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Philippa Martyr: The maleness of Jesus Christ

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Good intentions in art: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Good intentions in art: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been reading a rather grim book lately called Clerical Sexual Misconduct, which was reviewed in The Catholic Weekly earlier this year.

But in the final section – where they’re suggesting solutions for the mess we’re in – was a wonderful essay called ‘The Maleness of Christ’.

It’s not long, but I found it captivating. The masculinity of Jesus is not something we hear preached about in the rather feminised Church that many of us visit on Sundays.

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There is also some very unfortunate Catholic artwork – notably Sacred Heart images – that make Jesus look like He has a serious iron deficiency and would be blown away in a strong wind.

This is not a Man to fall in love with. It’s also hard to believe that a Man like this could endure the crucifixion and save the world.

I have a Sacred Heart image at home that I refer to as ‘Manly Jesus’, because it was the first image I’d seen where Jesus had a man’s hands – big, broad, and strong-looking. These are the hands of a man who did manual work.

Jesus did not just assume our humanity. He assumed male humanity. He is the supreme model of masculine virtue. And when we look at His life, we see that He held the sexual differences between men and women in high regard.

Although we can’t really understand the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus as a biological male had a man’s brain, a man’s genetic imprint of XY chromosomes, a man’s body. He related to men as a man – but also to women as a man.

And Jesus teaches us that the core of masculinity is self-sacrifice. He leads, teaches, and protects – but He serves. He serves by self-emptying, daily through work and ministry, and then finally on the Cross.

When a priest says ‘This is My Body’, he identifies himself completely and utterly with the male Christ, and at the same time refers to his own male body. It’s a terrible but wonderful moment at the core of every Mass.

We have an immense need for genuine male role models in the Church and in the world. We desperately need to restore the full meaning of masculinity and fatherhood so that it is not degraded by toxic loneliness, selfishness, and sexual exploitation.

Jesus is the best model of manly leadership, teaching with authority but tenderness and compassion, and able to relate to both men and woman equally but differently as His disciples.

He is the model of manly courage, struggling in Gethsemane and winning. And He is the model of manly chastity – subject to male temptations, but mastering the urge to objectify women. Instead, He gives Himself to forming deep and intimate relationships.

Jesus also raised marriage to the dignity of an indissoluble bond, saving women from being discarded at man’s whim because they were unloved.

This is a Man to fall in love with. This is a Man who can save the world through the gift of Himself.

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