By FATHER EUGENE BARRETTE, MS, Commentary | Published February 17, 2011
A recent column by Lorraine Murray (“A Salute To Manly-Man Catholics,” Oct. 14, 2010) led me to give the role of men in today’s world a closer look. I found some of the phrases and images used truly needed a close, Gospel-eyed examination of their content. I’d like to share another perspective on this, both as a man and a priest.
The columnist, whose work I generally enjoy and find insightful, described a “manly-man” in part as the man who fulfills his responsibilities and obligations in the familiar societal and culturally defined male roles. That’s fine. But is it truly realistic and reflective of today’s world?
As I was reading, I was conscious of the very manly men I know who are very stressed out and not quite able to do and be what the article describes. This is because their jobs don’t have stable, consistent hours; their jobs are not always close to home. Their work worlds are chaotic, insecure, unpredictable, and often require time away from home for business trips. True, many men do accomplish the family tasks and activities described. This is usually accomplished because it is divvied up between family members and not done solo. The divvying up today undoubtedly is a tribute to the newly acquired management skills of the wife/mother and the husband/father. And this in no way diminishes the manly-man Catholic presence.
Seeing God When Playing With Children
The “manly-man Catholic” was also described as recognizable because “he gets down on his knees at church to thank God for all he’s been given.” Gratitude is an absolutely essential part of our faith and spiritual life. But one almost gets the impression that this is best done “at church.”
How about just lifting one’s child up with whirls of glee; embracing one’s spouse with heartfelt tenderness; praying with spontaneity and perhaps even playfulness at meals; encouraging family members to begin each day by telling God what specific thing they are going to do that day to fulfill His plan, and then at the end of the day, to thank God, individually or as a family, for a specific blessing that they are conscious of receiving during the day? The “manly-man”—or better, “hu-manly man”—is the one who shows gratitude to God by being “fully alive.” It’s not just falling on one’s knees in a separate place. It’s consciously connecting in all places with the God of all and then not being afraid of sharing that with those close to him.
The column’s “guy-type activities” –poker, pub for a beer now and again—had me thinking about other, better activities. Today wouldn’t more sensible “guy things” be getting together for a workout at the gym, a round of golf, a game of tennis, or even a guy Scripture study group?
The examples of men’s involvement in various ministries are all good and valid. Then this is carried further and the example moves into the “pro-life” ministries. Being involved in that ministry is important, admirable and praiseworthy. There is absolutely no question that life at the moment of conception is sacred. But there is also absolutely no question either that the life of the elderly and children, innocent men and women blown to bits, the “collateral damage” during war, and also that of the military men and women on both sides of the conflict are also sacred, held by a weeping Abba, repeating, my son, my daughter. And there is no doubt that the life snuffed out in capital punishment is also sacred. The humanly man will join other lines, other groups, will march under declarations of popes and bishops, contemporary prophets, or Gospel texts proclaiming, “Blessed are those who work for peace. Blessed are those who work for righteousness’ sake” or another word echoed throughout Scripture from Deuteronomy on down—for “justice.”
A truly humanly Catholic father helps his children to be “obedient.” The word “obedient” comes from “ab-audire” meaning “from listening or from hearing.” We obey by responding to what we have heard. Our primary obedience is to God’s will for us, to how he wants us to build his kingdom with the unique gifts he has given us. A humanly Catholic man helps his children to do that. Stern eyes and snaps of fingers are like earplugs that truly prevent hearing or listening to God’s will.
Courage To Share His Story
The manly-man Catholic does have his accessories. He wears a crucifix, he has images of the Blessed Mother in his house; he carries a rosary in his pocket. The humanly Catholic man could also have a chip in his pocket from a 12 Step group that he attends. This chip indicates he has achieved six months, one year, two years, five years of sobriety in whatever addiction he is struggling with. The humanly Catholic man has the courage to share his story, his vulnerability, his powerlessness, and how he needs to hand himself over to a higher power. He also discloses that he belongs to support groups, attends regular meetings, has let go of the rugged individualism, Lone Ranger image so admired in America.
In his pocket, the humanly Catholic man may not have a rosary, but a small New Testament he reads frequently. This is the source of his strength—the challenge and prod out of any complacency. This living word is his light in which he experiences a growing, transforming relationship with his Abba, with Jesus and the Spirit empowering him beyond his timid dreams.
This living word, even in a repeated reading, is ever new, peeling back the sense of who he is, opening doors in him where he finds what needs conversion, but also discovering how sacred and unconditionally loved he is. The humanly Catholic man finds this small Scripture book an essential accessory.
Not A Warrior
The humanly Catholic man does not go out there as a warrior—of prayer or whatever kind of warrior. He is the disciple and continued incarnation of the Prince of Peace. His power is the power of love. The humanly Catholic man goes out as a lightening rod—hit often by anger, violence, rejection, scorn or persecution. Does he react in kind? Does he mimic Simon Peter and slice off an ear or two? Try it and Jesus will just replace it. No. He is not a warrior.
On the cross Jesus prayed forgiveness.
And we are sent not only to forgive our enemies but to love our enemies. There is our Godly humanly man, Jesus, who wants to mobilize his Church, the People of God, as bearers of the weapon of love.
In the second century, St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Our call is to be “fully human”—man and woman.
These humanly Catholic images can be found in the inhabitants of the Kingdom of God—and those values and qualities can found in the Gospel—not in our culture.