(ed) endlessly about how this Disney movie contains the essential elements of Christian anthropology and Catholic teaching – including but not limited to: original solitude, original unity, authentic masculinity, the beauty of the feminine genius, the relationship between suffering and love, the call to die to ourselves, the fruitfulness that can only be born of self gift, etc, etc. The main characters – Rapunzel and Eugene “Flynn Rider”Fitzherbert – have an absolute dignity about them as they allow love to awaken them to the true, the good and the beautiful – to the ache in every human heart (Redemptor Hominis 10, Gaudium et Spes 24, Familiaris Consortio 11*). My favorite line comes at the very end – Eugene observes: “At last, Rapunzel was home and she finally had a real family. She was a princess worth waiting for. Beloved by all, she led her kingdom with all the grace and wisdom that her parents did before her.” Of all the wonderful topics this movie inspires, I want to focus on authentic masculinity – specifically – modifying the words of Eugene, I shall write about “a knight worth waiting for.”

I used to have a long list of the qualities I believed a guy needed to have to be worthy of respect (I wanted a Eucharist-loving, guitar-playing, Knight of Columbus, song-writing, sports-loving, rugged, foreign, cleans up well but also can rock a beard, empathetic, generous, solid man…). I have slightly adapted this list to:

  • A man of deep, abiding faith
  • A man of integrity
  • A man who embodies authentic masculinity*

*If he could be all these three and also leave me in stitches with his sense of humor, that would be awesome, or as some might say, phenomenal.

Though Flynn Rider does come to embody these qualities, I’d like to turn to three other examples from popular culture of authentic masculinity…

1. The Fighter – James Braddock in Cinderella Man

Cinderella Man

Though Tangled certainly gave this movie a run for its money, it maintains its position as my #1 favorite movie. How is it possible that a girl could love a movie centered around boxing and blood? Because fighting and bleeding is part of life – and James Braddock willingly does this for his family. He knows what he’s fighting for; he willingly and with an endearing joy sacrifices his body (boxing and working on the docks with a broken hand), his dignity (returning to his former colleagues to beg for money so that he can keep his promise to his children that they will stay together as a family no matter what) and his passion (focusing his strength on being a good husband and father). I can’t think of a more Christ-like figure, nor one who so embodies the call of men outlined in Ephesians 5 in any other movie – and the best part – it’s all based on a real man. 

the Incredibles

2. The Hero – Mr. Incredible (Bob Parr) in The Incredibles

I’m not usually one to go for buff blonds, but Mr. Incredible has a place in my heart. Though he gets caught up in the usual temptations left to men by original sin (compensating pride, misdirected hankerings for reckless adventure and leadership that excludes others), he gets it. He gets that his wife and family are the greatest adventure and gift. Sometimes that adventure includes loving his family by willingly sitting in a 4 x 4 cubicle thriving on Dunkin Donuts coffee with a micro-managing boss. Sometimes it means risking his life to save his family from the grips of a fallen world. Regardless, he approaches his mission with courage, integrity and humble strength.

3. The Family Man – George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life

I think men such as “It’s A Wonderful Life’s” George Bailey too often get overlooked or cast aside in conversations about authentic masculinity. Could that be because it’s no longer cool to be a husband and father who continuously puts others first, sacrificing the dreams of his heart to help bring to fruition the dreams of others? We live in a culture used to having it all – the perfect job, beautiful wife, well-behaved 1.5 child/ren, etc, etc. Father Walter J. Ong, in “Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness,” writes: “The typical self-giving of men is the performance of valiant exploits for others, women and other men.” George Bailey – though he is not traversing Middle Earth like Aragorn, nor challenging the tyrannical English like William Wallace – is absolutely living out his authentic masculinity as he fights for a more just and loving society.

In Conclusion…

To all my brother knights out there, I thank God for you and I leave you with these words reminding you that your authentic masculinity is caught up in the fact that you are made for relationship, “It is not good for man to be alone and his home and his fruitfulness are in woman, his glory.” – Hans Urs von Balthasar. Whether you are called to be married to a beautiful princess here on earth or to the most perfect woman of all – Holy Mother Church – I pray for you and the battles you most surely will face. Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

*“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” –RH 10

“Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” – GS 24

“God created man in His own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love… Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” – FC 11

Authentic Masculinity by Kev Ouellette

In our society today, the topic of authentic masculinity, what it means to be a real man, is either ignored or condemned.  Our society consistently attempts to blur the lines between men and women, ignoring innate biological, psychological and hormonal differences. In addition to ignoring natural gender differences, our society also wages a silent war against masculinity.  Many over the years have noted our society’s war on women by setting unrealistic standards of beauty through cosmetics, surgery, and editing techniques on magazine photos; however, less have noted our society’s attack on manhood.  By simply turning on the T. V. and observing with a critical eye, one can see that our media and television programs do not cast men in a positive light.  Current portrayal of men typically falls into one of two categories—the self-sufficient, talented, successful man, who uses those around him, specifically women, to gratify his every desire or the bumbling, weak man, who needs his wife to control him.  Unfortunately, both depictions of men fail in different respects.  Therefore, we need to explore what it truly means to live as a man.  In order to achieve this goal of identity, what it means to be a man, we will look a different aspects of manhood.

To begin, a man possesses real strength and the ability to affect change in his environment.  Men can lift heavy objects, endure physically demanding tasks, and perform challenging forms of manual labor.  God the Father has given this innate physical strength to men.  Now, not all men have the physique of body builders, but the size of one’s muscles does not determine the extent of one’s manhood.  This strength, seen in authentic manhood, appears in a wide array of forms, in keeping with the diversity and individuality of men themselves.

The natural power that a man possesses because of his strength scares modern society.  Modern society often seeks to strip away a man’s strength because it is dangerous; yet, it is not a man’s strength in and of itself that is dangerous, but it is the man who does not use his strength in the correct manner that is dangerous.  Author John Eldridge, in his book Wild at Heart, makes an apt comparison in regards to men.  He notes that a scalpel, the instrument used to make incisions during medical surgeries, is a dangerous tool.  It is a medical knife and knives can do serious damage to people, but in the hands of licensed doctor, a scalpel can save a human life.  In the same way, a man’s strength, although potentially dangerous, is something very needed in our society today, like a scalpel.

In addition to physical strength, a real man possesses an interior strength.  He lives within a specific code and is able to identify when his immediate desires run contrary to this code.  In a Catholic context, the authentic man lives after the model of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the teachings of His Holy Catholic Church.  A man uses his interior strength to stand up and confront the evils around him.  In this way, a man follows after the example of Jesus, who was not afraid to confront the religious leaders of his day and correct their errors.

By definition, the authentic man is meek.  Meekness means simply strength under control.  The true man does not pursue every whim or fleeting passion.  The true man keeps his eyes fixed on the Lord and is able to say “no” to temptations as they arise instead of abusing his strength for his own gratification.

With this physical and interior strength, the authentic man carries himself with confidence and interior peace.  The man’s confidence comes naturally because he knows the true source of his strength, the Lord his God.  Because the authentic man knows the genuine root of his individual strength, he does not despair during the challenging times of his life; instead, the real man perseveres in his current predicament, trusting that his God will provide for him according to His perfect Will.  The man carries himself with peace and confidence in his interactions with others, unafraid to speak a difficult word when necessary for the good of a neighbor, yet always speaking with charity and humility.

Finally, the authentic man possesses a heart willing to sacrifice for the good of others.  A real man knows his strength, knows it is a gift from God, and desires to use this strength in God’s service.  This service may be simple acts of charity throughout the day, putting others’ needs before his own, or this charity may take larger more dramatic forms.  Ultimately, a man’s Vocation, whether to religious or married life, will require him to sacrifice for the good of others.  In his sacrifices, a man surrenders from a position of strength for the good of others, not because he is too weak to will a situation otherwise.  In this way, the authentic man follow’s Christ’s example in His Passion.  Christ tells us that no one takes His life from Him.  He lays it down freely (Jn. 10:18).

Authentic manhood, what it means to be real man, is not something that our society discusses openly.  Our society is afraid of men’s strength and undercuts men in its portrayal of them.  Nevertheless, manhood is a noble calling, possessing an innate dignity and value.  Real men are desperately needed in our society to rise up and live after the model of our Lord Jesus.  Do not be afraid of your strength men, of the holy and noble desires the Lord has placed on your heart.  Find other Catholic men around you.  Start a Men’s Group in your area, and refuse to live according to the degrading standards our society has set for men.