Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez comes with impressive credentials. He served as Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, and has been a professor of theology and metaphysics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. He begins his most timely book, “Male and Female He Created Them,” with simplicity and eloquence: “No human institution is so deeply rooted in nature and in the heart of man and of woman as marriage and the family. Prior to any philosophical reasoning, men and women know that they are made for each other, that they need each other, and that there exists between them a relationship that is different from all other relationships found in human society.”
Today, having uprooted nature, we find ourselves in a moral vacuum in which we seek to plant the unnatural. Such a transplant, naturally, is impossible since a vacuum is unable to support anything. In erasing the natural distinction between male and female, people in progressive circles now believe that a man, who identifies as a woman, can get pregnant, that boys who identify as girls, should be admitted to perform in women’s sports, and that holding to the words in Genesis that God created them male and female, justifies a person losing his job. Same-sex marriages are constitutionally protected, and the terms “mother” and “father,” “wife” and “husband,” are deemed obsolete. Transgenderism has seemingly replaced nature, though it cannot thrive without it.
Ryan Anderson’s book, When Sally Became Harry, purports to show that the push toward transgenderism is basically ideological and not rooted in sound medical science. Ryan is the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center think-tank in Washington, D. C. Nonetheless, despite his qualifications, Amazon has banned his book. Ideology can be compelling when it is relentlessly promoted by the Major Media. Science must be compromised if it stands in the way of a blanket approval of transgenderism
Fortunately, Catholics do not need to fall into this confusion trap. The Incarnation of Christ attests to the Church’s appreciation for indispensability of nature. God took on human nature, specifically as a man. In addition, the Church provides us with clear models of masculinity and femininity, motherhood and fatherhood, in the personas of Mary the Mother of God and her spouse, St. Joseph. As models of the categorical difference between female and male, they serve as archetypes that bring needed light into our uprooted world.
Mary and Joseph embody two qualities that are at the same time distinct and complementary. Mary is a “shelter” to her Son. Joseph is a “protector” who safeguards against danger. An angel told Joseph to “Rise up, take with thee the Child and His Mother and flee to Egypt.” Joseph’s role was to protect his family from Herod and he was obedient to the angel’s command (Matthew 2: 13).
The words “shelter,” as used here, and “protector,” have different shades of meaning that sometimes overlap. “Shelter,” in this instance, refers to providing comfort, whereas “protector” refers to providing safety. Joseph was protecting his family when he led them out of harm’s way. These two terms are complementary. The message they offer to today’s world of easy abortion is that the father should protect the life of his child, while the mother shelters it. The womb is a sanctuary, not an abortuary. Mary and Joseph speak to all mothers and to all fathers.
Edith Stein took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross when she entered the Carmelite order. She was canonized on October 11, 1998 by Pope John Paul II. She gave a great deal of thought to the problems between the sexes. These problems, she maintained, would persist until men and women adopted a supernatural remedy. “This transcendence of natural barriers,” she wrote, “is the highest effect of grace; it can never be achieved by carrying on a self-willed struggle against nature and denying its barriers, but only by humble subjection to the divine order.” Referring to the woman in particular, she stated that “The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” The eminent Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung affirmed this sentiment when he wrote the following: “This is the mother-love, which is one of the most moving and unforgettable memories of our lives, the mysterious root of all growth and change; the love that means homecoming, shelter, and the long silence from which everything begins and in which everything ends”.
If there is another word that adds further clarification to the word “shelter,” it is “tenderness.” Nathaniel Hawthorne could not have expressed the matter more beautifully: “I have always envied the Catholics their faith in that sweet, sacred Virgin Mother, who stands between them and the Deity, intercepting somewhat of His awful splendor, but permitting His love to stream upon the worshipper, more intelligibly to human comprehension, through the medium of a woman’s tenderness.” Pope Francis would be in agreement with Hawthorne. In his Ave Maria: The Mystery of a Most Beloved Prayer, he states that “wherever a mother is, there is tenderness. And Mary shows us with her motherhood that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak, but of the strong.”
The notion of tenderness attributed to the Mother of God has been extremely popular throughout the centuries. The St. Vladimir icon, which dates back to the 12th century, is also known as “Our Lady of Tenderness.” It is generally considered to be one of the most cherished symbols in Russian history. In succeeding centuries, it has inspired many imitations. They all feature the loving tenderness that is expressed between Mary and her Son. Consistently, the Mother of God is looking at the viewer as if to invite all mothers to imitate the tenderness she has for her child.
Mary and Joseph are role models who personify a number of virtues that all women and men should adopt. Erasing the differences between the sexes and all the confusion it generates is the inevitable consequence of denying the necessity of nature. The sexes cannot flourish in a vacuum. God created two sexes that are firmly planted in nature. But he also created Mary and Joseph to epitomize them and protect us against unrealistic notions of what it means to be a male and a female.