Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Meditations on Being
 Men and Women

Father John J. Lombardi

My mom and dad show me good example of how women and men are to relate. I've noticed that as they grow older they grow more loving. They show affection, forgiveness, sacrifice -even after fifty-three years of married life together! It seems that their marriage is just beginning. Not that they are "love birds" or are in perpetual romance. No, it's their committed love, deepened affections, subtle sacrifices and terms and actions of endearments that I respect and notice more now-even after and thru so many challenges and changes. Their love seems to be, well, blossoming. I have good role models and I am blessed.

I also know that-as a priest, in hearing confessions, counseling couples and seeing the news-- not everyone is so fortunate. True: you see a lot of bad relationships-brokenness, abuse, neglect; but you also see a lot of holy folks--couples who strive and overcome acrimony and challenges, too. They are heroic.

Respect - it all comes down to that. And love, too, of course. My dad, especially in our "family meetings" would always stress that: respect. That's what we should show to each other in relationship.

In some married couples I encounter, I sometimes wonder: Would I be like that--so loving, patient, understanding? I hope I would but don't always know that I would. I find myself lacking, in need of more patience, understanding and respect when I see holy people in dedication and devotion. Perhaps God is speaking to me thru their examples.

In this Sunday's Gospel (St Jn. Jn 8:1-11) we find a woman who was caught in adultery. She is, by law, to be stoned to death. Jesus Christ, Our Good Shepherd, saves her. He is ever merciful and snatches her away from the capital punishment of death. Why? First, because of His respect for human dignity. Jesus' new child of God deserves much better. This sentence-killing-can never fit the crime: an actual woman's life is literally at stake. Second, He asks: Who is without sin?-let them cast the first stone. We are all sinners and really cannot be judgmental. Third: The Lord wants us to experience conversion: to see that people can turn away from sin and turn to Him-the Merciful Lord-and lead a good life. Jesus-The-New-Law shows the Old law (of retribution) is no longer valid. He shows us a New Way.

One of my favorite saint's stories is St. Margaret of Cortona

(1247-97). She left her Italian family to become a mistress with a nobleman and lead a luxurious life without the Church or her family-and even had a son. One day the man left and never came back. Margaret was then all alone. It turns out she turned back to the Lord, made a public confession and entered life with some Franciscans and eventually became a Sister. She further became adept at prayer-becoming a contemplative-a friend of the poor thru almsgiving, and a great penitent. "Love covers a multitude of sins" (I Pt.4:8). She eventually became a saint. Conversion happens to the greatest sinners. This is a Story of Love.

Today there are so many attacks on women. Increasing evidence reveals that there is an aggression against women: News stories report increased numbers of sexual predators and a rising international sex trade. The American Psychological Association recently reported that girls are pressured to dress and act as sexual objects. Pornography is increasing-and harmful to both women and men (someone just said that this is the biggest addiction in the world today). And, worst, abortion (just about one every ten minutes in the USA) denigrates women, minorities, and takes advantage of desire for a so called right-to-choice and turns it into manipulation which produces only blood-money and corpses. Second-the music and entertainment industries subjugate women. I recently read an excellent cultural-critique book which reported the lurid lyrics of music groups that denigrated woman as sexual objects to be aggressively mutilated and abused. I.e., the lyrics were "way over the top". How can people listen to, pay for and support this kinda stuff?

Answer: transgression--against women. I once read (from a woman commentator, I think) that rape is not so much a sexual act as it is an act of violence. I wasn't convinced then; but now I am. At least for the most part rapes are acts of violence--transgressive. You see: there is a growing tendency by some to dominate women--control and transgress them. Why are there so many violent crimes against women and not vice versa? Because of transgression.

Speaking of aggression, I just read the story about Harvard University (now this school, mind you, is the apex of the Western World) where a student pornography magazine was just founded-and allowed--and glamorized in a recent New York Times article, and where the campus health center advertised salacious and sexually explicit services. However, Harvard University seniors Sarah Kinsella and Justin Murray decided to fight back against what they see as too much mindless sex at the Ivy League school. They founded a student group called True Love Revolution to promote abstinence on campus. True Love Revolution members say the problem starts with the university. They say Harvard has implicitly led students to believe that having sex at college is a foregone conclusion by requiring incoming freshman to attend a seminar on date-rape that does not mention abstinence, by placing condoms in freshmen dorms, and by hosting racy lecturers. (Source: A.P./Fox: 3-23-o7). As usual: our culture and kids are being sexually degraded; and many women will take the brunt of most of it-now or later. Meanwhile, maverick and somewhat-famous theologian Daniel Maguire, a professor of religious ethics at Marquette Univ., sent out brochures to the nation's 270 Catholic bishops and has given a glitzy flier to laypeople advertising that the Catholic Church doesn't have just one position on abortion and contraception, that people can dissent from thousands of years of Church teaching; and is pluralistic regarding abortion-contraception and many views can be held. Fortunately the Bishops have instantly denounced-as "irresponsible" and in "serious" offense, Maguire's teachings. (Source: LifeNews.com/3-23). Now, remember: both contraception and abortion hurt women. In fact, these so-called rights and modern technologies have devastated women. Did you ever think/realize most of the procedures of abortion and contraception are done by men upon women? See the point? Now, notice the commonalties to both stories above: both involve big problems, they involve the subjugation of women in subtle ways and, positively, evoke responses by noble folks. Now, ask--do you do both things: notice the Big Problems in life and, also, respond with concrete solutions? The Church and others need your help. There is an adulated book out today titled "Infidel," by Ayaan Hirsi Al, which tells her story of abuse and shame she received in Islamic culture. Her arranged marriage, physical and sexual abuse and taunting by an aggressively masculine world all turned her off, and away from her faith; she eventually escaped further trials and even death threats. Her cause celebre is now raising eyebrows and concerns thru the world-rightly so. Regarding the Gospel of the woman "caught in adultery," someone once asked: Well, where was the man who was involved? Good question. Of course the Lord counseled the woman to "go, and sin no more". He converted and saved her. But, don't we all need to be saved and converted? We all need ongoing conversion-to respect and love. Notice, too: Jesus avoided the trap of the "professional religionists": if he forgave the woman Christ would be seemingly renouncing the Law of Moses; if He didn't forgive her, she would die. Instead, Jesus divinely avoids any dualism or diatribe and simply does not answer. Who knows what he was writing in the sand-as, one by one, the accusers left after He floored them with His query--"Let him who is without sin…" Christ implies that what they ask - the trapping "What do you say?" (Jn. 6:6) - is just not a good question. Christ slices thru the dualism and gives an answer in action: Mercy. Sometimes we ask misguided, unhelpful, wrong questions. His Divine Elusiveness evades the Execution and evokes conversion. Unfortunately today, more and more men are being trained and tainted to treat women as objects of desire, lust and denigration, rather than as persons with inherent dignity. And this isn't just in American culture-we can see it now around the globe. And this isn't to say: men and women are both the same; or that men and women should do the same jobs; or that all men are bad. No: it just to simply see the facts in front of us and not wince; to acknowledge that denigration of women is now systemic. We need conversion. We all need to look at how we treat one another. It is easy to get into bad habits, to treat people as objects and not as persons. If you didn't receive proper training-in-virtue-lessons as a young person-from mom and dad and teachers--then you're likely to repeat past bad patterns now.

True: we need more gentlemen today, courageous disciples. A friend is giving a talk at a men's retreat here at The Grotto (April 21-guys: come on by), and when I asked him for the title of the talk, he came up with: "Where are the John Wayne's Today?" Translated: where are the men with courage who love the Church, the Lord and stand up for what is right? Yes: a man can do two things at once: a gentleman means being both respectful towards women-even valorous and courageous-and also someone who defends the Faith, Country and Lord. Yes, it's a tough balancing act (I often fail), but it's the only way. God made us men to be assertive not aggressive; to be loving, not limp; to be intellectually stimulating, not pinheads; to be masculine, not marginalized or masticating; to be leaders, not lambasting. It's a tough balance, but it's the only way-and I more deeply realize I need conversion myself.

Jesus Christ Our Lord was a combination of complementariness: compassionate and challenging; merciful and just; loving and lawful. They were harmonious within Him. Men can do the same.

What are some helps to holiness in this regard? We need respect of both oneself as God made us (with inherent good qualities and gender traits) and others as well. We need to be aware of the cultural programming toward aggression and abuse and avoid it. We need to look for and learn from good, positive, healthy and holy role models of love-and embody their traits in love of men and women. We need to realize and appreciate gender complementariness-feminine qualities are different from male ones and, vice versa, each helps complete the other--variety and virtue is the spice of life and discipleship.

The Church is our friend: the spirituality of women and theology about them can help us become holy and healed. Our Catholic Church sometimes gets a bad rap (no women priests, etc.) in this regard, but in actuality, the Church is really the greatest defender of both women and gender relations in the world. Look at all the women saints and doctors ("teachers") of the Church. Recall the "theology of the body" given to us by Pope John Paul II which stresses the beauty of male-female complementariness. Look to the Church and how she prizes the Blessed Virgin Mary-and all women. Remember how the Church helps women in poor countries, and assists ladies in post-abortion recovery, and defends the dignity of women in all kinds of dire situations. Yes, some in the Church have made mistakes-but these are not traceable to doctrine or dogma but, rather, to misreading of God's Law of Love.

We men need to avoid extremes-on the one hand emasculization (learning or actualizing overly effeminate qualities) and on the other, aggressiveness. Women can encourage men to be gentlemen; men can empower women to be ladies. In our overly sexualized, aggressive culture and attitudes, we need conversion-and yes, as my dad said so many years ago, respect. Holy Family: Pray for us!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi