The Bride of Christ
We often hear about the priestly nature of men and the authority they (can and should) exercise in the home and on the altar. However, during my pregnancy, I found myself constantly reflecting on something I’ve never heard of before – the Eucharistic nature of woman. During that time and even now, I am still feeding another person with my own flesh and blood!
I have long been fascinated by the very visceral nature of our redemption. From the fall we were given consequences of blood and water. Adam was to work the ground with the sweat of his brow (saline- the body’s water) among the thorns which would have undoubtedly scratched him, bloodying his hands. Eve endured increased pain in childbearing, in which we are all familiar with how intensely that involves blood and saline. From there, Adam’s scratches grew into Jesus’ lashes, and Eve’s waters led to Mary’s tears. This is all fulfilled on the cross when blood and water poured from the Sacred Heart and culminates in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This unity of man and woman, in penance as well as the victory of Christ, is preceded by something almost as significant: their individual creation and the way God shared His life in them, equal yet distinct. Man was created first, alone with God and creation. This speaks to his authority and also to his attention on the external: objects he can manipulate and beings he is master of. God, Creator and Father of all creation, expresses Himself generatively in man’s life giving physiology, a body capable of literally gifting life to another. But this is only half of how God wishes to express Himself. What of woman? Is she lesser because she is second? No. But she is different.
Adam first experienced loneliness, a yearning for another, an equal. Eve first experienced another person. Woman is then, unsurprisingly, person-focused. God granted to her the future of humanity, entrusting her with the cultivation of life and society, expecting man to serve and protect her in that mission. With the fall, our relationship became clouded. Man might now confuse woman with an object for his hands to manipulate or a being to be master over rather than husband or partner. Woman might be so focused on the other that she gives too much of herself, losing herself or becoming hollow. Thankfully, the Church sees us both as God does, with great dignity and responsibility. Pope Paul XII and Pope John Paul II emphasized woman’s special relationship with the Father and our role in the world, which became a teaching we now refer to as the Feminine Genius.
In the Feminine Genius, we do not find “girliness,” but characteristics of our body and soul that are expressed uniquely in each individual woman and applied in the world through her distinct personality, whether that is in the home, a boardroom, a tattoo parlor, or all three. It is in these traits that the Church finds her own identity as well. Just as women are baptized into the masculine Baptism of Jesus Christ Priest, Prophet, and King, so do men as members of the Church share both in the following feminine qualities and a call to live them out:
Receptivity: Woman receives man’s generative gift to cultivate life within her body. Whether an individual woman bears children or not, this is a quality shared by her soul. She is a canopy under which others may grow, heal, and find rest. The Church shares this quality as we receive the Holy Spirit from God the Father bearing forth Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and serving as a place of fuel and refuge in the world for God’s people to come to know Him. In Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul II speaks of women in scripture and their particular gift to receive the words of Christ: “Christ speaks to women about the things of God, and they understand them; there is a true resonance of mind and heart, a response of faith.” If we are weak in this characteristic we crave control. We seek out power and become manipulative. We shut out God and try to rely on ourselves.
Sensitivity: Because of the trait of Receptivity, woman is specially attuned to the inner life of others. Often referred to as intuition, her perception is a powerhouse for prediction. This serves in caring bodily and spiritually for the souls under her wing. To max out this trait you can partner with prudence and wisdom. Sensitivity is frequently referred to as a bad thing, but it is a gift from God to notice the needs of others. If we are lacking in sensitivity we become numb and apathetic to the suffering of God’s people. We may even become numb to joy.
Generosity: Not only noticing the needs of others, but having a huge desire and capacity to respond to those needs. This is such a strong force that if she forgets to be fueled by the Lord, she will run herself dry. Overexertion without rest, not bothering to allow the Lord to fill you, will lead you to turn down your sensitivity so you don’t feel the need to respond. Another way lacking in this trait hurts ourselves and others is becoming greedy. It is a particular flavor of greed, based out of fear. Fear that we do not have the capability or the resources, so we hoard for ourselves. This inward-turning is the exact opposite of Jesus, who is self-gift.
Maternity: Education is an express responsibility of parenthood, and woman is the first teacher. In how she responds to her child, the child learns about being human. Whether a physical or spiritual child, we find our greatest example of Motherhood in the unity between Mary and Jesus, Mary who took God fully into herself. May we all learn to imitate this more and more in our lives that we may not fail in this all-important task of forming persons.
These traits are not an exhaustive list. Pope John Paul II himself says “It is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear”. Even so, let us use this Lenten season to take our temperature, if you will, as women and as a Church in where we stand with these traits and how we live them. Can you come up with a Lenten sacrifice that will help you nurture one of the above?
Coordinator of Youth Faith Formation