Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate example of the vocation of a man. He reveals in Himself what men were meant to be and who men are called to be even still today.
Today many men find themselves confused about what it means to be a man. Various philosophies and movements in our society have undermined once widely received standards of true masculinity. For example, it was once widely understood that a man was supposed to protect his wife and his children. But today it is common to see men escorting their pregnant girlfriends into abortion clinics. Once upon a time, it was widely understood that sexual intimacy with a woman was the privilege that comes with making a life-long commitment to her in marriage, but today the widespread use of pornography has all but wiped out any sense of intimacy in human sexuality.
Furthermore, the shifting demands of feminist ideology have sent mixed messages to men about how they are to act around women. Is the man supposed to pursue the woman in a romantic relationship, or is he to be pursued? Is he supposed to pay for her dinner as a sign of gentlemanly respect? or is he to let her to pay in acknowledgement of her self-sufficiency as a woman? These and a host of other examples are the everyday confusions confronting men.
There are two extremes at work in our society. At one extreme we find a kind of hypersensitive male: insecure, indecisive, excessively preoccupied with emotions and the way he looks. At the other extreme, we find a kind of machismo male: egotistical, emotionally hard, indifferent to others, and ready to use women for his own pleasure.
How are men today to find their way through this disorientation about the meaning of masculinity?
Jesus Christ is the way. Jesus stands as the point of balance between these two extremes. He is gentle but firm, He is full of strength and power, but places that strength and power at the service of all, including women. He speaks with women and interacts with women, always telling the truth and always affirming their dignity and worth. Even though He is filled with the power to cast out demons, to heal and to walk on water, He is meek and humble of heart. He radiates love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, purity, and self control. He even lays down his life on the cross, crucified in weakness (2 Cor. 13:14). He emptied himself, and took the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7). In all of these ways, Jesus shows us what true masculinity is.
All men are called to imitate Him, but this is not easy. In fact is is impossible to do this by our natural strength. True masculinity is too complex and the balance it requires is too difficult to determine. No man could possibly imitate by his own natural strength the masculinity of Jesus. But the good news is that Jesus – now risen from the dead – offers to men everywhere a share in His own true masculinity. The true masculinity of Jesus is a gift He offers to us by grace. The best way for men to live in our complex world is to turn to Jesus and to ask Him for this grace. Let us ask the Lord in prayer, to imprint upon our souls through the grace of the Holy Spirit a living share in the true masculinity of Jesus.
Sometimes people get the impression that religious life is emasculating. Afterall, how can a man, who gives up a salary earning job, gives up a wife, and makes a vow of obedience, truly become a man? Religious life seems to take away three things that men often use to show off their masculinity: big money, beautiful wife, and personal independence. But it is precisely here that religious life shows it’s power to make a man to be a man. For true masculinity does not lie merely in big money, a beautiful wife and personal independence. And the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience remove from a man’s life the illusory possibility of finding his masculinity in these things.
A man who is called to religious life is called to identify with Jesus in a profound way, and by identifying with Jesus, he finds the meaning of true masculinity.
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Fr. James Dominic Brent OP is an assistant professor of Philosophy at Dominican House of Studies. Fr. Benedict Croell OP is the director of vocations for the Eastern Province Dominicans. Both live with their community of over 80 friars at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.