If you would like to catch up, here are the other posts in this series:
Seeing as it is no longer Lent, and I am clearly going to agonize over needing to discuss with you every word of these texts, we need to rush, with painful consciousness of all we are missing, but after all can revisit another time, through the Dignity and Vocation of Women right to the exciting part.
At the moment we need to be at the point where we have realized a couple of things. First, that the origins of marriage are in “the beginning,” and I think we are good with that.
Despite being under the pain of the effects of the fall, which render a lot of the first ideas God had for us null and void, we have do have access to this original idea of God’s about marriage.
It’s those words of Christ’s in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew that give us the guarantee, the sort of password to get back through the checkpoint at the gates of the Garden of Eden:
“In the beginning it was not so.”
There at the beginning we find Christ (the tree of life, the new Adam) and Mary (the new Eve, the one through whom enmity to sin will come).
“The Redemption restores…the good that was essentially ‘diminished’ by sin and its heritage in human history.”“Mary is ‘the new beginning’ of the dignity and vocation of women, of each and every woman.” (DVW 11)
The second thing -- and this is really important!
This will be on the test!
– Get out your book, because towards the end of the letter we get the big reveal! and it’s this:
“The truth about woman as bride”:
“The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return.” (DVW 29)
That is, that the essence of marriage reveals the nature of man and woman: the man gives the gift of himself to the woman, who receives it in order to return it – and this relationship also forms an image of the spousal meaning of Christ’s union with the Church. The Bridegroom is the man, and also Christ. The Bride is the woman, and also the Church.
And furthermore, if in His image God made him, male and female He made them, and God’s reality is Trinitarian, then the image is Trinitarian also. Not identity – equal plus equal, congruent, the same – but giving, receiving in order to return the gift, and the gift. Equal but different.
Although man and woman are equal in nature, it’s not exactly each giving a gift to the other. It’s a bit more complex than that. The man is made by God to want to give himself to someone like him (bone of my bones), and the woman is made by God, completing His creation, to be the person who receives the gift.
When she receives the gift, and precisely by means of her receptivity, she is able to give the gift in return: the child, the embodiment of the love of the two, united in one flesh. We often think of “two becoming one flesh” as meaning the physical union of the two in the act of love, but it has this other dimension, also physical but more than physical: the expression of the love of the gift and the reception of the gift in the form of another human being, another flesh of my flesh, another image of God -- the new person who also has a soul and a desire to give the gift of himself.
And this receiving, the Pope makes clear, isn’t just in the context of marriage – it defines her universally, in how she, as a woman, approaches everything, “representing a particular value” – femininity, which means “receiving in order to give in return.”
You can see how this extra, seemingly little insight must be true -- if you can get over our almost visceral resistance to having femininity defined in any way.
That resistance is a result of the ascendency of the antithesis of love – power – which automatically relegates anything “not male” to an inferior category. And it’s often we women ourselves who do this relegating, because we take men seriously when they thump their chests, instead of quietly feeling our own worth where it truly lies.
You can see that if there is only giving of gifts, there will only be clashing, clanging, violence even – as at a restaurant when everyone is insisting on paying the check, to give a mild example. It just quickly gets loud and even unpleasant. No, there must be receiving also.
But not a passive receiving; the active yet nonetheless gestation-requiring receiving in order to return the gift.
I read patiently through all the original talks of the Pope to find this insight, and either it isn’t really there or I just missed it. I confess that all the backing and filling required by the form of the Wednesday audience, combined with the unyielding rock-like nature of the dear man's prose, might have caused an oversight. I may have been a little distracted on the way to not getting a doctorate in theology.
But in this letter my heart jumped to see him reveal what the difference between man and woman is and to locate it precisely in the very essence of each. This made me so happy!