In our last blog, we talked about the challenges of faith for men. Jesus was a man’s man. He was not soft. He did not strive for popularity. He spoke the truth with love, but He spoke the truth with clarity and directness, too, for which He paid the ultimate price.
So the question is, how do we model the manliness of Jesus in our homes, in our churches, in our communities?
There are lots of ways to respond to the call of Jesus for men. I want to focus on three specific issues for Christian men: (1) sacrifice; (2) contemplation; and (3) courageous leadership.
At the top of the list of faith challenges for men is the principle most powerfully expressed in Ephesians 5:25:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her…”
The role of a Christian man, married or not, is to embody in his life the words of Christ the night before He died: “This is my body, which shall be given up for you.” So the guiding principle in the life of men is to be willing at all times to sacrifice themselves for some greater good, the well-being and safety of whoever is entrusted to them.
This principle is reinforced in John 12:24:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Without delving too much into biology, it is obvious that males are the seed-carriers. The seed represents the commitment of the men to give themselves up for others, to live with a spirit of self-sacrifice. When men live this way, fruit is produced. As has been said, “The blood of the early martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
While men may not have to give up their very lives for their wives, children or others, they are still called to put the genuine, authentic needs of others before their own needs and desires.
As we mentioned in the first blog, Pope Francis has called on men to be “contemplative.” That does not mean that he wants us to find a cave and live an isolated, quiet life. It means that he wants us to be constantly attentive and responsive to God’s communication, to God’s direction for the man and those entrusted to him.
We will talk about this in a later blog, but I did not know for many, many years that God’s communication to each human being is constant. Now I know this. God is a micro-manager. This reality generates two questions: 1) Are we listening and attentive to God’s communication to us? 2) Are we willing to be fully open and obedient to whatever God asks of us?
As Pope Francis indicated, Joseph, the husband of Mary, is a great model for the principle of contemplation. He listened to God’s messengers and fully responded to their instructions.
The call to be contemplative can at times seem to be at odds with the call to be sacrificial. For example, the husband of a family typically attempts to promote the harmony and security of the family. We are providers. We are protectors. We want the family to be safe, secure and healthy. We make sacrifices so that our wives can maximize their own gifts and contributions to the family.
However, I believe it is also part of the unique role of the husband to make sure that the family doesn’t get too cozy, too comfortable with the creature comforts that are made available to them. He must be attentive to how God wants the family to grow in its faith, to realize that our only real security is with him and not in the comfort zone of our home, to learn that the life of faith is adventurous and sometimes scary and that we need to learn to trust in God’s grace. I will develop this more in a podcast to be entitled “When Normal Isn’t Good Enough.”
This leads to quality #3, courageous leadership. Being a father is not a popularity contest. The process of decision-making is not democratic. A husband and father obviously discerns God’s will very prayerfully and discusses the direction of the family in partnership with his wife. He also takes the input and needs of his children into consideration. However, I believe a father is also wired to make the tough decisions that may not always be supported by the wife and children. This does not mean that the husband can make decisions arbitrarily. On the contrary, it places a great premium on the ability of the husband to discern God’s will and submit to it, resisting the temptation to use his authority for his own self-centered purposes.
God is not always going to ask a family or community to do something dramatic or out-of-the-ordinary. But what if He does? Are we ready to obey? Or are we likely to impose our own limitations what God can ask us to do?
As I have emphasized previously, women also have the qualities that I have discussed in this blog, especially the spirit of self-sacrifice, although that spirit is demonstrated differently by women. Thankfully, many women have been providing the spiritual leadership in the home. I am calling for men to step up in these areas, as I believe many of us have backed away from the more demanding challenges of our vocation as fathers.