Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We read about a shift this week — how the early Church started its mission to the Gentiles. Before, there had only been a “no” to the Gentiles, because they were outside God’s chosen people. Now, there began to be a “yes” to the Gentiles, even while there always remained a firm “no” to their idolatry and sins.
In some ways that shift is a simple point of history: it happened. In some ways, though, that shift also provides guidance for our mission to the world today.
The metaphysical truth of the Incarnation is that God came in the flesh to save sinful humanity. The Incarnation was a yes to humanity and a no to sin. That metaphysical truth was also expressed in the practical ministry of Jesus. When He reached out to tax collectors and sinners, His ministry was always a “yes” to the person, even while it was always a “no” to sin.
That “yes and no” is the key to understanding a lot of Church teaching and framing a Catholic approach to some important cultural questions.
For example, as we approach the feast of St. Joseph the Worker (May 1), it’s fitting to think about how this “yes and no” can frame our approach to the treatment of masculinity.
In our history, unfortunately, there have been too many examples of saying “yes” to the gift of masculinity that also included a “yes” to the distortions of that gift. The current culture is trying to reverse the script: to say “no” to the distortions of masculinity by saying “no” to the distinctions between masculine and feminine.
Trying to erase those distinctions will never work, of course, for simple reasons of human nature. But it’s also not the Catholic way. The Church’s teaching, following the pattern of Jesus, is to say a resounding “yes” to the distinct characteristics of both “the masculine genius” and “the feminine genius,” even while we say a resounding “no” to every distortion of both. (And we need look no further than the internet and the news to see examples.) We can’t let our “yes” to the distinction become a “yes” to the distortion; we can’t let our “no” to the distortion become a “no” to the distinction. If we hold to the “yes” and the “no,” we can correct our history and show culture a better way.
The solution to toxic masculinity is to restore and cultivate the genius of what God intended, not to jettison masculinity. In that sense, the washing of the feet is an iconic moment for us: “yes” to the masculine genius (and “yes” to the feminine genius), and “no” to the dirt that clings to it in a fallen world.
“Yes and no” is one of the great themes of God’s approach to sinful humanity. It’s written all over the Old Testament: “yes” to God’s people, “no” to their sins. It’s written all over the ministry of Jesus: the cross is a great “yes” to us and a great “no” to our sins. Jesus’ whole life was a living into the “yes and the no.” We need to live into them more deliberately and more skillfully with respect to the key questions of our time.