On New Year’s Day the Catholic Church honours Mary as Mother of God. It is the most beautiful title ever bestowed on a human being – Mother of God. In giving birth to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, God made holy Mary’s womb, and by extension, declared sacred the natural processes of pregnancy and childbirth. I remember well my three pregnancies – a profound sense of holy partnering with God would wash over me as I realized how we were co-creating, forming a new human being in the secret chamber of my belly.
We Catholics are great at honouring Mary. At this morning’s Mass the priest preached extensively about the importance of Mary as intercessor and as mother of the Church. I couldn’t help but think that, while this was all good and well, there is so much more about Mary that hardly gets attention. Like the qualities she exhibited as a disciple of Jesus, the qualities she exudes as a woman and as a human being longing for wholeness. What would happen if we extend our honouring of Mary to an honouring of the fullness of the “feminine genius” in every woman, and encourage her mothering qualities to be emulated by both women and men. For Mary’s qualities are God’s own mothering qualities, qualities placed in both men and women as potential for greatness.
Many moons ago my own husband got to deliver the homiletic reflection in our parish during a lay-presided Sunday service on Mother’s Day. He had recently had an experience of single parenting as I had been away for a few days. Caring for three little ones had given him a vivid taste of both mothering and fathering. He reflected on that in his Sunday reflection, noting that both women and men are called to develop qualities beyond their traditional gendered characteristics.
I seriously wonder whether ascribing human characteristics to either traditionally male and female (men as strong and single-minded, goal-oriented, competitive and tough; women as caring and intuitive, compassionate and sensitive) can obstruct the ability of both women and men to grow into the fullness of God’s image and likeness. Attributes traditionally associated with motherhood – gentleness, compassion, perseverance – are often found in men as well as women. Traditional attributes associated with manliness – determination, strength, boldness – are readily found in women. Is it possible that limiting women to natural female characteristics could account for women feeling voiceless and underdeveloped? Is it possible that men can feel trapped in stereotypical male characteristics in the midst of an emotional desert?
Is it fair to say that men who act tough and repress emotions bear the bigger burden of responsibility for the current crisis of our planet on the brink of disaster? Most world leaders of both nations and multinational corporations are male. It is now an urgent matter of planetary survival that men develop characteristics traditionally associated with women, and for women to develop qualities traditionally associated with men. Our world is crying for new, collaborative and compassionate approaches to resolve foreign and social, economic and environmental crises — characteristics we tend to associate more with women than men.
Meister Eckhart’s words in the image of the woodcarving here are telling and provocative, esp. in our day when women still feel voiceless and disempowered while men are still afraid to cry in public or show fear, sorrow or any other emotion. While each gender has a natural giftedness in some human characteristics, let us never forget that to be fully human we are called to develop all our human potential. That is what it means for each woman and man to birth Christ in the world each day. Jesus was born male, but he displayed characteristics we tend to attribute to the female species, thus integrating within his own being the best of being male and female. It is thus that God is always needing to be born. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us all.
And a very HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone:)
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