These days, I find myself praying often for a restoration of the masculine and feminine virtues in society. There’s so much confusion swirling about, whether it’s “gender ideology,” sexual orientation, body dysmorphia, or otherwise. We all feel the tensions mounting in the social, political, and cultural realms. Most of us are wounded by this in some way, whether personally or in our immediate family relationships, our daily interactions with co-workers or friends.
I’m referring to *sex. Not just intercourse, but the staggeringly complex ecosystem of how men and women relate, how men become manly and how women become feminine. And how each side needs the other side to be what it is in order to be what they ought to be… how children need the same for their own healthy development, and how we can’t talk about restoring marriage culture if we don’t talk about the sexes, namely, about restoring them.
In any case, as natural and basic are the categories Male and Female, it can be difficult to know where to start, even in our thinking, trying to make sense of it all… let alone in healing oneself, one’s immediate relationships, and hoping to make any positive impact in the world. Even once we start to notice a problem, our wounded natures often tempt us to imagine fixing it in all the wrong ways.
In the case of male-female relations, we women have such an itch to train our gaze outward towards men and to point fingers: Man up! C’mon guys! What has happened to men? Where ARE the men?, etc. These exhortations and questions might be justified, to a certain extent. But there’s a much gentler, more fruitful approach for women, even as we do wait in expectation – and sometimes in suffering – for men to heal themselves and restore masculinity. We simply can’t do it for them, and neither does it help for us to sit there grousing about it. So… what are we to do?
Here is what I have come to understand: Our approach is Mary.
Our approach must be the restoration of the feminine… interior and small and personal. We cannot berate men into recovering their masculinity – doesn’t the very image tell us just how flawed that impulse is? (It’s like screaming at your screaming child to stop screaming… counter-intuitive, eh?) But we can heal ourselves, and – if Jesus is our Divine Physician – Mary is our guidepost and our intercessor. Mary is the anti-ideologue. She is free of the wounds to her nature, her mind, her body, her formation, which so characterize contemporary women (myself included). What’s more, this perfection of femininity is our mother. She wants to dispense untold graces to us. She models and she heals.
Let’s look to her, today and in the coming series, in particular through the lens of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. As so many saints urge us to pray the Rosary daily, not only does it tether us to our mother and draw us closer to her Son, but it has depths and truths to reveal to us about ourselves. The Rosary is rich with lessons of healing, purpose and identity for all of humanity, but it offers these gifts to women in a special way.
The first Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation corresponds to Receptivity
At the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel appears before the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and brings her the news that she will conceive and bear the son of God. She receives the Angel’s message, and her Fiat becomes the consent that cooperates with the explosion of God onto the scene of His creation… His entry into time and space. I can’t recall which saint it was who describes the scene among the angels as this event transpired – the moment, not a hesitation, but still a moment, when Mary received the Angel Gabriel’s message. All of creation waited breathlessly in anticipation of the Virgin’s response. And then all heaven broke loose at her humble affirmation of receptivity: “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” as we pray daily in the Angelus.
There is a feminine genius in being ready to receive, and peacefully ready for good – even radically good news. I don’t necessarily mean happy news. Could the Blessed Virgin have been “happy,” per se, at this strange encounter and even fearful announcement? I don’t know… but she was ready and calm and receptive. Her quiet, intimate YES to God became the start of the greatest love story in the history of the world.
From a Theology of the Body standpoint, our very bodies tell the story of this truth of the feminine design, the beautiful idea God had in mind for woman. But our anatomy only points to a deeper, more awesome meaning: we are made for receptivity. If God is love, and if love is a constant, dynamic exchange of giving and receiving, then what can we learn in this pattern about His plan for us?
As for me, I regularly redirect myself, correct myself, for all the ways I am not receptive to God, to my husband, to the strangers and loved ones who come into my life and to the mysterious messages to which I put up various fronts, be they defensive, presumptuous, greedy, selfish, or otherwise misguided in any number of ways…
Things Mary did NOT do at the Annunciation:
1. Take or grasp at the gift
Receiving is not taking, nor is it greedily grabbing for a thing. As Eve grabbed at the fruit, having taken matters into her own hands, giving in to the lust for the one thing she’d been told not to eat, so too do we women grasp for and pine after things that were not meant for us (or that we’re not ready for).
What’s more, taking preempts the gift. If we don’t wait for it, if we greedily and impatiently take it, we thwart the gift-giver’s expression of love, and we stop the manifestation of the gift, itself. We give breathing room to a self-righteousness that becomes proud and which cuts off others from connecting with us.
2. Ignore the Archangel Gabriel
When we are self-sufficient (therefore in no need of receiving anything), we become closed off even to opportunities of connection with others. We become cold and oblivious. These are obviously not generous, feminine attributes. Neither was Mary so busy – head down with blinders on, distracted by some comparatively silly activity – that she was unable to notice the arrival of God’s messenger.
3. Block or Refuse the message or the messenger
Abortion seems the most glaring of the “refusing” category, but we block and refuse in so many more subtle ways due to our wounded nature and nurture. Mary did not contradict the angel Gabriel’s message, ask for something different, or tell him she had a better idea. She received it, and she spent the rest of her life pondering it in her heart.
We’re so sure we know what we need – so conditioned are we from our youth that we can be and are the experts! World-beaters! I no longer want to conquer the world or affirm my own erroneous ideas where God knows better. But the world has also taught me (taught all of us women) to be defensive… and rightfully so in many cases, as it’s an aggressive, even dangerous world out there. We must be prudent. But the question is, when and where can we mend our hearts towards the receptivity for which we were created?
There’s no expectation that we be open to everyone and everything that comes our way. A healing must take place, too, since it’s not just conditioning, but often true wounds that have been inflicted upon us by a broken world.
We don’t just flip a switch and suddenly become gentle, receptive, lovely, soft… especially if we are coping with past or present trauma. But here again, Our Mother is beckoning us to take shelter under her protective mantle. She wants to bring us to her Son. She felt His wounds and she knows all of ours. Let us fly to her, beg her to bring us healing, and to restore us to the beautiful, feminine state of receptivity that was God’s perfect will and design for woman from the beginning.
The restoration of the feminine is an amazing *contingent* endeavor. By that, I mean we must go out on this limb and do our part, with the hopeful – but ultimately entirely vulnerable – expectation that men will do their part (I will be writing more about this idea through this series and in another forthcoming set of posts).
Whatever it is we hope to come from men’s side of this equation, the reality is that this healing is good for us women, irrespective of men. I suspect, though, that a slight variation on a quote from St. Catherine of Siena might apply, for whatever motivation it’s worth: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire,” she famously said.
Women, be (womanly) as God meant you to be, and you will set the world (and men) on fire.
Series on Femininity in the Joyful Mysteries:
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
*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).