~from Crisis Magazine by Tony Aglialoro
Consider a Sunday in the life of a typical American parish. Father Reilly, once his mother’s darling, says Mass before a congregation disproportionately representative of widows (both the traditional and the football kind), soccer moms flying solo, and budding young liturgistas. At the elevation of the Host, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist (80-20 female) and altar servettes gather around the sanctuary to lend him moral support.
After Mass, he enjoys a donut in the church basement while regaling the ladies of the Hospitality Guild before heading back upstairs to sit in as the token male at a meeting of parish CCD teachers. Later that afternoon, Sister Dorothy fills him in on the doings of the confirmation class, peace and justice committee, RCIA candidates, and youth group. At dinner he lingers over the new pastoral letter from his bishop, urging the flock to get more in touch with the God Who Nurtures. Finally, in the evening, he pokes his head into the weekly gathering of the Divorced and Separated Support Group, whose overwhelmingly female members and leaders thank him for his solicitude.
Do I exaggerate? Perhaps. (Father probably wouldn’t have checked up on his catechists like that.) But common experience nonetheless bears out the point: We may yet have a male-only clergy and hierarchy, but where the rubber meets the road—in those mundane areas of church life where laity and institution most commonly interact—the flavor is feminine. Whether you want to speak in terms of liturgy, ministry (lay and clerical), religious education, or sheer congregational numbers, official ecclesial power may not rest in the hands of women, but considerable unofficial influence clearly does, and has for some time. And we in the Church have been subject to its effects.
Not all these effects, as we shall see, have been bad. But one of the worst has been a subjugation of traditional masculine virtue: the concept of distinctly and properly manly Catholicism repressed, stigmatized, covered up, or otherwise forgotten for lack of practice. And the more “feminized” Catholicism thus became—the more its pews became recognized as the province of wives, children, and the effete—the more likely were men and their post-pubescent sons to stay away. All of this is making today’s Church, according to Leon Podles, author of The Church Impotent, “essentially a women’s club with some male officers.”
Men Struggle to Be Brides
A certain feminine spin to Christianity is no modern novelty, of course. To the early pagans, our religion must have reeked of unmanly weakness, with its insistence on monogamy and celibacy, its idealized pacifism, its exaltation of mercy, its preference for the poor and helpless, and its meek-and-mild founder whose humiliation and death were somehow a blessing. Around the high Middle Ages, according to Podles, Aristotle’s idea of the “passive” female became enmeshed with the ecclesiology of the Church as Bride of Christ. To be a good Christian from then on, he says, meant to recognize that “God is the father, the groom, active; while we were to be the bride—passive and receptive.”
Msgr. Stuart Swetland, director of Pre-Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, agrees that in Christian spirituality “the default position is always going to be the feminine,” because we are fundamentally called “to be receptive to God, to give way to His agenda.” But he insists that “there is a way to do this without being ‘effeminate’—a properly masculine way to yield to God’s active principle.” Unfortunately, he says, in the male’s fallen state it is difficult to shake the presumption that to yield to God is to be less than a real man. Throughout all ages and cultures we witness the scene of men gathering for gossip, drink, or shared idleness while their wives bundle the children off to church. These men, like their modern HDTV-ogling counterparts, might darken a church door on Easter Sunday, sweating in their suits, but they’d sooner take up sewing than a regular sacramental life.
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