By His own statement we are assured that Christ is less concerned about those who climb the tortuous paths of Mount Carmel than He is about the souls who wander directionless through the woods on the plains below. Many who are seeking God elsewhere than in His Church are not so much perverse in their choice of direction as misinformed by the false signposts erected by those who consider themselves among the elect. Among these wanderers are the men who have falsely concluded that "religion is for women and children."
Those who frequently have encountered this remark uttered with emphatic vehemence will recall that certain tonal inflections and gestures implied a heresy not explicate in the words themselves. The argument presented more accurately would be stated, "religion is for women and children primarily" or religion is for women and children exclusively."
This attitude persists in varying degrees among many Catholic men today, much to the astonishment of the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. Abraham and Moses, we can be sure, are not amused, nor is their brother patriarch of the New Testament, St. Patrick. The glorious choir of the apostles takes quiet but forceful difference with the contention of effeminacy. The admirable company of prophets shake their glorified beards in tangible evidence of masculinity. The white-robed army of martyrs, composed of both sexes, unhesitatingly testifies that religion merits the blood of men, whether male or female.
Those lesser saints, our venerable European forebears who fought manfully, lived verily and sometimes died courageously in the Faith so that we might inherit the gift, raise their baritone voices in protest at such a calumny. A clergy, masculine from core to core, could not concur with such a view. If all that were not enough, the nail-pierced hands of Christ, calloused by years of manual labor, can be presented as clinching evidence of the masculinity of the Faith.
The temptation after such testimony is to throw the case out of court. On the surface the charge of effeminacy seems rash and unsubstantiated. We should, however, give the plaintiff an opportunity to state his case. In answer to the foregoing defense of the masculine nature of piety, his rebuttal might go like this: "You have proved only that Christianity is originally and traditionally masculine. If it is a living Faith, what evidence have we here in America that religion evokes a masculine piety or evokes a masculine dynamism? Show me signs of a virile Faith among American Catholic men!"
This question cannot be answered glibly. It cannot be pushed aside as irrelevant. We may recall the news stories of priests in war and peace administering with heroic courage to the needs of souls. Processions of Holy Name men and other public manifestations of masculine piety can be produced as evidence. But are these enough? Are they typical or isolated events? What about the vast majority of Catholic laymen? Can we point to their was of life as Christian idealism and aspiration in startling contrast to their non-Catholic friends? I think not. I think masculine piety is on trial, and we might well examine the situation and make some sort of judgment.
One fact that is quite obvious is that religion appeals to the man in a different way from the way that it appeals to the woman. It is the same Faith, it evokes the same virtue, but the disposition to it is different. As religious experience matures, as it passes from the elementary stage of psychological and intellectual union to sanctity and mystical union, the appeal and response tend to become the same regardless of sex. Until spiritual maturity is achieved, however, the psychology of the sexes is an important instrument in conversion and growth.
When stating a proposition concerning the psychological peculiarities of the sexes, a writer runs the risk of all sorts of misunderstandings. To avoid this as much as possible please bear in mind these qualifications of what I have to say. Psychology deals with tendencies, not qualities. The masculine and feminine persons represent two essential possibilities of the same nature. They are both equal in potentialities and equal in dignity. It is because they are essentially incomplete and oriented to each other that they tend to follow parallel and converging paths rather than identical paths.
Neither revelation nor common sense admits of any essential inferiority of one sex to the other. The gifts are of equal value. The dependence is mutual. When I use the word effeminate I use it in a derogatory sense as distinct from the word feminine. Effeminacy is a softness, a lack of discipline, a sensate romanticism which is a despicable characteristic either in man or woman. It is a perversion of feminine virtue just as ruthlessness and rationalism are a perversion of masculine virtue.
Human behavior shows that the tendency in the woman is to be concerned with persons and particulars. The tendency in the man is to be concerned with things and generalities. The loyalty of the woman usually finds its object in a responsive person. The loyalty of the man usually finds its object in a compelling cause. These facts, I believe are self-evident and, fortunately, they are only facts I need for the development of my argument.
Religion is a loyalty to a God Who can be conceived of as a Person (for He is a Person) or a Cause (for He is the Good).
The saints know God as He is in Himself, as both the Person Who loves and is loved and as the Cause to be pursued and attained. In the first stages of holiness, however, the woman tends to seek a personal relationship of love whereas the man tends to seek a moving and satisfying ideal.
Now there is something paradoxical in the two conceptions of God, one as a Person and the other as an Ideal. As human beings we find if difficult to separate the idea of a person from the idea of a particular individual. For us, the idea of a person excludes all other person. On the other hand the concept of an ideal abhors particularization. Goodness, justice, liberty, or love, are nothing unless they are universal and non-exclusive.
Since the Person with whom she seeks communion is invisible, the particular tangible instruments of the Faith become the loving object of the woman's devotion. Since the Ideal to which he aspires is a universal, the man is loath to limit this ideal to any particular place, form, or priesthood. Until the paradox of particularity and catholicity is resolved, the man is disturbed by the very limitations which appeal to the woman. She loves the church and the priest, the altar and the rosary, the hymn and the formal prayer because they are so familiar, so close and so tangible. He is suspicious of these things because they are so localized, so exclusive and familiar that they hardly seem to do justice to the Ideal which is all-inclusive, all-embracing.
At any time in history or in any place on the globe, this divergence of attitude between man and woman can be expected. In our time and in this country, the situation has been aggravated by the fact that practical Catholicism has assumed an effeminate cast. This effeminacy, evidenced in liturgical practices and standards of conduct, with emphasis on the personal, the sensate, the devotional, cannot be attributed to any one cause but to a number of historical trends both within and without the Church. These trends can be categorized loosely under the heading of secularism, and secularism has resulted in:
(1) The relegation of religion to one phase of human activity.
(2) The confinement of religion to the area of the church and the school.
(3) The regarding of the religion act as a personal secret quite divorced from any vital social significance.
It is obvious that religion telescoped to such narrow dimensions focuses undue emphasis upon the aspects of the Faith most appealing to the feminine psychology. The home, the church and the school become for the Catholic mother the angles of a familiar triangle. She tends to direct her religious perceptions almost exclusively to that enclosure. These are her daily and particular concern because they involve the children and are within the scope of her normal interests. Man's activities and interests, even though they may radiate from the home, find their target in the shop and the office, and the social and political problems of the day. All of these places and problems have been long divorced from religion as to ends as well as means. Whenever he enters the religious sphere, the man feels that he is in some sense entering the domain of the woman. Any parochial activity not specifically for men, is per se, for women.
The Ideal, that concept of God psychologically attractive to man, can only touch him when it is made manifest in the work world, professional world, scientific world, and political world with which he is in contact. The secularist divorce which sets the mystical against the practical, and the facts of revelation against the facts of sensible observation, by inference pushes religion over to the distaff side of the table. This localization of religion to the secret intercourse and the parish buildings has produced the ghetto-Catholicism apparent in many quarters. It would not be hard to prove that the ghetto complex is basically effeminate even when it expresses itself in violently defensive apologetics. The Ideal is catholic and of cosmic scope; it is affirmative and universal, impatient of ghettos, desirous of assimilating all things, assured of its universality.
The spiritually immature man can be sympathized with when he is disheartened by a restricted, particularized, sensate, localized and maternal religiosity so at variance with the Ideal to which he clumsily aspires. The sight of such a façade is enough to drive him away before he has time to enter and discover that there is less contradiction in localized Catholicism than he first supposed.