How many women ache in longing – in one way or another – for the men in their lives (fathers, husbands, boyfriends, sons) to man up? We see the problem, we get exasperated by it, we suffer for it… the struggles of so many men to be grown up, to behave chivalrously, to keep their word, to follow through…
Have I got your attention? Ok, but – if you know me – you know I’m not here to berate men. There are so many causes of this problem that plagues us all – the collective loss of masculinity.
The first cause is the Fall, i.e. original sin, of course there are many others. But, the fact of the matter is, we cannot heal men. We women cannot force them to become manly. We can, however, implicitly encourage men’s own self-restoration and the realization of their inherent masculinity by actively restoring our own femininity. It’s just that simple. We can’t do their job for them (indeed – trying to is part of what’s gotten us even further into this mess), but we can and must do our job (for them and for us): We can restore ourselves in femininity.
Caveat: This series is not an authoritative or comprehensive exposition, nor is it a theological treatment of the virtues as the Church names and categorizes them. Rather, it’s meant to start an informal conversation among friends – among sisters.
Part 4: The Presentation
Part 5: The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
I present these entries not so much in the hope of teaching anyone anything, but more so of sharing for the sake of encouragement and healing. To that end, I also invite you – as you read this series, comment on it and share it – to pray with me for a restoration of the masculine and feminine virtues in society, starting with ourselves.
As so many saints urge us to pray the Rosary daily, I believe it can play a key role in this restoration – which by nature will not be explosive and instantaneous, but rather gradual, gentle and one person at a time. Not only does the Rosary tether us to our Mother and draw us closer to her Son, but it has almost infinite depths and truths to reveal to us about ourselves.
The Rosary is rich with lessons of healing, purpose and identity for all of humanity. It offers gifts and graces for all who pray it – and I daresay particular and unique graces for every individual. But in its invocation of and connection to Our Lady, the perfection of femininity, this powerful devotion offers certain gifts to women in a special way.
What exactly is happening in the Presentation? To me, it has always been an especially mysterious Mystery of the Rosary. Let’s look at the scripture directly:
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:22-38)
Three things come to my mind concerning Our Lady’s specific role that day, and what I might learn from her in my attempts at restoring in myself the feminine virtues that have been absent in nurture, in example, and in the explicit formation of my own feminist upbringing. The third one – humble obedience, i.e. meekness – strikes directly at a particular personal weakness and malformation (and I suspect, perhaps, that I’m not alone), but I’ll save the most difficult for last.
Fr. Pius Parsch described it thus in his famous 5-volume work The Church’s Year of Grace:
“Today the Infant Savior is brought to the temple and offered to God. According to Mosaic Law every male firstborn was “holy to the Lord”; he was to be brought to the temple and “redeemed” by an offering. In our Lord’s case the act assumed a deeper significance. God does not give His Son away gratis; His presentation at Mary’s hands constituted, we may say, the Offertory of His life. If we align Christ’s redemptive life with the Mass, His presentation in the temple would be the Offertory, His death on the Cross the consecration and elevation. Today the divine Lamb lies on the paten of sacrifice and is offered to the Father. Thirty-three years hence He will complete the act by dying on the Cross. Yes, this day commemorates the oblation of Christ’s whole redemptive work, not excluding the offertory oblations of all believers.”
My paraphrase: Mary has laid her infant son on the altar to be sacrificed for the salvation of the world. Who could? How could I? How supremely unselfish. And – yet – it is because she sees through the pain to the greater reality at hand. That this is His purpose, and that this is God’s supreme and perfect purview. Her job is to cooperate. To hold nothing back from God, who made heaven and earth, who holds the stars in place, who preserves every pulse and breath and moment of reality.
Simeon’s prophecy that a sword will pierce [Mary’s] own soul, too seems to point to the inevitability and profundity of Our Lady’s unique participation in her Son’s Passion.
There’s nothing she can do about it, per se. She probably already sensed hints of her future suffering on a very deep level – from as early as the Annunciation and perhaps even earlier, in her pure and set-apart youth.
But isn’t it an especially feminine quality to ache on an even bodily level, for those we love, especially in compassion for their sufferings? (I’m not saying men don’t ache, mind you).
If and when we have, as women, lost the sense of empathy – the ability to feel the other’s pain – we have allowed something precious and necessary to the human ecosystem – something Marian – to be drained out. Something vital and poetic and soft and communicative (i.e. the whole concept of shared humanity – pain, joy, experience, blood).
I imagine with great sorrow and horror the wicked inversion of this sentence – a sword will pierce your own soul, too – with the horrific realities of abortion; needles that pierce the skulls of women’s babies in the womb. Is this not the very opposite of femininity? The barbaric and diabolical inverse of feminine virtue?
The Feast of the Presentation – celebrated Feb. 2 – used to be called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’ve always been awed by the incomprehensibility of “presenting God to Himself.”
But I’ve also tried to imagine Mary’s particular role that day, wondering what it must have felt like for a mother to consecrate her infant back to God. That there’s something quite humble and perhaps even scary about such a significant, unretractable promise (scary, at least, for anyone less holy than the Blessed Virgin Mary).
However I wish to focus in on the Purification aspect of this mystery.
Again, from Pius Parsch:
“Today our Blessed Mother offers her purificatory sacrifice as required by Mosaic Law (Leviticus). Actually Mary was not bound by the precept, for she was the purest of virgins, and her Son the spotless Lamb of God. Nevertheless, with humility and with a true spirit of sacrifice she brought the offering of the poor, a pair of doves.”
She could have been stubborn and asserted her rights, proclaimed her purity and the silliness of submitting to a ritual that she didn’t need. She would have been justified in defending her reputation out loud, bemoaning false public presumptions of her impurity, permitting herself legitimate indignation…
And how many of us do this? I do this. But Mary’s concern on this day was not the ignorant court of public opinion or her stature therein. Her sole focus was on God. On rendering to Him the sacred, Her son, God Himself. In her perfection, how could she be distracted by pettiness?
But I, in my lack of meekness, do not bear wrongs meekly. I do not abide insults or misinterpretations – especially the ones that bruise my own ego. Worst of all, I fail in this expression of femininity in my most intimate relationship – my marriage. In even subtle ways, I unconsciously desire to win and to be right. Rather than humbly loving my way through moments of friction, in other words, in allowing my husband to lead me. But this is what I promised to do at the altar of our nuptial Mass – to love gently and humbly and not count my own victories or losses. It is not a contest, after all.
This is all very subtle, and I’m not talking about bullying or fights. I’m talking about something more like dancing. Like the waltz of daily married life. I never learned how to dance, but I’d like to – it’s so romantic! And in a beautiful dance, someone has to lead, or else it’s a complete, embarrassing bungle. But when the couple hits the sweet spot of leading and following, in rhythm, in assertion and response to slight movements, synchronized, harmonized… something electric happens. Something poetic… something truly beautiful, and it cannot occur if both parties attempt to assume the lead or if both defer and hesitate. This poetic dynamic is the farthest thing ever from our modern, snap impressions of dominance and submissiveness… of bullying and mousiness.
So, I encourage women – let’s seek to disabuse ourselves of aversions to words like humility and meekness when it comes to embracing and restoring our femininity. It is a beautiful, even scary adventure, but it is what we are made for, and it is where our greatest happiness lies, in whatever vocation God has called us to.
**I will not typically use the word “gender” in this series, because I reject the way the term is now commonly but erroneously used, i.e. as a “mental construct.” Gender is for grammar in most non-English languages, but Male and Female, He created them (Genesis 5:2).
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