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Masculine Initiative In the Order of Creation

Submitted by:
Patrick E. Kelly: Fall 2000


The modern crisis in masculinity finds its roots in a misunderstanding of the true nature of masculine initiative. This paper will examine masculine initiative in light of the teaching of Pope John Paul II on marriage, family and the human person. The Pope's insistence that masculine initiative be measured by life-giving power and care for others will allow men to realize the unique privilege they have inherited as creatures - specifically male creatures - made in the image of God.

This paper begins with a discussion in section one of the phenomenon of male passivity experienced in modern technological culture. Section two examines the meaning of the Fatherhood of God. Section three explores how the male person serves as a symbol of the creative power of God in the order of creation. Section four discusses John Paul II's teaching on Genesis and how it relates to masculine initiative. Section five examines the theme of masculine initiative in Ephesians 5, paying particular attention to how the theme has been treated by John Paul II, St. John Chrysostom, St. Edith Stein, and others. This paper concludes with a discussion of the role masculine initiative plays in natural family planning.

I. The Passive Male

The steady disintegration of family life and gender roles - and the effect this has had on men - has been well-documented by George Gilder in his book
Sexual Suicide [1] and its 1987 revision entitled Men and Marriage. [2] More recently, the growing crisis of male passivity in society has been treated by popular author, Robert Bly. In Iron John: A Book About Men, Bly argues that a pervasive male passivity now plagues our culture. He observes that the passive male is a Puer Aeternus, an eternal child, who is unwilling to challenge himself and accept responsibility. The passive male is characterized by a sense of numbness, and typically turns inward and lets others - his wife or his children - do the loving for him. He may skip over taking an active role in being a husband or a parent. He may be unwilling to tell his wife or others what he wants. Worse yet, he may not even know what he wants. As a compensation for passivity at home, he may lapse into robotic production at work. [3]

Bly blames the increasing passivity in men on the emasculating pressures men face in the modern culture and on the phenomenon of the remote or absent father. With regard to the pressures of modern culture, Bly comments that all through history men have been loved for their astonishing initiative:

"embarking on wide oceans, starting a farm in rocky country from scratch, imagining a new business, working with beginnings, doing what has never been done. Young Viking men sometimes trained themselves by walking on the ends of the oars while the rowers continued rowing." [4]

However, this has all changed in modern culture:

During the last thirty years men have been asked to learn how to go with the flow, how to follow rather than lead, how to live in a nonhierarchical way, how to be vulnerable, how to adopt consensus decision-making. Some women want a passive man if they want a man at all; the church wants a tamed man - they are called priests; the university wants a domesticated man - they are called tenure-track people; the corporation wants a team-worker, and so on. In [Robert] Blake's time the corporations were called charter companies, and he said:

I wander thro' each charter'd street
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

Bly also blames passivity on the phenomenon of the remote or workaholic father. Between twenty and thirty percent of American boys live in homes with no fathers. Those that do live in the same home with their fathers often get what is "
left over" after the end of a strenuous work day. A son longs to gain his father's blessing through his father's teaching. The son instinctively wants to learn what it means to be a man and how to take initiative. Too often, instead of his teaching, the son receives only the father's irritable temperament:

[I]n most families today, the sons … receive, when the father returns home at six, only his disposition, or his temperament, which is usually irritable and remote. What the father usually brings home is a touchy mood, springing from powerlessness and despair mingled with long-standing shame and numbness peculiar to those who hate their jobs. Fathers in earlier times could often break through their own humanly inadequate temperaments by teaching rope-making, fishing, post-hole digging, grain cutting, drumming, animal care, even singing and storytelling. That teaching sweetened the effect of the temperament. [6]

Bly's characterization of the stressed and numbed father may seem to be a sweeping generalization, but it is difficult to deny that this has become a pervasive phenomenon in modern technological culture. Even a cursory exposure to television and radio commercials confirms that the passive or feckless man has become standard fare for Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Bly astutely observes that the father in television commercials never knows what cold medicine he should take. In situation comedies the "
men are devious, bumbling or easy to outwit. It is the women that outwit them, and teach them a lesson, or hold the whole town together all by themselves." [7]Bly postulates that many young Hollywood writers, "rather than confronting their fathers in Kansas, take revenge on the remote father by making all adult men look like fools." [8]

The passive man, observes Bly, is not happy. "
You quickly notice a lack of energy in them. They are life-preserving, but not exactly life-giving." [9] What these passive men lack is a true understanding of what it means to be a man - a male - made in the image and likeness of God. Ultimately, the essence of human fatherhood is embodying a masculine initiative that images the life-giving power and care for others that we experience in God the Father.

II. The Fatherhood of God

Fatherhood reveals a truth about God that is essential to understanding the order of redemption. Monica Migliorino Miller, in her excellent study entitled Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church, discusses the meaning of God's Fatherhood. Most fundamentally, she explains that in the Old Testament God is "Father" because He is the cause of His people and cannot be identified with them. As Father, God is the source of creation while being differentiated from it. He always remains the totally Other. Creation is from God and stands in relation to Him. He stands outside of it and declares it to be "very good." [10] God gives life, which is received by creation, by Israel. [11] His creative power is seen not only in His creation of the world ex nihilo, but in His creative power as it relates to the women in scripture. When Eve conceives Cain, she exclaims the child is a result of God's power: "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord." [12] God's procreative power triumphs when the barren women such as Sarah, Hannah - or in Luke's gospel, Elizabeth - are finally blessed with children. "The liberating paternity of God reaches its apex with the birth of Jesus who is God's own Son." [13]

In the New Testament we see that the Fatherhood of God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Fatherhood and the shepherding of God's people are intimately linked in Christ. Christ's authority is that of a shepherd over His flock. In the Gospel of John, Christ speaks of his headship as that of a Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep: "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep." [14] This exercise of authority is in stark contrast to the shepherds of Israel who would misuse their authority to exploit the sheep. [15] Miller states that "God's shepherding is not a despotism. His authority is not mere quantitative power. Authority is measured by life-giving power and care for others." [16] The meaning of authority is thus put in the context of the sacrifice. As we will see, this authority ultimately comes from the sacrifice of the Bridegroom who espouses the Church in the shedding of His blood. This life-giving authority is fundamentally masculine:

The Son, the Word of God, reveals the Father. Christ's headship, His authority, is entirely bound to what it means for Him to reveal the Father. What is revealed is the supreme creative love of the Father - definitively expressed in the sacrifice of Christ which is causative of the New Creation. The masculinity of Christ cannot be dissociated from the type of love He reveals. [17]

III. The Male Person as Symbol of God

Christ, the Good Shepherd, reveals the creative love of the Father in the order of redemption. We now arrive at the question of how masculinity, particularly the male sexuality, serves as symbol of God in the order of creation. We have seen that God exercises his creative power as the transcendent Other. As Creator, he stands apart from all that he has made. Male sexuality is a symbol of this type of creative action. To be male means to stand apart, to be differentiated from creation.

A. Male Differention

Miller postulates that the world is pervasively feminine, not masculine. In order for a man to claim his identity, to come into his own, he needs to separate himself from this feminine matrix. She points to human chromosomal make-up to illustrate her point: there is a predominance of three to one female sex chromosomes between a woman (XX) and a man (XY). The female is the foundational makeup, the fundamental sex of humankind, "for in order to make a male, you simply add a Y to the female configuration. Observed another way, a male is simply a differentiated female…" [18]

A man images God in his differentiation from creation. His sexuality points to what is transcendent and beyond. His identity as a man is external, active, and generative. A woman's nature is characterized by interiority, self-possession, and contemplation. Her sexual organs are hidden and "
so her body is a mystery." [19]In contrast, a male's sexual organs are external: they are not a mystery, but are "a witness to his power and his difference." [20] Just as his sexual organs are external, so is the man directed outward in his actions. The male is focused on things outside himself. It is in this way that male person is the symbol of God who is outside the created world.

These differences manifest themselves on a psychological level as well. Women tend to respond to situations more immediately and have difficult distancing themselves from their emotions. In contrast, men will often instinctively distance themselves from their emotions and immediate relations. On a cognitive level, women tend to become one with the objects to which they relate. Men, however, tend to distance themselves from the object in order to understand it better. [21] They know how they feel about something by "abstracting" and viewing it from the outside.

A man discovers his identity through differentiation. The man is compelled to
show that he is different. His being must be confirmed from outside himself. Miller astutely observes that male power is usually earned and conferred externally and ritualistically. This is commonly observed in the conferring of military, political, or ecclesiastical power. Female authority, on the other hand, is not ritualized because a woman has no need to prove herself. "A woman, because of her reproductive cycle, is constantly confirmed interiorly that she can give life." [22]A woman has no need to "earn" or have her life-giving authority "conferred" because she possesses it in herself.

John Paul II recognizes this life-giving interior dimension to women. In Mulieris Dignitatem, he remarks that motherhood involves women in a special communion with the mystery of life. A mother "understands" with unique intuition what is happening inside her. The man, on the other hand, "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." [23] Even the most caring of fathers will always remain separate and apart. He will never know his children with the same intimate bond that profoundly characterizes motherhood. This is constitutive of his nature as a man:

First of all, in the act of procreation the male must deposit his life principle away from himself. Whatever effects come from the conjugal act, and particularly the conception of another human being, he is removed from it all. Everything is now the woman's. A man's explicitly sexual role in procreation is over with quickly, while the woman will experience its effects for months to come. [24]

Because a man is outside the process of child-bearing, he must, like St. Joseph, become a father through adoption. This is yet another way in which a man is called upon to image God the Father, who takes mankind to Himself through our adoption as sons in Christ. Divine Fatherhood is the source and origin of human fatherhood. [25]

B. Masculine Initiative and the Conjugal Act

While a man is certainly set apart from his children in a way that a mother is not, he is, nonetheless, the sole initiator of the procreative act and of conception. In this way, male sexuality also images God, who, as we have seen, alone actively initiates all of creation and stands outside it. Miller observes that a man is the more active principle of conception on a number of levels. On the external level, the conjugal act requires that the woman yield herself to the man and receive him. This surrender of herself is her form of giving as she allows herself to be penetrated by him. The man is taking the initiative, but only in response to her freely giving herself. [26] Nonetheless, the male must take action in a way that the woman cannot. The accomplishment of the conjugal act ultimately depends on the male's action. [27]

On the interior level, the very conception itself teaches us about the nature of masculine initiative. The male sperm must actively seek out the female ovum. During the woman's fertile period, her physiology is receptive to sperm. The production of estrogen at this time causes the cervical os to widen and become soft. Estrogen also stimulates mucus-producing cells in the cervix. The presence of cervical mucus serves to neutralize the acidic nature of the vagina, providing sperm with the nourishment and motility they need. [28] The ovum is released into the fallopian tubes where it awaits penetration. The sperm compete for entrance, and a number may cluster around a single ovum. The ovum, for its part, preferentially allows access to only one. At that moment of access, the sex of the zygote is "sealed by the addition of a Y or an X [chromosome] to what is already and always will be a firm female substratum." [29]

Thus we see that male sexuality as active and initiating stands as an image of God who generates all of creation. Masculinity also frames our proper understanding of Christ, who fully reveals the Father. Christ's death is an initiatory act for his bridal Church. He gives to her something she could not give to herself. He dies for her in what is essentially a masculine death. Because of this initiatory act, Christ and the Church become one flesh. In the sacrament of marriage, Christ calls upon a husband to imitate this same initiatory act of self-sacrifice for his wife. The initiative belongs to the husband, while the response belongs to the wife. We now turn to the thought of Pope John Paul II for his insight on the meaning of masculine initiative.

IV. Masculine Initiative in Genesis

John Paul II's extensive commentary on the meaning of the human body and marriage was made during a series of Wednesday audiences in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
[30] In these addresses, the Pope developed the notion of original solitude, in which man is conscious of his distinction from all other living beings (animalia). Man is in a state of original solitude in two ways: 1) the very nature of man (male and female), means that he experiences a solitude before God and 2) the man (male) lacks a relationship with another person (a female). [31]Original solitude is derived from Genesis 2:18: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him." God creates Eve from Adam's side. She is a second "self" to Adam and thus "original unity" becomes part of original solitude. [32]

The notion of the man as initiator is intrinsically bound up with the original unity of the man and woman. In the second chapter of Genesis we read that God creates the woman and brings her to the man in the same way a father of the bride would bring his daughter to the bridegroom. Upon seeing the woman, the man expresses his hymn of delight: "This one, at last is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman, for from man was this one taken." [33] We see in this act of recognition that it is the man who speaks and describes the woman as of his very bone and flesh. He thus establishes himself as the initiator and, to a certain degree, the principle member of the relationship. In another sense, however, the woman is a divinely given aid without whom the man is in a solitude that is "not good." She is taken from his side, and given to him as a gift to be at his side, so that together they may realize what they cannot realize alone. [34]

We see that the man is called from the beginning to be the initiator. But what does exercising this initiative power entail? Initiation is not domination. Rather, it is exercising life-giving power and care for others. It is acting as a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for those under his charge. For the man it often amounts to decision-making power for the well-being of the family. John Paul II comments that "from the beginning" the man is called upon to be the one who receives and cares for the gift that is the woman. From the beginning, the woman is "entrusted to his eyes, to his consciousness, to his sensitivity, to his heart." [35]The man is also charged with ensuring that there is a mutual interpenetration of giving and receiving, the reciprocal sharing that creates a real communio personarum. The man's giving of himself, and the woman's acceptance of the gift of his masculinity, enriches him as a man. His gift of self

"manifests the specific essence of his masculinity, which, through the reality of the body and sex, reaches the deepest recesses of the 'possession of self.'" [36]

The woman's acceptance of the gift allows the man to discover himself through his sincere gift of self, which becomes the source of a new and deeper enrichment of the woman.

In the mutual exchange of this communio personarum, the masculine initiatory act takes the form of acceptance of the woman as a gift. John Paul II remarks that the acceptance of the woman by the man is the man's "first donation." [37]Just as the man discovers himself through a sincere gift of self, so the woman "rediscovers herself." This rediscovery comes directly from her being fully accepted and welcomed by the man. Drawing on a theme of Gaudium et Spes, John Paul II tells us that she is accepted in the way the Creator wished for her to be accepted, that is, "for her own sake." She is accepted in both her humanity and her femininity. Anything less than full acceptance of her in her humanity and femininity is the reduction of her to an object and a denial of her essential character as gift. This denial, John Paul II asserts, would be the beginning of the experience of shame. The full acceptance and affirmation of the other helps the man and woman to bring about a true communio personarum, and to recapture, as it were, a time when they were "both naked and were not ashamed." [39]

John Paul II asserts that the absence of shame is closely connected with the experience of freedom. The man's welcoming acceptance of the woman in her humanity and her femininity is an act of freedom. For him it is an experience of freedom to deliberately choose to accept her just as she is. For her it is an experience of freedom to know interiorly that she is fully accepted. In this experience of freedom there is a mutual affirmation of the other person as a unique and unrepeatable child of God. [40]

The experience of freedom is also closely linked with the notion of self-mastery or self-control. Man is free only insofar as he has control over his desires. John Paul II calls this self-discipline a

"shining witness to the chastity of husband to wife and, so far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character." [41]

Self-mastery has the effect of enabling husband and wife to develop their full personalities. From the perspective of masculine initiative, we can see that it is precisely by exercising self-mastery over his sexual appetite that a man is able to make a sincere gift of himself to a woman. In this expression of love the man paradoxically dies to self while fully discovering his true self. [42]

It is imperative that the man not be passive in the presence of the gift of the woman. When the man abdicates his role as initiator, a vacuum is created which the woman normally fills. The man is then placed in the position of being obedient to his wife, rather than giving himself up for her. Passivity of this sort led directly to Eve's solicitation of evil from the serpent. After the Fall, God punished Adam for his passivity with the following words:

"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'you shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you." [43]

When the woman reaches for what is specifically masculine, she denies her own feminine originality. John Paul II warns that if women take this masculine path they

"will not 'reach fulfillment,' but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness." [44]

V. Masculine Initiative in Ephesians

John Paul II devotes considerable attention to an analysis of Ephesians 5:21-33 and its meaning for the marital relationship in his Wednesday audiences and encyclicals. This passage has been called the summa of church teaching on marriage. It presents marriage as an analogy reflecting the "great mystery" of the union of Christ and the Church. It joins the redemptive and spousal dimensions of love and calls upon the husband to give up his life for his wife. [45] The passage contains numerous themes relating to masculine initiative. We now turn to John Paul's exegesis, as well as that of St. John Chrysostom, St. Edith Stein and Sheldon Vanauken.

A. John Paul II

John Paul II speaks of the love of Christ for the Church as an image of the love a husband should show to his wife. The husband and wife are subject to one another "out of reverence for Christ." While this subjection is considered to be mutual, the Pope insists that there is a special obligation of the husband to be solicitous of the welfare of his wife. The love between them commits the husband to

"desire her beauty and to appreciate this beauty and care for it. The bridegroom examines his bride with attention as though in a creative, loving anxiety to find everything that is good and is beautiful in her and which he desires for her." [46]

Notice that the Pope calls the husband's attention "creative." The attention is other-directed: the object of the husband's desire is not that which is good for him, but that which is good for her. He is called to sacrifice his own desires for her. John Paul directly speaks of this creative power of the masculine, self-sacrificial love which is akin to Christ's love: "That good which he who loves creates, through his love, in the one that is loved, is like a test of that same love and its measure." [47] In reading the Pope's words, one cannot help but to recall the Gospel of Luke: "For the measure that you give will be the measure you get back." [48]

In another instance, John Paul II speaks of the masculine initiatory act of love. He states that "the husband is above all, he who loves and the wife, on the other hand, is she who is loved." [49]The wife's submission to her husband "signifies above all the 'experiencing of love.'" The wife's "experiencing of love" is all the more powerful if her submission is akin to the submission of the Church to Christ, which certainly consists in experiencing his love. [50]

It is in the wife's "experiencing of love" that brings about her fulfillment. In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II returns to the theme of the duty of the man to affirm the woman. He comments that Ephesians 5:25 makes the exhortation: "Husbands, love your wives." Husbands should love their wives because of the unique bond whereby in marriage a man and a woman become "one flesh." The Pope states that through this love

"there is a fundamental affirmation of the woman as a person. This affirmation makes it possible for the female personality to develop fully and be enriched."[51]

He urges husbands to imitate Christ's creative "style" as Bridegroom of the Church. Just as Christ desires the Church to be "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle," so husbands should desire - and take action - to see that their wives develop and reach fulfillment.

B. St. John Chrysostom

In his insightful homily on Ephesians 5, St. John Chrysostom maintains that the headship of the husband only makes sense if he is exhibiting a Christ-like love for her. The husband's sanctification will come through loving and honoring his wife. A husband's love must be unconditional, for, as Chrysostom says,

"[e]ven if you see her belittling you, or despising or mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness, and your great regard for her." [52]

Through masculine initiative the husband can create an atmosphere of love and patience. There is no place for intimidation in the relationship.

Chrysostom presents the brilliant insight that regardless of who you marry, it is not possible to marry anyone more estranged from you as the Church was from Christ. Christ sacrificed himself for the Church in her corrupted state, as if she were "in the bloom of youth … a wonderful beauty." [53]Christ washes away the impurities and has presented her to Himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle. In commenting on this passage, Chrysostom implores husbands not to expect of their wives things that are not within their power. He asks husbands to focus on the inner beauty of their wives, for physical beauty is fleeting and can change with age or disease. Familiarity lessens the intensity of outward beauty, so husbands should "look for affection, gentleness, and humility in a wife; these are the tokens of beauty." [54] Through a Christ-like headship and honoring of his wife, the husband has the power to wipe off the spot and smooth the wrinkle.

C. St. Edith Stein

A Christ-like headship also means that a husband has a duty to be a good steward of his wife's - and his children's - talents. He must shepherd this domestic church in such a way that allows the members to develop their special gifts and talents. He has the power to create an atmosphere where the family can flourish. Edith Stein speaks to this:

The husband is not Christ and does not have the power to bestow talents. But he does have the power to bring talents which are existent to development (or to suppress them), as a person most certainly can be helpful in developing the gifts of another. And it is wisdom on his part not to allow these gifts to atrophy but to permit them to be developed for the welfare of all. [55]

Edith Stein also states that it is the husband's duty to strengthen the spirituality of his wife, "not permitting her to lapse into a life of mere sensuality." [56] His headship requires that he encourage her to participate in creative activity of her own. He is responsible for the consequences that could manifest in her should he try to confine her to a sphere too narrow for her talents. [57]

D. Sheldon Vanauken

A consistent theme of John Paul II, John Chrysostom and Edith Stein is that the husband's creative action - his headship - brings about a fulfillment and a self-discovery that enriches the woman. Ephesians teaches that the husband is called upon to imitate the masculine and life-giving sacrifice of Christ. With Christ as his model, a husband should be able to act for the good of his wife and family. Often, if the husband is unaware of this unique privilege which he has inherited, the wife is compelled to help him realize it. The noted Christian author Sheldon Vanauken relates a story of four women in their thirties who were meeting once a week to study the Bible. One evening they were reading St. Paul's writings on the headship of the husband. There was silence around the table. One woman muttered:

"Jim just couldn't do it." Vanauken writes: "Every one of those women - they all knew it - was the head in their marriage. They regarded their husbands as amiable and no doubt lovable blunderers who couldn't be trusted to think of things and run things competently." One of the women said, "We've got to do it." Another said, "They've got to - the men." "Resolved, the women got the husbands together and explained. The men took it quietly."

Vanauken eloquently writes:

Then came the miracle. In less than a year the four women, with amazement and delight, were telling each other and every other woman they knew what had happened. The husbands, all four, had quietly taken over. Every one of them had, so to speak, grown taller in his wife's eyes: bigger, stronger, wiser, more humorous. It was unbelievable, almost a miracle. And, with no exceptions, every one of the women felt her marriage had come to a new depth of happiness - a joy - that it had not had before. A rightness.

Seeing this astonishing thing that not one of them had thought possible - not with their husbands - the four wives one day realized an astonishing further truth: they realized that their husbands had never demanded and would never have demanded the headship: it could only be a free gift from wife to husband. We are all familiar with the words and concept of a woman's giving herself to a man. So familiar that we never ask what it really means. The foregoing story illustrates it. This is what it means. [58]

It is in the man's nature to lay down his life in an initiatory act of self-sacrifice that protects a woman. Similarly, it is in a woman's nature to recognize that act of self-sacrifice and to be moved by it. Sheldon Vanauken relates another story about the sinking of the Titanic that illustrates this natural complementarity:

I read a book about the sinking, back in 1912, of the Titanic. Everyone knows the story of the gallant gentlemen who stepped back from the lifeboats so that the weaker women and children could be saved. Of course the protection of the female is rooted in our nature: the stags and stallions and other mammals do the same. But this particular writer, mainly concerned with the impact of the sinking on America, had unearthed a new fact. When American women, imagining themselves aboard the doomed liner, read the accounts of her final hours and those chivalrous gentlemen, a good many of the ones who were early feminists abruptly left the movement. They had seen a small floating world in survival conditions. [59]

VI. Masculine Initiative and Natural Family Planning

John Paul II developed his theology of the body in response to the challenge of modern contraception, which rejects natural methods for spacing childbirth. For this reason his thought places special emphasis on the communio personarum that emerges from the husband's self-sacrifice and the wife's voluntary submission.[60] We now turn to a discussion of the role masculine initiative plays in the process of natural family planning (NFP).

The practice of natural family planning allows the man to exercise masculine initiative by making him a participant in the decision-making regarding his life-giving power. In this respect, his masculine initiative is focused on a concern for the well-being of his wife. Her dignity and bodily integrity is accepted by him as his responsibility. She is, as we have seen, "
entrusted to his eyes, to his consciousness, to his sensitivity and to his heart." [61] Rather than conforming to the male paradigm of "abstracting" from an object, NFP requires the man to be brought into the decision-making process of fertility and conception. He is responsible for ensuring that there is a reciprocal sharing that creates a real communio personarum.

His masculine initiative also comes in the form of his awareness and acceptance of the natural rhythm of her cycle. In NFP, he is called upon to accept his wife as gift, in her total
humanity and her total femininity. This means "accepting her in all her bodily integrity, including her fertility." [62]This means accepting the rhythm of her cycle, changes in her physical appearance, and changes in her moods. This acceptance is an experience of freedom for the woman. His full acceptance leads her to a self-acceptance, through which she rediscovers her essential character as gift. This recognition enriches her personality and allows her to blossom in her femininity.

Natural family planning also engenders a mutually affirming experience of freedom. The husband experiences this freedom by deliberately choosing to accept his wife's cycle. For the wife it is an experience of freedom to know that her bodily integrity in its totality is unconditionally accepted. The couple lives in the freedom of the knowledge that they are doing nothing to deliberately impede the beginning of new human life. New human life may be a surprise, but it will not be unwanted. They are living in the truth of the integrity of the procreative power of their bodies.

Natural family planning requires the husband to exercise self-mastery during the wife's fertile period. While masculine initiative is commonly thought of as taking "
action" or "doing" something, its most profound form can be found in the self-discipline necessary to abstain. The exercise of this self-discipline can be an experience of freedom for the man. Self-mastery accepted out of love for his wife also gives the man a unique way to fulfill the male need for differentiation. The challenge of self-mastery allows him to win respect and admiration in his wife's eyes. Her sense of herself as gift - and hence her sense of self worth - will increase as she recognizes that she is not married to a man with uncontrollable animalistic instincts, but to someone who loves her enough to be master of his appetites. This is his way of making a sincere gift of himself. He discovers himself by using his God-given rational faculties to control himself.

VII. Conclusion

We have seen that the crisis of male passivity is a result of a lack of understanding about what it means to be a man - specifically a male - made in the image of God. The essence of masculine initiative is embodying the life-giving power and care for others that we experience in God the Father. Male sexuality - in its need for differentiation and its initiating and life-giving power in the conjugal act - stands as a symbol of God in the order of creation.

John Paul II's exegesis of Genesis teaches us that masculine initiative involves an acceptance and affirmation of the woman that draws her towards fulfillment and a realization of her essential feminine character as gift. Ephesians 5 teaches us that masculine initiative takes the form of dying to self in a masculine death that is a creative act of love that enriches the wife's whole being. In natural family planning, masculine initiative takes the form of the husband's welcoming acceptance of his wife's bodily integrity. His acceptance of her cycle and his practice of self-mastery confers upon the couple a freedom through which they both rediscover themselves as gift.



1. George F. Gilder, Sexual Suicide (New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Books, 1973)

2.George F. Gilder,
Men and Marriage (Gretna LA: Pelican Publishing, 1987)

3. Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990) pp. 62.

Ibid., p. 60.

5. Ibid., p. 61.

6. Ibid., p. 97.

7. Ibid., p. 23.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., p. 3

10. Gen. 1:31.

11. Monica Migliorino Miller, Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church, (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1995) p. 81.

12. Gen. 4:1

13. Miller, Ibid., p. 81.

14. John 10:14-15.

15. See Ezekiel 34:1-10.

16. Miller, Ibid., p. 83.

17. Ibid., p. 88

18. Ibid., p. 108, quoting James C. Neely, M.D., Gender: The Myth of Equality (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1981) pp. 26-27.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., p. 109

23. Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 18 (emphasis in original).

24. Miller, p. 110.

25. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2214.

26. The woman's receptivity is the basis for understanding feminine authority.

27. Ibid., p. 111.

28. Richard Fehring, Stella Kitchen and Mary Shivanandan, An Introduction to Natural Family Planning, ed. Mary Notare (Washington, D.C.: Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning , 1999), p. 4

29. Miller, p. 111, quoting Paul Quay, S.J., The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), p.27.

30. These addresses have been compiled in The Theology of the Body According to John Paul II: Human Love in the Divine Plan, (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1997).

31. Ibid., pp. 35-37.

32. Ibid., pp. 43-45

33. Gen. 2:23.

34. Francis Martin, The Biblical Theology of Marriage and Family Part I: The Old Testament, Compendium, p. 89.

35. Theology of the Body, pp. 71-72.

36. Ibid., p. 72.

37. Ibid., p. 71.

38. Ibid., p. 71 (quoting Gaudium et Spes 24.)

39. Gen. 2:24.

40. Theology of the Body, p. 65.

41. Ibid., p. 399, quoting Humanae Vitae, no. 21.

42. Ibid., p. 64.

43. Gen 3:17 (emphasis added).

44. Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 10

45. Mary Shivanandan, "Feminism and Marriage: a Reflection on Ephesians 5:21:33," Diakonia (1996): pp. 15-16.

46. Theology of the Body, p. 319.

47. Ibid.

48. Luke 6:38.

49. Theology of the Body, p. 320.

50. Ibid.

51. Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 24.

52. St. John Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family life, trans. by Catherine P. Roth and David Anderson. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997), p. 46.

53. Ibid., p. 15.

54. Ibid. p. 49.

55. Edith Stein, Essays on Women, (2nd edition, revised. Vol. 2 of her collected works, trans. by Freda Mary Oben. Washington, D.C.: ILS Publications, 1996), p. 68.

56. Ibid., p. 77

57. Ibid.

58. Sheldon Vanauken, Under the Mercy. (SanFrancisco: Ignatius Press, 1985) p. 195.

59. Ibid., p. 203.

60. Shivanandan, p. 18.

61. Theology of the Body, pp. 71-72.

62. Shivanandan, p. 19.

Copyright ©; Patrick E. Kelly 2000

Version: 11th February 2003

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