Creativity and Courage
The Complementarity of Man and Woman (Part 2)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the preceding catechesis on the family, I meditated on the first narrative of the creation of the human being, in the first chapter of Genesis, where it is written: “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27), so says the Book of Genesis.
Today, I would like to complete the reflection with the second narrative, which we find in the Second Chapter. Here we read that the Lord, after having created heaven and earth, “formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (2:7). This is the culmination of creation. But something is missing: then God places man in the most beautiful garden that he might cultivate and look after it (cf. 2:15).“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (1:27).
The Holy Spirit, who inspired the whole of the Bible, momentarily evokes the image of man alone – something is missing – without woman. And he evokes the thought of God, almost God’s feeling looking at him, observing Adam alone in the garden: he is free, he is a lord… but he is alone. And God sees that this “is not good”: it is as if communion is missing, he lacks communion, the fullness is lacking. “It is not good” – God says and adds: “I will make him a helper fit for him” (2:18).
sAnd So God brings all the animals to man; man gives to each its name – and this is another image of man’s dominion over creation – but he sees that not one of the animals is like himself.
Man continues alone. When finally God presents woman, man exultantly recognizes that this creature, and this creature alone, is a part of him: “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). Finally, there is a reflection, a reciprocity. When a person – to give an example to help us understand – wants to shake hands with another, he must have that person before him: if he holds out his hand and no one is there…. his hand remains outstretched, there is no reciprocity.
This was how man was, he lacked something to reach his fullness; reciprocity was lacking. The woman is not a “replica” of the man; she comes directly from the creative act of God. The image of the “rib” in no way expresses inferiority or subordination, but, on the contrary, that man and woman are of the same substance and are complimentary and that they also have this reciprocity. And the fact that – also in that parable – God moulds woman while the man sleeps means precisely that she is in no way man’s creation, but God’s.
He also suggests another point: in order to find woman – and we could say to find love in woman – man first must dream of her and then find her. God’s faith in man and in woman, those to whom he entrusted the earth, is generous, direct and full. He trusts them. But then the devil introduces suspicion into their minds, disbelief, distrust, and finally, disobedience to the commandment that protected them. They fall into that delirium of omnipotence that pollutes everything and destroys harmony. We too feel it inside of us, all of us, frequently.
Sin generates distrust and division between the man and the woman. Their relationship will be undermined by a thousand forms of abuse and subjugation, misleading seduction and humiliating ignorance, even the most dramatic and violent kind. And history bears the scar. Let us think, for example, of those negative excesses of patriarchal cultures. Think of the many forms of male dominance whereby the woman was considered second class.
Think of the exploitation and the commercialization of the female body in current media culture. And let us also think of the recent epidemic of distrust, skepticism, and even hostility that is spreading in our culture – in particular an understandable distrust from women – regarding a covenant between man and woman that is capable, at the same time, of refining the intimacy of communion and of guarding the dignity of difference.
If we do not find a surge of respect for this covenant, capable of protecting new generations from distrust and indifference, from children coming into the world ever more uprooted from the mother’s womb. The social devaluation for the stable and generative alliance between man and woman is certainly a loss for everyone. We must return marriage and the family to the place of honor!
The Bible says something beautiful: man finds woman, they meet and man must leave something in order to find her fully. That is why man will leave his father and mother to go to her. It’s beautiful! This means to set out on a new path. Man is everything for woman and woman is everything for man.
The responsibility of guarding this covenant between man and woman is ours, although we are sinners and wounded, confused and humiliated, discouraged and unsure; it is nevertheless for us believers a demanding and gripping vocation in today’s situation. The same narrative of creation and of sin ends by showing us an extremely beautiful icon: “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them” (Gn 3:21).
It is an image of tenderness towards the sinful couple that leaves us open-mouthed: the tenderness God has for man and for woman! It’s an image of fatherly care for the human couple. God himself cares for and protects his masterpiece.