This feast of St. Matthew reminds us of that direct yet simple invitation made by our Lord to one miserable tax collector, “Follow Me.” In fact our entire Christian vocation can be summed up in those two words. It also occurred to me that every wife who leaves her family and home to follow her new husband is responding to that same loving invitation. “Follow me,” is not meant to be a command, even less so a demand, but an open invitation on the part of every good husband to joyfully and willingly join their lives in a communion of love.
Just so, our own nuptial relationship with God is likewise a willing response to his ever open invitation to, “Follow Me.” So, in a sense, the union of a man and a woman in marriage is a concrete reflection of mankind’s intended union with our God. Keep that imagery in mind as we consider the present situation in our world.
I recently viewed a very compelling movie titled The 19th Wife (2010) which deftly raised some serious questions about that corrosive subculture of polygamy. The real evil of polygamy lies not only in its obvious ability to control and demean women as if they were bits of property but also in its tendency to turn the men who indulge in it into despotic, manipulative, and self-gratifying tyrants.The deeper psychological implications of polygamy on husbands, wives, and their children I leave to your imagination. Nonetheless those implications are devastating and real as portrayed quite well in this movie.
But what if we were to contrast polygamy against the opposite end of the social spectrum, namely the radicalized brand of feminism that has become so prevalent in today’s Western societies. One of the deadly fruits of polygamy is that it dominates, degrades, and psychologically castrates its women victims. (For instance, note the preponderance of female circumcision in cultures where polygamy is a common practice.) Yet the fruits of radicalized feminism run in a very similar vein: a growing number of submissive, cowed males who are also being psychologically castrated, especially on college campuses and places of employment.
Of course, it is not only young males that radicalized feminists victimize because at the same time they spare no effort to turn young women into “substitute” men by molding them into the feminist’s version of super-women. These radicals thus fall into the very same patriarchal model that they profess to despise while defeating their own femininity in the process. So feminism’s response to the harem becomes the obliteration of any male influences or traits which cannot be controlled by feminists. In short, they work tirelessly to turn women into despotic, manipulative, and self-gratifying tyrants (see above effects of polygamy on men).
Is it any wonder that so many people today are experiencing gender identity confusion? Witness such pathetic spectacles as Bruce Jenner or Ellen DeGeneris as they make every futile attempt to undo what nature and biology have ordained. Whether it’s the war on women manifested by polygamy or a war on men waged by radicalized feminists, both subvert the complementarity and mutual respect that God intended for men and women to share with one another.
But if husbands and wives are truly intended to be living images of God’s spousal invitation to, “Follow Me,” what should that say about the value of gender and of God himself? Why should we refer to God as “Father” and not as mother? God even revealed himself to mankind in the form of a man, Jesus Christ. Does that imply that God is male? Not really. God is a spiritual being and as such gender is not a divine attribute any more than angels could be classified as male or female. Such classifications are meaningless when referring to purely spiritual beings.
God, being a spiritual being, does not have a gender. Gender, however, is an expression of certain divine principles in the material created world. There is a sense in which maleness stands for the creative power of pure act, namely the act of giving. Femininity is by contrast the principle of receptivity. In that limited sense the Creator who is pure act can be identified with the male principle. The creation – all of it – represents the female principle because creation is the receptacle of God’s creative action. To confuse God with the feminine principle would be to confuse the Creator with his creation.
The philosophers referred to this distinction as act and potency. God is pure act, there is no potential in his being. We creatures are, on the other hand, potential beings. We can grow, learn, and develop to become something greater than what we started out as. In that sense all of creation is a kind of womb from which newer orders of creation emanate. Creation gives birth to more creation. It is ever changing, growing, nurturing and is thus identified with the female principle. God alone is unchanging, fully perfected, and complete in himself. He donates something of himself out of sheer love for his creation which is what made the created order possible in the first place. That is why we as creatures identify God with maleness, even though in his true divine nature God cannot simply be categorized as male or female.
For these reasons, the modern-day radical feminist impulse to re-cast God as a “she” is as ludicrous as it is irrational. Such warping of God’s role as the dynamic cause of creation can only lead to further gender confusion vis a vis our own human purpose and existence. If we don’t get our perception of the God who made us right, we likely won’t get the perception of ourselves right either. As human persons, male or female, our vocation is essentially a feminine one in the sense that we receive love from the God who decreed our existence and gave us every gift, ability, and opportunity. We are receptacles of his love, not its initiators. God initiates and our role is to respond to his love by nurturing and bringing it to fruition. Motherhood thus becomes the perfect image of every human vocation, regardless of one’s particular gender (and why the entire Church is referred to as “mother”).
“In the divine image He created them, male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) Men and women are destined to be complementary creatures helping one another out, not solo flyers seeking their own glory. That is why marriage between one man and one woman was made to be an indissoluble union for the good of both. But in order for that vision to be realized men need the humility to admit that their power over women is not absolute and women need the humility to be faithful to their unique creative vocation expressed most fully in motherhood. Then both the man and the woman will respond generously to that beautiful invitation from their loving Savior, “Follow Me.”
Francis J. Pierson