“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Lots of effort goes into comparing the genders and their position in our society. The Catholic Church sometimes gets a negative image in the media over some positions she takes. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Today, I’d like to try to address one common misperception.
My blog is intended to inspire men to become the best version of themselves. To do that, I try to describe that potential. I do not speak as much to women but I certainly believe that they also have great potential given by God. Men and women were both created in God’s image. To reach that potential, both genders need to understand the special strengths of each gender. It’s not enough to merely be a great person – you must also be great at joining with others to create the Body of the Church.
In Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, he describes how the church is to view women. I strongly encourage those who don’t know about this document to at least read a summary. You will not hear anything genuine reported in the common media. I’ve assembled some highlights below.
- Both men and women are created in the image and likeness of God. The Language used in Genesis firmly declares their “essential equality.”
- Woman has a very unique union with God: Mary, the mother of God, plays the central role in salvation history. Salvation “is realized in her and through her.”
- Jesus Himself promoted female dignity. “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 promotor of women’s true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity.”
- Women have a special place in parenthood. “Parenthood – even though it belongs to both – is realized much more fully in the woman…It is therefore necessary that the man be fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman. No program of “equal rights” between women and men is valid unless it takes this fact fully into account.”
- The entire Church is called the “Bride of Christ.” Not only is a female image used but women have been active throughout the history of the church to help it realize that potential! “In the history of the Church, even from earliest times, there were side-by-side with men a number of women, for whom the response of the Bride to the Bridegroom’s redemptive love acquired full expressive force.”
- Woman is the “Heart of Love.” Love, that gift which St. Paul values above all others, is one which women in particular excel at.
Theology of the Body
The other papal literary work which offers tremendous understanding into the dynamics of the sexes is the Theology of the Body. For those who don’t know, this the term used to describe 129 lectures delivered by Pope John Paul II over 5 years. There are many books written about this, you can read a cliff notes’ version here. This document covers many topics concerning men and women, discussing the plan of God for humanity.
The Theology of the Body explains the reasons for many of the church’s more difficult teachings. John Paul II brilliantly describes how people hurt themselves when they deviate from God’s plan. These topics are not popular. If you are curious or troubled by some of these issues read a book about the Theology of the Body. These are some of the points made, but it is much too large to summarize in such a short space.
- Man and woman were original unified in a very special way that is complimentary on many levels.
- All sexual intimacy outside of marriage is destructive to both partners, whatever the gender.
- Sexual intimacy within marriage is the ultimate giving of self between partners. Withholding any part only leads to hurt.
- In God’s design of our bodies, we can find many truths about how we should live. Lust attacks and limits “giving” oneself to one’s spouse.
- Purity of heart and virtue enables both happiness and holiness.
- Husband and wife each have unique sacrificial roles to play. Paul describes this in Ephesians, but do you really understand it?
Women in Christianity and Catholicism
There are many prominent women in Catholicism. Most prominent is of course Mary, the mother of God. Her “Yes” to God is the key to unlocking salvation history. Mary plays a key role throughout the life of Jesus. At His death, He gives Mary to be the mother of us all. Historical note: In Jewish monarchies (e.g. King David), the Queen of a court was not the King’s wife – he often had multiple of those – but instead it was the King’s mother. This is one role that Mary plays in history.
There are many other prominent women in church history. Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. Through the history of the church, women played key roles. You can read about many of them in the Wikipedia article here. Even through the industrial age and to today, women continue to be on the stage. Who has not heard of Mother Theresa?
Jesus overturned tradition and angered many authorities with his promotion of female equality. He was a radical. Women did not have equal rights at the height of the Roman empire, but the church fought to change that. The efforts to promote women did not end with Jesus. In each area as the church expanded, it worked tirelessly to empower women. You can read the Wikipedia article with some good references here. The article notes that “Christianity affected the status of women in evangelized cultures like the Roman Empire by condemning infanticide (female infanticide was more common), divorce, incest, polygamy and marital infidelity of both men and women.”
Men, honor your mothers, your wives, your sisters, and your daughters. Women are a great gift that God blessed us with when he first presented Eve to Adam. Realize the potential of man and the potential of woman. Fit together properly, we become the living Body of Christ. I’ll close with the conclusion of Mulieris Dignitatem.
“Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility.”
Question: What insights have you found helpful in your relationships with members of the opposite gender?