If I were to ask my parents if they knew what love is I am quite positive I would get an entirely different answer than if I were to ask a young couple in their college years. The word "love" is bantered about carelessly, even though many are afraid to either admit their love or to speak it out. Love can mean so many things to so many people...it can have theological and philosophical meanings...even Popes have written documents on love.
So what can I add by entering into the fray? Not much in the big picture, but when it comes to men living out their calling to imitate Christ in their homes, it means defining a very specific goal and action for that role. You see, men, as called by God to act as the priest, prophet, and king in their home are called to a very specific goal of their love. This goal, this end game is to see all of our family one day in Heaven. This goal, this ultimate end, is also the ultimate good, the Beatific Vision as it is called by theologians should guide all of our actions in the home.
Recently I was asked what I thought about video games in the home. When judged by the ultimate goal of eternity with our Heavenly Father, the answer seems clear to me. Unfortunately this clarity is not shared by many. The reason for this may be that many still have a somewhat worldly way of looking at things...I know I suffer from this quite often. Take for instance my post during the spring in which I confessed "motorcycle lust"; how does purchasing, riding, and enjoying the two-wheeled beast help me obtain my ultimate goal? If I am honest I will say that it won't, in fact, it could be a great hindrance to me achieving my goal.
Back to the video games. This, of course, is a question faced by many christians these days. Entertainment of all sorts is thrown at us in a constant barrage...sports, games, electronics, movies, parties....only the strongest ones make it through unscathed (and I don't claim to be one of them). These things are like grenades thrown into the home, if we don't thrown them out they are going to blow up and wreak havoc on our family. Why do I call them grenades? Well, let's go back to how we judge the worth of something, does it help us and our family obtain our goal of eternity with God? In my mind, video games are the most clear...if anything they steal a soul away from Christ by initiating the child into immoral fantasy where killing, maiming, stealing, and gore are acceptable. It also draws them into an unreality, ie, driving, sports, fighting, etc, all without having to lift more than a thumb. I have even heard a child state that he was great at football, even though he never actually played outside of his family room! Once confronted with the reality of slippery grass, flying pigskins, boys larger than himself, and the need to run, jump, throw, and catch...he was totally flumoxed.
So the grenade is that thing that forced its way into the home, blows up, all to the destruction of the home and its members, in this case, video games.
Now back to love. As men we show our love in many ways, but the most important is to "love" our wife and children into Heaven. While kisses and hugs, flowers and presents may get us a listen from our family, in the end, our leadership, our Christ-like bearing, our sacrificial manliness will be the greatest help to our family. In these times it is like a heavy snowstorm leaving three feet of snow on the ground. The true TMM man will shovel the path to clear a way for his family, and then guide his wife to the path, going before her, and then he will call his children, guide them, and at times carry them along the path. Is this what we do? or do we just throw them into the snow?
It has been some time since I sat down and dedicated my mind to this blog. Life is full having seven children, working in business, and attempting to live a full liturgical life. Just this weekend I was blessed to take my boys out for a day of work at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Elyburg, PA. The drive to and from as well as the time spent in solitude (with a chainsaw) allowed me some much needed time to reflect. I only share it here with the hopes that in some way it helps you as well as encouraging me to live this life to the full.
What I had been thinking about while lopping an enormous bush/tree was how much we need to relearn what it means to be human, to be men and women, to be saints. Many of us were not raised in homes where true masculine, spiritual leadership was the norm. Unfortunately, many of us live in a culture that is opposed to this God-honoring leadership. It is rarely taught, preached, or modeled. We may know good men. We may know good priests. And yet, we may still be longing for that model of manhood we would wish to imitate.
I could say that the message is simple, just imitate Christ. However, in our fallen nature we tend to skew the true image of Christ and make Him more like us than like God. For instance, what would Our Lord do in His home when it came to a decision to be made? Would He, trusting that His Mother was "full of grace" allow Her to make the decision; would He confer with Her to get Her opinion; or would He make the decision and then inform Her of it? These are questions that we can ask ourselves if we are really trying to be the spiritual leaders in our homes. If you are asking these questions, at least you are thinking about it. This pursuit is part of the process of us becoming the men God intends us to be. We must pray, seek, and fast.
I could also say that a simple answer is for the man to make every decision and that all must pass through him. The challenge here is one of immense conversion on the part of both man and wife. Many homes have the wife and mother as the spiritual leader and so to turn this table would take a boatload of grace. It is one thing to desire this, it is another to do it. The challenge here is that the man must take full responsibility for his decisions and the wife must humbly accept his leadership. In many ways this is what is modeled by the Church in what St. Paul speaks about in Corinthians. I think of this little nun who is called "Mother" at the Carmelite Monastery and the great responsibility she has with her spiritual family. The convent is not ruled by democracy, but is up to her spiritual and temporal leadership to grow and be fruitful. What is it about nuns that we are able to accept them being submissive to rule, while us in the world run from it.
This simple answer also is a challenge and an ideal. Is it ever fully lived? Is it ever fully realized? Let me ask another question: are we ever fully holy? While this simple answer may turn complex in us asking ourselves silly questions about if the husband needs to decide what the wife is going to eat for her midday snack, we must in some ways embrace this simplicity for it is truly a holy challenge. It requires self-sacrifice, courage, wisdom, and prudence, all of which when practiced can only help us reach our goal of holiness and heaven. Think about this for a moment...if the husband must bear the responsibility of every decision (as he truly does, whether he accepts it or not), this should produce in him an awe of this responsibility and thus lead him to seek wisdom in prayer. He may see just how much is laid upon his shoulders and thus, in prayer and fasting, seek God's will.
On the flip side, if he sluffs off this responsibility and falsely delegates it to his spouse, he may miss just how important his role and life are. He may forget how much God expects of him and think God will not hold him to account since it was his "wife's decision". For those of us in business, we know that everything that is delegated is ultimately the responsibility of the person on top of the "food chain". While I may delegate a task, it is my responsibility to see that it is done on time and done correctly. When we stand before God's throne He will not say, "Oh Chris, don't worry about that time, that was your wife's fault...I know you were busy at work and couldn't be bothered with such a frivolous decision about the spiritual life of you children!"
So, this simple answer requires a simple question. What could the harm be to attempt to learn, live, love, and grow into this ideal? You may have a laundry list, but before you allow those to make you run away, ask yourself a question: If my wife and I are going to attempt to live this ideal, and we are going to do it in prayer, sacrifice, fasting, and conversion and beg God's forgiveness and Grace all along the way - how can we go wrong?
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On a feast like this we celebrate all of the Carmelites that have blessed our lives, such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Terese the Little Flower (and of course, all of those secular Carmelite Saints). I thought it would be fun to think of the littlest one, the one called the Little Flower...perfect for a site entitled ChristianManhood.org!
I have always been intrigued by this little girl who forces the hands of all of the tough guys around her so that she can hide herself in the Lord's secret garden. Her father, Louis, was a simple and holy man was her first example of a holy man, and I believe this helped her to achieve her level of sanctity...but this post isn't about him. Her mother Zelie, along with Louis, was a secular Franciscan, and was undoubtedly a holy woman...but this post isn't about her either. While we usually speak about men and family issues, I was thinking, this little girl has something to teach us men about prayer and holiness.
Do you know about St. Therese's Little Way? Do you try to live it? While I could go through her autobiography and pick out all the nuances of her spirituality that led her to be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, I am going to keep it simple, just like her. The two things that stand out, particularly for us men are the following:
1. Simple Prayer
2. Simple Sacrifice
St. Therese had a great way of looking at her relationship with God. She wanted to be closer to Him everyday so that she could simply "gaze" upon Him. As men, we may find ourselves struggling with "wordy" prayer and becoming uncomfortable when put in a position to have to "ad lib" a "spontaneous" prayer publicly. We may also find ourselves unable to get comfortable with long, dictated prayers or other pre-written forms. This cuts to the root of how God made us as men to communicate. We (generally speaking) don't communicate emotionally without forcing it. We prefer to sit in the canoe fishing quietly as opposed to sharing intimate feelings with our pals. This, of course, drives our wives crazy, because they are wired differently and communicate emotionally all the time. Their gaze is inward, ours is on the horizon.
This way that God has designed us is, of course, perfect for us. This gazing outward is a wonderful way to pray. For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have gone for rosary walks in the evening and are always blessed by the sunsets over the open fields on the top of our property. I look at the clouds and bless the Lord, my gaze drawn from the physical world to God. This simple way of "glorying" in God's creation is humbling and a great starting point for deeper prayer. This gazing can also be used in Eucharistic Adoration, gazing upon religious Icons ("windows to heaven"), or by just acknowledging God's presence in other persons.
The beauty of this type of prayer is that one doesn't need to complicate it with many words. I can simply "gaze" and maybe add a few phrases to keep my attention, such as "Praise God", or "God have mercy". These phrases were traditionally called "aspirations" and spring from a heart focused on God. These short prayers can also be used to gain a spirit of recollection during one's workday, the most famous being the long form, "Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have mercy on me, a sinner!" These are all simple ways of growing our relationship with God - aka Prayer.
The second thing that Little St. Therese can teach us tough guys is how to live a life of sacrifice. If you haven't read her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, do it NOW! This little girl combines the focus of a person set upon her goal (life in the Carmelite monastery, and ultimately Heaven) and yet does this without willfulness. She constantly accepted little sacrifices, and it was in this that she gained her great holiness. When one of the nuns was asked to fix her favorite meal (since her health was failing), the nun responded that she had no idea what her favorite meal was because she never complained. For the nuns around her, St. Therese had no specific tastes at the dinner table, but in truth, there were things she liked and didn't like.
I often think of this when my wife serves something not totally suiting my tastes. I have a choice of accepting the little sacrifice and complimenting her cooking, or I can complain, acting like the overbearing bull that most feminists "see" manly patriarchs as. One is a way that brings about the Kingdom of God, the other the kingdom of "me"! It is these little sacrifices, that St. Therese has taught us, are the way to move us further and further away from ourselves and the world, and closer to God.
So, as big, tough guys, let us embrace the Way of the Little Flower. Be simple. Be prayerful. Be Holy. Be a Man!