By Andrew Schaeperkoetter
Modern society has stolen from the members of a relationship any love and responsibility for the other by reducing the relationship to a utilitarian partnership. Relationships are the beginnings of a family, the basis of society. Thus the redemption of relationships is essential for all of society’s redemption, and an important component of the New Evangelization.
Each partner in a particular way is called to a leadership role in the relationship, and only by fulfilling these roles can relationships lead to truly holy marriages, and subsequently, holy families. Love is composed of two major parts, self-giving and responsibility. Both of these components are focused on the other, reminiscent of the sacrament of matrimony. This sacrament, along with Holy Orders, is dedicated not to the individual’s salvation but rather serving others and helping them attain salvation. This focus on the other takes the form in a kind of leadership, as leaders are called to be responsible for those whom they are leading. Thus, these sacraments of service are also sacraments of leadership. This reality in relationships has been completely lost in a number of ways.
Dating has lost the dimension of preparing oneself to fully serve the spouse, of accepting the leadership and responsibility for the other. Each partner in a relationship has particular leadership roles within the relationship and family. These roles are by no means exclusive but are based upon general trends that can be seen within society. God created man and woman differently yet equal in dignity. These differences and potential roles can be seen through the body, as the body is an expression of the whole human person, composed of the body and the soul.
Leadership of Men
The man was created as the initiator, the pursuer. His body expresses how he initiates the act of love, being primarily the giver of the gift. The man takes the lead in the relationship towards virtue and friendship. However, in modern times, the man frequently does not lead the woman to a true relationship based upon the good of the other, but rather leads, and even sometimes forcefully pushes, the woman towards immorality. The woman may feel as if she has no other choice but to follow his lead, to fulfill her desire to be loved and cherished. This leadership by the man is anything but Christian or an imitation of Christ himself.
This accepted view of leadership is challenged with the words of Paul and Christ. Paul writes in his Letter to the Ephesians, “For the husband is the head of his wife just as Christ is head of the Church….Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her.” While this does place the primary role of leadership in the relationship upon the man, it contains a powerful challenge as well. Christ loved His Bridegroom, the Church, so much that He laid down His life for her. Thus, if the man in a particular way is called to imitate Christ’s love for His Bridegroom, the man must lay his very life down for his wife. Similarly, Christ’s view of leadership is shown in John 13, where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Christ establishes the servant leadership that all are called to, particularly men. Men are called upon to lead their wives through dying to themselves and serving their wives, challenging the modern perception of what is a leader.
This servant leadership is again seen in Adam, who as the guardian of the Garden and all in it, had a special responsibility to protect his wife. All men in some way fail as Adam did, watching near his “Eve” as she is attacked by evil, failing to protect his woman. The failure of this protection can be seen in how men often now treat their wives as an object, denying their personhood, pushing women towards a solely physical relationship rather than protecting their wives from evil. Frequently, men don’t realize that women often need protection from the men themselves, protection from men’s own sinful nature. Pope John Paul II reminded men that God “assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man.” This is the heart of the man’s role as a leader in the relationship.
Furthermore, fatherhood is particularly under attack in the modern culture. Fathers are often portrayed as bumbling buffoons, utterly dependent upon their wives to accomplish anything. Many fathers are either domineering toward their wife and children, or shells of men dominated by their wives, unwilling or unable to take a leadership role in the family. Fathers no longer set an example for their children, leading the family in prayer or to Mass but rather leaving the spiritual leadership to the mother. Furthermore, men must realize that while providing for their family is important, spending time is of even greater importance and must be incorporated into the schedule. Fathers need to be genuine leaders, an integral part of the family.
So many children are wounded emotionally in some way because their father did not cherish them, did not assist them in their own journey of self-discovery. This is particularly seen in the raising of sons. Whereas in previous cultures, the boy was initiated into manhood by a ritual or by training by the father, in the modern era the boy is left on his own, being initiated into manhood by his peers who encourage him in dangerous pranks and sexual exploits. Fathers need to find a way to assist sons in this journey in particular, to teach their sons how to respect women and how to be true men.
Leadership of Women
Women have a particular, but different leadership role that is crucial in today’s society. Woman is the pursued, the receiver of the gift from the man. This is by no means a passive activity, for the woman can choose from whom she receives the gift. This is revealed in the Song of Solomon when the Bridegroom calls his Bride “an enclosed garden,…a fountain sealed.” A woman is thus the master of herself. The woman can set the standards for the man to whom she opens her garden to, not only in a purely sexual/physical sense, but also in an emotional sense. A woman can challenge the man to rise to these standards in imitation of Christ.
Sadly many women today quickly abandon these higher standards out of fear. However, the woman is called to lead the man to higher levels of virtue. The man, in an effort to pursue the woman, will readily accede to these demands, desiring to better serve and please the object of his love. It is important however that the man grows to eventually fulfill these demands not only for the woman but also for Christ. Thus, even if the relationship should be broken, the man’s pursuit of virtue will not collapse.
Women also possess an innate beauty. It has often been said that women, as God’s last creation, are His most beautiful work. Women can use this gift to give glory to God. Beauty is one of the transcendentals, something that everyone seeks which can lead to God. A woman, however, must be careful to use this gift of beauty not to manipulate man, robbing him of his own fundamental dignity. By manipulating man through her beauty, a woman does not lead the man to true beauty, representative of the whole person, body and soul. Rather, the man is led to a purely carnal conception of beauty where he ceases to value the woman’s true dignity as a person.
Thus the virtue of modesty is of the utmost importance to lead the man to Christ. Modesty allows the man to see a person as a unification of both the beautiful body and the beautiful soul. Modesty is fundamentally a virtue of service and love for the other so that the man is thus able to better pursue beauty in its wholeness, and consequently God in His fullness.
Perhaps, what has been most lost in the leadership of women in the modern era occurs less in the area of the spousal relationship than in the area of motherhood, the fruit of the relationship. Parenthood is an important aspect of the relationship, and cannot be seen as separate.
The degradation of motherhood has fed the culture’s insistence on contraception and free access to abortion. Today, motherhood is not viewed as the woman’s primary vocation any longer, with women being pushed more and more into busy careers where motherhood is seen as an inconvenience, rather than as a supreme blessing. Many mothers leave the home behind unnecessarily, entrusting the care and education of their children to others outside the family, and go into the work place. Now, the choice to work can indeed be an appropriate choice in some situations, but in conjunction society must be capable of seeing motherhood as a true and sufficient vocation in and of itself. It is often forgotten that the care and education is the primary responsibility of the parents.
Mothers are in a particular way, called to this, evident through the great bond that is always present between mother and child. The mother’s body itself expresses the mother’s calling to nurture her child as apparent through the womb and breasts. She is called to love her children through her self-giving and responsibility to and for her children. It is imperative that the New Evangelization in a special way bring back the cherished position of the mother and the importance of her leadership in the lives of her children. The woman who sacrifices her career for the sake of nurturing her children should be encouraged and supported, not looked down upon as is often the case. The stay-at-home mom is viewed by modern society as having a lower career, a lower calling than the busy business woman, a view that is gravely in error. The modern world views the stay-at-home mom with confusion and pity, as a waste of talent. The value of the mother must be recalled, because the family is the basis of society.
Women can look to particularly, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most honored mortal in the Church, as the example of the supreme gift of motherhood and its true value.
The modern world views relationships as a means through which men and women can meet for the sensation of pleasant emotions and sexual pleasure. The Church through the New Evangelization challenges this utilitarian attitude and seeks to redeem relationships from the modern understanding and return the relationship to a place where men and women both serve as leaders in virtue for each other and their family.
Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, tran. Michael Waldstein. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006.
West, Christopher. Heaven’s Song. West Chester, Pennsylvania: Ascension Press, 2008.
 Eph 5:23-25 (NAB)
 Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, tran. Michael Walkstein. (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006), 519.
 Sg 4:12
 Christopher West, Heaven’s Song. (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Ascension Press, 2008), 67-84.