July 13, 2024

By Shannan McQuade

Right away in the book of Genesis we read, “God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). Male and female were created in the image and likeness of God, but they were created differently.

In taking a deeper look into the creation account, we discover that man was created first, and he was given all living creatures as companions. However, none of them was suitable. After God creates woman, Adam exclaims, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23). He has found a proper companion to accompany him in life. Thus, we can now see that man and woman were created different but complementary in a manner that they become suitable companions.

In St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” he writes, “The body, which expresses femininity ‘for’ masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity ‘for’ femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons. It expresses it through gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence” (“Man and Woman He Created Them” 14.2). In the reciprocal gift of masculinity and femininity, there exists a beautiful communion of persons. This is the ultimate goal of married relationships.

However, it’s important to recognize the beauty of masculinity and femininity even apart from marriage. Firstly, coming to understand the gifts that masculinity and femininity have to offer help us to better understand our brothers and sisters in Christ. We begin to approach the Body of Christ in a new light by recognizing the gifts we all bring by our very natures.

Looking more specifically at dating and married relationships, if we understand masculinity and femininity, we approach the relationship differently. St. John Paul II writes, “The human body, with its sex—its masculinity and femininity—seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and of procreation, as in the whole natural order, but contains ‘from the beginning’ the ‘spousal’ attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence” (“Man and Woman He Created Them” 15.1).

When man and woman are given the freedom to be fully man and fully woman, they find their being and existence. For example, in understanding the motherly nature of woman, we can see how she finds her meaning in life when she bears children and cares for them. In the same manner, when man is provided with the opportunity to provide for and protect his family, he finds his meaning in life. In dating and married relationships, partners find the most fulfillment when they are given the freedom to be a gift of themselves to the other in a manner that is compatible with their masculinity and femininity.

These ideas are very countercultural to our society today. Society loudly expresses that man and woman can be anyone and anything they want to be. They quickly throw stereotypical gender roles to the wind. However, the Church as a whole is countercultural, so we shouldn’t let that discourage us.

Furthermore, in Gaudium et Spes we read that, “man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (GS, 24). The sincerest gift of oneself is through being who they were created to be. We are called to give fully of our masculinity and femininity. In giving fully of ourselves, we become more aware of who we are and what it means to be man and woman. In discovering more of who we are, we can give more of ourselves, and the cycle continues.

In this cycle, man and woman find purpose and meaning to their lives. We should be encouraged to do “manly” things and “womanly” things because it is in doing those things that we discover more of who we are.

Shannan McQuade is the director of faith formation at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Sioux Falls. She holds degrees in theology and in evangelization and catechesis and is pursuing her master’s degree in theology.

The beauty of masculinity and femininity is discovered when it’s reciprocated because it becomes more fully alive. We must allow ourselves to live out our masculinity and femininity in our everyday lives so that others might witness the joys of manhood and womanhood.