Natalie & Markus WEIS, CCN

Relationships between women and men have changed profoundly in the Western world. How does the CANA Mission is addressing the transformation of the relationships between sexes? FOI, the Chemin Neuf Community magazine, asked Markus & Natalie WEIS, members of CANA International Team and former CANA leaders in Germany to give their own point of view. In turn, Justine & Jan answer this question in their own life.

Achieving everything ?

Since the CANA Mission began more than 40 years ago, relationships between women and men have changed profoundly in the Western world. In Germany, for example, until the late 1970s, men could terminate their wives’ employment contracts without their consent; only since 1997 has marital rape been punishable. With the benefit of hindsight, it is sometimes difficult for the younger generation to imagine how wide the power gap between the sexes was. Yet the legal provisions reflected the gender relations of their parents and grandparents and had an impact on families.

Today, the meeting of equals is a matter of course for most young couples. There is an effort to divide the tasks in the home equally. When children arrive, they support each other in order to reconcile family and professional life as well as possible. In many cases this is successful – sometimes more, sometimes less – to the satisfaction of both parents.

But CANA weeks and weekends are seeing more and more young families arriving who are deeply exhausted by the demands of being successful professionally, being present as parents and being fulfilled in their relationship. Did their parents and grandparents have it easier?

How can we receive new strength?

The CANA Mission tries to respond to these changes. Thematic weekends such as “Equal and Different”, “Couple, Family, Work”, “Choosing our Priorities as a Couple” and many others offer couples the opportunity to reflect on the distribution of roles, but also on their own upbringing and demands in family life, and to enter into a common exchange. It is not primarily a question of providing couples with answers as to exactly how they should organise their lives. Rather, they are offered a safe space to talk about this together and to receive strength and new inspiration in personal and couple prayer.

It may be that during the CANA sessions (CANA Week, CANA Retreat, CANA Welcome, etc.) the couple has a particular experience of perceiving and recognising their own weakness and fragility. This is of great importance for both men and women, even if both live this experience in very different ways. The fact that I can admit and experience that I am not as successful as others, “society” or myself expect of me can be a shock at first, but it is also a salutary experience. Today, even more than in the days when roles were clearly defined in relationships, the encounter with one’s own fragility – and therefore also with that of my partner – is a powerful experience for couples.

The demand for perfection

In Western countries in particular, the demand for perfection is increasingly present in relationships, perhaps especially among women. For them, having to (or wanting to) live up to the image of the caring mother, the attractive woman and the independent breadwinner can put enormous pressure on them. For men, there is also a new challenge: They are confronted with ambivalent and contradictory demands – to be the breadwinner and the family man, to be assertive and gentle at the same time.

In this case, it can be painful but also healthy to step back and reconcile with one’s own and one’s partner’s limits. One of the fruits of this process is – despite the great difference between the sexes – a growing unity within the couple, which can develop through exchange, respect and reconciliation.

A prophetic witness for gender reconciliation?

In addition, women’s self-awareness and their desire to participate more in society and in the Church also have an impact on the CANA mission. Women and men, who in CANA share responsibilities on an equal footing and do not hide their differences (and sometimes the suffering they cause), give a prophetic witness for gender reconciliation in a Church that needs more heterogeneity, plurality and credibility.