Quick shout-out to a solid and relevant homily, thank you Fr. John Hollowell for helping me find the right words.
This has been a topic of reflection for a couple days now. It is a follow up to a not-yet written post that is longer to write, and it is late, so it will be put off for now, but on the idea of masculinity:
Ephesians 5:21-33 is a quintessential verse summarizing the bibles wisdom on marriage. It is a go to verse for the topic, and part of an argument for how the marital relationship mimics Christ’s relationship for the church. Let’s consider, this in reverse, and see what Christ’s relationship for the church tells us about marriage.
Perhaps it is due to my own masculinity, but the intrinsic value of the nurturing nature of the feminine has never been much of a mystery to me. Life is precious. The church and female biology are clearly fruitful to this end. The church is the tree, started by the seed of Christ, still pouring out His fullness of life into the world. The church is absolutely essential to the continued access to His very blood in the world today, allowing His goodness to persist long after his ascension. I think the connection this has to female biology particularly in how central and necessary it is to pro-creation, which thereby works to convert a seed of life into a fountain to pour out life for generations to come, is somewhat direct and doesn’t need much explanation.
What was much more difficult to see, however, is how does the masculine offer His wife what Jesus offered the church? Surely, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, St. Catherine, Mother Mary and countless other examples give clear indication that woman is not dependent on a husband to have a connection to the fullness of life that Jesus supplies to the church. So, although I think part of being a good husband is to try to ‘channel His grace’ through you so your wife and family may receive Him more fully, I am unwilling to say there is anything distinctly masculine about this calling since it can seemingly apply to wives just as well. This stumped me for awhile. A couple days immediately, but on and off for years in a larger perspective.
Father Hollowell, however, proposed a more specific alternative in naming ‘sacrifice’ a distinctly masculine call. I agree with him. This is a right word for it, at least in connotation when connected to Christ specifically while on the cross. Although the wife will also sacrifice for the husband, dedicating her work as well to the good of the husband and family, I think there is a distinct difference in mechanism between this sort of sacrifice, and that of Christ for the church. I think this distinction is most clearly present during pregnancy, where the mother’s good and the child’s good are inseparable. This creates a clear image of mutual flourishing between mother and child, between the feminine and the continued good of the fruit of the union.
Jesus, however, spends his life and finds new life (on this Earth) in His church. I think it is specifically this kind of ‘spending to the point of death’ that begins to hit on the masculine form of sacrifice. Perhaps that is the better way to state it, to make clear the meaning I see in naming ‘sacrifice’ as the masculine calling – masculine sacrifice is spending. Recklessly. To the point of one’s own death. This is distinctly Jesus’. Jesus was spent. The church is here. The church is his prize.
I think it is valuable to extend this perspective out to consider, especially in regards to cases of ‘inauthentic masculinity’, what the masculine is being spent on. If the man’s life is seen as a wad of cash – let us consider some general spending patterns:
Hoarding the cash/being stingy – This exhibits in the use of porn. The use of violence to solve disagreements. Abuse of power in any form. All of these are ‘shortcuts’ to get knock-off replacements that wear a similar mask facing the masculine, or the purchaser, to the more costly authentic prize. (The replaced items being authentic love, peaceful unity, and justice).
Being too generous – This is fundamentally to sacrifice belief in Truth. If the man’s agreement, cooperation, etc. is given to anything and everything (whether it is to avoid confrontation or just because he is easily distracted), he will run out. He could print more, but that will devalue his currency. Seemingly, this explains the need to devote oneself more extremely and/or work harder to make up for past mistakes. If his dollar is devalued, he must pay more of them to assign the proper value to some purchase.
Paying correct value, on a well reflected and worthwhile purchase – This is the obvious goal. This is the masculine call realized. Masculinity perfectly realized will be an appropriate allocation of his-entire-self. If for Christ, this was to perish on the cross to let his priceless blood redeem our sins, to spill His blood into his church, and therefore mark His church as a priceless treasure – The masculine call is to do the same, to find something worth spending an entire life on and doing so. For Christ and priests, this is the church. For husbands, this is their wife, their family. For soldiers, this is justice, the safety of loved ones, to stand against whatever is being fought against. [ For the sake of completeness, it is worth highlighting that the complimentary Feminine call to this is to receive that gift, to be that something worth spending an entire life on – to respond to love with love. Indeed, a church that does not respond to Him is not His church. ]
Men – There are women, families, the church herself out their waiting for you. Spend your life that they may be fruitful. Look on the soil of the Earth, see the good they can be-were meant to be, and spend yourself that it may blossom.
To borrow a biblical reference from Olmsted’s exhortation (which is worth your time to read in entirety), Into the Breach –
“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land…” Ezekiel 22:30
Women – Culturally, both within and without the church, I think we men (including myself specifically) have dropped the ball. For this I am sorry (I am not sure I have grounds to ask forgiveness for all men, but at least for the times I have failed you. Please, know you are worth nothing less than the fullness of the life of a spouse. The feminine is to be purchased by the entirety of the masculine, anything short of this is an injustice. While this standard may be impossible to achieve for us men alone, it is not for Jesus. Demand Him as the guarantor when you allow yourself to ‘be purchased’, when you respond to the masculine sacrificial love in gift of yourself and nurture it in your feminine genius to be fruitful.
This is perhaps overstepping my bounds of expertise, but I think you are aware of your calling to this. Of your calling to grow a family and bear fruit. I also think you have been left in a desperate situation where it is difficult, perhaps even seemingly impossible to find an authentic offering of the raw materials you need to nurture and work to build a family. I think the fault for this is not on you, but on men.
I don’t remember the words or timeframe exactly, but I think awhile back there was some actress, Jennifer Lawrence, maybe? Emma Watson? An interview with them or something, where they discussed sexting as part of a romantic relationship. While I don’t remember the exact phraseology, I remember the comment being along the lines of “If he’s going to look anyway, I’d rather it be at me”. I think this highlights exactly the failure of men. By failing to make of our entire selves a committed purchase, it is like you are being left to advertise yourselves and call us into the relationship we were mutually meant for, the fullness we ARE capable of achieving together through His grace.
Demand more of us. We are dropping the ball and we do not deserve your help, but if you feel called in your compassion to lend us the assist, do not sacrifice your femininity to do it. We know you are good, the advertisement is unnecessary. What we have lost site of is your price- remind us of this. Challenge us to this. We, as men, are called to be given to you in entirety and to receive you in entirety. This is the best good, for both masculine and feminine. Don’t allow us to ruin this, buying only a piece at a time. Remind us of what you really hope to build, between us. Remind us of what you need from us to build that. Don’t settle for anything less. We want that too, in its fullness. It is worth our entirety, and we know it. We lose sight of it, and we grow distracted, but we know it and we want it. [Perhaps it is only wishful thinking to use we here and the amount of men that truly do know this is not as great as I imagine, but I do not believe that is the case. I think this is something that He has written on us: Men long to be devoted, entirely, and sacrificially.]