“Male and female He made them,” says the book of Genesis, introducing the reader to the two-sexed universe of God. It is a beautiful and wondrous thing to see the nuptial backdrop to creation, and in this time of confused sexual identity, it is more urgent than ever to understand authentic masculinity and femininity.
One way to look at the vocation of woman is to offer a paradigm of holiness so that women will know when they are authentically feminine and when they stray from their calling. “Men are strong, women are good listeners” is an example of useless stereotypes that have caged everyone for a very long time. Similarly, dividing the sexes by “appropriate” jobs, roles, or wardrobe apparel has caused more frustration than understanding. What paradigm, then, will include all women and yet offer enough structure to guide their actions within God’s will for their lives? Without one, we wander lost and without tangible purpose.
The Church there is the model.
In a practical sense, we have to take the spiritual realities of Holy Mother Church and nail them down into everyday actions. Simply put: What does the Church do? She washes, welcomes, reconciles, nourishes, teaches, heals, and confirms all of her members. In the end, she gives them one last embrace before burying them. Here is the work of women with enough latitude for freedom of expression, but enough structure to keep them from wandering into the masculine world. Women should love Christ with every fiber of their beings, and yet model their lives on His Bride in order to retain their femininity.
One cannot help but be riveted to the story of how Ashley Smith was held captive by the accused murderer Brian Nichols and changed his life in seven hours. What began as a frightening encounter complete with gun and overwhelming force ended in a calm surrender and peaceful transferal to the appropriate authorities. From start to finish, Ashley Smith used her God-given feminine genius for the good of all.
To refer to the short list of “what the Church does” given above, Nichols's victim did it all. From the shower, to the hours of conversation, to the pancake breakfast, he found in that apartment authentic love in a feminine way. While never diminishing the nature of his crimes and the call for justice, Ashley affirmed his dignity as a person in the image and likeness of God, she reminded him of his worth and responsibilities, and she loved him as a sister in Christ. No doubt scared out of her wits, enough clarity of vision remained for her to guide the encounter to a proper end, and her faith carried her according to the promises of God.
There is an old country song in which a killer on the run bursts in on the home of a elderly woman one morning. She is cooking breakfast and casts her motherly eye on him. Her immediate reaction is, “You look tired and hungry, put that gun away and sit down.” Implausible, one would think, and we never imagined we’d see it lived out. Would a stack of pancakes and sausage really “sooth the savage beast”? Lo and behold, the transcripts of Ashley’s account lead up to that very moment, when Brian said, “Wow, real butter!?”
This is not the miracle of butter it was only a natural gift from the heart of a disciple who knew what Christ would have done. It was a meal offered in love after sharing God’s word. She had known grievous loss and suffering through her own husband’s death four years earlier. Having buried a loved one, she knew the enormity of Nichols's crimes. Ashley was a mother, and driven by the love of her own daughter, she knew the value of Brian in God’s eyes. Having found the peace of faith, she wanted that crowning gift amidst the madness even for Brian.
This is not a “paint-by-numbers” life, where we add each pigment according to a formula in order to create a scripted image. God has given us both a wealth of diverse gifts, and the freedom to use them. What is lovely about femininity is that we can create a sanctuary of love in the very same way that Christ’s Bride the Church does and each of us in a unique and life-transforming way.
Most women have been doing this for millennia but they just didn’t know the name of it. In the last century, many have gone a little askew, but God in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to offer the Theology of the Body to give a firm structure to the game plan for men and women. Since we have questioned masculinity and feminity, since we have dabbled with androgyny and stereotypes, God has revealed His plan for human sexuality in terms we can understand. John Paul II has been speaking and writing about it for decades. We only need attend to these teachings.
And for those who don’t know where to find the encyclicals, for now they only need to turn on the news and hear the story of Ashley Smith. Like the Bride she unknowingly imitates in her own unique way, she received the love of Christ and offered it to those in her path even the unexpected guest. As her pastor said on camera, “I am so incredibly proud of her.” Aren’t we all!
© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange
Genevieve Kineke has contributed to a book, The Gift of Femininity, found at www.SacredArtsCommunications.com.