So, here we are, a couple of weeks into Lent and what have we done? Have we really done anything that has moved us one iota closer to Our Lord? Have we followed through with our "sacrifices"? Are we developing a habit of prayer and alms-giving?
Well, as men, and men that are actively choosing to live a more authentic Christian manhood, what are we doing? Some leaders in the men's movement would have you chopping wood, hunting, or praying at an "adult bookstore"...all good, manly stuff, no doubt. But this is Lent.
The real measure of being a successful Christian man is how much we mirror our Savior. The question to ask is, how much do I imitate and reflect Christ Jesus to my family and to the world? In these terrible times, there is no greater need than the need for real, authentic images of Christ in the workplace, in the marketplace, and most importantly in the home. This imitation must flow from the life Christ lived as taught in the Holy Writ as well as taught by Holy Mother Church.
So this Lent, in order to live as authentic men, we must try to more and more develop into images of Christ. This means doing something truly manly, living the three modes of Lent - Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving.
1. Prayer - chose a time each day for private, quiet prayer. Make it a habit. Pray the Rosary, Read a spiritual book like the Imitation of Christ or one of the lives of the Saints. Pray on your way to work. Lead family prayer. Be the first one to suggest attending a Holy Hour or Confession.
2. Fasting- chose some things to give up and some things to do. Don't make exceptions, don't compromise. Chose something difficult that will push you to "feel the pain" of the sacrifice.
3. Alms-giving - Give. Give of yourself to your family. Give of your time and your money. Make a donation to an organization that really needs help. Support other family men that may need a helping hand. Be generous, give a little more than you are comfortable with.
The point is this. Yes we could go chop wood, yes we could go and pray before an abortion mill, yes we could go shoot guns in the woods. None of these things really requires sacrifice. The true measure of a man is his ability and willingness to give of himself, to take up his cross daily, and to follow Christ.
"At that time, when Jesus entered into the boat, His disciples followed Him: and behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves, but He was asleep. And His disciples came to Him and awaked Him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish. And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye a little faith? Then rising up, He commanded the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm. But the men wondered, saying: What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey Him?" Mt 8:23-27
This reading from the 4th Sunday after Epiphany gives us men a great deal to think about. After all, we can each ask ourself, "What manner of man am I?"
For us men that are blessed to be fathers, we can acknowledge those times where we are literally asleep during some familial "crisis". It might be a sickness, an unfortunate bad dream, an impudent intruder of the rodent type, or at best - when your "woman-with-child" says, "Honey, it's time!" Most of us are willing to spring into action when needed, and I would hope that most of us would have the will power and reserve to remain calm in whatever situation we find ourselves in. This is that magnanimity of heart that Dr. Dilsaver speaks of in his book, "The Three Marks of Manhood". "Magnanimity depends on the greatness of a man's concerns, which he can choose and develop, and upon his natural baseline aptitude." Thus, Christ could say to the winds and sea to be calm, because His concerns were with the eternal, and in the "big picture" the storm at sea was a small matter. Remember the parable of the mustard seed?
The the magnanimous man leading his family, the ebb and flow of life, the ups and downs, are met with a calm reserve and trust in the Divine Hand of God. This man knows that God the Father is the ultimate Father from whom all other fathers get their name and calling. He places his firm trust in God for all things and does not make a "mountain out of a mole-hill." Dilsaver quotes Josef Pieper's explanation of magnanimity:
"Magnanimity is the expansion of the spirit toward great things; one who expects great things of himself and makes himself worthy of it is magnanimous. The magnanimous man is to a certain extent "particular": he does not allow himself to become concerned with everything that comes along, but rather only with those great things that are suitable for him....The magnanimous man does not complain, for his heart does not permit him to be overcome by any external evil. Magnanimity encompasses an unshakable firmness of hope, a plainly defiant certainty, and the thorough calm of a fearless heart." (cited from TMM)
Taking this manly spirit into consideration, one wonders how the fearful disciples could have been concerned with the tempest. While us men may strive to be magnanimous and of a "stout heart" we may find ourselves, at times, confused, bewildered, fearful, and struggling under our weakness. In these times we must, just as these fearful disciples did, "submit [ourselves] not to the confusion of feelings or to any human being or to fate -- but only to God." (Pieper) By the very virtue of our calling to Patriarchal leadership, we must take our concerns to God the Father, and then, with our enlarged hearts, accept the burden of our cross. At times this may be answering the call of duty at 3am with a sick child, at other times it may mean deciding to forgo some comfort for the sake of the Gospel and our family.
So what manner of men are we?