Have you ever put much thought into the passage in Genesis, “God created man in his image, in the divine image He created him, male and female he created them”?
I recently gave a talk to the women and teens of our youth ministry program about this very passage. As I discerned about the direction God desired me to take, I concluded that it was important to let the women know about the great value and dignity that our Lord and his Church, have for women. As females created in the divine image we have a critical role to play in family life, society, and the world. Additionally, I felt it was of critical importance to affirm the role of marriage in God’s plan and the great blessing that children truly are to a marriage.
In preparation for my talk I reacquainted myself with books on Theology of the Body, Scripture passages, and some of what the late Pope John Paul II had to say on the subject. What I found over and over was, contrary to what many people think and say, the Catholic Church holds women in very high regard.
Over the course of these five articles I hope to explore some of his work including the 1988 Apostolic Letter, The Dignity and Vocation of Women, rendered in Latin as Mulieris Dignitatem (here after referenced as MD), and The Theology of the Body. In addition, I will be referencing several well-known authors and their work on the subject.
The women and teens I was addressing were varied in age and knowledge about Church teaching on women. Rather than prematurely delve into an Apostolic Letter, I felt it was more important to lay a foundation starting with Genesis and move forward. Thus, I thought it best to begin, in the beginning.
In the book of Genesis we read about two accounts of creation. Chapter one offers a chronological account of creation, told over seven days with the high point being the creation of Adam on the sixth day. When God created everything he finished by saying it “was good,” but after he created Adam he says, “Behold, it is very good,” (Gen 1:31).
Chapter two is referred to as the second account of creation and is “the most ancient description and record of man’s self-knowledge” writes JP II. In this account, we also read that God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” thus God in all his wisdom and providence makes a suitable partner for him. Enter the W-O-M-A-N! And history has never been the same since.
I have always been taught that through Scripture God speaks to us. In the story of Adam and Eve, God is helping his children throughout all time to realize something about who God is and also something about who we are created to be.
Let’s start with the statement God makes to Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” (Gen 2:18). One might question how Adam could have possibly felt so alone with all the animals and living creatures, which fluttered, swam, and galloped around him. Wasn’t his trusty best friend the hippo, enough for him? Didn’t he find consolation in gazing at the gazelle, and peace fishing all day at Paradise Creek? What was still missing that he felt so “alone?”
When are the times in our own life that we feel alone? Life surrounds us. Humanity buzzes just outside of our doors and at times we can still feel utterly alone. What is missing? What was missing for Adam? If we finish reading the passage, God gives us the solution by simply stating “…I will make a suitable partner for him.”
God’s design for us is to be in relationship with one another. The Trinity is a relationship of eternal love, giving and receiving throughout all of time. We are made for one another, and it is there we find comfort and wholeness. God created, “man for woman, and woman for man.” This is never more apparent and obvious than when we look at our bodies.
”In the ‘unity of the two’, man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist ‘side by side’ or ‘together’, but they are also called to exist mutually ‘one for the other’… the woman must ‘help’ the man – and in his turn he must help her – first of all by the very fact of their “being human persons” (MD 7).
From the side of Adam the perfect helpmate is found. Further, we learn that through this encounter with Eve, Adam realizes that finally there is someone like him, someone that compliments and completes him. Eve is different from all the animals that Adam has seen and named, so we are told. God takes this opportunity to institute the Sacrament of marriage in Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”
“The fact that man ‘created as man and woman’ is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a ‘unity of the two’ in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life.” (MD 7)
In other words, how we love one another here on earth as male and female, is supposed to be a sign that mirrors the Trinity and their self-giving love to all of humanity. So how do you think we are doing so far?
I am blessed to share with you that I have been married for twenty-nine years now. We know that through prayer God helped us find each other and sift through all the “others” that were out there. My husband compliments and completes me in a way that no other human being does. There have been times however, when I am in a particularly creepy mood, that I wouldn’t want to be married to me. Yet this man sees and experiences in me a person that completes him. Through all of my faults and failings (and his as well), God has placed us together to be a sign that somehow mirrors (in a small and imperfect way) the great love and indissolubility of himself as Triune God. Christopher West writes in his book, The Good News About Sex and Marriage, “To diminish in any way the permanence of married love is to diminish the permanence of God’s love.”
This is why the Catholic Church can never change its stance on marriage. It is not ours to change. Christopher West continues, “Marriage isn’t whatever two people want it to be. For a relationship to be truly marital, it must conform to God’s plan for marriage as he created it to be.” He goes on to write that; “Marriage is the closest and most intimate of human friendships…marriage calls for mutual self-surrender so intimate and complete that the two spouses become one yet without loosing their uniqueness as persons.”
What an absolutely beautiful description of marriage, “the closest and most intimate of human friendships…” It must begin with a friendship and continue being one, especially after the vows have been spoken and consummated. Any married person will verify the critical importance of the “mutual self-surrender” component of marriage. To exist so exclusively with another on a daily basis, to share a home, children and a life of love, demands dying to self on a daily basis. In my work as a youth minister, I describe the difference between love and lust to the teens this way, love is “selfless” and lust is “selfish.” When you are selfless, it is easier to surrender yourself to another without measuring.
As we work our way forward in this discussion, it seems prudent to point out the obvious complimentary aspects of how God created the female and male body. I’ll begin with the females.
The feminine body has been designed by God to receive life. All of our reproductive organs are internal. “Only women are created with an empty space within…we are created to be receptive, to be life givers. We make a gift of self so that others can receive the gift of self, their very life.” Our bodies can “bring into being something that never existed before,” writes Katrina Zeno in her book, Every Woman’s Journey.
Have you ever taken the time to ponder the beauty, and design of the female body? When we begin to consider our bodies in this way we can see God’s awesome plan emerging. Imagining that in a very real and essential sense, a woman (and a man), can “bring into being something that never existed before” should cause us to tremble for that unparalleled privilege the creator allows us to share. We aren’t just mass producers of cookie-cutter human beings. We are gifted to co-create a “unique and unrepeatable” life that will never again grace the world with its presence.
Have you ever thought about the generosity our God who allows us to share in this mystery? “In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman ‘discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.’” (MD 18)
“From the dawn of creation, the openness of women to others has been recognized as an essential element-and gift-of her nature,” writes Jason Evert in his book, Theology of Her Body. Think about that for a moment. Not only are we open physically, to hold another life within us- we are created to also be “open” to others in many other ways. Mary our Mother is the prime example for us. Her openness as a very young woman to the will of God, to become pregnant and bear his Son to the world, is a tremendous example of the capacity women have to be open and receive what God wants to give.
The previous paragraphs have focused on the gift of motherhood and receptivity to new life. It is my intention however, to devote these articles to the discussion of females and males as God created us. What about the women among us who are unmarried or unable to conceive children? Is our only gift to humanity the gift of childbearing?
In Gods grand plan and design for all women, he would not be so small-minded as to limit our usefulness and gift to exclusively bearing children. We are all called to be a gift to humanity even beyond the role of physical motherhood. I am referring to what is called spiritual motherhood.
In the articles to follow, we will delve deeper into what spiritual motherhood entails and the great gift it is to humanity. We will also explore many other aspects of the feminine genius, the gift of manhood, and the complimentary way we have been created and designed.
Barbara Lishko is blessed to be a lifelong cradle-Catholic. She and her husband Mark, have been married for 30 years, and have five amazingly talented young adult children who are an abundance of inspiration for her weekly columns. Through her experiences as a wife, mother, and full time youth minister she shares her unique humor and insight with her readers. God continues to abundantly bless her life by allowing her the honor of serving as a tiny instrument in His Almighty hands. Barbara is a past recipient of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Service Award given through the Diocese of Phoenix.