It’s another hot season for high-ranking church officials making comments to the media. You may have heard about Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke’s recent assignment to patron of the Order of Malta. I will refrain from commenting on that because I don’t really know the story. I do know how to read an interview, though, so when a friend invited me to read the interview the cardinal gave to the New Emangelization blog, I approached it with an open yet discerning mind.
Having read the full interview, I think many readers’ instant reactions of shock and anger clouded them to the good that is there.
I actually think the cardinal makes a reasonable point in saying that women’s issues have been addressed to the detriment of men’s. That’s not to say that women’s issues don’t need addressing. They absolutely do. However, it is a consequence of the Fall that men have wielded power over women in order to cause them great suffering. Our fallen state is not a goal. Sin is not our ideal. On the other hand, there’s no need to force out or degrade men for the sake of women; that’s disordered, too. When I read Captivating and then turned to Wild at Heart hoping for more, I could sense a deep need in both gender-specific Christian spiritualities for a fuller understanding of man and woman together. That is the goal. The Theology of the Body is about man and woman in relationship. Neither makes sense without the other, so women’s issues ought to be important to men, and men’s issues ought to be important to women. The cardinal’s image of children learning about the complementarity of man and woman around the family dinner table has been lost to history. The sad state of family life today shows that something went terribly wrong.
It is also important to note that the Church is traditionally considered female (e.g. receiving female pronouns and being called “the Bride of Christ”). She’s not “feminized”; she is feminine. This tradition is making a slow return, even among those who might blame radical feminism for problems within the Church. Feminism should not be a scapegoat.
Men’s behaviors and dress matter, for it affects how they relate to the world and it affects the culture.
Perhaps some of what rubbed so many people the wrong way about Cardinal Burke’s comments is that much of what he says is unfortunately applicable to both men and women. We’re coming out of a generation of poor catechesis for boys and girls alike, but old devotions and styles of liturgy are slowly returning. Many people my age didn’t understand the beauty of the Mass before, but we sure do now. Addictions to pornography and a disordered view of love, sex, and marriage plague both men and women, but the genius of the Theology of the Body has been unpacked and joyously disseminated as an antidote. Much of my generation grew up with divorced and remarried parents, but we’re opening our hearts to believe in lifelong love and see children as a gift, even if we have to visit four houses at Christmas to cover all the grandparents. So many people and so many priests are afraid to call a sin a sin, but opening wide our souls and throwing them upon the unending mercy of God is the way to true freedom. Men and women alike need a new evangelization. Maybe we can work toward a brighter future together.
Learning that it is not manly to be vulgar or blasphemous and that a man is welcoming and courteous to others; these might seem like little things but they form a man’s character. Much of this has been lost.
Cardinal Burke highlights some specific characteristics of men’s spirituality: desiring a challenge, being attracted to mystery and the sacred, and sacrificing to benefit others. That sounds reasonable to me, but being a woman, I’m never quite going to be able to identify men’s spirituality as well as an actual man could. So I issue a call to male readers: Do you agree? Do those sound like things that specifically attract men to God? And female readers: Is that what draws you to God? What would you name as an important characteristic of female spirituality?
If you think Cardinal Burke was so wrong, what do you think is right?
The cardinal may have said that a true understanding of sexuality, equality between men and women, and rich family life are the “most treasured gifts” today’s adults didn’t receive from our parents, but I think there is much more hope for the future than he indicates. Women and men deserve respect, freedom, and love. That knows no gender divide.