A message about complimentarity

Pope Francis met with the bishops of Puerto Rico this past Monday. The pope spoke to them about their need to collaborate, not compete, with each other; their need to have a fatherly solicitude for their priests and to promote vocations; their need to carry out a collaborative ministry (“pastoral de conjunto”) with all the Catholics on the island, so as to make Christ’s message present to every corner of it. He reminded them of the example of Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago (commonly known as “el Beato Charley”) and other lay evangelists.

Then, from a mainland perspective, he entered into controversial waters. The pope said to the bishops, “Among the initiatives which must be more and more consolidated is family ministry, before the serious social problems that afflict it: the difficult economic situation, migration, domestic violence, unemployment, drug trafficking, corruption. These are realities that generate concern. Let me draw your attention to the value and beauty of Marriage. The complementarity of man and woman, the crown of God’s creation, is being questioned by the so-called gender ideology, in the name of a freer and fairer society. The differences between men and women are not for opposition or subordination, but for communion and generation, always in the ‘image and likeness’ of God. Without mutual surrender, neither of the two can even be understood in depth (cf. General Audience, April 15, 2015). The Sacrament of Matrimony is a sign of God’s love for humanity and the gift of Christ for His bride, the Church. Take care of this treasure, one of the ‘most important of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples’’”(Document of the Latin American bishops in Aparecida, paragraph 433).

What the pope said about gender ideology was not said out of hatred but out of love, respecting the reality of the human being. He also put it in context — many of the ills which the pope listed beforehand often contribute to the confusion that people have about their identities, since they have not seen Marriage and being male and female modeled before them as being similar to the sacrificial love that Christ demonstrated for His bride on Good Friday, but as some sinful form of oppression. 

Back on April 15, during the general audience speech to which the pope alluded in his discourse to the Puerto Rican bishops, the Holy Father said, “Experience teaches us: in order to know oneself well and develop harmoniously, a human being needs the reciprocity of man and woman. When that is lacking, one can see the consequences. We are made to listen to one another and help one another. We can say that without the mutual enrichment of this relationship — in thought and in action, in affection and in work, as well as in faith — the two cannot even understand the depth of what it means to be man and woman.”

What the pontiff said here is not just a message for husbands and wives. All of us live in a world in which there are men and women. We have relatives, co-workers, friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, etc., with whom we interact. As the pope said, we are called to “listen to one another.” Without doing this, how can we hear what God is trying to say to us in each situation of our lives?

Continuing his speech on the IRS’ favorite day, the pope continued, “Modern contemporary culture has opened new spaces, new forms of freedom and new depths in order to enrich the understanding of this difference. But it has also introduced many doubts and much skepticism. For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution. In order to resolve the problems in their relationships, men and women need to speak to one another more, listen to each other more, get to know one another better, love one another more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship. On this human basis, sustained by the grace of God, it is possible to plan a lifelong marital and familial union. The marital and familial bond is a serious matter, and it is so for everyone not just for believers. I would urge intellectuals not to leave this theme aside, as if it had to become secondary in order to foster a more free and just society.”

The pope was speaking to people in Marriage but also to people in general, to truly look at this situation in a loving way and see what God has planned for us. The pope then sounded a warning tone: “God entrusted the earth to the alliance between man and woman: its failure deprives the earth of warmth and darkens the sky of hope. The signs are already worrisome, and we see them. I would like to indicate, among many others, two points that I believe call for urgent attention.

“The first: There is no doubt that we must do far more to advance women, if we want to give more strength to the reciprocity between man and woman. In fact, it is necessary that woman not only be listened to more, but that her voice carry real weight, a recognized authority in society and in the Church. The very way Jesus considered women in a context less favorable than ours, because women in those times were relegated to second place. Jesus considered her in a way which gives off a powerful light, which enlightens a path that leads afar, of which we have only covered a small stretch. We have not yet understood in depth what the feminine genius can give us, what woman can give to society and also to us. Maybe women see things in a way that complements the thoughts of men. It is a path to follow with greater creativity and courage.”

That first sign is one which is challenging to the right (but the failure to deal with it actually strengthens situations which the right abhors), while the second is one which challenges the left.

“A second reflection concerns the topic of man and woman created in the image of God. I wonder if the crisis of collective trust in God, which does us so much harm, and makes us pale with resignation, incredulity and cynicism, is not also connected to the crisis of the alliance between man and woman. In fact the Biblical account, with the great symbolic fresco depicting the earthly paradise and original sin, tells us in fact that the communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of trust in the Heavenly Father generates division and conflict between man and woman.”

The pope closed by reminding us that “Jesus encourages us explicitly to bear witness to this beauty [that of the harmony that should exist between man and woman], which is the image of God.”

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