The 5-part series is the fruit of personal meditation, reading, and prayer. It 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 be an informal conversation among friends – among sisters.
These reflections are born of a growing awareness of confusion, frustration, chaos, and pain in the realm of sex which seems to be getting progressively more complicated and fraught from one generation to the next. I present the series 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 and consider commenting on it and sharing it – to pray with me for a restoration of the masculine and feminine virtues in society.
Part 2: The Visitation corresponds to Solicitude and Hospitality
Part 3: The Nativity
Part 4: The Presentation
Part 5: The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
As I said in Part 1, I will use the word ‘sex,’ not to refer merely to intercourse, but indeed a far more encompassing idea, i.e. “…the whole 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, 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.”
Catholic anthropology understands that we are created differently, male and female. Yes of course, both sexes bear the image of God in our souls. We both carry the same human dignity. But men and women are not interchangeable, nor are our differences limited to “plumbing” (forgive me for using this awful phrase… but don’t we hear it used? What a tragic analogy, a shallow falsehood swallowed by too many souls).
We relate differently, men and women. We have different strengths and weaknesses. We bring different gifts and flavors and adornments to the wondrously diverse landscape of God’s creation.
The Male and Female binary (or, twoness) is a primordial, profound, amazingly beautiful aspect of our humanity. Getting it wrong about something so foundational, so essential to our design, is no mere inconsequential blip on the radar. When a society is rife with confusion, distortion, abuse and woundedness concerning sex and sexual relations, the implications are sweeping, and the individual members of that society are sure to suffer.
Our happiness, our sorrows, our sense of identity and communion with others, and so forth… these deeply universal aspects of the human experience all are all bound up in matters of sex [no, not intercourse, but male and female].
We women are complicit in the confusion and woundedness of our social ecosystem, but we are also victims. We’ve been steeped in the aftermath of the sexual revolution, various waves of feminism… we come from wounded families of origin, were unwittingly formed by bad philosophy, and many of us have been traumatized and violated personally. How deeply all this must grieve and pain Our Lord!
But Christianity is not a system of resentment ideology, and this is not a series on grievance. I propose a healing direction: Mary. She is not a pat answer, and the healing and virtues we can glean from her are not caricatures of 1950’s housewives in aprons and heels. The Feminine Virtues she imparts are at once simple and beautifully diverse in their expression.
As I’ve meditated on elsewhere, and I can hardly get away from it in my own praying of the Rosary, the first thing the Virgin Mary did after her fiat was to go out.
Caritas urget. The living love of Christ, nascent almost secretly in Mary’s womb, compels her outward in love and service of her pregnant cousin.
Women are nurturers. We are caretakers. But many of the skills implicit in those natural inclinations – and even the inclinations themselves – have been diminished, eroded, deprived, forgotten in our upbringing (speaking, at least, for Gen-X’ers and Millennials). Availability is also a critical factor here. Are we so busy working the jobs we’ve been educated for, raised for, rely on to maintain certain lifestyles or to pay off the debt we’ve incurred acquiring said educations… that we don’t have time to go tend to our sisters, our cousins, our mothers, our aging parents and grandparents… even our own children? Oh how I don’t intend to pinch or bruise the hearts of my sisters who – through no fault of their own – have been corralled into these roles and concerns that prohibit us from true, gentle, serving hospitality, but can we entertain the idea with some objectivity?
Think about the various fads like Pinterest, Instant Pots, all the mom blogs and cooking YouTubes… (I know… I use them!… well, some of them). These things are not card-carrying evidence of femininity, of course, but my point is – doesn’t their popularity hint at something deeper? Maybe these resources and tools mesmerize women because they go straight to a very primordial feminine instinct – caring for others.
But gosh do I wish it all came more naturally to me, tending to the souls around me, or even those farther away who need my love and my sisterly company. Maybe we’ll never be able to be as hospitable (going out to live with loved ones for 3-month stints, receiving them in our clean, orderly, cozy, beautiful, well-appointed parlors). But we can make deliberate, small, incremental steps towards hospitality.
Mean Girls might be a dated movie by now, but the catchy 2004 title resonates in its simple accuracy as a descriptor and depiction of girls behaving badly toward one another. This strikes me as a particularly grievous social scourge of modern, anti-virtuous relations between women. In the absence of sisterly love, willing the good for the other as the foundation of interactions between women, we become competitors. Jealousy enters in, and brings out the basest attitudes toward and treatment of other women. How awful! And what a contrast is Mary’s gentle, loving, solicitous care for her cousin. Elizabeth’s good, and need, and vulnerability are all occasions for Mary’s expression of love.
Finally, I want to suggest a second related but distinct consideration of what Mary accomplishes in the Visitation vis-a-vis John the Baptist.
He leapt just at the sound of Mary’s voice. Here she has come to tend to her pregnant cousin, traveled a presumably arduous journey. This is not fun, this hospitality. It’s not comfortable. But the Blessed Mother’s sacrifice of hospitality in going to and serving her cousin, in bringing Jesus out, bringing joy and truth and Love Incarnate to others… this is, in a manner of speaking, to create the conditions for the joy and delight of others. Isn’t that even how we imagine contemporary hospitality? It is a sort of gentle facilitation, made possible simply by Mary’s just being there. Her presence permits the leaps of John, the prenatal initiation of the role he would play in announcing the Messiah some 3 decades later.
We don’t hear anything about the busy care Mary provides to Elizabeth. All we know is that she went to be with her out of awareness of Elizabeth’s need. She arrived, and she stayed. She “wasted” time. And by being there, simply by her presence, gently, humbly, in solicitude, epic events have been set in motion.
It is a uniquely feminine virtue to create, by one’s presence and unselfishness, the conditions for others to convalesce, to heal, to mature, to thrive, to be who and what they are supposed to be. Is there even a word for this? I do not know how better to describe it than Marian hospitality.
1. Determine that she was too busy, or equivocate about logistics, herself, or the costs and trials of travel and caretaking.
2. Tell Elizabeth how things were going to go.
3. Compare herself to Elizabeth.
4. Conceal the unborn Jesus jealously.
As all of this implies, hospitality is multidimensional. It’s so much more than decorating your dining room table with a seasonal centerpiece and inviting people over for dinner (although that’s lovely, and it is hospitable!). It also means going out to others… responding to the needs and invitations of others graciously (even when we feel like staying home in sweatpants).
Let us ask our Blessed Mother to help us as women to be more giving of love in hospitality to our sisters. Do we build them up? Do we care for them? Do we anticipate their needs? Do we squash our jealousies and make ourselves available? Do we make time and space for the other, in our hearts, our schedules, our budgets, our homes? Do we bring them Jesus?
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