Father David Vincent Meconi on “Addressing the Dignity of Man and Masculinity”
Father David Vincent Meconi, SJ is the editor of Homiletic and Pastor Review and wrote this compelling article last year.
How would men today be more able to live out their own unique discipleship and role in both the world, and in the Church, if we were able to articulate how men embody the Christian vocation to holiness in exclusive and particular ways?
Holy Father Francis’ opening World Youth Day, and his first trip back to his beloved South America, were truly victories for Christ and his Church. The trick the popular media oftentimes tries to pull, in the face of such successes as this, is to avoid reflecting and reporting on the actual events, and instead grabbing one or two peripheral (and hopefully incendiary) events or comments. (We see this every January 22, when major networks and papers refuse to report on the thousands upon thousands who march in protest against abortion every year in our nation’s capitol.) That is why most of the news stories coming out of World Youth Day did not focus on the millions who came to pray with the Church universal at Mass on Copacabana beach, or on the many conversions to Christ experienced by the young people (evident in their own blogs and Facebook pages), but rather news reports concentrated on Pope Francis’ answers to two “loaded” questions on his return flight.
One question had to do with his understanding of women’s vocations in the Church today, to which he responded that “we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that—can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, or can a woman be president of Caritas—but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the church.” This is the context and the call during which Pope Francis also offered how: “A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother.” The Holy Father thus sees a need to develop a particular theology of women that goes beyond the wearisome and worldly question of women’s ordination—of what women can “do”—and to bring this conversation into something more foundational, more fruitful—of what woman “is” (for a beautiful analysis of this exchange, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/08/05/2079/).
The other topic that the media keeps focusing on is Pope Francis’ response to their questions concerning gay men. Newspapers, especially across Europe, figured that he was the first Pontiff to have ever used the term “gay,” and sensationalized this as ground-breaking. Many see this as the initial acceptance every marginalized group yearns for, the public acknowledgement of who they are. Fair enough. What is certainly more newsworthy, however, is Pope Francis’ example of not reducing a human person to his or her sexual orientation and, in that truth, the Pope’s refusal to judge others based simply on such an attraction: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
We are all made in God’s image and likeness, and therein lies our dignity; while integrity, and the fulfillment of that divine similitude, says the Catholic Tradition, lies in one’s coming to Christ in “good will.” Pope Francis is to be lauded for his honoring this very holy search of every human heart and refusing to reduce others to their sexual orientation (again, for an insightful commentary on this, see: http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/pope-francis-in-context/?_r=0).
While it may not seem so obvious at first glance, our daily papers are filled with related news items having to do with the ontology of gender and the meaning of manhood. The rapes recently reported—from incidents of rape by members of our Armed Forces throughout the world, to the high school rape in Steubenville, and the four Vanderbilt University students charged with rape—have received most of the headlines. But the misuse of male strength and fallen sexuality occurs every minute of the day and night. New York City’s need to “stop-and-frisk” those who look as if they are threats to others is itself a commentary on the public presence of young males. And the ballyhoo over our favorite athletes’ reliance upon performance enhancing drugs, all point to a culture not only unable to raise true men, but to a society that is even unable to offer consistent teaching and examples of what a man should be.
Provocative and important as Pope Francis’ comments are about the need for a theology of women, John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and his effusive recognition of “the feminine genius” certainly began that conversation. But what have recent popes and magisterial teachings done to address the nature of man and masculinity? How would the men of our parishes and in our pews be different today if John Paul had written the encyclical, say, On The Dignity of Man—Viri Dignitatem? How would men today be more able to live out their own unique discipleship and role in both the world, and in the Church, if we were able to articulate how men embody the Christian vocation to holiness in exclusive and particular ways?