A Message for Men (And Women, We Know You’re Reading This Too)
“In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights.” –G.K. Chesterton
*Disclaimer* I will never be able to say anything new that hasn’t been heard before. I will never be able to speak blankly to all men in the world, because we are all so different. But I offer you this simple reflection, and hope that you can use it as a fuel for your prayer, and for motivation to strive for excellence.
From birth, we have been told things such as “Be a man,” “Man up,” or “You need to start acting like a man.” The problem that we face, though, is that nobody really tells you how or why. We all learn from the people that came before us, and everyone before us has a skewed idea of what it means to be a man. We can trace those misunderstandings all the way back to the beginning of time. God created man and gave him his role and identity. In the Garden of Eden, God gives Adam the task of protecting and caring for everything in creation. There’s a difference between role and identity. The mixing of the two is what causes people to take their identity in what they do rather than who they are. His role of protector was rooted in his identity of being a son of God. The same goes for us. Our identity can only be from God but our role calls us to be protector. That’s why whenever you’re sitting in class, an airport, or at the movies, you are constantly thinking about what you would do if a gunman came in or how you would save everyone in the building if a fire broke out. First I’d slide my desk clear across the room to take out his legs. Then when he was shocked, I’d springboard off of that desk and give him a quick kick in the head. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the reason, to quote my friend John, that “little boys can turn any object into a gun.” We’re drawn to this role of protector and the fantasy of defeating the bad guy because it’s been in our very nature from creation. And when we go against our own nature and deny who we are, we bring sin into the world – just like Adam. During Eve’s conversation with the serpent, we all like to imagine that Adam was off somewhere playing with lions or doing something manly. But in reality, scripture tells us that he was right there, silent. The guy that God named protector of His creation locked up and wimped out at the sight of this serpent. And from that moment forward, the role of man has been corrupted, confused, and outright ignored. Since we lost our identity as sons of God, we had to make up temporary identities to fill that gap. To be a man you have to be the strongest. You have to have a sweet beard. You need to be able to “pick up women” in an instant. You have to prove yourself to other men. These are all lies that we have let define manhood for far too long. But the biggest problem, the thing we lack more than anything, is an understanding of courage and love.
Somewhere along the road I believe we, as men, picked up this crazy notion that “love” was a feminine characteristic that somehow, showing someone the things you love is very un-manly. While that sort of thinking is completely wrong, it actually sheds light on the very thing we fear. To show someone what you love is to open yourself up, and when you open yourself up, you are vulnerable. And being vulnerable is the second most “feminine characteristic” there is, right?! It’s against our nature (remember that protector thing?) to allow ourselves to be open to attack. But here’s the beautiful thing about it: Not only is love not a purely feminine characteristic, it’s the reason you were created. You were created to love, to be loved, and out of love because our connection to each other is rooted in our relationship with God, who is Love. And if nobody has ever told you this before… you (yeah you, reading this right now) are loved. But what does that even mean?
Love today has been flipped around and twisted so many times that it seems to have lost its meaning. We use love to describe our affection for a sports team. We use love to signify a bond with our favorite burger place. We use love in songs, movies, TV shows, conversations, and art, yet we have no clue what we’re saying! According to Thomas Aquinas, love is “willing the good of another.” So do you really will the good of your hamburger? Do you really seek the best interest emotionally, spiritually, and physically for the New Orleans Saints? Or do you really just enjoy eating that burger? And you likely look at sports teams for entertainment and skill rather than connecting with Drew Brees on a personal level. To really love something, to really will the good of it, means that you would do anything in your power to protect that thing or person that you love. We often get love confused with a feeling or emotion, which leads to this great misunderstanding. Love doesn’t have to be the romance or sweet sigh of infatuation that high school me understood it as. Love has to do with something much deeper – with sacrifice and with great care. And the beauty of our sharing our identity in God means that we can share this love with everyone, even people that we’ve never met. Like Saint Teresa said, “we can all do small things with great love.” As men our daily sacrifices and offerings are not only fulfilling our role as protector and provider, they are also acts of love to those around us. When we live our life in service of God we begin to change the world for those around us and those we don’t even know. So as I sit here and type this, I’m hoping it will come across your eyes, and my prayer is that it brings you to a fuller relationship with Jesus. I am willing good things for you and taking action to make them happen. So yeah, I love you, even if we’ve never met. Because we are all in this fight together to get to the kingdom of Heaven, so we have to constantly encourage each other. All of this must be done first in love. First in love of God, and second in love to each other. To go back to the Chesterton quote, you must be willing to slay that dragon and overcome fear to protect, honor, and love that princess. In our act of love, we are fulfilling the role of protector by keeping safe and pure the creation God has crafted just for us. And as men, our weapon to slay that dragon is courage.
Courage is what makes us act outside of ourselves. It literally means to do what you’re afraid of. In the garden, Adam lacked the courage to stand up to the serpent. This trick has been used time and time again to entrap men in our mission to love. Love and Courage: the two go hand in hand and cannot be separated. Just like a knight can’t expect to slay a dragon without a weapon, we cannot expect to love without being men of courage. I’ve got to come clean, in my lifetime I’ve been a “silent Adam” more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve failed time and time again to protect people I love and to sacrifice myself for others. I’ve either lacked the courage to do what was right or I’ve loved the wrong thing too much. Or the double whammy, I’ve lacked the courage to love something. But my call is to constantly strive in my imitation of Christ. In Hebrews 12:2 we are called to imitate Jesus as the “…pioneer and protector of our Faith.” There is no deposit of courage on this earth as deep as Jesus Christ. To look upon Him crucified out of love for us: Naked. Vulnerable. Open. He fulfilled Adam’s original failure by looking death in the eye and coming out victorious. He revealed the depths of who he was. He gave everything over in love for us. He not only defeated the dragon to claim his bride, he defeated every dragon past, present, and future. His victory is our victory. His strength is our strength. We are called to act as he acted. We are called to lay down our lives in the face of death and fear to win victory for our bride.
But none of this can happen if we live the lives we always have. It would be one thing to give you this pep-talk and it only be something you look back on when you want motivation. I want something more from you, and so do you, and so does Jesus. We must be dedicated to this fight through prayer. As Catholics, we have a beautiful gift of having Jesus present physically in the Eucharist. He is in every Catholic Church in the country. Side note: just because He isn’t in the monstrance, doesn’t mean he is contained in a wooden box… He’s Jesus and He is there. The bishop of my diocese told me once that told me a phrase that has carried on through his life and his relationship with Jesus. He said, “Either He is or He isn’t, and if I say He is, I cannot be unchanged by that.” Brothers, (and sisters, you listen up as well, because I know there’s some of you reading) do not allow yourself to be unchanged. If you want to grow, you have to be connected to Jesus in daily prayer and the sacraments. It is non-negotiable. Being in love requires sacrifice of all sorts of things. And you know very well there are things you can sacrifice today in order to grow in your relationship with Jesus. Choose just one, that’s my challenge to you. It’s not helping you and you know it. It’s time to let Jesus fill the void you’re covering with it. Commit yourself to prayer every day. We can’t grow in relationship without both sides talking. This is the first test of courage, because we have to stand up to ourselves. The reason it’s hard to be healed is because sometimes we’re so used to being sick that we’re scared to be well again. But if you want it, if you really want it, you have my prayers.