It’s really no secret. It’s been talked about before and we see it with our own eyes every week. At many Catholic Church across America or most Catholic events there is a remarkably consistent reality: there are more women than men.
From all the historical data, it looks like this isn’t a brand new phenomenon. It seems to be as old as Christianity itself. One of the reasons the Romans disdained this new rag-tag religion was that it was a religion of “women, slaves and children.” Women flocked into a religion that gave them brand new freedoms, dignity and equality as “joint heirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
Perhaps women have always been more inclined to ‘spiritual things’ and men, as a group, have always been harder to convince to live for the invisible. Is it easier for women to be poor in spirit (and easier for men to live an illusory self-sufficiency)? Who knows, but it was mostly the men (handpicked by Jesus) who ran away during the Crucifixion. The women stayed and wept. Moreover, something about the central image of the Sistine Chapel is hauntingly appropriate (notice: who is hiding under and clinging to God’s arm and to who does God need to stretch?)
Just looking at history and the current world around us, it’s hard not to suspect that there may be more women in Heaven than men.
If to understand means to find within oneself what another has said, women, where it is a question of inward things, have the advantage. (Goethe)
If that’s true, women are indeed blessed. Nevertheless, it can lead to all kinds of frustrations for women, can’t it? How many women in Catholic life look around and see either a visible absence of strong men and, if they are single women devoted to their faith, very few men they would be interested in marrying? Why did God make things like this? Why does He seem to give men a disadvantage in the areas that eternally matter? Or is this actually a pathology more acutely felt in modern times where boys-in-men’s-bodies abound?
Are there solutions to those questions? Peter Kreeft has, at least, some insights:
In order for a human to be a son or a bridegroom, he must be male. Jesus Christ is male because he is Son, not vice versa, as feminists assume. His choice does not constitute an insult to women, nor does it imply “an alleged natural superiority of man over woman,” yet it “cannot be disassociated from the economy of salvation.” For it was part of the divine plan from the beginning for God to covenant himself to a people as a groom covenants himself to a bride. Christ is the Bridegroom, the Church is his Bride. This makes us all feminine in relation to God. Women need not become like men when they approach God, but men must become like women, spiritually. All souls are Christ’s brides.
The claim in that statement is uncomfortable and challenging, but hard to deny. Song of Songs, the book that describes our relationship with God par excellence (as testified by many saints), is essentially a book about a King wooing a maiden. Put another way, our life with God is receptive: responding to His initiation. God comes within us to plant His Spirit in our soul so that we might receive it, nurture it and bear fruit. The sexual imagery of that is obvious and, frankly, beautiful (isn’t the realization that our body and soul participate in the same reality one of the most invigorating truths of the Theology of the Body?). The spiritual life in a nutshell is “God makes love to our soul” (those aren’t my words, they are Peter Kreeft’s). This kind of thing can be overstated and sentimentalized, but it is a reality.
So no wonder it’s a bit of a stretch for some guys. It is just about as difficult for men to find themselves in the character of Cinderella, who is an allegory for the Church (see a great example of that in Kenneth Branaugh’s most recent depiction).
To be sure, men aren’t called to become women, and giving oneself to God as a man is very fulfilling to one’s manhood (it intensifies one’s manhood!). Who is more of a man than Jesus? To touch His glory and run in His company is everything that even the manliest of men long for. But, the reality of the Church as the “Bride of Christ” remains, challenging as it may seem for men.
It doesn’t explain it all, but doesn’t this help us understand why there are noticeably more women than men around Catholic circles?
So what’s a girl to do? More on that in the next post.