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Gender Crisis: Authentic Catholic Femininity and Masculinity in a Culture of False Equality

Boys and girls are different.  I am sure you smile as you recall the differences, and this shows that you understand what I mean.  Take any dimension of life and you will undoubtedly see the differences.  But should this dissimilarity be a means of division between the sexes?  Should it, perhaps, be abolished in the name of “gender neutrality”?  No, it must rather unite us in a desire for a deeper understanding of each other.  It is through understanding our “self” in relation to the other that we come to know God more fully.  This is vital for your holiness and salvation.

In Genesis we read that God “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) This wording is interesting, if you stop and think about it, and John Paul II draws this out magnificently in the Theology of the Body.  Man was created in the image and likeness of God, but this does not refer to males only.  Men, meaning both men and women, are created as a communion of persons, sharing in the love of the Trinity through complementarity.  That’s a mouthful, but essentially John Paul II is saying that each of us is incomplete without the “other”.  Take a look at Adam, all alone in the garden.  Even though he has every kind of flamingo, lizard, baboon, and flying squirrel imaginable, he is still seeking after someone like himself—he knows he is not enough for himself by himself.  This essential compliment of his being comes in Eve, who is formed from Adam’s own rib.

 Eve appears and Adam cannot find the words to extol this great gift from the Creator.  Listen to what he says: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23).  He sees Eve as another “I”.  This attitude is not a one-way street; it is meant to be reciprocal in the lives of men and women even today.  If we move into the New Testament, we see a tremendous pronouncement of the role of man and woman in the plan of salvation.  St. Paul says, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:21-25).  The wife is to be subject to her husband, but he is to love her as Christ loved the Church!   He gave his life for Her!  Suddenly this gives a new prespective to the words, “till death do us part”!   And yet it is a partnership based on mutual love and trust.

Now, let’s bring it into our own time.   Let’s begin with a brief overview of recent developments in our culture’s attitude toward human sexuality.  You and I are probably equally aware of what occurred in the 1960’s—namely, the sexual revolution.  Suddenly contraceptives were promoted as a means to sexual freedom, which ultimately meant sex without responsibility.  It was during this time that Pope Paul VI wrote the phenomenal and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae.  In this encyclical, he asked us to “consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards”.  He goes on to state that, “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (Humanae Vitae, 17).  Today, we can vigorously agree with the Paul VI, as we see before us all of these negative effects in our culture.

Pope Paul VI’s was not the only prophetic voice.  In a 1994 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that “The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men.”  (Wall Street Journal, 2/25/94, p. A14)  It is interesting that she mentions abortion as a cause of division between men and women.  In abortion, the wonderful fulfillment of the unitive act, namely a child, is destroyed, thus creating a rift in the dignity of every human being.  Studies have shown that the effects of abortion are felt by both men and women on a variety of levels.  Sex without an openness to life is selfish.  For a clearer understanding of why this is so, it is necessary to once again return to Theology of the Body of JP II.  In it he says that every sexual act which makes use of artificial forms of contraception is an act of lying with the body.  This is because every conjugal act of a husband and wife is meant as a re-iteration of their wedding vows; it is the body’s participation in the sacramentality of marriage.  When this is removed, sex becomes just an experience and not an authentic gift of self to one another.  Something is held back.

One more aspect of our culture that led to the current state of man and woman is the education young people are receiving.  So much of educational philosophy today is based on concern with self-esteem rather than results.  Some school districts go so far as to remove any form of competition from the school, even in PE classes.  This has a detrimental effect on students, as it prevents their growth in areas related to personal maturity, especially the ability to think and reason.  Why is this so?  Well, by telling a student, “it doesn’t matter what grade you get as long as you tried and you feel good about yourself”, it creates a mindset which places no value on achievement due to hard work and sacrifice.  When the element of sacrifice is removed, a student is shown that he/she can have anything he/she wants, as long as it makes him/her feel good.
This is why today’s world silently cries out for witnesses.  Why witnesses and not role models?  First of all, masculinity or femininity is not just a role you play; it is who you are in the deepest part of your being!  Did you know that in heaven we will not lose our masculinity and femininity?  It is amazing to think about that.  But how do you define a real man or a real woman?  The term, in and of itself, is indefinable, since it encompasses a multi-dimensional reasoning being created in the image and likeness of God.  This is where we feel the great need for witnesses.  St. Joseph and John Paul II are outstanding witnesses of masculinity.  Both knew how to sacrifice all for the love of their brides—Joseph for Mary, and JP II for the Church.  Furthermore, both of these men were protectors and guardians of the precious treasures entrusted to them.   What about women?  We can look at St. Monica, St. Augustine’s mother, who prayed daily for her son’s conversion.  One day, it is said, Augustine came home after a night of drinking and entertainment.  As he walked in through the house, he stumbled upon something lying on the floor—it was his mother, praying prostrate for his salvation.  He asked her what she was doing, and she lovingly told him she was praying for his soul.  What a witness of sacrificial and self-giving love!  And then there is St. Gianna, who died rather than have an abortion.  She was a medical doctor herself, and she knew well the risk she was taking.  Today, her daughter, the one for whom she sacrificed her life, has a mom in heaven who is literally a saint.  And then there is the Blessed Mother.  She is a powerful witness to all of us, men and women alike.  Her openness and fidelity to God though marriage and a consecration of her virginity to God, are a moving testimony of the call to authenticity.
But how can you and I reach these same heights?  How can we grow in holiness through being authentic men and women in a culture that degrades the very essence of who we are, as expressed, on the deepest level, by our sexuality?  The first line of defense, so to speak, is prayer and a deep spiritual life.  How can you become who God created you to be if you don’t consult with the Creator?  That’s like throwing logs, tiles, bricks, and so forth into a bag and hoping that a house comes out.  You need the instruction manual!  Secondly, spiritual reading is fundamental, as it helps us reflect upon God and His amazing goodness to us.  The devil can only conjure up temptations from what we have experienced through our senses, so why not fill ourselves with holy thoughts and good images?  Finally, holy friendships and relationships.  Who are your friends?  I am not saying that you cannot speak to those who are not of like mind, but I am warning each of us, that we need to be cautious.  Even though you may feel empowered to convert millions after a moment of deep prayer, start small, and start in your own soul.

We are living in difficult times, but we have a Catholic culture sprouting up around us that is full of hope.  You are part of that culture, if you accept the challenge to become authentic men and women.  Ask the Lord to help you each day.  He knows you better than you know yourself, for He formed you and knit you together in your mother’s womb.


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Peter’s Promises, Christ’s Prophecies: Living the Evangelical Counsels

Peter is one of my favorite Apostles, because he was just plain human.  During his time with Jesus, he made so many mistakes, and yet he remained faithful.  I too, more often than not, blunder and fall.  It is then that I look to St. Peter, whom I have declared the patron saint of stupid moments.  And boy, did Peter ever have “stupid moments”.  Here’s a brief rundown of just a few highlights (low-lights?) from Peter’s 3-year training:

  1. Peter wants to walk on water, so Jesus invites him to do so.  The wind picks up a bit and he gets scared.  This is not the first gust of wind Peter has experienced on the water—he is a fisherman by profession, after all!
  2. Among the Apostles, Peter is selected as the leader.  Jesus gives him the keys, and as soon as he gets his hands on them, Peter starts telling the Lord what to do.  Sheesh.
  3. At the Last Supper, Peter vows that he will follow his Master, even to death.  Then, when asked by a woman if he knows Jesus, Peter becomes petrified with fear.  His denial of Jesus is more than a momentary hesitation—he repeats it three times.  Imagine if a soldier had asked him if he knew the prisoner!  Peter would have fainted!

So, why do I love St. Peter so much?  Because in each of those three situations (and in many more) I can see myself.  At times, I too want to do the impossible.  I ask God to grant my wish, but as soon as I step out, I falter at the first signal of opposition.  In my prayer, I sometimes find myself telling God what to do for me, instead of asking with humility.  And, lastly, I don’t always give a testimony to my faith when I am persecuted or questioned.

There is one more thing that attracts me to Peter, and that is his promise to the Lord.  Each of us is called to live the Evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) according to his/her state in life.  Peter, in one of his last encounters with the Lord, got it right.  In a way, he vowed to live these three Evangelical counsels to the full.


Jesus asked him, “Do you love me more than these?”  More than who?  Was it the other Apostles and disciples, perhaps?  Or was it a question referring to possessions, power, etc?  It’s as if Jesus was asking Peter if he would choose Him as his only Possession, his only Treasure.  Christ is calling him to renounce all other attachments and to only cling to Him.  Peter replies with a promise: “You know that I love you.”  Then the Lord ask him to feed His lambs.  The young lambs are most needy, and to him who has just professed a desire to follow Christ in poverty, it is plainly shown that in poverty are found all the riches needed to feed those poorer than himself.

This promise of Peter comes with an assurance from the Lord as well: Peter is to stretch out his hands, like a beggar, in his old age.  Not in need, however but in praise and surrender as he gives his life for the Lord through a martyr’s death.  Only hands that are empty can be filled.


A second time Peter is asked, “Do you love me?”  This time, the question is simplified, for Peter’s oneness of heart has been established in voluntary poverty.  Love is required for a pure gift of self, through which an echo of the original (pre-lapsarian) justice and purity is felt.  Peter answers with the beauty of a simple and faithful heart: “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you.”  It is then that he is asked to tend the Lord’s sheep.  The loving care of a chaste follower of Christ bears the marks of consecration and of witness.  Purity puts others before one’s self, and thus gives true care and tenderness.  The flock may be fed through poverty, but it can only be tended through chaste love.

Now again, just as in the first promise, we see the Lord’s portion:  He promises Peter that another will gird him.  Chastity is a splendid garment which only the Lord can bestow on a soul completely dedicated to Him.  By this promise, Jesus lets Peter know that He will give him the grace to preserve this beautifyl garment in life and in death.


A third time Peter hears the question from the Lord’s lips.  This time something in his nature rebels momentarily.  It is his will.  But Peter humbles himself and submits to the yoke of this obedience in his response of love.  The request resulting from this profession is that he feed the Lord’s sheep.  Jesus, for whom obedience to the Father’s will was as food, now offers this “food” to the Apostle, so that he can feed the sheep.  Obedience is the food of those who have matured in the faith, and Peter overflows with this grace.  This precious gift must be shared, for who can contain the love of God?

For a third promise, there is a third prophecy:  Peter will be led where he does not wish to go in his old age.  This is the promise of martyrdom, which begins there, on the day of his triple profession of love.  Standing there on the sand, he is led to realize that a life of fidelity to Christ will lead to martyrdom.  But now a fire burns in his heart, as he sees in this his vocation.  Only through fulfilling the Lord’s will can he be fully fulfilled in life!  Only through this path can he give glory to the one he once denied.

Peter promised, Christ prophesied.  The Church stands firm on this foundation.  The evangelical counsels are a sure and timeless way by which to come to eternal salvation.  Poverty, chastity and obedience call for a “white” martyrdom—the martyrdom in which our own selfish will is subjected and we allow God’s ways to triumph.  This entails a death, although not a bloody one.  Only a few are called to physically shed their blood.  All of us are called to lay down our life, in one way or another, for love of Christ.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.”
(“Sanguis martyrum, semen Christianorum”)

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