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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Sisterhood Envy by Katie Krouchick

Looking in the mirror, I observed very carefully what I saw. Within 5 seconds, I had mentally noted about 20 things that I would change if I could. It’s always frustrating the moment you realize, “Oh wait, I can’t lose 10 pounds in an hour.” So I did what I could – put on as much make-up as it took to hide my face, dressed myself in clothes showing just enough without revealing too much, and then went for a walk around the dorm to see what everyone else looked like. All that mattered was how I looked compared to the other girls…

Photo Credit: Found on the blog Wonderfully Made

That was me nearly 5 years ago. I was a naïve college freshman, and I’ll admit – I was pretty darn vain. I worried about my waist, my bra size, how I looked in a tight dress, and if I could pass for a 21-year old in certain venues. It’s important to note, though, that this was all relative. Imagine all of these factors on a line graph – there’s my one little line, and I’m surrounded every other women in my vicinity. There must have been a point growing up where I was introduced to this fabricated measurement, against which I (and all other women) would compare myself. While I’ve certainly matured, and my ways of coping with self-worth are now much healthier, it’s still a struggle. This insecurity manifests itself in countless ways for all women. A woman’s battle with self-worth could be equivocated to a man’s battle with lust. It is a struggle that can end up being life-long for many of us. The devil loves attacking us in the physical, and because of it so many women find themselves with eating disorders, patterns of promiscuity, abusive relationships, along with other self-destructing habits.

Why do you think we do all this? Is it because we’re desperate to find the perfect man, that we think won’t love us if we’re anything less than what he sees on the cover of Cosmo? That might be part of it. But I think it roots deeper than that. When a woman loses conviction in her dignity as a daughter of God, she is hard-pressed to acknowledge that dignity in other women as well. We begin to turn the beautiful notion of femininity into an unwanted burden, and we start to despise what God had intended as a gift. We have fallen away from the unwavering source of love, and have forgotten what we were created for.

This unanimous loss of self-worth has resulted in an increase in envy, vanity, and pride. Think of how many times you’ve gone out with a friend and thought, “she looks better than me, I have no chance,” or, “she’s not looking her best tonight, this works great for me.” It even extends beyond ourselves and begins to hurt our relationships; for instance, when on a date, how many of us have questioned the man’s interest when we look around at other women? Our deep longing for love has been distorted into something impure and vicious.

The evil one has planted the thought in our heads, “I’m not good enough. Therefore, no other woman should be either.” This goes against our innate making as the body of Christ! The more we critique our sisters, the more faults we find in ourselves.  The more we envy those around us, the less able we are to fall into a true love that extends beyond the superficial. When we build up our sisters, however, we are building up the Kingdom of God. So to show you what a true sisterhood should look like, let’s look at our Mother. Mary, Mother of God, Queen of  Peace, Gate of Heaven…our momma.

Being the new Eve, she was (and still is) the model woman. She demonstrated every virtue with perfection. She guides and protects virtue in each of us. She takes all of our worries, all of our concerns, all of our desires, and offers them to our Lord. She looks upon each one of us with a deep love and affection, and desires only our closeness to her Son. This is Mary as mother.

Immaculately conceived, she had no sin. She envied no woman – she did not think her self better or worse than anyone. She knew who she was by the wisdom God granted to her. And she offered everything she had back to the Lord, turning all praise back to Him. She was a woman of God, seeking only to do His will. This is Mary as daughter.

When Mary heard of Elizabeth conceiving, she went ”with haste” to be with her. Mary may have been carrying our LORD in her womb, but she saw it fitting to forget herself and be with her cousin. She stayed with Elizabeth through pregnancy and childbirth, recognizing the significance of this time in her cousin’s life. Mary had more than enough to be concerned about with herself, but was so filled with love for Elizabeth that she made her a priority. This is Mary as sister.

Mary’s sisterhood was so strong that Elizabeth immediately offered her beautiful affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb.” When is the last time we affirmed a friend like that? Certainly, none of us are on par with our Lady, but we all have dignity, and we are all blessed. Do you think either Mary or Elizabeth felt any jealousy towards one another at all? Do you think there was any hostility in that relationship? No. They genuinely loved one another. Elizabeth affirmed the Christ in Mary. Ladies, let’s follow their lead.

We are of fallen nature, there’s no denying that. We will continue to struggle with issues of self-worth, but that should not mean that we bring down our sisters. We are each created uniquely and beautifully, and all of us are made in the image of our God. When we let our pride infect our relationships, we tear down not only ourselves, but all those around us.

No more competition. No more coveting what belongs to another woman. Love what the Lord has given you, and trust that it is as it should be. If we can truly love our sisters, and pray for an abundance of blessings in their lives, all of us will see the fruit. If you’re in doubt, look to our Blessed Mother. She knew her own worth and where it came from, she showed perfect charity in her sisterhood, and look how things turned out for her – got her Joseph, and bore the greatest fruit of all time, our Lord Jesus Christ. How ‘bout an amen for that?