How Gender Makes a Difference

"The Church is run by men who only want to keep women barefoot and pregnant."  We've all heard similar comments.  Indeed, there seems to be no avoiding conversations which revolve around gender: women "priests"; inclusive language; and so on.  While many Catholics may know an initial defense of such disputes, is there another, perhaps deeper, apologetic of the Catholic teaching that gender makes a difference?  Allow me to suggest some ways gender might play in understanding some broader aspects of Church teaching.

The Catholic Church is nearly alone in standing against modern notions of "gender equity."  But from this can one conclude that the Church must view women and men as unequal?  Not at all!  Indeed, the Church views male and female as equal, just not in the narrow sense that society does.  But let us back up for a minute to see the issue more clearly.

Modern society has placed a litmus test upon the way in which we relate to one another: this test is basically one of function.  The secular criteria of functionality has become commonplace in the way our society thinks of equality and, if this is so, then we must probably conclude that the Church is archaic and sexist.  But, in the eyes of the Church, equality between men and women is based on something much more important than mere function.

The Image of God

In the beginning, Adam was alone in his humanity and he knew something was missing.  God also knew this and said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen. 2:18).  What we see here is that Adam did not enjoy the full range of his human capacity for relationships with creation as it was.  As a human, he needed something else to be complete.  The "other" that gave him the full meaning of relationship was Eve.  Thus, they are created for and ordered to one another.

An important note we must make about the creation narrative is that Adam was not referred to as "male" until there was a female to contrast with his maleness.  As Pope John Paul II shows us, prior to Eve, Adam is just "man" in the sense that is used to define all of humanity; that is, mankind as a whole in which gender is not even considered.  Adam only takes on the masculinity that is part of his nature after Eve is created and she can then provide the femininity that is needed to give masculinity its meaning.  In other words, without female, there is no male.  God created this distinction between male and female and it is consequently a divinely instituted distinction.

Different, Yet Equal

 What happened next in the Garden of Eden is what we have come to know as marriage.  "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).  Here, the dynamic of the relationship between man and woman changes.  Now we not only have man and woman in the narrative, but we have husband and wife.  This brings on a real change in both the relationship of Adam and Eve, and in Adam and Eve themselves.  The two become one.  They complement each other in the differences that they bear by their natures.  But the two are not interchangeable.  The woman cannot be husband and the man cannot be wife.  To complete each other, they first must realize that in their differences, they find what the other needs to be complete.  Exactly the opposite happens in modern thought when, attempting to make man and woman equal, it ends up making them the same, thus denying precisely that which truly makes us equal, our reflection of the divine.

It is now becoming clearer why the Church has a view which seems to be in conflict with society — it is.  According to a function-based definition of equality, the roles that a woman once had are now open for men to fulfill, and vice-versa.  We each are capable of doing what everyone else "does" regardless of our nature.  This then justifies ideas such as women priests, because a woman can do anything that a man can do as a priest (proclaim the Gospel, wear vestments, give homilies, run parishes, and so on).  But, as we have seen, this way of thinking about humanity is a denial of the purpose in which God created us — male and female.  If we are able to be whatever we want, just by willing it, this becomes a refutation of what God intends each of us to be.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Functional equality is never a true equality; in truth it negates what makes us equal.  We are all made with different gifts and if function defines equality, then we will never be truly equal.  Why?  The example of a person born with mental and physical limitations will help us understand the problem.  If we define equality based on what such a person does, then they can never be truly equal to those who are not disabled, because of their limitations.  This false equality also devalues the most vulnerable in our society — the sick, the infant in the womb, the elderly, etc.  Furthermore, if we seek to understand equality between male and female, then we must go beyond what we do to find who we are

True equality between male and female is found in our creation in the image and likeness of God.  This sacramental view of human gender and equality is a sign of the divine nature of God (Father, Son and Spirit), which is in each of us since our creation.  Just as the mystery of the Trinity is incomplete with only one divine person, so our human nature is incomplete without the other gender.  The high dignity of God which we reflect in our being, rather than our doing, is a true equality we can only see once we understand that the human nature we all share transcends function.  When we view gender in this way, we find what ultimately makes us truly equal — our human nature raised beyond mere function up to the heights of the divine.

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  • Guest

    I have to applaud this Aggie for putting some perspective to the gender equity nonsense being peddled by many in the Church leadership. What is it about God's unique creation of each of us and God's call to each of us to use our unique capabilities and talents to bring the kingdom of God to others that some Church leaders do not understand?

    Perhaps some in leadership positions are following the secular world's confusion between equal opportunity and equal outcomes as it denies the existence of an intelligent Creator and the "outcome" of an eternal reward. What is it about being "in the world", but not "of the world" that they don't understand, as they seek to change Christ's Church to be more worldly.

    As those of us in the pews put up with the latest round of political correctness by our leadership, here's hoping that those, like Mr. Lejune, who are seeking orthodoxy instead of popularity will prevail. In the meantime, I will offer up each new PC attack on my sanity for those in our leadership. (My personal unfavorite to date is a revision to the Gloria of the Mass by my Pastor so that it begins, "Glory to God in the highest, and, peace to God's people on earth." – emphasis added)

  • Guest

    Amen.

    Society's idea of gender equality was to deny the differences and make women functionally the same as men.

    But, since we also value a great home life and want to raise great families, it has yielded a generation of stressed out women and Peter Pan men.

    Once again, the Church has had it right all long. Instead of the phallus worship so common in the ancient world, the only sex organ mentioned in our prayers is the womb.

    Great article.

  • Guest

    techwreck – I spent four years as the Director of Campus Ministry at your alma mater – TTU.  I have to agree that political correctness can certainly run amok.

  • Guest

    without female, there is no male

    Nice.  And right from the Bible.  Imagine that!

    Great article.

    And PTR: I love your comment on the womb.  Freedom through acceptance of nature and being!  We have value because we are!  Basic and true.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    The very resurrrection of the dead bespeaks God’s love of ‘both of the two’ sexes made one only by His Sacrament.

    Having in my past been married honeymooningly for nearly fifteen years, I can say how wondrously I appreciated the – ummm – uh – differences between my wife and I. Though, too, and paraphrasing sophomoric subscribers to certain magazines, I did ‘read the text’ as well as look at the picture of my wonderful Sharon.

    Now our culture would pretend that in putting tab A into slot B androgyny is begotten. What a waste! How pathetic! How so, so, sad!

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    But isn't there a problem in that if you are a woman, you are assumed to have qualities A B and C, and if you are a man, you are assumed to have qualities XYZ, simply because most people of your sex do ? Thus a man who is naturally nurturing and a woman who is tough as nails are often looked at as 'freaks', simply for possessing qualities which would be looked at strengths if the genders were reversed.

  • Guest

    Narwen,

    Not at all. Even our fallen human civilization has for centuries recogized and even looked with admiration upon caring, merciful, nurturing man as well as strong, tenatious women.

    How would such qualities translate into meaning they should reverse roles in family life or be functionally equal in the culture at large?

    I don't understand why that must follow.

  • Guest

    Narwen,

    I am a "freak" then.  I am a more sensitive man.  Sometimes I do feel out of place.  But, with my wife I do not feel out of place.

    Every culture has their expectations.  Those expectations do not work out for everyone.  I'd say there are very few who fit them all.  Most lie somewhere near one side or the other.  But, these expectations and generalities are no reason to truly call those that fall outside them "freaks."  It may actually be a reason to become more accepting.  "Assumptions" and "nature" and cultures do not define a person completely. 

    We as individuals are so much more that any of those concepts.  We are children of God, redeemed by God, create in the image of God.  We fail many times but we are still called by God to get up and try to love again.  That is way more important.  We are children of God, on a journey to connect to God in heaven.  Everyone's course is different.  Our goal is the same.  Narwen, I do hope to meet you and anyone else who might be improperly viewed as a "freak" in heaven with God.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    Just to clarify : I'm not calling anyone a 'freak'. I'm merely saying that a large part of society would regard them as such, including some people who get a lot of 'airplay' in Catholic circles. (Steve Rhoads comes to mind…..)

     

  • Guest

    Narwen,

    I have only heard of Steve Rhoads from being on C-SPAN booknotes and have never heard him mentioned in Catholic circles.  I'm guessing you must live on the east coast of the US.

    That's why I love being Catholic. Even the top "hot topics" for Catholics in the US are not much of a topic at all for most of the Church.   For example; women's ordination, optional celebacy, and which politicians ought not receive Holy Communion are not the 25 meter targets for the Church. Growing secularization, militant Islam, and ethical science research are.

    We ought not freak out about being considered freaks. And remember that we Catholic in the US are only a small percentage of the Church.

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