Human Life Education

Chapter One: Man and Woman

by Fr. Anthony Zimmerman

In our family of ten, we were five boys before the first of four girls arrived. We five boys - how we tried to educate our first little sister, Marie! Girls need to stop crying and she should dress herself in five minutes like we do, to hop into the buggy in time for school. When our brotherly advice brought tears instead of boy-like behavior, we were dumbfounded. Another boy arrived, and then three girls. Four girls bustled in the house now, charming, articulate, sweet and sour. Life changed. We older ones were beyond re-education, but we enjoyed family singing, their womanly common sense, the new linoleum and the frilly curtains.

The Bible dramatizes God's deliberations about creating man male and female. He saw that Adam was lonesome without a suitable partner. His solution was to create family life. When He had created Eve from Adam's side, it immediately became clear that family life, with male and female reciprocating love and services and companionship, solved the problem of loneliness.

Family life can be nostalgically beautiful, especially on days like Christmas. Seventy years ago mom and dad used to lock the parlor door before Christmas and secretly set up the tree and lay out the presents. Then on Christmas Eve the parlor door suddenly burst open, and there before our eyes was an aromatic tree blazing with candles, decorated with colored stars, globes and garlands. Presents for everyone in the family were arranged neatly on separate chairs. Excitement, joy, glory! Soon dad's resonant voice began singing softly: "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" Mom's sweet soprano blended with his basso, and we chirped as best we could. Candles blazed, decorations glittered, we were in heaven. At four o'clock the next morning we got up for church. We dashed into the roomy horse-drawn sled lined with straw on the floor. Mom tucked us in under buffalo lap robes. Dad kept a taut rein as the horses clip-clopped their way between huge banks of snow. Stars were our only light.

In the dimly lit church, we pressed ourselves into our family pew. Before us was the Christmas crib, with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels escorting shepherds, ox and donkey watching contentedly. Sister at the organ put on the rarely used tremolo for "Silent Night." Goose pimples rose on my skin. My vocation to the priesthood has roots tapping into such memories of Christmas. Great is family life as God made it, especially at Christmas time.

Boys and girls, dads and moms, make a richer world to grow up in than a unisex world could ever be. As the lunar landscape is drab and dusty, without flowers, birds, forests and fields, so our life on earth would be comparatively boring if God had chosen to make us a lock-in-step population of one sex. Dr. Alphonse Clemens notes these specific sex differentials:

Men prefer generalities
Men are more objective
Man tend to be stern
Men tend to be forceful
Men prefer essentials
Men are more passionate
Men are more materialistic
Men are more self-contained
Men are more egoistic
Men tend to dominate
Men are more steady
Men accept the prosaic
Men are more conceited
Men are more pugnacious
Men have more technical skills
Men are more secretive
Men prefer abstract thought
Men are more impersonal
Men are more acquisitive
Men are more progressive
Men love practically

Women prefer details
Women are more subjective
Women tend to be tender
Women tend to be tactful
Women prefer accidentals
Women are more romantic
Women are more spiritual
Women are more social
Women are more altruistic
Women are more submissive
Women tend to moodiness
Women prefer the poetic
Women are more jealous
Women are more tenacious
Women have more social skills
Women are more talkative
Women like concrete ideas
Women are more personal
Women are more seductive
Women are more conservative
Women love romantically
(Adapted from Clemens, Marriage and the Family, Prentice Hall 1957, pp. 155-6)

Not every item so cleanly juxta-opposed above applies in every case to each and every person, of course. I think that Dr. Clemens, who taught for several decades at Catholic University, must have received plenty of feedback from his students who may have vociferously denied his altercations. The fact that he drew up this list at all, and stuck by it during the years, indicates that he judged it to be true to life in general. However, he taught some fifty years ago, and new trends have certainly modified behavior significantly in the meantime. The list is included with apologies and reservations because I believe it helps us to identify general trends which are embedded, more so or less so, in male and female.

Mary and Joseph, Male and Female

"Women are more spiritual than men," observes Clemens. We scrutinize the roles of Mary and Joseph to verify typical shades of differences. Artists love to present Mary kneeling in prayer, whereas Joseph has a saw or hammer in his hand. In the biblical narrative, the Archangel Gabriel salutes Mary as the one who is "Full of Grace," candescent with holiness. She is therefore puzzled at the archangel's proposal that, despite her holy vow of perpetual virginity, she is invited to become a mother. The angel's answer was ready. Heaven had dictated the response to be made: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). She is ready: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word." Her trademark is submission to God's lead. His lead of only one step at a time is enough for her.

The burden of keeping the secret of her miraculous motherhood pressed on Mary. She must talk to someone. The angel sensed this need. He mentioned Elizabeth, who also had conceived through a miracle. With that, Mary went in haste to the hill country to share her secret with another woman. It is natural for women to speak with women to orientate themselves while mapping their way through life. The angel did not suggest that she speak with Joseph about her secret. He was kept in the dark.

"Blessed art thou among women. And blessed is the fruit of thy womb," exclaimed her cousin Elizabeth, filled with admiration. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Elizabeth the still secret pregnancy of Mary. Where was Zachary? The Bible leaves him out of the picture here. When God negotiated with people on earth about the Incarnation, the greatest event of cosmic history, He settled the main events with Mary and Elizabeth rather then with Joseph and Zachary. Even though Zachary was told that his son would herald the coming of the Messiah, he couldn't talk about it because he was mute until John was born. Until the basics were settled, God kept the lines of communication connected with women, while the men were kept on hold. Fait accompli, the men would be invited later to fill in their part of the mission. The tendency of women to be more submissive to God than men may be reflected in this.

The human race would surely be less spiritual if women wouldn't cultivate sanctity as a womanly profession, as Mary and Elizabeth did. The thought arises in my mind that if Christ had chosen women as well as men to be priests, relatively few men, perhaps, would come to church at all. For example, when I happened to be in Havana, Cuba on Christmas of 1952, I saw how husbands brought wives and children to the door of the Cathedral for Mass. As wife and children passed through the door, the men turned back. They sat down on the sun-drenched steps to chat and smoke cigars until the women and children came out after Mass.

"Men tend to dominate," observes Clemens. "Silent and strong" is how men like to picture themselves. Joseph, when he recognized signs of Mary's pregnancy, resolved to take decisive action, apparently without even so much as speaking to Mary: "Her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly" (Mt 1:19). However, God would not have it so. An angel put a stop to this:

But as he considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son and, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:20-21).

That Joseph was to take Mary to wife, and that he would observe rituals of Hebrew culture, was one thing. That would be the easy part. But Joseph was not dull. He could read between the lines of God's message. Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, he had learned and believed. The Word was made Flesh in her consecrated womb. He was aware of a great Mystery. How should that affect their marital union? Yes, he could see it: she must remain a virgin. She is the spouse of the Holy Spirit, a sealed fountain, a garden enclosed. Marital intercourse would be off limits forever. Even so, he must nurture and love Mary as his wife, and be a full-time father to Jesus. Joseph recognized his special role and accepted it once and for all. When he took Mary to wife, he took a vow of perpetual virginity as she had already done. His hand was on the plow and he did not look back. "Men tend to be forceful and practical," reflects Clemens. Joseph would live celibately with Mary. They would live appropriately.

Shouldn't Mary Have Explained To Joseph?

Why didn't Mary try to explain the matter to Joseph before the angel finally spoke to him? The "Virgin most prudent" likely thought about that too, but held back with great prudence and self control. A street-wise Joseph might reply, eyes rolling upward: "So what else is new?" Such things don't happen on this earth.

Christ's Incarnation was a mystery that could not be made creditable through mere human communication. Joseph would need a revelation from heaven, not a whispered message from Mary. Joseph would also need grace to accept the message with faith. Mary knew that she could neither give a revelation nor infuse grace to capacitate Joseph to believe. With understanding, and perhaps tears, she looked to God to take care of this. She waited. It may have been a painful wait. God rewarded her womanly intuition by coming to her rescue. After the angel revealed the mystery to Joseph, they were wed, made their home in Nazareth and quietly awaited the event which would change world history from BC to AD.

When "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled...each in his own city" (Lk 2L1,2) Joseph, the male partner, may not have been eager to go. Should a little Caesararrette decree where the Son of God must go? Mary may have resolved any such doubts. "We must go," she may have said simply, as handmaid of the Lord. Besides, the Scriptures had foretold that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. They were familiar with the hundred mile trek up to Jerusalem, having traveled annually to the temple. Bethlehem was only twenty miles further down the road. "I will ride the donkey," she may have replied when Joseph glanced at her advanced condition.

Some days later Joseph knocked at doors. He explained about Mary. The inn-keepers pointed to the sign: "Occupied." How can he tell this to Mary? As male provider he did the best he could by improvising. They settled down in a stable. When Jesus was born, Joseph watched with admiration as his sturdy wife took things in hand. "She wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger" (Lk 2:7). She had practiced all this in the home of Elizabeth after John was born. Then the shepherds arrived, with a wondrous story:

An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of God shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Luke 2:8-14) .

This message from the angels was new comfort to Mary and Joseph, sure now that were acting correctly in the sight of God. Mary "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." Joseph could rely on her for spiritual support. She could rely on him as companion and provider.

Gabriel had told Mary that "you shall call his name Jesus" (Lk 1:31) and the angel had likewise told Joseph "you shall call his name Jesus." Both should educate Him as Savior, each by exercising a discriminate talent as male or female parent.

In the dead of night an angel shook Joseph awake and gave him orders: "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child and to destroy him" Mt 2:13). They were in mortal danger. Joseph did not panic. There was no time for long explanations. He "took the child and his mother by night, and departed for Egypt" (Mt 2:14). Note that word took. Joseph was in the lead position here, not talking much but barking orders for immediate action. Once on the road, he signaled for silence, and began to grope his way on circuitous by-passes toward the border of Egypt, more than sixty miles away. .

We ask why the angel waited until the dead of night to give his peremptory orders. He could have told Joseph the day before, since God foreknows all things. That would have given them time to get ready, stock up on food, water, and other supplies. Whatever Joseph might have thought about that, the Scriptures do not record. To him, orders were orders. They may have traveled all the way on nights only, to avoid detection. They avoided inns and eating places, and probably rested during the day in a secluded shady spot. The Lord did not spread cushions under their holy feet.

Joseph, the stronger one, had assumed charge of the family on the way to Egypt, but once settled in a house, Mary probably did most of the managing of the household. Women are better than men at caring for infants and toddlers. As Pope John Paul II states, it is chiefly the mother, not the father, who formats the lives of children in the earliest years:

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman's womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and "understands" with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the "beginning," the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings -- not only towards her own child, but every human being -- which profoundly marks the woman's personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man -- even with all his sharing in parenthood -- always remains "outside" the process of pregnancy and the baby's birth; in many ways he has to learn his own fatherhood from the mother. One can say that this is part of the normal human dimension of parenthood including the stages that follow the birth of the baby, especially the initial period. The child's upbringing, taken as a whole, should include the contribution of both parents: the maternal and paternal contribution. In any event, the mother's contribution is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality ("On the Dignity and Vocation of Women," Aug. 15, 1988, No. 18, emphasis in the original).

The bell-like voice of Mary prodded Jesus to try His first baby-talk. Her cheerful greetings had earlier delighted the ears of John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth. The voice of Jesus took on some of Mary's charm. At Nazareth "all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth" (Luke 4:22). Mothers are the persons most responsible for the speaking ability of all grown-ups.

After they had returned to Nazareth, it was the turn of Joseph to take Jesus in hand for His education as a carpenter. Joseph's practiced hand guided the hands of Jesus to plane and sand boards to a smooth finish, to saw and chisel and peg the arms and legs of chairs firmly into place, to set the foundations of houses on rock and not on sand. Apprentice Jesus also learned from Joseph to take orders from customers, to handle routine payments, to bargain about prices, to shame backsliders into making payment, to manage customers smoothly. The Gospels present Jesus as a very practical man, able to handle his sometimes recalcitrant apostles deftly, directing John the Baptist to stay in his place and allow Jesus to run His own show (see Matthew 11), and to deal craftily with the wily Herod. That Jesus became a Man for men we owe, in large part, to Joseph.

"Men are impersonal, women are more personal," says Clemens. Mary took personal offense when Jesus stayed in Jerusalem discoursing with teachers there, while she and Joseph sought him anxiously for three days. "Son, why have you treated us so?" she remonstrated when they finally met. "To us" she said. She sensed something personal there. What Joseph might have thought the Gospel does not say. Jesus, an adult male now, responded rather impersonally and objectively. "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49). No, He was not willfully offending them personally. The fact was that He had duties which conflicted with personal relations. But Mary was probably correct in intuiting that He had purposely begun to cut apron strings.

"Men are egoistic, women are more altruistic," observes Clemens. When the wine ran out at the wedding at Cana it was a woman who strongly felt the need to help. Mary went straight to Jesus to get a quick fix, a miracle. Jesus moved more slowly. He couldn't just ignore plans already fixed in heaven about the timing of His first miracle. First things first. The steward should have thought about wine supplies earlier. His Father's plan was untouchable. He pretended to put her off: "Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come" (Jn 2:4). To this abrupt put-off, she responded with seductive calculus. She turned to the servants: "Do whatever he tells you." Her fervent concern made Heaven forget about divine protocol and the niceties of pre-set plans. She should have her way. Mary's altruism had won the day.

When Jesus was in extreme agony on the cross, He saw Mary's stance below Him. She was the new Eve, in birth pangs of a new world. She had once said: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word." True to that commitment, she stood there to bear the pain with Him. Jesus now spoke to her between gasps: "Woman, behold your son." And to John He said: "Behold your mother." John was a stand-in for all of us. Mary became our mother at that moment. Jesus finally spoke: "It is finished; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (Jn19:30). Mary nodded in co-redemptive agreement. She now exercises motherly care for the Church, and takes to her heart especially the priests.

Accepting Our Creation As Male and Female

Feminists, advocates of gender equality, clash with reality when they trivialize what God made as male and female. Physical differences between bodies are obvious, and psychological bifurcation is rooted in them eternally. Joseph and Mary accepted themselves as God had made them, and affirmed each other in being what they were: male and female, mother and father, husband and wife. Joseph did not try to become a Mary, and Mary did not attempt to transform herself into a Joseph. Acceptance by each of their role con-joined them into a functional complementarity and smoothed their way through life.

There are exceptions, but as a general rule divorce does not end a marriage primarily because husband and wife did not accept each other. Divorce comes about primarily and in most cases because either the man or the woman or both did not accept themselves for what they are. The man didn't accept from God with gratitude his creaturehood as a man and as a husband; or the woman did not accept her creaturehood as a woman and as a wife. Or more likely, they share non-acceptance of self under the yoke of marital partnership.

Two persons, male and female, yoked to God first of all, can usually succeed and usually be happy when yoked together in marriage. We make roads rough for ourselves personally, and for those with whom we live, if we say NO to our given manhood and womanhood.

Next Page: Chapter 2: Speaking skills, male and female
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