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What’s a Manly Man and How Can We Get More of Them?

Father and son

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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 01/15/15

Goals, resources and allies in the battle to restore the male soul

There is a battle underway for the male soul—and the good guys are losing. If they lose, then everyone—and I mean everyone—loses too. In my last column, I asked, “Who wants good men?” I answered, “Satan does—and the world doesn’t.” I described there some of the academic, legal, social, cultural and economic forces arrayed against men as men, and pointed to a spiritual root:

Satan hates God and creation. He hates what God has made. He hates the human race made in the image and likeness of God. He rages against the incomparable dignity—a dignity that the pagans could not imagine and the moderns could not comprehend—conferred upon human nature by the Incarnation of Christ. To hate what is authentically human is to hate God and His Christ. It is not surprising, then, to see Satan conspire against men as men and women as women.

Spiritual problems require spiritual remedies. In this column, let’s identify some goals, resources, and allies. And since grace builds on nature, we can turn to some natural helps as well.

Goals: The authentic masculine charism can be summed up in one word—“father.” All of the qualities of noble masculine character, including strength, courage, discipline, initiative and sacrifice, to name just a few, are brought to bear in a father’s vocation. The natural male impulse is to beget life. Honorable men who are fathers (both physical and spiritual fathers) call forth life, provide for life, and give both roots and wings to the physical and spiritual life entrusted to their care. A fine summary of the vocation and gift of fatherhood can be found in James B. Stenson’s little book, “Successful Fathers: The Subtle But Powerful Ways Fathers Mold Their Children’s Characters.” There he writes:

History has shown that children don’t need comfort and convenience from Dad. What they really need, as a normal and natural necessity, is a living manly example of firm character and conscience—a man who shows them how to live the virtues we esteem most in people: religious conviction, active considerateness, critical discernment, serious and loving responsibility, mastery over oneself. The children need to sense, quietly and unconsciously, that their father is a hero.

Any father who seems a hero to his children is the object of their lifelong devotion. He is not remote and unapproachable, a severe authority-figure. On the contrary, he is his children’s greatest friend, and unconsciously a model for all their other friendships. He is a source of happiness, confidence, humor and wisdom. The children’s respect for him and his values serves to anchor their years of adolescence, to thwart peer-influences and the allurements of materialism. We must emphasize: This deep respect, like all respect in human affairs, derives from the perception of strength.

Now, pause for a moment, and imagine what it would be like if it were true that all (or most) fathers (both natural and spiritual) matched Stenson’s description. How different our homes and families, our parishes and schools, our communities and laws would be! A culture that had ingrained in its bedrock a habit of successful fatherhood would surely be a truly humane culture that glorified God. And just as surely, ours is not now such a culture.

Because of the Fall, and the resulting wounds to human intellect and will, the restoration of the masculine vocation of fatherhood requires a divine intervention. In my last column, I quoted Cardinal Louis Pie, who in his Christmas homily of 1871(!) declared: “Do what you will: only from God you will get men.” That is why in my last column, I wrote that we must begin with “repentance, reparation, intercession and obedience.” Repentance—we must turn our hearts and minds away from the corrosive lies of diabolical origin about authentic masculinity. Reparation—we must replace fallen men and failed fathers with the good men now capable of serving as fathers of the physically and spiritually orphaned. Intercession—we must pray for all men, past, present and future (as well as their natural/spiritual children), to invoke God’s blessing on what is weak and what is good in them. Obedience—we must know and act upon God’s design for men, as He has inscribed that design in  their very
bodies, written it upon their consciences, and revealed it to His Church.

I said that we would look at goals, resources and allies. Now let’s look at some resources. Among secular groups addressing legal issues, there is the Men’s Rights Initiative and the Association for International Men’s Rights and Welfare. Concerning academic issues, there is A Voice for Male Students. For cultural and practical matters, ranging from books and tools a man should own, to skills a man should have (from how to jump start a car to how to behave on a date) there is the Art of Manliness. Happily, good Catholic resources are now coming forward. A good place to start is The New Emangelization. Its stated purpose is to draw “men to Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.” A few other Catholic sites I’ve enjoyed include, Those Catholic Men and The Catholic Gentlemen. Turning to books, I can recommend Iron John, by poet Robert Bly, the many books by John Eldredge, and Be a Man! by Father Larry Richards.  Calling God “Father” by John W. Miller is essential reading.

Now let’s turn to what may be the most important element in the battle for the male soul—allies. To be good fathers, men need brothers and leaders. There is no substitute for the experience of knowing that men who are surely your brothers in Christ walk beside you and behind you. I am grateful for the good, Catholic men who have kept faith with me across the miles and the years—Father Steve Voyt, Bishop Michael Olson, Father Casey Jones, Father Tom Kelly, Tony Musingo, Brian Wojciechowski, Bira Rezende, Mark Abramowicz and Nick Laing, to name but a few. I think of my brothers in the Society of Jesus: Jim Conroy, Clarence Martin, Bill Sneck, Jim Shea, Joe Fessio, Don Pantle, Tim Cadigan, Pat Mohr, Guy Consolmagno, Dave Robinson—too many to mention here … And I am daily grateful for the fellowship of the good men who are devoted fathers here in my present home town of Ave Maria—Robb Klucik, Joe Burke, Dan Dix, Scott Schneider, Bill Kirk, Drew Emmans, Steve Long, Scott Stinnet, Michael Timmis—just a sampling of the honor roll of great men in a small town. These are men whom I admire, and trust—noble fathers whom I learn from daily. To all the men who want to be the kind of man God intended, I can tell you with certainty that you must ally yourself with other good men.

I said that good men need brothers and leaders. What about leaders? We can turn to the great saints for good example and indispensable intercession. The universal model for Catholic fathers is Saint Joseph. Of course, Jesus is the model of perfect manhood, and His example of manhood is recorded in the New Testament. We must not allow Jesus as the standard of manhood to be obscured. Recently, I attended the baptism of several infants at a Catholic parish. Part of the Rite of Baptism, you may recall, is the anointing of the infant with sacred chrism, who like Christ was anointed as “priest, prophet and king.” Sadly, the children that day were, according to the officiating priest, anointed like Christ as “priest, prophet and servant-leader.” I doubt that substituting “servant-leader” for “king” was accidental. Such a substitution is not only forbidden, it is also foolish. In Christian iconography, a king is both a warrior and a leader. The king gives order to his kingdom; when the king is wise and just, the people flourish. Why remove a reference to Christ the King, a title of Christ with a long history, and celebrated as a Solemnity on the Church’s calendar? Why expunge from the Rite of Baptism the promise of the wise, fruitful and just sovereign kingship of Christ? I do not know the priest’s intentions, but I do know the result of his actions—an authentically masculine attribute of Christ, an office of Christ, was banished from the initiation of Christians, in the presence of parishioners, including both people who should know better, and people who don’t. Both groups were ill served that day.  

In the battle for the male soul, we must keep before us the masculine charism which is epitomized by fatherhood and which was ordained by God. We must make use of the good resources available to us in the various media, so that we can become informed, articulate and effective as we promote authentic masculinity for the good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.

Finally, we must encourage and invite men to bond with other good men under the headship of Christ the King. And, as I was recently reminded, we must be alert for those people, who, even with good intentions, would deprive the Church and the world of the good men we all so desperately need.

When I write next, I will describe a concrete plan of life for the cultivation of authentic masculinity, addressing a man’s role as pilgrim, warrior and king. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Father Robert McTeigue, S.J. is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.  A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.

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