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The Meaning of Eucharist in the Asian Context A Gender Equality-Gender Justice Perspective




Theresa Yih-Lan Tsou, SSS


I began preparation of this topic by reading previous FABC papers on the Eucharist[1] and the Address of bishop Tagle on the Eucharist during the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City, June 20, 2008[2]. The meaning of Eucharist is so rich that its meaning cannot be exhausted.   So, before entering discussion in this paper, I want to be clear that since the gender issue is the special focus of this topic, what has been elaborated in previous papers will not be repeated.  This is not to ignore or deny their importance, but rather to present a view which is not usually heard.  In contrast to other areas of feminist theology like feminist research on the Scriptures, reference to the Sacraments in feminist theology is scarce, which is not too surprising.   So I had to find a different way of discussing this topic.

Before we enter into the discussion, it is important for you to know my background and how the topic developed this way.  I have been a member of a Religious Community, the Sisters of Social Service, for over 30 years. We were founded to be in the world among people for the Apostolate[3].  In the 1970’s after I finished medical school and before I entered the Community, I did a one-year Residency in Internal Medicine at the largest hospital in Taiwan.  I was one of the seven women physicians among one thousand doctors in the hospital.  In the early 1980’s during my year of temporary profession, I worked in the Spinal Cord Injury Unit as part of four-year Residency training in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Buffalo, New York, USA.  We were trained to deal with patient and family’s sexual issues with honesty and clarity.  Later, I ministered to Chinese and Taiwanese families in southern California for their psycho-social and spiritual needs.  After returning to Taiwan in the late 1980’s the exposure to women workers’ health issues led to reflection on the socio-cultural element.  In 1990 some of the teachers, social workers, pastoral workers, concerned women and a few men, lay and religious, all active in Catholic Church, began to form a group for monthly theological reflection in areas where church teaching could not answer the dilemma we encountered in ministry.  Then I began to be involved in Church meetings on the Asian level such as AMOR (Asian Meeting of Women Religious) and FABC meetings (on Women, and Interreligious dialogue at one point). In the late 1990’s I completed another Residency in Psychiatry in Taipei and began to work in a mental hospital besides the pastoral service concerning social issues.

With that background in mind, I will focus this paper on the question of gender equality-gender justice in our church and implications for the Eucharist.  As a case study examples from Taiwan will be used, but not to the exclusion of other countries. I want to begin by clarifying some concepts about gender, gender equality and justice and then make connections with our Celebration of the Eucharist.

  1. Gender, Gender Equality, and Gender Justice

A. Catholic Church and Civil Law

In November, 2008, after a three-day meeting of Catholic school administrators in Taiwan, an announcement appeared in several newspapers that the participants as head of all 46 universities, high schools, elementary schools, and kindergartens signed a statement “not to support the Law for Gender Equality Education in Catholic schools because it is against Catholic dogma”.  The law had been passed one year before, with small revision around this time.  When some of the school principles or campus ministers were asked to help clarify it, they were not aware of this statement. On the same news it was said that a theology school priest wrote the draft for the Chancellor of Catholic University to make this announcement.

This law came into being as the result of an extremely tragic situation.  After many instances of “bullying,” a gentle teen age boy was cruelly beaten to death by his schoolmates because his appearance was not masculine enough for them.  In his parents and teachers eyes he was a very nice boy who offended no one.  Because of this incident and similar occurrences in various schools, this law was made. It requires schools to teach students to respect people beyond stereotyped gender impression, also gave students equal opportunity for school education no matter their sexual orientation.  The opposition from Catholic schools comes from Catholic teaching against homosexuality.

It is important to note that the parameters of gender equality and gender justice have broadened over the last several years.  It is not simply a question of women vs. men as two genders any more; from grassroots to graduate studies, many groups outside Catholic Church had come up with different arguments to discuss LGBT justice, that is: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender as four gender categories.  Inter-disciplinary gender conferences have been held in Taiwan annually to discuss this question.  They will not go away by clicking on our mental screen to delete them or by statements on the sinfulness of homosexuality based on passages from the Hebrew Bible that were set in a different time frame and socio-cultural context.  What challenges does the changing of these parameters bring to the Church?  Where are we as a church, as People of God in facing these?

B. Catholics in Interreligious Settings

During an International Interreligious Conference on Gender Ethics in late October, 2007, which was initiated by Taiwan government Department of Interior Ministry and sponsored by Buddhist Universities, the organizers and participants realized that discussing “gender equality” with Catholics is a very limited discussion. Catholics are a little more than 1% of total population in Taiwan.  In the past Catholic Church was respected for charitable work and Buddhists have learned to do likewise.  Buddhist nuns (bhikkhuni) have been ordained, and the religious rule 八敬法 (“the Eight Heavy Duties”) which was irrespective of senior female members was changed.

In recent years, comments such as “You don’t have equality between men and women in Catholic Church, nuns cannot be ordained as priests;” or “Why in Catholic Church women can not be ordained?” have become commonplace.  The inquirers are surprised to learn that Catholics are not even allowed to discuss women’s ordination.  Politically, Taiwan has gone through a period of Martial Law for several decades until 1987.  As a child in that atmosphere one learned what cannot be talked about outside the home. It is difficult for people now to understand that a truth-seeking religion bars such an important issue from discussion.

Catholics women’s ordination is an issue cannot be discussed universally. Conferences on Women’s Ordination in US and Europe were interfered; attempts to ordain women resulted in ex-communication from the Church.

C. Paradigms for Men-Women Equality

An FABC paper by John D’Mello[4] on “Paradigms for a Feminization of the Church” suggests five paradigms of equality.  They are: 1. the complementary paradigm: “equal” but complementary,  2. the equality paradigm: equal as sameness,  3. the sisterhood paradigm: equal but separate,  4. the difference paradigm: equal but different,  5. solidarity paradigm: equal but in solidarity. A brief discussion of each paradigm follows.

  1. The complementary paradigm: In this paradigm, women are the complementary sex. While on the surface, this the complementarity between women and men sounds ideal, this paradigm is problematic. The difficulty lies in an emphasis on the different nature of men and women and which divides human beings into two kinds. In reality, in this paradigm, it is men who decide what are the role of women that complement men!

This is the model promoted in Vatican website ZENIT as neo-feminism[5].  From an Asian Taoist philosophy point of view[6], yin and yang elements are fluid and constantly moving to complement and balance each other. It is not a static division.



From experiences in Taiwan, families where husband and wife, as well as other members of the family, are more flexible in their roles, they go through daily life easier and manage family crises better.  During the recent financial crisis in Taiwan, men who found their identity in the role of head of the household and sole bread winner had a harder time to cope with job loss and tended to commit suicide or became very depressed.

  1. The equality paradigm emphasizes “Equal as Sameness” and is associated with the right of franchise, the right to education and is applied to the right to vote.
  2. The sisterhood paradigm: this stresses “Equal but Separate”. This paradigm posits that men are not able to understand women’s problems and experiences. Therefore, women must form a sisterhood and leave the male-dominated Church to do their own reflection and develop their own symbols and expressions.
  3. The difference paradigm understands the sexes as “Equal but Different”. Women are different from men, not just in their way of thinking, but also in their mode of being. So far, if women don’t fit in the norm set by men, they are considered inferior or inadequate. So there need different norms for men and women. In this paradigm they noticed that if women are from different cultures, their own norms need to be set differently.

While norm was set by men, physiological phenomenon like menstruation was treated as unclean, mood fluctuation related to cyclic hormonal change was perceived as weakness. In recent years neuroimaging studies of human brain revealed the activities of intellectual and affective function located in various sites of left brain and right brain; in men the two halves operates separately, in women there is a connection in between. The differences are to be appreciated instead of looking down upon as unwell like before.

  1. Solidarity paradigm: “Equal but in Solidarity” arises typically from Asian cultures and encompasses elements from the other paradigms. In this paradigm the issues of women, peasants, workers, dalits, tribals and ecology are all connected. There is an interface and interaction between sexism, racism, casteism, colonialism, fundamentalism, environmentalism, environmental destruction and violence……Thus, the Asian paradigm is not just addressing the question of equal rights only, but envisaging a fundamentally different perspective on each and every issue and aspect of society.”

After a survey of the contemporary scene, with economic globalization, globalization of culture, and the rise of fundamentalism, D’Mello concludes that “discriminating against women is linked to the discrimination of other marginalized groups;” and a solidarity paradigm was the optimal one for Asian society.

D. Justice and Moral Decision Making

Justice can be defined in many ways.  It means the quality of being just, fairness, righteousness, equitableness, rightfulness, lawful, the moral principle determining just conduct, conformity to this principle, the administering of deserved punishment or reward, judgment of persons or causes by judicial process, etc..  One may ask: Who sets the standard of justice?  From whose point of view the definition of being fair or just was made? What criteria were used?  Who administered the laws or keep people in just conducts? One meaning of justice concerns the law; it is only in recent decades that women have had opportunities to participate in the civil legislation process. Once that process is open, it is obvious that groups try hard to keep the law in their favor; even in women’s effort trying to revise the law with consideration of people from various backgrounds, it is hard to keep the domestic laws fair to everyone. In regard to the Church, Canon Law was made by men, and the question of women’s participation in its revision has not yet been raised.

Related to concept of justice are theories on ethics. In the West, the concept on virtue appeared as early as Greek philosophers, different Ethical Theories of Justice come from an intellectual approach with emphasis on universal standards and impartiality. The Stages of Moral Development theory by Lawrence Kohlberg in the 1960-1970s was widely used by educators in the west and east. In the 1980’s Carol Gilligan[7] (1982) questioned the research design of Kohlberg’s studies which only included the experience of white middle class men.  Gilligan argued that the decision making process of women facing moral dilemma was different from men, with different stages of development. Gilligan and Nel Noddings (1984) deveoped an Ethics of Care which emphasized the importance of relationships leading to the realization that the best decision of a woman could make in a concrete situation may be seen by a man as morally defective.  The situation remains the same today.  Examples of this type of thinking in the Catholic Church would be numerous if “universal standards and impartiality” were strictly enforced.

For East Asian people, especially those in countries influenced by Chinese culture, Confucian thought is still at work: justice is seen within the context of father-son axis patriarchy system, with the belief that this is basic to reach harmony in a family, state, and the world. In a home women were expected to complement whatever is lacking in the man and is to keep everything in place.  She is to be an obedient daughter, wife (good daughter-in-law), and mother. The worst sin against filial piety is not having a male descendant to bear the family name.(不孝有三,無後為大) In Taiwan and China, even though women’s educational level has been raised and civil laws have been revised to achieve more equality between women and men; still, when it comes to pregnancy, this deep-rooted fixation on the importance of the male appears: a female fetus gets aborted and female infanticide is practiced if only one baby is allowed in each family.  In Taiwan, some women have been forced by their parents-in-law or husbands to have an abortion if the fetus is female, even they strongly want to keep the fetus; extramarital relationship of husband is permitted or even encouraged by his parents in order to obtain a boy if the wife did not give birth or only gave birth to girls.

After seeing instances of some not-so-just justice principles and practices, we may move on to the discussion of sacraments in general, then the Eucharist.

2. Sacraments and Women

We cannot speak of sacraments without taking a look at our Catholic tradition.

A. Traditional Catholic History/Herstory

In the early church women were active in mission and ministry.  Of the names associated with Paul in Acts or mentioned by him in his letters, 18 out of 37 were women. Among them Junia was an apostle (Rom 16:7), Phoebe was a “deacon” and “patron” (Rom 16:1-2), Nympha ran a house church in Colossians (4:15), Euodia and Syntyche were leaders of the Philippian church (Phil 4:2,3); Paul first preached the gospel to women at Philippi (Acts 16:13) and the church was first formed among women in the house of Lydia (Acts 16:15, 40).  Paul greeted Priscilla and Aquila as co-workers twice (Rom 16:3-5, 2 Tim 4:19) where wife Priscilla was the leader and husband Aquila played a supportive role on the team.

Paul’s following of Jesus in breaking open new horizons for women to be partners in evangelization was not without difficulties.  His letters indicate the struggles among new believers concerning attempts to set limitations on gender roles and Paul’s response to these struggles (Eph 5:18-23, 1 Tim 2:11-12).  Under the Roman socio-political atmosphere, the early church gradually absorbed the Roman practice of prohibiting women from taking on leadership roles.  From the second to the sixth centuries, women deacons decreased gradually leading to a complete disappearance in the ninth century.

Although agreement on seven sacraments was not reached until the late Middle Ages, the first systematic writing on sacramental theology came from Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  He described sacraments as signs of God’s grace, to affirm that the sacraments are the church’s acts, not acts of the individual minister.  During the Middle Ages the issue of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist emerged as a matter of controversy. Thomas Aquinas’ (1225-1274) response was to use philosophical categories as a means of explanation.  While this brought scientific clarity to the question the rich complexity of the symbolic was lost and the importance of juridical categories of canon law for sacraments increased progressively.[8]

However, there was a contrast between “official theology” and lay belief and practice where women were concerned. In the late Middle Ages some of the Eucharistic devotion took on magical significance. It is interesting to note that women found a confirmation of the importance of the physical in the Eucharist especially since for centuries women had been told that because they were more physical, they were less spiritual than men.[9]

During and after the time of the Reformation a juridical mentality was maintained in the Roman Catholic church. Neither Reformers nor Roman Catholics had an explicit shift in their understanding of the role of women. Certain theological positions paved the way to changes like women’s ordination centuries later.  During the four hundred years between the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) sacramental theology and practice remained the same.  The administration of sacraments was largely in the hands of the celibate clergy. The maintenance of a distance between the laity and the Sacred Mysteries was reinforced by altar rails and cloisters, which psychologically separated the sacred and secular spheres. Popular devotions grew in many forms like novenas, benedictions, devotion to Mary and the saints; along with holy objects like scapulars, rosaries, holy cards, etc.; they provided the laity especially women a more immediate connection to the holy.[10]

B. More Recent Developments

Into the 20th century, Edward Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner developed sacramental theology further into more personal and dynamic terms, made sacramental praxis the action of the whole church rather than just of the clergy. After 1960 women in Europe and United States began to receive formal theological educationThrough their diligent research what had been “forgotten” or misunderstood for centuries started to come to light. Rosemary Ruether argues that women “suffer from linguistic deprivation and Eucharistic famine.[11]  Her work, based on our Jewish and Christian heritage, articulates a new vision.  Feminist theologian Christian Gudorf points out that sacraments are also celebrations of women’s physical experiences in ordinary life – birth, meals, and comfort; but as they were celebrated by men, they became spiritualized, and women’s bodily experiences were marginalized and seen as less holy than men. Mary Collins suggests that contemporary women can learn from medieval women, to use sacraments to deepen their own appreciation of their humanity, not let the sacraments be co-opted by the clergy as their own.[12]

3.  Eucharist as a Meal

A. The story of a meal


Some years ago I began to work at a small hospital in Taipei county. When lunch time came I was invited to staff dining room where I saw two round tables: one for men, the other for women. Since we only had two doctors working there, when I was on duty, the other one – a younger man – was off. So I was guided to where he usually sat.

The founder of this hospital, an older man, wanted to create family atmosphere in this institution.  This setting reminded me of the stories I heard from the country side of southern Taiwan years before: with men eating first and women eating the leftovers of the food they had prepared and served.  It was a practice I thought no longer widely existed.

But how is it today? I looked around the table: men included administrators, pharmacist, psychologist, nurses’ aids, and janitor. The women’s table was filled with nurses, from senior to younger, newer ones; as well as senior occupational therapist, lead psychologist, and accountant. Due to the uneven numbers at these tables we often had extra meat, fish, and vegetable left but the other table for women wouldn’t have enough to eat.

This story leads to the question of the “table” in our Church.  How do we “sit” and how do we “eat” at the table? What kind of table do we have for our “family meal”?

B. Coming to the banquet

Who come to the dinner? Who are the family members? Who are the quests? Who are welcome to come? Are there people who want to be part of the banquet but not allowed? What is shared? How is it shared? Where does this happen?

Although in Taiwan there are active parishes with several scheduled Masses from Saturday evening to Sunday evening, morning and evening during weekdays.  However, many churches are locked during weekdays, some may not have Mass even on Sundays due to priest shortage, or have only elderly and children participants, and some are maintained by only a few families or by migrant workers from foreign countries. “Family members” and “guests” are separated by their gestures at the time of receiving communion: to hold the palms open to receive or to cross both arms in front the chest to receive blessing. Some remain seated in the pew. Sometimes within a given family individuals may belong to different religions or informally affiliated to folk religions.  For weddings or funerals when family members, relatives, friends, schoolmates, and colleagues are from many different backgrounds, some of them may go up with crossed arms to receive blessing but not all the parishes give this invitation.

There are those who weep quietly and long for communion?  Do we know them? At the vulnerable time when nourishment is needed many are cut off from the opportunity for communion. In mixed marriages where the wife is Catholic but her husband’s family of origin is not, she may be abused by a family who says: “She is a Catholic, she cannot get divorced, and we can do whatever we want.” When a woman leaves a violent husband for the sake of keeping herself and children alive, even without civil divorce and raises children in a better manner, some of the parishioners treat her like “divorced sinner” and tell her not to receive communion.

Those whose first marriage was a mistake, and who finally find meaning in second marriage, also feel that they are not allowed to receive communion, even though it is not the case according to canon law. Here I am not talking about just any divorce, or any remarriage, but about those marriages in which the partners try very hard to remain faithful to the teaching of the church as they know it. Besides helping them to clarify their situation with the Diocesan Tribunal, some Canon lawyers also see the problems in the 1983 revised Canon Law with some controversial and conflicting areas to be reconsidered.

It is true to say that women with difficulties in marriages don’t feel free to share with fellow parishioners for fear of being judged by them and being blamed as if a bad marriage was their own fault.  Women find less support in parish groups – which is to be the Body of Christ – and find that their part of the “body” is not welcome.  They can find some support with a religious woman or lay woman who prays for healing for their misery and through this connection they gain strength from God to continue their struggle. Men usually sense less of a problem in communication within marriage, until it is very serious. They tend to keep to themselves to solve or leave unsolved.

Among the most marginalized in the Church are those who are homosexual.  They either keep their identity secret when they come to church, or find other ways like going to Christian fellowship run by Protestant ministers to sustain their faith in Jesus Christ. Whichever way they choose it is rather painful, for they cannot be fully true as a real person to him/herself with families, brothers and sisters in the same church family.  We have no knowledge if there are any bisexual or transgender women and men coming to the banquet. Surely they will keep their identity secret from those they see in the church.

Can we say that the ones with marriage troubles, the homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender persons are not called by the Lord to the banquet? Are they less worthy to receive the Lord than the rest of the family? The institutional church did express friendly gestures few times, but it is like “come to join us in the banquet, but you are not allowed to eat” so they watch others eat. Are we not affected when our limbs suffer and we are not intact body anymore?

C. Open up the Table

Who has invited us? Who is the Body of Christ? What is the Body Christ? What is contained in Body of Christ? What is the invitation?

The above discussion involves who can and who cannot come to Eucharist.  Is it possible to say that this may be a reflection of the orientation enforced by the institutional church and which has become internalized in lay people’s mind?  Is that all?  We celebrate Incarnation – God’s embodiment through Jesus, but what kind of God do we see?  What kind of God do we think God is? As the Indian Jesuit Paul Coutinho says, “How big is your God?”[13]  Is the God we believe in only a priestly God whom we try to please through the rituals and traditions of our faith?[14] Isn’t God also a Yahwistic God who hears the cry of the poor, near the broken hearted ones?[15] God of course is more than these, but can we only emphasize one part and make it so important as if that’s all?

We all know who was given the authority “to bind and to loose,” and there is a need to set boundaries to say who’s “in”, who’s “out” in any institutions.  When we try to follow Jesus, it is not that easy.  Do we see that he binds anybody? Isn’t He the Good News to those who are bound – those who were kicked out of the synagogue or social spheres?  They were outside the “normal” people or good people’s arena of activities. But we always find Jesus eating with them, talking, and even staying at one of their homes (Lk 18:5-7). Do we only keep people who are “in good standing” in the parish? Do we dare to show up in the church when we don’t feel good enough about ourselves? Do we let children cry or make noise during liturgy as part of family gathering or our reaction make young parents feel so embarrassed that they will stay away from the church for few years? Do we find ways to accommodate physically disabled to church for liturgies and related activities? Do we accept the few mistakes a mentally disabled person make during liturgy next to us?  Do we welcome people who contracted HIV-AIDS sit next to us in the pews, or see them like lepers in Jesus time?

4. Body of Christ

I was challenged by someone about this theme, “What’s the use to talk about Eucharist when Catholics are a small number here. Do you only have internal concern?”  “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do it onto me.”  We sing this during Mass.  When we serve a less desirable person in our charitable work,  how do we see Christ in him: treat him same way as we would have treated Christ, treat him as Christ but the person himself doesn’t count, or?

From Pauline theology, we see that Christ is filled in the faithful (Gal, Phil), Christ is filled in the community (1 Cor, 2 Cor), Christ is filled in the history/her-story (Rom 5:19, 11:32), and Christ is filled in the cosmos (Eph 2:16, 21-22; Col 1:15-16).[16] Could we say, then, that we see Body of Christ among the Christian gathering, in the Church communities, and not just the believers but the whole cosmos?  “The whole Christ is a corporate personality, a relational reality, redeemed humanity.”[17]  When Saul was struck by the light from heaven, the voice asked “why do you persecute me?”  He heard the response: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:1-5). Both men and women disciples are identified with Jesus without distinction. Incarnation – God became human, and we live out the life of Christ in us and through us as Gospel proclamation; but what do we know about human being, and how do we see human body?

“… in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”. (Mt 15:40b) Do we see women in this, or we don’t? When we study English, we are told that “brothers” includes females.  We memorize this explanation; if anyone raises a question about it the person usually gets stopped for her “lack of common sense”.  Here I use “her”, does anyone think that “him” should be used instead, i.e., will men question this explanation? Now, let me take the established explanation; may we say, then, the least in this is a little girl or an old woman because she is not seen, not recognized, therefore not paid attention to? In a similar way, when “men” include women as whole humanity; may we also say: the invisible part of the human being may have been ignored knowingly and unknowingly?

A.This is my body, this is my blood

Let us listen to some unheard voices.

Once at a retreat a woman shared an experience of her daughter’s giving birth. When the baby was born, she couldn’t help holding the blood-stained sheet and exclaimed, “This is my body! This is my blood!” It was a spiritual moment, a profound mystical experience for her.  During later years I found that other women had similar experiences.  For women the physical and spiritual are tightly connected, in daily life, in natural events; not only in a specific time, place, and rite which is separate from the rest of life.

While I prepare this presentation I ask some Asian women from several countries on the meaning of Eucharist, most of them come out, “Break and share”, not only the words said for transformation of bread and wine to Jesus’ flesh and blood.  They are married women, religious women, single women, widowed women, they have lived a life of love and service, they know what it is to break their lives open and share that unreservedly like Jesus: “do this in memory of me”. Some years back a friend stayed in Israel to study for three months, came back said, “Hebrew is concrete, there are no abstract nouns.”  Then it occurred to me, to say “This is my body” is a powerful way to say “This is ME”; and to say “This is my blood” is indicating “This is my LIFE”, to pass down in very concrete, visible, audible, touchable, chewable these ordinary means.

B. Bread, Broken and Eat

“Women are constantly breaking their lives for others,” a woman said, “when you get pregnant you feel this even more: you don’t do this or that because you are pregnant, you eat or not eat certain things because of the baby, you don’t go places you had wanted to go because of the baby in you, you adjust your way of sleeping,…a lot of things get changed around for the other.”  She never regretted and loved all the experiences; meanwhile knowing it could be much more difficult process for someone else from physical size, strong physiological or pathological changes come with pregnancy even the person has very good support system.

We know how mothers feed the family, within the poorest family the mother manage to put out limited food and try to divide in a way each could have little something, even she herself only watches them eat and starves.  In Taiwan, in families where parents are chronically ill, one of the daughters usually let go of her opportunity to get married in order to stay home to take them. In many families the oldest daughter gives up school to begin work at a very young age so her younger brothers can go to school. In poorer families, one of the girls will sacrifice herself to agree with parents’ arrangement to go to brothel at age 12 or 13 so the financial condition in the family will be improved. In households where one salary is not enough to feed and clothe the kids, put them through school, take care of the medical expenses; the mother will find one or more than one jobs to help, even if she prefers to stay home as homemaker. In families where husbands get assigned abroad otherwise will lose his job, wife takes all the responsibilities to raise the children, and not infrequently is expected to understand and forgive his need to have affairs with another woman outside.

C. Blood shed for others

From the 15th to the 17th centuries, many women – unmarried women, widows, wise women, women healers, and poor women, who did not have powerful political defenders, were burned to death as witches in the name of purification of the Mystical Body.  In the early 20th century, many women in China who joined the revolution to throw off a corrupt dynasty and build a democratic country were tortured and killed.

In more recent times in Taiwan, there are women who have shed their blood for others. Women cover their children in an earthquake or house fire to try to keep them from harm.  Women who serve in politics to reduce the suffering of those in the minority or those who are disadvantaged can find themselves being harassed and exposed to great harm.  There are girls and women who are crucified like Jesus: little girls who have been sexually molested and killed, sometimes by their father, step-father, uncle, or grandfather; teenager girls been cheated or forced taken to places, raped and killed; battered wives in domestic violence; traditional wives faithful to her role but get HIVD-AIDS through her husband’s going to prostitutes; migrant workers who are abused; women married from a foreign country being expected to work long hours without tender appreciation or be treated as sex slaves….

D. Human Body, Human Mind

One can say that human beings are partly visible and partly invisible.  Taoist philosophy, in the book of Lao-Tzu: The Dao-De-Jing[18], when yin and yang are referred to as Dao and De, Dao – the yin part is the invisible/unseen essence or principle where De – the yang element is the manifestation of the Dao. It is interesting to note that there seems to be some correlation with the topographical model of mind with the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious in Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)’s Psychoanalysis; animus and anima as unconscious traits, true inner self in Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)’s Analytic Psychology; and the Personal Iceberg Metaphor of Virginia Satir (1916-1988) are a few examples.  Even if they each have their elaborate theories, they remind us of our own experience: what we say is not all what we think, what we think is not all what we know, and what we know about ourselves is not what we are as a whole. In daily life or analytic session, sometimes we may want to be more deliberate to bring out the unknown, sometimes we may push them down further if they were perceived as threats to us.  And all these are in a constant interaction with the physical body. When we weigh intellectual function heavily as if it’s the only mental function, emotional reaction is at work and physical changes occur.

No matter our sex or gender, there is the masculine and feminine in each of us. It can be likened to the positive and negative electric charge of ions in our biochemical fluid and neuron transmission, it is like the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve system. The central regulatory system constantly adjusts the output according to the positive and negative feedback from the peripheral system. We cannot say which is right or more important. When there is too much of “positive” element, system gets too high; we may have hypertension (blood pressure too high), hyperthyroidism (thyroid function and metabolism too high), or mania (mood too high). We cannot say it is bad in the darkness, for we need night time sleep for parasympathetic nerve system and immune system to do their work to maintain the system to operate well.

When Carl Jung writes of the anima, it refers to a man’s undeveloped feminine inner personality in the unconscious; there are four levels of anima development, the process in a male is about the male subject opening up to emotionality, a broader spirituality, then psychic sensitivity toward himself and others.  The four levels Eve, Helen, Mary (Our Lady), and Sophia[19], are the unconscious idea of the feminine in a man’s mind, rather than the woman herself. While the four roles of animus in female are more complex, women contain multiple masculine attributes and potentials. With this and the left brain-right brain separation vs. connection, women are harder to understand if men only view women from a left brain linear way of thinking; when a total person has also the emotion, intuitive process, creativity, imagination, and the heart which are not as readily described by words.  For this the invisible part, the non-verbal part of a person may be ignored or suppressed; in individual and the collective human, and be justified through rational language.

E. Human Body to Body of Christ

How can we be a “healthier” body together?  How can the Body of Christ be more alive in the way we treat one another? How do we see four genders after most of the discussion seem on two complementary elements?

Let us take a look of four functional perspectives of normality: Normality is seen as Health, as Utopia, as Average, and as Process; together they make the totality of the behavioral science and social science approaches to the subject.[20] It seems that we use the third one easily without much thinking.  If we look at a bell-shaped curve in statistics, with the horizontal axis as qualities or characteristics, the vertical axis as total number of persons, we see the majority in the middle and set cut-off lines.

고1   or   고3

Perhaps there are sets of curves for men and women like these:


고1               고1


But men and women are not two species of human being; we see qualities usually attribute to women like gentle, meek, and compassionate in Jesus, we may also see rational thinking, logic, and decisive, etc. qualities usually attributed to men in women. Besides, more recent studies indicate that genetic and biological components may contribute to sexual orientation;[21] not to miss the earlier known finding on varied genital organ differentiation during embryo stage.[22] So then I propose the following:

That in the overlapped area there are men and women who may have qualities from both and form a good balance, and there are men and women who have qualities seen as “the other” so often get rejected. In God’s eyes, doesn’t everyone have equal dignity and all loved by God?

For those especially talented women or men, should they be denied of their talents because of their sex or gender, and bury those in the ground; or could we just “go natural” to let them earn more talents for the reign of God?

In Taiwan where gender equality in society has been improving (though with room to grow further), we had a female vice-President, women have been in government cabinet, as business leaders and religious leaders, pilot and captain; areas where women were prohibited due to taboo of menstruation like ship or temples have become open to enter. With these opening ups it does not mean most women should or will do the types of work they did not do before; even women in Europe and US had done works on the farms and in the factories while men went to war.  Even among the folks who live traditional life style, where “gender equality” was not part of the conversation; ordinary women have been more and more accepted as oracles to lead formal Taoist religious ceremony after same training. Even in the long patriarchal Confucian rite, the Hsiao’s broke hundred year tradition to have the first woman to preside over the annual ancestral ceremonies of Dou-sun Family Temple[23].

The development of human body-Christ body is a process. Four hundred years ago the Church authority denied scientific finding that the earth moved around the sun was against our faith; today we know that there are not only this galaxy but millions more of galaxies.  Few decades ago children who used left hand to write were seriously corrected by parents and teachers, today we know that they are gifted with more active right brain and are very creative.  It is interesting that Jung’s highest level for men’s anima development is Sophia, while Elizabeth Johnson speaks of Jesus-Sophia, Wisdom made flesh, Christ the Wisdom of god (1 Cor 1:24).[24] Jesus as human being is beyond maleness.

What are we really afraid of? “Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear.” (Lk 12: 2) To bring the unseen part of us to be visible does not mean to replace what it is known; rather, to make it fuller. From infant period girl began to learn to other-oriented in her relationship, while boys learn to separate and became independent (even the independent part may not apply to Asian that well); boys’ concern on the rules to make sure a game continue while girls may stop the game to keep relationship.[25] There are advantages and disadvantages on both. The Church, like educational systems in many places, has been left-brained on the rational level, using words into rules to define and control. It can become very dry and impersonal if it’s to the extreme.  Attempts to control tightly will not cut human longing off from the divine beyond words; when the image of God gets too male-like, devotion to Mary turns to divine-like by many people.  To balance the masculine and feminine in each individual and in Church, in humanity as a whole is to let the many layers of beauty, creativity, wisdom come out, with heart in touch with God’s Spirit.


What was said here is by no means a well thought of theory. It is only an attempt to approach this topic from a different angle which I hope to see some new possibilities and lessen the oppositional tension with “gender equality” and “gender justice” from other occasions.


I almost cannot help to ask: Aren’t we also the beloved daughters of same Father? Why does it appear like that we are the daughter-in-laws from the others and only deserve left-over?

[1] No. 126: “Being Schools, Becoming Eucharist” (May 2008 meeting); No. 124: “Eucharist as Communication” (Nov 26-Dec 1, 2007 Bishops meeting); No. 92c: A Renewed Church in Asia: In Solidarity with Women” (2000)


[3] On Canon Law the category is Society of Apostolic Life

[4][4] A Renewed Church in Asia: In Solidarity with Women (FABC Papers No. 92C, Seventh Plenary Assembly: Workshop discussion Guide, 2000), 18-22. He also wrote “Paradigms of Male-Female Partnership” with similar but not exactly same categories for BILA on Women II in 1998; in Discipleship of Asian Women at the Service of Life, Virginia Saldanha, ed. (Bangalore, India,: Claretian Publications, 2007)

[5] From internet search there are different definitions and explanations about neo-feminism. Some of them seem contradictory to each other and quite confusing. Here are just a few examples: Neofeminism,; The Neofeminism Definition – Part 1,; Neofeminism versus Egalitarianism,

[6] There is a difference between Taoist religion and Taoist philosophy. Just as Greek philosophy had much impact on West European Christian theology, Taoist philosophy has been very much integrated into Chinese-Taiwanese and some other Asian people’s daily lives without giving a specific religious meaning to it.

[7] A milestone is the book by Carol Gilligan: In a Different Voice – Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1982)

[8] Susan A Ross, “God’s Embodiment and Women – Sacraments” in Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ed. (New York: HarperSanFrancisco-HarperCollins, 1993), 187-189

[9] Ibid., 189

[10] Ibid., 189-190

[11] Rosemary Radford Ruether, Women-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities (New York: Crossroad, 1985), 4

[12] Susan A Ross, “God’s Embodiment and Women – Sacraments” in Freeing Theology, 190-193

[13] Paul Coutinho, How Big Is Your God? (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2007)

[14] Ibid., 36-37, 48

[15] Ibid., 38-41, 49

[16] 穆宏志:《保祿的基督圖像》,慶祝保祿年學術研討會-保祿的宣講與台灣福傳之對話,台北,2009/04/25 (Jesus Munoz: Paul’s Image of Christ, conference hand out, Dialogue of Paul’s Preaching and Evangelization in Taiwan, Taipei, 2009)

[17] Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is – The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, (New York: Crossroad, 1998), 72

[18] There are several translations used: Lao-Tze, Lau-Tzu; DaoDeJing, Tao Te Ching

[19] Wikipedia: Anima and animus,

[20] Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, tenth edition, (Philadelphia etc 8 places: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007), 12-13

[21] Ibid, 686

[22] Ibid, 681


[24] Chapter 8 of Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is – The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, (New York: Crossroad, 1998), 150-154, 165-167

[25] Carol Gilligan: In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 10-11