Living God's Gift of Masculinity
11/1/2013Archbishop William E. Lori
With this column, I begin a new initiative. It is the fruit of discussions I had with state chaplains and delegates at the 131st Supreme Convention this past August. The proposal is simply this: to offer a series of articles on men’s spirituality. Indeed, I received enthusiastic requests to include topics such as saints who are role models for men, the role of men in society and the family, and the virtues appropriate to Knights of Columbus. Many asked me to write on the pressures and temptations that men face in living their Catholic faith in today’s world, coupled with insights for growing in prayer. They also expressed hopes that this series would reflect the unique spirit of the Order with its four principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
What prompted these requests to address the meaning of masculinity? For one thing, Knights live in a world where the role of men is ambivalent at best. Just look at how husbands and fathers are portrayed in popular entertainment. They are often depicted as insensitive to their wives and as inept role models for their children. The widespread acceptance of so-called “same-sex marriage” also calls into question what it means to be a man, a husband and a father — and how men and women relate to one another.
A growing number of children today — including four out of five in inner cities — are raised in fatherless homes. In many other cases, fathers are often absent from their families because of work or other activities. But even husbands and fathers who are present for their families may find their authority at home questioned. Add to this the sense of powerlessness that many faithful men feel today due to the deconstruction of marriage, the scourge of online pornography, and the marginalization of manly virtues and Christian values.
In the face of these and other tremendous challenges, the Order has a great deal to offer. First, the Knights can help men tap into a hidden source of strength — namely, the presence of Christ, especially in the Eucharist and in confession, where we encounter a love that is more powerful than sin. Knights also provide the camaraderie of like-minded men of faith who face the same daily struggles. Standing together reminds men of their strengths and how best to use them to improve their marriages, be better fathers, grow in virtue, serve others more generously and be better citizens.
Our Order offers a practical way of evangelizing husbands, fathers and their families, of helping them to understand and accept what our culture often rejects — specifically, how men and women should relate to one another in complementary ways and how vital the healthy relationship of a husband and a wife is for children. In short, membership in the Knights helps men embrace a solid, sturdy and secure understanding of manhood that includes the courage to defend life, virtue and authentic human values.
IN FATHER MCGIVNEY’S FOOTSTEPS
To be sure, writing these articles is no small order. Even as I begin this project, I hear an objection: “Archbishop, if you go down that path, won’t you risk losing many readers? After all, Columbia is read not just by Knights, but also by their wives and family members. Will they want to read about men’s spirituality?”
I sure hope so. Why? Because I am not planning to write “men-only” articles. My intent is to reflect on how men ought to relate to others: first and foremost to God as members of the Church, and then to their wives, families, friends and colleagues. My fellow Knights are asking: How can I follow Christ more closely? How can I grow in virtue or be a better husband and father? I’m going to wager that most readers are deeply interested in these questions.
Moreover, there is precedent for this emphasis. One of the reasons Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights was to help the men of his parish take ownership of their faith and to support them in their role as husbands and fathers. As a gifted and holy priest, Father McGivney could relate well to all of his parishioners. But he also realized that he couldn’t serve wives and mothers very well unless he helped men embrace their vocation.
With his focus on evangelization and work with the laity, Father McGivney was ahead of his time. He saw every aspect of the Knights as contributing to the Church’s mission, as a way of walking with his parishioners, even in their darkest hours. While the challenges in his day and ours are somewhat different, our duty to follow in Father McGivney’s footsteps has not changed. How important that we see the Order as a way for men not just to hang on to their faith, but also to grow and flourish in it with their families.
Father McGivney never used the phrase “new evangelization,” yet that is what he did: He helped his parishioners seek the face of Christ, to experience his love and to embrace the faith as a way of life. As Pope Francis teaches in his encyclical Lumen Fidei, faith is “capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence” (4). He further observes that we do not embrace and live the faith alone, but do so rather in a spirit of unity and fraternity (cf. 39, 51). It is my hope that these articles will, in some small way, catch that spirit and thus shed light on the Order’s role in the new evangelization.