- Fr. Benjamin
In Catholic theology there is a wonderful balance between the male and the female in the work of our salvation. In the book of Genesis, God creates both male and female. Both are tempted, both fall into sin, and both bear the curse of that sin in different ways. This double fall requires a double act of redemption, and so in His Wisdom God brings about the work of redemption though a man and a woman. First, He prepares Mary by preserving her free from Original Sin. We know that Mary is not divine. Like us she is a finite human creature with a human father and mother. God makes her perfect, however, preserving her from any flaw or stain, so that she can perfectly respond to God’s infinite love. Her courageous response of “Yes” allows God to enter human history through her womb. This would be the first act of redemption. Jesus, by his Incarnation, elevates our human condition by uniting a human nature to his divine nature, the second moment of redemption. While God comes to us in Jesus, He comes to us through Mary. If we imagine that Jesus is the bridge between Heaven and earth, Mary is the place where that bridge is anchored on our side. So there is a beautiful cooperation of the divine and human, male and female, in this moment of the Incarnation.
Both male and female also cooperate in the sacrifice which completes our salvation. Jesus offers himself on the cross while Mary is actively offering Him and praying constantly for Him. Protestant theology is typically uncomfortable with this portrayal of Mary, because Jesus’s offering alone is sufficient to bring salvation while Mary’s offering alone is not sufficient. Remember, though, that Jesus did not make His offering alone, He made it united spiritually to Mary. While God could have chosen to bring about salvation without Mary, He instead accepted her offering together with the offering of His son, so that the male and female would both contribute to our redemption. Protestantism, by trying to emphasize Christ, unintentionally creates a theology which is primarily masculine, rather than one that is balanced.
As we delve a little deeper into the mystery of salvation, it becomes clear that God “had” to bring salvation about in this way. I say “had” because God could have chosen to work outside or around the created world. Since He chose to work within his creation, He needed to use a human woman. Clearly He could have brought about a man who was immaculately conceived, but this man would still have been completely incapable of welcoming the Word of God into the world. A woman was necessary for that role. Naturally, the mind can imagine that Mary could have conceived and given birth to a daughter, the incarnate Word of God. This girl could have suffered and died on the cross while her mother prayed below. First, we notice that this scenario would completely lack any male presence in the work of our redemption, creating something unbalanced. On a deeper level, however, the masculinity of Jesus was necessary to fully address the effects of sin (this idea comes from Dr. Mary Lemmons at the University of St. Thomas).
Going back to Adam and Eve, we see that their sin not only disrupted their relationship with God, but it also invited sin and evil into the relationship between the sexes. It is sin which turns the harmony of this beautiful diversity into the “battle of the sexes” where men and women compete with each other. As part of the curse of sin, God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16) This is an artistic summary of the suffering of women through the centuries. Women are naturally inclined to desire to be loved, and to sacrifice for the people in their life as a way of seeking that love. Consequently they face the temptation of idolizing a man and “offering sacrifices” to him, trying to make him the center of her life. Men, on the other hand, are tempted to control and dominate women, taking advantage of their willingness to sacrifice to turn them into servants. A woman is therefore victimized twice, first by her desire to be loved and to sacrifice for the one who loves her, and second by the vice of men who manipulate this desire for their own selfish ends.
This divide cannot be healed by the woman because of her status as the victim. I won’t get into details, but I think that the sad state of the relations between men and women today is due to a well-intentioned attempt to better the status of women from the woman’s side. This cannot possibly work, because it is the man’s side which is most disordered.
Because Jesus came to rescue woman from the oppression of men, he had to come as a man. Jesus does this in two ways. First, He presents a model of manhood which triumphs over selfishness by offering His own life as a sacrifice for others. Women are naturally willing to sacrifice but men must be taught. The crucified Lord is a constant condemnation of those who resort to violence and a constant reminder that God takes the side of the victim in a disordered relationship. You can see clearly that the image of a woman beaten, bloody and nailed to a crucifix, would do nothing to heal this disorder in men. In fact, it would probably only deepen the disorder. Jesus had to be a man in order to teach men how to love.
Jesus also heals the other side of the division by correcting the desire of women. Jesus is a man who can be loved completely without committing idolatry, because He is God. A woman can therefore place Jesus Christ at the center of her life without doing anything wrong. This presence of Jesus helps women to correct their desire for love which can be so easily manipulated. Young, unmarried women I know are particularly fond of the saying, “A woman should be so hidden in Christ that a man has to seek Him to find her.” When a woman seeks the love of Christ she begins to know true love and is less likely to be deceived by the cheap imitations that abound in this disordered world. Her relationship with Christ also creates a very fruitful tension in her relationship with other men. When a woman is receiving love from Christ, no other man can control her access to love and consequently they lose the power to manipulate her. Once again, if Mary had given birth to a daughter as the embodiment of divine love, it would not have helped women to escape from male domination.
I write this, not so much as an argument, but as reflection on the mystery of how God heals and saves. Priesthood, because it continues the ministry of Jesus in a concrete and visible way, continues this mission of reconciling men and women. The priest is first challenged as a man to receive the love of Jesus and to imitate that sacrificial love. He then challenges both men and women to find their need for love in Jesus and to live in a self-sacrificing way. Since the masculinity of Jesus was an essential element of God’s plan of salvation, it is also essential that priests be male. The necessity for priesthood to be a male presence does not mitigate the contribution of women, just as the necessity of Christ as our savior does not reduce the contribution of Mary. In Catholic life there is a wonderful balance between the male and female. Reserving priesthood to men does not create an imbalance, but maintains this beautiful balance.
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