Recently, a talented female Catholic writer, Mrs. Jennifer Hartline, relayed on her blog, My Chocolate Heart, and at Catholic Online a conversation between her and her husband about the nature of feminine beauty, which was at once intriguing, and as well, thought provoking.
In it she presented this quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen, long since deceased, but still touching our Catholic faith lives:
"To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women."As a belatedly devoted husband, having previously failed miserably at marriage, and the father of three young adult women, what Mrs. Hartline wrote challenged me to examine my view of the women in my life, and to ponder what the appropriate response is from me as a man, husband and father. I take full responsibility for all of my actions that have diminished the women who have touched my life, those which have been sinful, and those which has been merely inappropriate for the circumstance. But, without excusing my ignorance, there have been also societal influences that have helped me and other men to form the wrong impressions of what women require from us as men.
What we now see as traditional feminism, though it is a short but pervasive tradition, flies in the face of all that we men hold deep and dear in our hearts about the nature of a woman. Feminism was, in essence, a response to generation upon generation of men failing to be the men we were created to be, particulary in our response to those women in our lives, our wives and daughters. As such, it took on a radical tone and totally lost the complementarity of women and men, in favour of some kind of melding of women into trying to be better men than men are.
Father Benjamin Bradshaw has an interesting perspective on the feminine over at The Theology of the Body Institute in an article he recently wrote about The Unique Nature of the Feminine Soul according to St. Edith Stein and Blessed John Paul II.
But, what does all of this mean to men practically, for if anything, we men do attempt to deal with things practically.
That reminds me of what lives in my mind and that of My Dear Wife as the quintessential argument of our married life together. One evening we were in the sitting area of our bedroom in a home we lived in many years ago. My wife was "prattling on" (in my mind at the time) about her feelings about something or other. As I sat across from her, not really hearing her, I interrupted her to share my wisdom with her and told her the following: "I need to deal in facts, not all this emotional B??? S???." For emphasis I had turned my left hand over and was slapping the back of my palm into my other hand. That pretty much brought an end to the discussion, and God has used the constant memory of that low point in my communication with My Dear Wife to heal me of the arrogance and lack of sensitivity to her over the years.
As men, we may participate in discussions with other men about the women in our lives, and how irrational they are. Somehow we feel better to be able to share in this misery with others who are more like us. Women, of course, are not immune from this, but this is not about them in that sense, but about us as men.
I have discovered this over many years, and by much grace from a God who loves and me and loves My Dear Wife more than we can possibly imagine, and wants to give us the desires of our hearts, and there is the rub. The desire of my heart, though not one I could articulate, was to participate in an exclusive loving relationship with another person, in my case as a man, with a woman, to come to a spiritual, mental, emotional oneness, that both united us, and respected our individuality.
My Dear Wife has been challenged by autoimmune diseases for the last decade. As such, rounds of medications, too many to count, where we are not sure which is worse, the disease or the cure, has left her looks different than they were. But, in my eyes, she has grown more beautiful over the years, as I have witnessed her courage under fire, as she lives in constant pain, yet continues to love all who come her way. God has given me immense grace to accept her as she is, to love her where she sits, and yet not to leave her there, but to pray for the best for her, and to encourage her daily in her walk of faith and life.
Somehow God gave me the grace to seek my own healing of those things that prevented me from seeing women, and in particular the one to whom I am married, through his eyes, the eyes of faith, rather than as something or someone less, particularly less than me.
When we men engage in sexual relations, even if only in our mind, with women who we are not married to, we diminish all women, even though the sex may be consensual. When we allow our daughters to wear clothes that are not respectful of their bodies, as opposed to most current fashions that turn our attention away from eye contact to objectifying them, we perpetuate the degredation of our society that has made sex an end in itself, and has taken away from the sanctity of the marriage bed. We are equally capable of disrespecting our wives in many ways, too many actually to count.
I have the amazing good fortune, (read that for what it actually is - amazing grace) to be married to my best friend in the whole world, to wake up beside her almost every day, and to share faith, love, and a delight in the simple things of life with her. She sees most things of life so totally differently from me, that I essentially get to see things twice, through my eyes, and through her eyes. I see flowers I never noticed before, and feel emotions I did not know even existed 10 years ago.
What is missing from our life that hampered our marriage, is the competition. She is not trying to be a better man than I am. I have no reason, and there would be no value in it either, to put down her viewpoints that do not correspond to mine. As my equal in our journey of life, what she sees is of value, as what I see is of value.
But, this is all only possible, because God has opened my male eyes to see the particular beauty of a woman, in My Dear Wife; to live without relationship stress because we can accept each other as we are. To reduce the day to day tensions of life with a smile, a tear, a kiss, a prayer, so they take on the perspective that they deserve, is an amazing blessing.
Yet, it is also only possible if we men choose to love. Women are by their nature responders. They respond for example with their emotions to the various stimuli of life more than we do. We men have been trained to take that for weakness, rather than for the strength that it is, particularly if nurtured and accepted by one who loves them unconditionally.
When I place My Dear Wife as number 1 for me in our relationship, I have found that I am a big winner. She melts in a sense into the relationship, and all is well.
So, the face of radical feminism is a response to bad behaviour on the part of men for many generations, and though it contains some good, it is a distortion of the truth, as much as our behaviour was and continues to be. To me, the best way to combat radical feminism is not to fight or rail against it, since that resistance gives it more power, and consumes energy better used for more meaningful purposes.
No, the best way to deal with the feminine is to embrace it as God has intended for us to do, by loving with no conditions, by being patient, kind, forgiving, seeking forgiveness. Essentially, it is to live the words of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where in Chapter 13, verses 4-8, he said:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Marriage works when men choose to love radically, not for what is in it for us, but for what it is, an opportunity to see Jesus in the other, and to be Jesus for that other.
Love never fails.
We men are called to a radical masculinism, not one that is self serving, but one that is other serving. So let us men leave our egos at the door of our homes, not to ignore our egos, but to give them their proper due and place in us, and embrace all aspects of the one we have chosen to live out our lives with, and to form a family with. Our patron in married life, St. Joseph is a wonderful model for us, of quiet fidelity, in the midst of trials, and he is worthy of our emulation.
Let us prove to the woman that we love that we are worthy of her, and that in seeking to be worthy of her and her love, that she is a pearl of great price. Then we will see the level of women in our society rise so that we can once again be proud of the society in which we live.