Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What is Beauty, Really?

Originally posted on 

What is beauty, really?
Beauty is something good. Beauty is something true. It cannot be without truth or goodness, or it isn’t really beauty.
For example, makeup is a good thing in and of itself. It’s totally fine to wear it to enhance your natural beauty and to feel more confident about yourself. That’s a very good thing. But when we wear so much makeup that we no longer look likeourselves, we become someone we are not. We become a false version of beauty.
Men are great. And if we fall in love with one who helps us to become more of who we are, we win at life. But if we fall for one who leads us down a path that causes us to change in a way that makes us who he thinks we should be, we are no longer ourselves, but rather, a false version of ourselves.
These are the sorts of traps the world lays at our feet. “Be sexier!” “What he really wants!” “If you lost weight you’d be great!” “If you just did this other intense thing you’d be more awesome!” “Make sure you InstaSnapTweetFacebookBlog post every second of your life to prove your worth!” and, sometimes, as a Christian, even: “You’re not praying enough to be pretty!” “If you just went on this mission trip you’d be good enough!” These are the things that supposedly make us beautiful.
But in reality, these are crap lies that need to be laid to rest.
True beauty lies in being authentic. It lies in being true to who we are. And who we are isn’t defined by the world. It’s defined by Christ. Consider him your new Merriam-Webster.
By definition, and according to many great philosophers, beauty is transcendent, meaning that it exists beyond our ordinary understanding. In fact, some would say, that it exists beyond time. The definition of beauty also explains that beauty is something that “pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit” (Merriam-Webster, and, well, I’m guessing Jesus (especially since I have dubbed him our new dictionary)).
Given that it exists outside the ordinary, that it always demonstrates truth and goodness, and that it exalts (i.e. lifts up or elevates) the mind or spirit, I think it’s pretty safe to say that beauty is basically an encounter with God (pretty sure I heard a nun on Oprah or something say that once too, so let’s give her credit. Yay nun!).
Because beauty can be an encounter with the Divine, that also means that things that are beautiful somehow reflect the Creator, just as an artist’s work reflects the artist.
This means that all beauty must be true and good, to really be something that images God.
If we think of it that way, then it makes sense that we don’t want to fall into the trap of false beauty, in men, makeup, extracurriculars, and the like. We want to find the most authentic form of beauty within these things – because, as I mentioned, they are not bad things if they help us to become who we really are.
And that’s exactly what God wants for you! For you to become who you really are! He gives us these encounters with beautiful things to help us come to exactly that: the most true, real, good, and beautiful version of ourselves.
Ultimately, the most authentic form of beauty is found in Christ alone. He is the only real beauty that will satisfy us forever. But he does give us wonderful gifts in the form of people and things to help us to have a glimpse of this wonderful life he has planned for us, and wants us to begin living now.
So at the end of the day, the question really is this: how do I live that out? How do I know if it’s real beauty, and how do I become that? (Because I would hope that we all want to be beautiful, our truest self, and good.)
The answer is more simple than we think. It’s really just this: be besties with Jesus. Read Scripture (so you can hear him and recognize him by coming to know him). Participate in the sacraments (so you have a tangible encounter with him). Pray (converse with him). These are the building blocks of the foundation of any real friendship. Getting to know someone, talking to them, listening to them, spending time with them.
And then, in coming to know Christ, we will love him. In loving him we will want to share that love. And real love forgets about me because I’m thinking more about you. Which is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. The author and source of all beauty, became ugly, beaten, bloody, and bruised. And he did all of it thinking not of himself, and whether or not he looked good up there on that cross, but thinking about you and me, and how much he didn’t want to see us up on that cross. He did it in love.
So that’s really it. That’s the answer to what real beauty is, and how to become it. It’s all about getting to know the Guy who designed it all, and sharing him with others. Through that love we become like him, which is what we were made for all along: a life in Christ. For. Ev. Er. How beautiful is that?!
We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others.”  St. Clare of Assisi


image3Ashley Ackerman
Ashley Ackerman is a daughter, sister, and friend. She loves talking and learning about the mystery of femininity, something she is certain she will never fully uncover in her lifetime. She works as a high school teacher in Virginia, a job that allows her to be her goofy-Jesus-loving-grumpy-without-coffee self every single day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Deeply Love One Another

I've been wrestling a lot in prayer with attachments to others and with relationships. And I've discovered that when it comes to loving others, there are two extremes: to be too attached to people or to be too afraid to be attached to people.

For most of my life, I lived in the first extreme. I cared far too much about what others thought about me, and I placed too much emphasis on my relationships with others and not enough on my relationship with Christ. My relationships, instead of leading me into greater holiness, detracted from my relationship with Him because I gave them a higher place in my heart than Him. There was always a certain grasping in these relationships: it seemed that no matter how much love these people showed me, I was always hungering for more, grasping for things that I didn't think they were giving me, expecting more than was reasonable from them.

But now that I've progressed a bit in the spiritual life, I find myself falling into the second extreme. Every time I feel a deep love stir in my heart for another person, I live in a state of fear that I'm falling back into that first extreme. So instead of examining this love or allowing it to grow, I try to squash it or run from it.

There's this relationship in my life right now that is extremely important to me. This person is a spiritual mentor to me, and she's teaching me so much about what it means to be a holy woman of God. She’s become such a big part of my heart that I can’t imagine my life without her in it.

And honestly? That terrifies me. I live in a state of fear that I'm too attached to her, that my love for her is unhealthy, that our relationship gets in the way of my relationship with God.

When I begin to feel this deep love for her rise up in my soul, my first instinct is to run. Squash it. Root it up out of my heart and throw it far from me. Because obviously this deep and incomprehensible love that I have for her isn't from God--it must be from my own grasping, my own brokenness, my own need that I'm grasping for her to fill.


In prayer, the Lord has been opening my heart more and more to the truth that He wants me to be in this relationship. He wants me to have this deep love for her. He wants to use her love to change me. He wants to use my love for her to soften both of our hearts to His love for us. Through her spiritual motherhood, He wants to teach me more about what it means to be a daughter. And through my spiritual daughterhood, He wants to teach her more about what it means to be a mother.

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer … I give you a new commandment: love one another.” -John 13:33-34.

This is our faith, sisters. It is Incarnational -- He could have saved us in any way, but He chose to come in the Incarnation -- to come as a human person that we could see and touch, to use a human body as the instrument of our redemption. And He chooses to come to us physically in the Eucharist, to give us His Body and Blood in order to continually sanctify us and draw us closer to Him. And just as He wants us to encounter His love in His real presence in the Eucharist, so He uses others to bring us to a deeper encounter with Him.

Faith is not a solitary journey. It's not meant to be. Our God is a communion of persons -- three Persons, one God. And just as the Trinity exists in community, so are we meant to exist in community. We can't go it alone. We need others: friends, spouses, spiritual mentors, teachers, siblings, parents. And when I live my life in fear of being too attached to others, when I try to squash the love that stirs deep down in my soul for others, I miss out on the way that He wants to move through those relationships to transform my life.

Ultimately He is the only one that can fulfill all those desires that we feel so deeply, but that doesn't mean that others aren’t part of His plan to do that. He works through others to fulfill those desires.

And this relationship in my life? The love that stirs so deeply in my heart, a love that seems to reach into the abyss of my soul, a love that scares me and yet brings me an incredible amount of peace and joy--this is His love. I’m not capable of loving that deeply and selflessly on my own. This love flows from my love for Him. Because I love Him with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, I am free to truly love this beautiful and incredible spiritual mother of mine as myself. "Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God" (CCC 1878).

And the love that this spiritual mother has for me flows from His love. When she loves me, she is truly and freely loving me, but only because it is His love being poured out into her soul. He could fulfill my desires in any way, but He chooses to do it in an incarnational way--to use her love to show me how deeply He wants to fulfill my desires. When I think of this deep love that I have for so many in my life, I’m reminded of the quote from Les Mis: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Through my relationships, I see the love that God has for me.

Sisters, there is nothing wrong with desiring relationship. There is nothing wrong with desiring to be loved, affirmed, wanted, cherished by others. There's nothing wrong with being attached to others--as long as we're attached first and foremost to Him. When we set our sight on Christ and our focus on our relationship with Him, others are going to come into our lives. He's going to bring other people into our places of need, and He's going to use their love to change us and to show us His own love for us. And what a beautiful gift. What a blessing to know that we do not walk this journey alone, to know that a love that stirs so deeply in our souls is a participation in the love of Christ.

Be not afraid to love deeply, to seek relationship. Just remember that He loves us first and that He loves us most. When we allow this truth to be the penetrating force and guiding principle, we are truly free to love deeply and to love selflessly.

So here's to deeply loving others.


Catie Destatte is a senior Theology and Catechetics major. She has a passion for writing, Mama Mary, ministry to women, and evangelization. Her life motto is Totus Tuus Maria, and she tries to live that out in her every moment. After graduation, Catie will be serving as a missionary on a college campus with St. Paul's Outreach. You can find out more about her here.

Friday, March 25, 2016

We Lost God

Today is Good Friday. Today we celebrate the liturgy of Our Lord's Passion and Death on the Cross for the sake of our redemption.

Being raised in a nominally Catholic household, I never really celebrated Good Friday until I came to Franciscan. Even then, my freshman year I wasn't capable of really entering into the mystery, and my sophomore year, I was in Austria and travel plans fell apart so that my group could only make it to the Easter Vigil. Last year was the first year that I fully entered into the Triduum. On Good Friday last year, I had an experience that shook me to the core. So much so that I know that every year on this day, I will remember this experience and feel the sobering reality of what we celebrate today.

Last year on Good Friday morning, I went to confession and it rocked my world. I felt so ready to go to the liturgy and fully enter into the mystery and receive our Lord with a clean soul, with no sin standing between us. I also happened to be serving as a member of the Liturgy Committee, and because of something that I had to do for committee, I was unable to receive the Eucharist at the Good Friday liturgy.

Now ladies, I can't fully explain what happened next, because a year later, I'm still struggling to fully comprehend it. All that I can say is that being unable to receive Our Lord that day was devastating for me. It broke my heart in a way that I first thought was completely irrational. After all, there have been plenty of times when I refrained from receiving because I didn't feel well or for various other reasons.

But for some reason, this time, I felt as if my heart was being wrenched open. After all of my responsibilities of cleaning up after the liturgy were finished, I made my way to the Eucharistic Chapel in CTK, sat before the empty tabernacle, and quite literally wept.

At first I was frustrated with myself. What the heck, Catie. You need to get more sleep. This is completely irrational.

But then suddenly a line came into my head that I had been pondering for quite a while before this, and the Lord shed a light on the hot mess of emotional turmoil that was going on in my soul.

There's a poem written by Msgr John Duffy called I Sing of a Maiden. The poem is about Our Lady the morning after she gives her fiat and the Word becomes flesh to dwell in her womb. Cardinal John O'Conner, the founder of the Sisters of Life, was so struck by this poem that a line of it is engraved on the medal that all of the sisters wear as a part of their habit.

The line is: "And nothing would again be casual or small, but everything with Light invested, overspilling."

The Lord used this line to open my eyes and show me what a gift He was offering me by arranging things so that I could not receive Him. So I'm going to share with you the insight that I received, in the hopes that it will help you to enter into the full reality of what we celebrate today.

Sisters, the mystery of the Incarnation was an earth-shattering event that forever altered history. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. From the moment that our Blessed Mother gave her yes to the invitation of the angel, our God, the One who created the world and formed each of us in our mother's womb, has dwelt among us, on this earth, forever leaving His presence with us. Since that incredible event, there has never been a single moment when He has not graced us with His presence.

Except for those three days between His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.

We rejected Him. We condemned Him to death. Because of us, He suffered excruciating torture and carried a heavy wooden beam up a rocky hill, where He humbly and willingly allowed Himself to be nailed and to suffer three hours of the worst pain imaginable.

And after He surrendered His spirit to the Father and died on that cross, we lost Him. For three long days, we were without our God. There was no Holy of Holies, no Incarnate Word. His body was in a tomb, but His soul was in hell, awaiting the moment when He would come back to us and forever free us from the power of sin.

But for those three days, He did not dwell among us.

And the turmoil that I felt not being able to receive, the grief that I couldn't understand, the tears that didn't seem to stop no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of being upset, they were all a gift from Him, for He wanted me to fully enter into the reality of what His death meant for us.

Now, I know very well that even if our tabernacles are empty, He still dwells among us now. In fact, I even know where we keep Him during that time. I know that I will never fully understand the agony that Mary and the Apostles felt for those three days. But thanks to that experience, I will never not understand the significance of this day.

These three days mark the darkest days of history, but tomorrow night, we will celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord, when once more "everything with Light invested" will spill over into our souls.


Catie Destatte is a senior Theology and Catechetics major. She has a passion for writing, Mama Mary, ministry to women, and evangelization. Her life motto is Totus Tuus Maria, and she tries to live that out in her every moment. Along with being a member of Women's Ministry Core Team, she's involved in Capture My Heart Core Team, Liturgy Committee, and Totus Tuus Maria Household. Her five great loves are JPII, St. Peter, tea, praise and worship music, and the ocean. Along with Shannon, one of Catie's roles in Women's Ministry is to run this blog. You can find out more about her here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Seven Saints to Help You Through this Year of Mercy

As Uncle Jesse said, “Have Mercy!” 


With this Year of Mercy in full swing, here are some saints to befriend during this jubilee year.

Have you ever completed an examination of conscience with the Ten Commandments? Ever get to “Thou shall not kill," think to yourself, “Didn’t murder anyone this year!” and move on? For some of his life, St. Vladimir could not have said as much. Vlad the Bad was a 10th century Russian ruler who killed a fair share of people. He converted after witnessing the successful spread of Christianity through the testimony of Christians.

Known as the penitent thief, Dizzy experienced firsthand the mercy of Jesus as the two hung on crosses beside each other. Just read Luke 23:40-43--you’ll see what I mean.

5. and 4. Sts. Peter and Paul

This pair needed mercy like nobody’s business. Peter denied Christ three times; imagine how Petey felt when Jesus came back and told him to not be afraid. Paul persecuted Christians before experiencing a conversion and becoming the greatest missionary of all time. These two are perfect examples of how God not only forgives us, but also gives us the grace to become leaders of His Church.

God’s mercy can manifest itself in the relationships we have with one another. For example, when this saint was attacked and stabbed to death, she forgave her assailant. He eventually repented, converting to Catholicism. He was present at her canonization.

St. Augustine’s pre-conversion life sounds like that of a typical rowdy high-schooler. Parties, drunkenness, and impurity enslaved him. Eventually, God’s mercy, the beauty of the Gospel, and the prayers of his mother, St. Monica, led Augustine to the Church. Today, he is renowned as one of the greatest minds in Catholic history.

Divine. Mercy. If you are looking for a best friend for this Year of Mercy, Faustina is your homegirl. Her diary should be at the top of your reading list this year. Venerate the image of Jesus with red and white rays shining forth from his heart, pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet, read Faustina's diary, and you have yourself a solid holy hour.

“‘I am love and Mercy Itself.  There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases.  The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.’” – The Diary of St. Faustina

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why I Don't Wear a Purity Ring (But, yes, you'll still see a band on my finger)

A household sister and friend of mine recently wrote a personal blog post about the problems with “Purity Culture”, specifically the “purity ring,” and I wholeheartedly agreed with every word of it. When discussing her post with another friend of mine I couldn’t help but notice the confused look on my friend’s face, even though she shared my mutual distaste for “purity culture.” When I asked her if she was confused by my position she said she was confused not with my negative opinion of purity rings but with the fact that I wear one despite my apparent distaste for them.

“What?” I said, “I don’t wear a purity ring…” but my eyes had already fallen on my left ring finger where the sterling silver ring bearing a heart and a cross that I had received for my Confirmation was positioned.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, “This isn’t a purity ring it’s just…well…actually I’m not quite sure what you would call it.”

I’d like to assure everyone reading this at this moment that I am not in fact crazy and I really don’t think I’m stupid. But believe me when I say that I never considered this ring to be a purity ring, despite the fact that in hindsight, it probably appears so to everyone I encounter.

The truth of the matter is that this ring of mine represents so much more to me than some trite pledge to remain chaste for my future spouse, but to explain all of that I am going to need to back up a bit and start from the beginning.

I’ve never really bought into the whole “purity culture” thing, even from the beginning. The first time I ever really considered the topics of sexuality and religion at the same time was in sixth grade. But unlike a lot of Christians out there my first intellectual consideration of “purity” wasn’t at some youth rally or church group that was telling me to “save myself” for marriage. I’m not going to lie, I was a pretty naïve little sixth grader so if someone had said this phrase to me I probably would have asked what exactly of myself I was supposed to be saving for my future husband (A lock of my hair? My baby teeth?). Fortunately, I had an amazing religion teacher in sixth grade who took it upon herself to write her own middle school curriculum based on the Theology of the Body that had been articulated by JPII (a revolutionary idea at the time because there weren’t really even curriculums out there for high schoolers yet).

But unlike a lot of theology teachers and youth group leaders who only dive into TOB to talk about sex (specifically how you shouldn’t be having it but should rather be “saving yourself for marriage”) I distinctly remember how my teacher chose to introduce our class to the subject. She wrote two questions on the board and had us consider the answers:

Who am I?
Why do I exist?

Good luck trying to find two other questions that are equally important and equally terrifying to a sixth grader.

After posing these questions and allowing us to share our responses, my teacher then began to gradually unfold over the next few weeks the profound truths that can be discovered in JPII’s Theology of the Body. It’s important to point out that the answers she gave to these questions focused on one important thing: Love.

We are created lovingly by Love for love. God is our Father and we are His children. The Love exchanged and shared within the Trinity is so good and life-giving that God desires to share it and let it overflow so He creates us out of love to share His Love with us. And within each human being he gives us the ability to love and to be loved.

I know, there’s a lot of love there, but the important things to take away from all of that are the answers to the questions my sixth grade teacher posed to us:

Who am I? I am “one who is loved and one who loves”
Why do I exist? I exist “to love and to be loved.”

Why am I sharing this? Quite simply, it’s to emphasize a point. In my experience I learned that the discussion about my human identity doesn’t begin with a discussion of my sexuality; it begins with a discussion about love.

The problem with most of the “purity culture” that we find in many Christian circles is that, while it may have good intentions, oftentimes it is no better than the secular world in where it places its emphasis: on sex. This ultimately comes across as a hollow and empty message because sex disconnected from our deeper identity of love is hollow and empty.

Because at their root, the virtues of purity, chastity, modesty, etc. have NEVER first-and-foremost been about sex. They have always been about the human identity which is wrapped up in love. But because part of my personhood (or identity) is embodied (i.e. I have a body), these virtues have repercussions for what I do with my body.

But Satan, along with much of the world, is really messed up because he twists my understanding of love and the body. If my identity is tied up with loving and being loved, Satan is going to do everything in his power to make me feel unlovable and incapable of giving love.

A moment of true, personal vulnerability here: I’ve always really struggled with both of these lies, but I’m going to especially focus on the first one in this blog post. Satan has done a pretty good job of convincing me my entire life that I must be unlovable because despite the fact that “on paper” I seem to have my life completely together, I’ve always had a hard time making friends. Going further and really solidifying this lie in my mind, Satan has never once failed to tell me that I’m clearly unlovable because no man has ever found me lovable enough to ask me out on a date.

Verily Magazine recently posted an article written by a man explaining why he doesn’t ask out the seemingly “perfect” girl that he knows. One of the reasons he gave in the article boiled down to attraction (perfect as she may seem, he just might not be attracted to her). It was a well-written article and the rational part of my brain appreciated the wisdom of his insights. But as soon as I read it I felt that familiar dark shadow creeping into my mind and whispering again and again, “Well there’s your answer: you’ve never been asked out by a man because no man has ever found you attractive.”

Now, I knew that this was a lie of Satan’s the moment I heard it, but that didn’t make it any easier to shake. Weeks and weeks that same lie spun around in my head, inflamed by the fact that every aunt, sibling, parent, hairdresser and optometrist I encountered over the Christmas break wanted to know if I had any romantic prospects looming on the horizon. To have to keep insisting that “No, I have nothing to report,” while deflecting comments like, “That can’t be true, a girl like you surely has admirers!” was a trial, to say the least.

But here is where we get back to my supposed “purity ring” because every time that the lie that I was unlovable popped into my head, I would glance down at the ring I wore on my left ring finger.

You know, I didn’t always wear it on my left hand. Until about a year ago I had always worn it on my right. I only changed it last spring after going to confession with a little Eastern European priest who was the spitting image of Padre Pio. He told me that at the heart of my spiritual battle was the struggle to remember and trust that Jesus loved me despite my imperfections. He told me to wear a piece of jewelry to remind me of that truth whenever I began to doubt it. I walked out of that confessional and slipped the ring from my right hand to my left and haven’t looked back since. Before that moment it had always been just a pretty piece of jewelry, but after that moment it became an important symbol of truth in my life.

You see, this ring for me is NOT a purity ring because I don’t wear it to remind myself that I’m waiting for the love of the perfect man. No, I use this ring as a constant reminder that the perfect Man already loves me.

Satan’s lie that I’m unlovable is just that, a LIE, because Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried for me. He descended into Hell for me. And on the third day he rose again from the dead for me. This isn’t some fairy tale or analogy that Christians made up to feel better about their lives. It happened, and I profess this truth every time I recite our Creed.

But because I’m not just a spiritual being it sometimes takes more than words to get this truth to sink into my thick skull. Remember, I’m an embodied creature and so sometimes it takes visible, material, embodied things to get through to me. That’s why Jesus gave us the Eucharist, as a physical reminder of His love for us. But because we can’t physically carry the Eucharist around with us all the time (darn!) we sometimes need even more material reminders of spiritual truths.

Think of scapulars, Marian consecration chains, saint medals, prayer cards, rosaries, crucifixes, and sacred art. These remind us of already existing realities. They aren’t just some visible way to show others about some resolution we hope to complete in the future. They’re not conditional like a purity ring is (if I remain chaste until marriage then I will be pure) but rather unconditional (Jesus can and has purified me despite my sins and the lives of Mary and the saints prove it). While purity rings focus on the past (what you have or have not done) and the future (what you can expect as a result) sacramentals show us all of time in one eternal moment (whatever you’ve done in the past or will do in the future, Jesus loves you then, now, and always and He gives you eternal life to live with Him in Heaven forever.) Sacramentals, like my ring in this instance, remind us of our profound dignity and worth because they remind us of the love God has for us right now.

Knowing then this profound dignity and worth that I possess, I am given confidence to demand that others treat me (which includes my body) accordingly. The virtues of purity, chastity, modesty, etc. are then the natural conclusion to the thesis of love. If I believe that I am loved freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully by God then I will seek to live out this perfect model of love (after all, God is love) in all my interactions with others. When I begin my self-understanding with the understanding that I am made to give and receive the perfect love that is modeled by Christ, I won’t want to settle for anything less.

Thus, purity, chastity, and modesty make sense and flow naturally from this true understanding of love. They are not some arbitrary dictum handed down by power-mongering old men in funny hats who think sex is bad and we need to “protect” people from its corruption and temptations. People who think this is the Catholic Church’s understanding of human sexuality have clearly never read a word of Pope St. John Paul II (or St. Edith Stein or St. Thomas Aquinas or St. John Chrysostom or anyone else for that matter).

We shouldn’t begin our discussions of the human person and their sexuality talking about sex or abstinence or modesty like the “Purity Culture” does. We shouldn’t do this because the Christian exhortation isn’t to go forth baptizing all people in the name of the purity ring, the pledge to “save ourselves,” or the slogan that “modest is hottest” (honestly, anyone who utters this phrase, let them be anathema!) The Christian exhortation is rather to go forth baptizing all people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Christian mission is Trinitarian, and what is the Blessed Trinity but a Communion of Love. Christians are not called to build up a “Purity Culture;” we are called to create a Civilization of Love.

Because ultimately people, they’ll know we are Christians by our Love, not our purity rings.


Alyssa Snyder is a Junior studying Humanities and Catholic Culture, Theology, and Philosophy. She is a native of Texas where she lives with her family in a blue-roofed house on top of a hill. She is passionate about the Truth of the Lord's Incarnation and loves spending time discovering and discussing ways in which others have incarnated the Gospel in film, history, literature, politics, and art. Her favorite saints are St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena because they both personify St. John Paul II's "feminine genius" in her mind.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Men and Women in Star Wars: Their Complementary Struggles, Mission, and Genius in "The Force Awakens"

ALERT: Major spoilers ahead!

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was super excited to go see The Force Awakens. Finally, the Tuesday before Christmas my whole family got our schedules coordinated enough to head off to the theaters after dinner.
But I’m not going to lie, as excited as I was to see the most recent installment of the franchise, I was also a bit nervous when it became clear from the previews that one of the central figures would be a woman. Why did this make me nervous? Well, let’s just say that I’ve disagreed with some of the more radical feminist undercurrents that seem to have become a staple in Disney’s movies over the past several years; so much so that I even wrote a blog post about it a year ago (which you can check out here). However, someone at Disney clearly read my blog post (haha, at least I’d like to think so!) because I’m pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the plot and character development exhibited in the most recent episode of the Star Wars saga.
Was it absolutely perfect? No. But ultimately I think the plot and the characters of The Force Awakens dramatize the struggles facing both men and women in the current culture. Most importantly, the plot highlights how the struggles men face are different from the ones that women face, and how the weaving together of these struggles creates a galaxy with a cultural crisis much like our own (even if that galaxy is one that is far far away). But the thing I found most refreshing about The Force Awakens was that it doesn’t just dramatize the masculine and feminine crises of our culture; it also has given us two new characters (Rey and Finn) that, in my opinion, are struggling against these crises and I think have a reasonable chance of succeeding (that is, if the writers don’t decide to mess this up). It is Rey and Finn’s story, captured and dramatized in this new movie, that I believe is worth watching in order to gain a deeper insight into our own human experience.
The Masculine Crisis
There are several major male characters in The Force Awakens, but I couldn’t help but notice that there was a common thread uniting them, diverse as they were. It occurred to me that Luke, Han, Kylo Ren, and Finn were similar in that they all were running away from something. The astonishing thing to me was that they all seemed to be running away for the same reason: fear, and this fear was a fear of failure. Luke and Han run away after Ben Solo turns to the Dark Side, a perceived failure on their part as his teacher and father; Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) runs away from the Light Side out of the fear that he will fail to be powerful without the power of the Dark Side; and Finn is tempted to run away from Han, Rey and the Resistance on Takodana because he fears that the Resistance is sure to fail.
Expulsion of Adam and Eve by Aureliano Milani
I think it is no coincidence that these major male characters are similar in their running away and their fear of failure. In fact, I believe this is one of the central struggles that all men face as a result of original sin. If one turns to the account of the Fall in Genesis, Adam’s silence is deafening. He must have been close by in the garden if Eve gave him the fruit, but he fails to intervene and protect her from the wiles of the serpent. Dr. Larry Crabb expounds on this idea in his book The Silence of Adam in which he examines the question of why men fail to act. His answer lies in the claim that most men draw their sense of worth and identity from their competence. Thus, when life presents situations that test this competence or reveal men’s inability to “handle the situation” they feel like failures.
Katrina Zeno in her book Discovering the Feminine Genius points out that Genesis reveals what happens when men feel this sense of failure: they either (A) “become paralyzed by fear and retreat into passivity” or (B) “try to dominate the situation.” In Genesis, Adam does both of these things, first by running away and trying to hide from God and then by his domination of Eve (“he shall rule over you”).
This biblical truth is clearly dramatized on the big screen in The Force Awakens. Luke, Han, and Finn retreat into passivity while Kylo Ren goes further and doesn’t just seek to retreat but also tries to dominate others, specifically the woman Rey. All of these men are afraid that their competency has failed and out of fear their first instinct is retreat. If this fear continues to grow it leads to the desire to dominate others, just like Kylo Ren is doing.
But it is important to note that this clear lack of masculinity doesn’t always appear as such on the outside. We live in an age where the Evil One whispers in the ears of men that the truly “masculine” thing to do is to avoid situations where failure is an option. This is essentially the “I don’t play games I can’t win” attitude. While it might come off as an aloof and stoic macho toughness because it avoids all chance of vulnerability or failure, in reality it is the exact opposite and is marked by cowardice. This is where we find the characters of Luke, Han, and Finn towards the beginning of the movie.
On the flip side of this cowardice is the lie the Evil One feeds men that “real men” are marked by the sheer power that they have over others, specifically women. This is essentially the idea that the more money you have, men you have beaten up, and women you have slept with, the more you are a man. While this may appear to be the pinnacle and maturation of masculinity it is actually its exact opposite, and is the embodiment of immaturity. “Men” who seek to dominate others in this way may seem big and scary, but if you remove the mask (a-la Kylo Ren) what you will find is the immature face of a little boy. I must say that the casting of Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, while criticized by some, brilliantly emphasizes this point. It is the fear that his power is insufficient that eventually leads him to the Dark Side, just like it did with his grandfather Anakin Skywalker.
Hmmm…I think a wise little green creature may have been onto something when he warned that fear leads to the Dark Side.
The Feminine Crisis
But fear is not something reserved only for the men in The Force Awakens. We also see Rey struggle with fears of her own, but these fears are different from the ones haunting her male counterparts. Unlike the men who fear a failure in their competency, Rey fears her own identity which likewise tempts her to run away. As Finn is being tempted to run away from the Resistance on Takodana, Rey is simultaneously running into the forest after having a flashback forcing her to face her identity and the fact that the Force is calling to her. She knows in her heart that she is someone important and special, but is not willing to accept this yet because of another fear holding her back: the fear that she is not enough and that she is unlovable and forgotten.
As of yet we know very little about Rey’s backstory but what we do know is not very cheery. She was left alone on Jakku as a young girl and believes that she must wait for someone to return to claim her. But Rey is having to face the reality that no one will likely ever return. With these circumstances it is easy to see how she might feel forgotten and unlovable, so it would make sense that she would not feel worthy of human affection or any sort or a supernatural call (one could even use the language of “vocation” here).

Like I said, at the heart of this fear of being unlovable and forgotten is the fear that she is not enough. Turning back to Genesis we see the same fear take hold of Eve's mind. Eve begins to doubt that her identity as a daughter of God (who she is) is not enough; so she takes the fruit hoping that it will make her more like God and less like the person she is currently. Eve's desire for autonomy which leads her to grasp at the fruit is an inclination we see paralleled in the character Rey.

Rey must have parents, specifically a father, but he has failed to act in her life by abandoning her. In the absence of someone to look after Rey and defend her (namely her parents) she has been forced to take on a hardened independence and a degree of autonomy. It is this autonomy, like Eve's desire for autonomy, that marks the separation of woman from man and from God. In the words of Katrina Zeno, “when men fail to act, women develop an independency that excludes a real communion of persons. The result is isolation.” This could not be more accurate in describing Rey’s life. She has experienced isolation for so long that encountering another person (like Finn) or her identity and past (linked to her parents) is going to be a difficult experience for her: one that she might initially brush off but can’t outrun (you can’t flee your identity after all).
A Story for Our Day
In The Force Awakens we have a universe of men that have retreated into passivity or dominance and women who have hardened their hearts in an effort to avoid confronting their fear of being unlovable and forgotten. Hmmm…sound familiar? I don’t know about you, but I think this is the exact cultural phenomenon that men and women from our galaxy face on a daily basis. I can’t speak for the men out there, but I know that Rey’s fears of being unlovable and forgotten, tied up in an inability to recognize the dignity and worth of her identity and resulting in the temptation to grasp at “independence” and autonomy is something I struggle with almost daily. And interacting with women through Women’s Ministry I can testify that I’m not the only woman out there with this struggle. 
So the internal conflicts in The Force Awakens are human ones that we can relate to, but the thing that excites me is that the plot and character development thus far in the new installments give the audience characters struggling with, but also struggling against, the persistent cultural crisis they find themselves in.
Fr. Francis Martin, a theologian, says that a saint is someone in whom God works out the problem of the age. The problems in our own age are the same as in The Force Awakens. In the characters Finn and Rey, we witness two people, a man and a woman, working through the struggles, fears, and insecurities of the men and women of their world and our own. They may not be perfect at it (in fact, they both have a long way to go) but in the words of St. Josemaria Escriva “A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.” Finn and Rey are our heroes not because they emerged from the battle unscathed but because they continue to fight despite the injuries they have already sustained.
Finn: Demonstrating the Masculine Mission
By far my favorite character to come out of the most recent film is Finn. He is a character of heroic virtue, despite the fact that he’s far from perfect. In fact, that’s why I like him: we get to see his character grow and mature so much, even within the span of this one film. Is he there yet? No, but I see great things in the future for Finn and the role he will play in this story.
Jason Evert in his book Theology of His Body/Theology of Her Body says that the mission of every man is to protect, serve, and sacrifice. The model for this masculine mission is obviously Jesus Christ whose passion and death counteracted Adam’s failure to protect, serve, and sacrifice for Eve. Jason Evert says that this masculine mission is specifically lived out when men “use [their] strength to cherish women and protect life.”
At the beginning of the movie we see Finn as a Stormtrooper attacking a village. But when ordered to slaughter the innocent townspeople (including women and children) he is the only Stormtrooper who does not pull the trigger on his blaster. Is he protecting, serving, and sacrificing in this scene? No, but this is his first step in the right direction. Shortly after, Finn releases Poe Dameron from captivity but by his own admission he does this because he needs a pilot, not because it’s the right thing to do.
The first time we see Finn actually put his own interests aside to protect another doesn’t come until a few movie minutes later. What prompts him to step outside of himself for the first time? The answer is a distressed cry from a woman (Rey). She is being attacked and he runs to help her. Is he very effective at this? Well, maybe not. She’s an “independent woman” after all and is pretty capable of fending off the attack on her own (at least initially). Several times Finn takes her hand in this “escape-from-danger” scene and this is something that Rey does not take too well to, to say the least.
But my opinion is, can we really blame her? Based on the circumstances of Rey’s life it would be highly unlikely that she would willingly accept help from a male stranger as this would be an admission of weakness and the potential for danger. But Finn continues to offer his help and when he comes-to after getting knocked over his first question is whether or not Rey is OK. I’m aware that some are a bit more critical of this scene and the role of the male characters in general, but I give Finn a solid “A” for effort in his first attempt at chivalry, even if the execution is a bit flawed, which admittedly is largely because of Rey’s own reaction to the situation. For now, simply note that the conflict between Finn and Rey in this scene is the direct result of the masculine and feminine crises of their culture (a culture of masculine passivity and a hardened “independent” femininity).
Finn is able to finally embrace the masculine mission to protect, serve, and sacrifice only on Takodana when he understands that Rey is in great danger. Maz Kanata tells Finn that Rey and BB-8 need him and the audience sees the understanding dawn on Finn’s face as he takes up the only weapon available to him, even if it’s an unfamiliar lightsaber, to try to defend her. He is unable to get to Rey in time and sees her being carried off by Kylo Ren into his ship. Remember, before this scene Finn was about to run away from the entire Resistance movement. But he changes his mind after witnessing Rey’s capture and insists on helping with the attempt to rescue her despite the danger to himself. For a character that was initially caught up in the interests of the First Order and then in his own self-interest, Finn demonstrates a tremendous amount of virtue in his selflessness regarding Rey. Such selflessness is even more laudable when one considers that even Han Solo was not so quick to embrace this masculine mission (recall that in A New Hope, Han only rescues Leia when he finds out that there would be a large monetary reward for doing so).
Finn selflessly puts his own fear and interests aside to protect, serve, and sacrifice for Rey. Critique him all you want but that is the embodiment of the masculine mission right there. Bravo, Finn.
Rey: Revealing the Feminine Genius
But don’t think I’ve forgotten about our heroine Rey. Where would our story be without her? After all, the entire plot is able to happen because of one characteristically feminine choice that she makes: rescuing BB-8. She hears the cry of BB-8, rescues him, takes care of him, and refuses to let him be sold and become an object of use. I recognize that BB-8 is a droid and is not a human person, but in the Star Wars universe droids like BB-8 and R2-D2 are personified and treated like people, so I’m going to consider them as such.
Now, I have always considered droids like BB-8 and R2-D2 to have certain “childlike” qualities in their innocence, humor, devotion and all-around “cuteness.” So Rey’s choice to rescue BB-8 and care for him is a distinctly feminine and maternal characteristic in my mind. Furthermore, when Rey later hears the cry of a distressed child at the cantina on Takodana she seeks out the source of the cries, drawn to them like any mother is drawn to the sound of a crying child.
While Rey may not be a mother herself and has no experience of her own mother that she can recall, what these two instances reveal is that she still possesses a maternal instinct despite her otherwise hardened and “independent” persona. This is because the tendency to care for and nurture a helpless creature is natural for women. Motherhood, even of a spiritual kind, is part of who every woman is. To be a woman is to, in some sense, be a mother. At the heart of this maternal nature is a woman’s natural and intuitive orientation towards persons. This is the “feminine genius” that St. John Paul II speaks about that every woman possesses by the very nature of her being a woman. A woman truly living out this feminine genius has the ability to “see” the reality of who a person is beneath the external qualities of their success, actions, or possessions.
To demonstrate further this unique ability of woman to “see the person” we are presented with the character of Maz Kanata. She is physically characterized with large lenses over her eyes, demonstrating her wisdom and innate ability to read the inner motivations and thoughts of other characters. While she is no Jedi herself, we know that she shares a powerful connection with the Force which is the source of this ability within her. Likewise, Rey will later be able to read the inner thoughts and fears of Kylo Ren when she is beginning to tap into the Force for herself.
But the ability of woman to see into and be more oriented towards the “other” has another consequence. The pain of others becomes a pain that the woman experiences herself, and this pain is often manifested in the form of tears. Hardened as Rey is, we still see her cry at multiple points in the movie, an act that is not often seen from other movie heroines. But contrary to what one might think, shedding tears does not diminish a woman’s strength. Paradoxical as it may sound, Gertrude von le Fort in her novel The Song at the Scaffold claims that “to tremble is to be strong.”
Pietà (detail) by Niccolò Frangipane (1593)
It is true that a woman shedding tears can be shedding tears of silliness and vanity, but to acknowledge this fact is not the same as believing that the tears of every woman are therefore silly and vain. As Alice von Hildebrand says in her book The Privilege of Being a Woman, “Tears can be expressions of what is best and noblest in man.” A woman who cries in the face of immense tragedy, injustice, or cruelty is not a weak woman. Furthermore, she is not a weak woman precisely because she is crying, for she has seen the suffering before her and has chosen to make it her own. In doing this, she gives the proper response to the tragedy at hand. As von Hildebrand wisely points out, “We live in a world in which tears are called for daily.”
When Finn is lying on the ground injured and unconscious, Rey weeps over his body. In doing so she is responding properly to the situation at hand (“Blessed are those that mourn”). But even more importantly, this is a moment in which Rey is imitating the actions of another sorrowful woman: The Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a reason why Mary is called the Mater Dolorosa, or Sorrowful Mother. Like Rey crying over the body of Finn, Mary likewise cried over the body of her Son as he was taken down from the cross. 
In her spiritual motherhood and feminine sensitivity to persons manifesting itself in tears, Rey reveals the feminine genius that we see embodied most perfectly in Mary. But the parallels between Rey and Our Lady do not end there.
Salvation Will Be Born of a Woman
Based on the plot of The Force Awakens one could reasonably make the prediction that Rey is going to become the central character in the next several films (the parallels between her and Luke were not coincidental, I’m sure). Now, the choice to create a female protagonist in a film series whose target audience includes both men and women is a bit of a gutsy move, and one could argue it is a move motivated by a feminist ideology bent on tearing down men in an effort to extol women.  And normally, I might agree with that position. But I think, if the plot of the future movies is handled correctly, there can be some serious truth about the heroic role that women play that can come out of it, and not just the rhetoric of a confused ideology.
I’d like to begin my defense of Rey’s central role in the plot with a quote from Gertrude von le Fort’s book The Eternal Woman (and if you’ve never read this book, you should seriously check it out). Von le Fort says that woman, specifically the virginal woman, “always comes to the rescue when there is a need.” This is precisely what Rey does in rescuing BB-8 and it is this action that draws her into the larger plot of the movie, a plot that will require her to come to the rescue again and again.
Now, some might argue that von le Fort’s claim that women will “come to the rescue” when there is a need may sound like a position that eliminates any role for men. But consider what else von le Fort says on the matter before you discredit her entirely: “The highest vocation of woman is always by way of a last expedient, and we grasp the astonishing significance of a St. Catherine [of Siena] or a St. Joan [of Arc] only when we know who had already failed on the missions that later became theirs.” There is precedent within the realm of Catholic orthodoxy for von le Fort’s claim that woman will always come to the rescue when there is a need, but notice this is only as a last resort because those (men) that came before them had already failed on these missions.
As von le Fort says, “The need of woman coming to the rescue indicates that…there is some lack of man power.” I think it has already been sufficiently demonstrated that this galaxy far far away is one with a serious lack of the necessary “man-power.” Perhaps this lack is most significant in the characters Luke and Kylo Ren who both possess the powers of a Jedi. Both of these men have succumbed to fear and failed in their masculine mission, one by fleeing and one by seeking to dominate. With the betrayal of Kylo Ren to the Dark Side and the flight of Luke to isolation, there are no Jedi left to maintain balance in the Force. According to von le Fort this is precisely when woman is called to the rescue because historically “when the male line fails, the daughter becomes the heir.” 
No surprise here, but in our story that “daughter” is Rey.
But what exactly does it mean for woman to come to the rescue and become the heir? Von le Fort answers that, “For woman coming to the rescue means, in the strictest sense, that her action is not activity in itself, but surrender, which is but another form of the womanly ‘Be it done unto me.’”
Stop. Read that last sentence again and let it sink in, because this is the key to von le Fort’s entire argument.
The Annunciation (detail) by Fra Angelico (1433-34)
Von le Fort’s reference here to the Annunciation is no accident. After all, the world was in serious need of rescue after the Fall and mankind was doing a pretty poor job of trying to change that. So what did God do when the line of mankind failed? The heir became a daughter of Israel. Yep, you guessed it: Mary. Mary’s virginal surrender to God in her fiat is the very act of heroism that makes the defeat of “The Dark Side” possible because “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).
And who is it that Mary surrenders to? God. He is all things spiritual, immaterial, and life-giving. In the Star Wars universe one can describe the Force that way. Like Mary, Rey must learn to surrender herself to the Force, to “let it in” as was said in the movie trailer. This surrender means embracing her identity as having its roots in the Force, just as Mary’s identity was rooted in her identity as a daughter of God the Father.
When Mary surrendered to God, all of creation was saved. Salvation entered the world through a woman’s act of surrender to God. This is the heroic moment of woman and it is such an integral part of the world’s salvation that Mary is given the title of Co-Redemptrix. Mary, a woman, participates in the salvific act of the man Jesus.
We have been given a plot in The Force Awakens where the universe needs saving and that salvation appears to be coming through the woman Rey, just as salvation came to this world through the Virgin Mary (“When the fullness of time arrived, God sent His Son, formed from a woman…so that He might redeem those who were under the law” Gal. 4:4-5). But the role Mary plays in the salvation of the world is significant precisely because it is different from the role that Christ plays. What this tells us is that the heroism of Mary, as the perfect model of womanhood, is different from the heroism of Jesus who is the perfect model of manhood. If the salvific role of Rey is to continue to be a truly feminine image, it must model Mary’s salvific role; but this salvific role is not one of “Redeemer” but is one of “Co-Redemptrix.”
A Hidden Heroine
Now in order to justify this seemingly “lesser” role of woman as “Co-Redemptrix” rather than “Redeemer,” I’m going to need to backtrack a little…but stay with me. This is a position that is crucial to understand and yet is so often misunderstood that I’m not going to cut any corners in trying to explain it.
Rey clearly possesses a supernatural call from the Force which, despite her hardened external persona, she still demonstrates a natural intuition for. It is this natural intuition for the spiritual that is a distinctly feminine quality which (thank goodness!) the screenwriters decided to include in her character. Untrained as she is, Rey has a very strong natural connection with the Force. Case in point, she demonstrates a greater command of the Force than Kylo Ren in her confrontation with him despite the fact that he has much more experience than her. Likewise, Maz Kanata also exhibits a strong natural intuition for the Force. It is no secret in our own galaxy that women are naturally more in-tune with the spiritual life even without much formal instruction. This is why there are usually more women at church than men.
Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that women are spiritually superior to men. But I am saying that it is more in women’s nature than men’s nature to be receptive to the unseen and immaterial (and therefore spiritual) forces in the universe. This does not mean that women can then “sit back and relax” in the spiritual life though, because “to whom more is given, more is expected” (Luke 12:48). But I digress.
One of the central points of von le Fort in The Eternal Woman is that women are naturally more spiritual because they are, by their very nature, characterized by what cannot be seen and is hidden from view (i.e. the immaterial or the spiritual). They are characterized by the hidden because their primary sexual organs (whose presence makes them a woman) are hidden or “veiled” inside of their bodies, unlike the primary sexual organs of a man.
In Star Wars, the hidden, immaterial and spiritual part of reality is the Force. Some may critique The Force Awakens for giving Rey a stronger natural connection to the Force than her male counterparts because they see this as just another way that Hollywood has tried to build women up by tearing men down. And that might have been Hollywood’s intention, but this is the one instance where I actually think the result may have turned out for the better because Rey’s natural affinity for the Force reveals a fundamental difference between men and women while characterizing the unique “genius” of woman.
But before you go around proclaiming that “girls rule and boys drool” because of women’s innate spirituality, take a moment to really understand the nature of this feminine genius and its connection with the hidden act of surrender. The genius of woman, and her most profound gift, is her natural predisposition for the spiritual. Woman is therefore uniquely characterized by her spirituality in a way that man is not. This is the “privilege” that Alice von Hildebrand (a reader of Gertrude von le Fort) is thinking of when she writes The Privilege of Being a Woman. But remember that what is “spiritual” is also what is “immaterial” and is therefore what is “hidden” or “mysterious.” Therefore, woman is more naturally spiritual precisely because she is more naturally hidden. And when we say “natural” here, we mean natural in the sense of “this is how God created woman to be before the Fall.”
The Coronation of the Virgin (detail)
by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1472-73)
This natural “hiddenness” is what leads von le Fort to say that the symbol of woman is the “veil” because “the veil is the symbol of the metaphysical.” She points out that the veil has never represented woman’s diminishment, despite what many people began to believe in the 20th century. Rather, the veil has always been a symbol of woman’s profound exultation. Woman, wherever she appears most truly exalted, always appears in a hidden and humble manner “under a veil” even if that veil is a figurative one.
It’s no surprise then that the most exalted woman in all of time (the “Eternal Woman” that von le Fort speaks of) is the Virgin Mary. Furthermore, the moment of Mary’s greatest exaltation, the moment that merited her title of “Queen of Heaven and Earth” is the precise moment of her surrender to God in the Annunciation, a surrender allowing herself to be “overshadowed” by His Holy Spirit. Her veil then becomes a Veil of Flame and the Crown of her Glory. In case you didn’t catch that, Mary’s veil is literally the Holy Spirit.
Remember that von le Fort said that “For woman coming to the rescue means, in the strictest sense, that her action is not activity in itself, but surrender, which is but another form of the womanly ‘Be it done unto me.’” Why is this important? Because the moment of Mary’s exaltation when she heroically “comes to the rescue” is also the moment that she is “overshadowed” and “veiled” by the Supernatural. In other words, when Mary is most heroic she is also most hidden. When she is most exalted she is also most veiled. This truth has profound implications for what women are called to do when they are called to “rescue the world.”
Gertrude von le Fort gives a bit of clarity in the very next line: “From this it follows that the activity of woman withdraws of its own accord, when the need for it no longer exists. In this circumstance woman’s objective achievement finds its extraordinary, its largely thankless, therefore deeply veiled, recognition; but it finds there also its limitations. This is to say that the significance of woman in historical and cultural life cannot basically be dependent on her objective cooperation; it is much more profound than this.”
Translation: The heroism of woman has limitations and the beauty of these limitations is that they ought to be applied by the woman herself of her own accord. Therefore, woman has a more profound significance in historical and cultural life than may be objectively or visibly apparent because she withdraws of her own accord.
The heroism of woman is her act of hidden surrender. Therefore, if woman’s act ceases to be one of hidden surrender it ceases to be heroic.  As von le Fort says, “At the moment when the stronger power no longer desires to surrender but seeks self-glorification, a catastrophe is bound to ensue.” What does this mean for the character Rey? I’m not sure what the screenwriters have in mind, but if they cared about portraying the true feminine genius, they would be attentive to a character who represents the other half of humanity: Finn.
Symbiotic Salvation
Why should Rey not be the sole savior of her galaxy? Why must Finn somehow be involved? I think the answer lies in understanding why Mary is unable to be the sole savior in our galaxy. As Gertrude von le Fort says, “The salvation that woman brings ranges far beyond her; its proper fulfillment, its success upon earth, is man’s appointed mission.” It is true to say that Mary brings salvation, but to stop there is to leave out the best part: the life, death, and Resurrection of the man Jesus.
It is Christ who is the world’s Redeemer, but it is through Mary that Christ enters the world. Mary is the “gate” between Heaven and earth. It is in her womb that the spiritual and the material worlds meet. Mary’s heroic act of surrender allows the material world to encounter the spiritual world. Through her surrender, we are able to encounter the supernatural force that is God-Made-Man (Jesus).  As von le Fort says, “Woman has, in the utmost sense of the word, been the bearer of salvation. This does not apply to the sphere of religion alone—but because it is true in this sphere, it is valid in general.”
Like Mary, a woman acting heroically is not the savoir herself but is the one who brings salvation forth by helping men to fulfill their appointed mission of protection, service, and sacrifice. It is the difference between being the Co-Redemptrix and being the Redeemer. I mentioned St. Catherine of Siena and St. Joan of Arc earlier. Recall their missions: helping men (the pope in St. Catherine’s case and the king in St. Joan’s) to fulfill the mission God had called them to. Here, woman is man’s “helper” just as Eve is Adam’s helper in Genesis.
But to call woman a helper is not to imply that she is less than the man. Remember that when a woman is most veiled, she is also most exalted. Dr. Deborah Savage points out in her article “The Nature of Woman in Relation to Man” that the Hebrew word translated as “helper” in Genesis doesn’t mean “servant” or “slave” but rather “divine aid.” Eve is Adam’s partner and equal given to him by God, and as such she can help him to live and to become. In the words of Katrina Zeno, “The woman helps the man discover his own humanity, his own capacity for relational self-giving.” How awesome!
It’s clear that Rey has already been an important part of helping Finn discover “his own capacity for relational self-giving.” In doing so, Rey has helped Finn gain competency in this area, a crucial aspect of his coming to understand his own worth and masculine mission. I would love to see, in future movies, a plot in which Rey helps Finn grow even more in his “spiritual competency” (cough, cough…the Force) and that he learns to use this competency to better protect, serve and sacrifice for others (perhaps even as a Jedi himself). I would also love to see Rey (or perhaps Leia) help Kylo Ren come to this same competency, facilitating his return to the Light Side of the Force. And based on the ending of The Force Awakens I think there’s already a good indication that Rey will convince Luke to return to his masculine mission.
This more “hidden” role that I hope Rey will eventually take to allow Finn and the other male characters to fully step into their masculine mission is a humble one, I’ll admit. And some people, perhaps even devout Christians, might really criticize me for saying that such an apparently “lesser” role is representative of woman’s nature. But I would urge such people to look again at the idea that is at the heart of Christianity, an idea that is radically counter-cultural and is seemingly preposterous. This central idea is one that maintains that “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9), that “the last shall be first” (Mt 20:16), and that “the meek…shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). At the very center of Christianity is the virtue of humility and the act of surrender yet Christianity maintains that these moments of weakness and apparent failure are really moments of triumph and exaltation (again, the moment woman is most veiled is also the moment she is most exalted).
Scripture gives us two images of this humble surrender, one feminine and one masculine. The first, as we’ve already discussed, is the image of feminine surrender: a humble woman veiled by the Holy Spirit. The second image is the masculine one: a humble Man hanging naked on a cross. Both man and woman are called to humble surrender. Both are called to give totally of their selves. Both are called to make heroic acts of love. And these acts of surrender to heroic, self-giving love are moments of triumph and exaltation for both Jesus and Mary, despite their apparent weakness and failure. Yet the simultaneous weakness and triumph of these acts is distinct for men and women. While the veil is drawn over the woman the veil is torn away from the Man (quite literally, not only in Jesus' nakedness but also in the tearing of the temple veil).
Crucifix by Benvenuto Cellini (1562)
It is this distinction that makes the humble and yet triumphant and heroic acts of man and woman complementary, just as the sexual acts of man and woman are complementary. Both the heroic and the sexual acts of man and woman are acts of surrender but the masculine acts are acts of initiation and the feminine acts are acts of reception. The point is that salvation (a new life) needs both. In order for us to be saved Christ “needs” us to be receptive to His gift of self but the Church also needs Him to give Himself to us. Christ and the Church, man and woman, are complementary in their salvific roles, and this is a “great mystery” (Eph 5:32). If one diminishes the salvific role of man, one diminishes the salvific role of Christ. Likewise, if one diminishes the salvific role of woman one diminishes the salvific role of the Church. To emphasize one sex over the other, regardless of whether it is the masculine or the feminine sex, is to quite literally eliminate the possibility for salvation of any sort.
So where does this leave us with The Force Awakens? I don’t have any more insight into the minds of the writers than anybody else when it comes to the plot for future movies. In The Force Awakens the writers have given us two main characters who have the potential to work together to bring salvation to their galaxy. This is encouraging, and I applaud Hollywood for the effort. That being said, there is still plenty of opportunity to derail this complementarity and make the newest installments all about Rey, to the detriment of Finn and quite honestly, everyone else. While Hollywood could literally put any collection of rubbish together, call it a plot and still make tons of money (ahem, Episodes I—III), if they are looking to present something true in these movies (as all great art should) then they will not waste the perfect set-up they have written for themselves in The Force Awakens.
Perhaps one of my favorite scenes from the movie is the one in which Rey and Finn are flying around in the Millennium Falcon as they are chased by TIE fighters. This is a great example of a man and a woman working together in an interdependent manner. Neither is dominating the other and I think it’s safe to say that they would not have survived this situation without their mutual cooperation. This is the type of scene we need to see more of in movies: a scene characterized by the interdependent cooperation between men and women.
Please Hollywood, I beg of you, give us more of this. It’s OK if the characters are broken and struggling with the wounds that characterize the men and women of their day (and ours). But show us models of masculinity and femininity fighting on, side by side, despite these wounds. Show us men and women helping and sacrificing for each other. Show us men and women working together to save their galaxy.
Because who knows, maybe, just maybe, if enough people saw it, that galaxy wouldn't be that far far away after all...

Alyssa is a Junior at Franciscan studying Humanities and Catholic Culture, Theology, and Philosophy. She is a native of Texas where she lives with her family in a blue-roofed house on top of a hill. She is passionate about the Truth of the Lord's Incarnation and loves spending time discovering and discussing ways in which others have incarnated the Gospel in film, history, literature, politics, and art. Her favorite saints are St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena because they both personify St. John Paul II's "feminine genius" in her mind.