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.