(AUGUST 28, 2018) — There was a time not long ago when men were expected to be the provider, protector and leader of their household—and of their culture, society, and nation. In our day, however, such “outdated thinking” is sometimes branded as “toxic masculinity.”
According to Wikipedia, “scholars have used the term toxic masculinity to refer to stereotypically masculine gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express—including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the ‘alpha male’) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger.”
In common parlance, however, men who exercise authentic masculinity are often branded as being infected with toxic masculinity. Certainly, the most toxic thing for anyone—man or woman—is sin.
Further, as rational, God-fearing men, we can all agree that “stereotypical gender roles” are just that—stereotypes. True, some men seek to be dominant, alpha-male types and have a limited range of emotion. The converse is also true. Some men have a wide emotional range and have no interest in dominating anyone.
However, the vast majority of boys and men (at least in my experience) fall somewhere in the middle. We have a normal range of emotion and seek to find our place in the culture, our families, and our communities.
But the bigger question is this: What does scripture and our faith tradition teach us about what it means to a man? First and foremost, men (and women, too, of course) are called to be saints. We’re called to be holy. This is the primary reason we exist. “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven,” the Baltimore Catechism teaches.
Noted Catholic therapist and author Peter Kleponis expands on that concept: “To live a happy, fulfilling and productive life, we need to know our primary purpose, our mission. For men, that mission is to be effective leaders, providers, and protectors. This is our nature.”
Catholic men, especially fathers, need to understand their nature and purpose, and then they need to model it for their children. We need to embrace our masculinity, not shun it. But I’m talking about authentic masculinity, not the toxic variety. A true man protects and defends his wife, children, his faith and all that is good and true.
Men of God who seek holiness must also be the faith leaders in their homes. Studies show that if men want their children to embrace the faith, they must model it for them. When I met my wife on AveMariaSingles.com in 2001 and started talking on the phone, one of the first things I asked her was if I could pray with her. Every time we got on the phone, I’d lead a prayer.
Now, nearly 18 years later, I lead our family in prayer every night. Then I pray with my wife before we go to sleep a few hours later. Prayer is the glue that connects us to God and to each other. My life is living proof of that.
Our faith calls men to stand in stark contrast to toxic masculinity. Men must be bold warriors for Christ. That can’t happen unless our lives are rooted in prayer. We must develop a habit of praying the rosary regularly. St. Padre Pio instructs that “the rosary is the weapon for these times.” There can be no heroism, no holy boldness without a committed prayer life. While rooted in prayer, we must also temper our strength with tenderness, just as St. Paul instructs:
“I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).
St. Augustine, whose feast day we are celebrating today, wisely counseled: “You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” In our day and age, there can be no better advice.