Male role models from Scripture, not GQ
“How do you know if you’re doing it right?” That’s an important question for nearly every worthwhile endeavor; it’s an especially important question if a man wishes to live as a Christian man as fully as God calls him to be. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the crisis of masculinity both in the world and in the Church. Last week, I wrote about identifying goals, resources and allies in the battle for the male soul. This week, let’s look at three essential features of the masculine charism by looking at three icons of the male soul—man as Pilgrim, man as Warrior, and man as King. Let our rallying cry for this venture be, “Take a hike! Take a stand! Take charge!”
What do I mean by “icons of the male soul”? In the Christian East, an icon is seen as a kind of window into Heaven. It is a glimpse of what is most true and real and beautiful and good. The icons are intelligible—that is, we can recognize that this figure in the icon is an angel, and that figure over there is Our Lady. The icons are also mysterious—they can never be fully comprehended. The icon attracts, reveals, teaches, inspires, and at the same time always points to a fullness and fulfillment beyond itself.
The icon is also a kind of myth. Now, a genuine myth is never a “mere myth”; it is never just a made-up bit of fancy. A genuine myth tells the truth through a story—a truth so important, a truth so rooted in mystery, that the story deserves to be told again and again. A genuine myth forms us and transforms us more than it informs us. In other words, a genuine myth can make real in us what had only been potential; it can correct in us what had been deformed; it tells us truths even when it does not give us very many “facts.”
So understood, we can see icons of the male soul both describing and inscribing what a genuine Christian man is and ought to be. Icons inspire and guide us as we find the most authentic yearnings of our soul to live the masculine vocation in such a way that we will be glad to hand on our way of manhood to our sons and grandsons. This is the kind of manhood that we owe our wives; the kind of manhood we want our daughters to find in their husbands. This is the kind of manhood we want to find in our priests and religious. It is the kind of manhood that our Church, nation and culture desperately need.
Let’s have a look at these three icons in turn, beginning with the Pilgrim.The model of the Pilgrim is Abraham, whom we meet in Genesis 12. God directs Abraham to leave the land of his ancestors; in return, God will make of Abraham a great nation. Do you see the pattern? First, God gives a command, then God gives a promise. God gives commands not because He is a bully but because He is a Father. He commands so that we can be properly disposed to receive His blessings. Abraham sets out on his divinely-ordained adventure because he has a readiness to leave the familiar for the good that God has promised him. The power of the Pilgrim includes a readiness to work for a promised good that cannot quite be seen just yet. The Pilgrim always keeps one eye on the horizon, and his ears open to hear God’s call. His memory repeats over and over God’s command and promise.
Recall the familiar phrase, “Grace builds on nature.” The Pilgrim says, “Yes, Grace builds on nature. And now God calls me to bring my human nature to a place where He can grace my nature even more.” Absent the power of the Pilgrim in the male soul, a man is prone to despair, defeated before he ever begins—and he never begins. Any man who says, “I cannot improve” or “God can do nothing with me,” needs to contemplate the icon of the Pilgrim, a vision of manhood retold in the person of Abraham.