Tag Archives: men’s issues

My Brother Louie

17 Nov

As we meditate on the Gospels, it’s only natural that we would try to imagine what the various biblical figures looked like, beginning with Our Lord Himself. One character I find especially intriguing is Zacchaeus, whose encounter with our Lord is recorded in today’s Gospel.

Whenever I think of Zacchaeus, I picture Louie De Palma, Danny DeVito’s character in the popular 1980s television series Taxi. We know that Zacchaeus was not only short, but also dishonest, despised, and resourceful. He was hardly the sort of character we might choose to emulate, any more than we would aspire to be like Louie De Palma. Yet I’d suggest that Catholic laymen do well to meditate on the call and conversion of Zacchaeus.

Perhaps the call of the rich young man is better known, so we might compare the two accounts. The rich young man keeps the commandments but wants to know what else he must do to attain eternal life. Good question! Jesus’s response–sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him–was more than the rich young man bargained for, at least for the moment. We understand in Our Lord’s response the call to evangelical perfection, particularly as lived by consecrated persons who embrace radical lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Jesus’ response to the rich young man is instructive to all of us as we strive to follow Him single-heartedly. But what about us “rich” middle-aged men, with wife, children, job, mortgage, credit-card bills, and student loans? Are we supposed to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and only then follow Jesus? How does Jesus’ universal call to discipleship relate to Catholic men who are to remain “in the world,” but not of it?

Enter Zacchaeus. Continue reading

St. Joseph, a Saint for Our Times

19 Mar

St. JosephSt. Joseph is one of the few saints to have more than one feast day. He also happens to be my patron saint, so when my wife and I were getting married, she asked which feast day I celebrated. Before I had the chance to answer, she mused out loud, “Definitely not St. Joseph the Worker.” She was right, though I’ve teased her ever since about this apparent commentary on my work habits!

The Church has traditionally honored St. Joseph during the month of March, so it seems appropriate this month to draw some insights from this great saint, especially today on his feast day.

At the outset of Luke’s Gospel, we read that part of John the Baptist’s role in preparing the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah was to turn the hearts of fathers to their children. In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently faithful man of service. Priests, deacons, and laymen do well to pattern their lives after the beloved “Guardian of the Redeemer.”

While St. Joseph wasn’t a priest in the usual sense, this “just man” has much to say in response to today’s crisis of fatherhood–both the spiritual fatherhood of priests and the fatherhood exercised in the home.

St. Joseph was entrusted with the care of the Holy Family, the sanctuary of love where Jesus spent His hidden years. This family was, in embryonic form, the Body of Christ, containing both Christ and the mother of those who would come to believe in Him and keep His commandments (see Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is considered the patron saint of the Universal Church.

Some men think St. Joseph got it all wrong. This is the age of Viagra, no-fault divorce, and the “sexual revolution.” The goal seemingly is sex without responsibility, whereas St. Joseph accepts the serious responsibility of marriage and family while foregoing the pleasure of marital intimacy.

Yet, St. Joseph got it exactly right. He tells modern man that it is possible and necessary–in fact, noble and manly–to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Certainly this does not mean that all men, particularly married men, are called to perpetual continence. But all men according to their state in life are called to chastity and at certain times in their lives (e.g., before marriage and possibly at times during marriage) are called to continence.

The marital act is a sacred expression of one’s total gift to one’s spouse and must not degenerate into a merely recreational, selfish act of self-gratification. St. Joseph gives himself totally to Mary. He embodies true love and marital fidelity to his beloved spouse even in the absence of physical intimacy.

A significant element of fatherhood is playing good defense–in other words, protecting the precious treasures that have been entrusted to us. Wolves in many forms pose serious threats to families and parishes. Our response as men of faith must not be fear or anxiety in the face of such threats, but rather vigilance and courage.

During this month devoted to the Guardian of the Redeemer, may all of us fathers draw renewed strength from this holy hero. St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us!

This article appeared earlier this month in The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Deacon Candidates

18 Sep

deacon candidatesArchbishop Naumann has approved the formation of a new cohort of candidates for the diaconate in 2015. This group will embark upon a five-year program that, God willing, will culminate in their ordination as deacons.

The first step in the process will be a series of information nights this fall held at various locations throughout the Archdiocese. At these sessions, we will provide more details on the diaconate and answer any questions people might have.

The decision to step forward and apply for the program is a matter of discernment on the part of both the individual applicant as well as the Archdiocese. For her part, the Church does not expect “perfect” applicants, but men who are open to the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Despite the marvelous individuality of all our deacon applicants, there are some qualities shared by all outstanding candidates for the diaconate. As we discern whether to accept them into the program, we consider many factors, including the presence (or absence) of these qualities:

(1) Disciple Anyone who would apply for the diaconate should be an enthusiastic disciple of Jesus Christ. His relationship with Christ should be the source of his interest in the diaconate. Further, his discipleship should be lived in a positive way that serves as a bridge rather than an obstacle for others who are seeking Christ.

(2) Service The most distinctive characteristic of a deacon is service. In fact, the word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for servant. The diaconate is not for men who fail to pour themselves out in service of others, especially the poor.

(3) Prayer Candidates for the diaconate receive ample instruction on prayer. Still, the candidates should already manifest a desire for intimacy with the Lord through the sacraments and daily prayer. After all, we’re looking for disciples and not merely skilled bureaucrats or social workers.

(4) Virtue Of course character matters! While everyone is in some sense a work in progress, we look for men who are balanced, humble, joyful, and compassionate.

(5) Love for the Church Love for Christ is not enough; we want men who, in imitation of Christ, are willing to lay down their lives for the Church. Men with their own agendas or axes to grind aren’t encouraged to apply.

(6) Parish Deacons must come from somewhere! Most good deacon applicants have a track record of service in their parish and local community, and are typically recommended by their pastor.

(7) Leadership We want men who have the courage and generosity to assume greater responsibility in the Church. Deacons aren’t necessarily the most intelligent or skilled, but they are men open to leadership after the heart of Christ.

For more information on the diaconate, visit www.archkck.org/deacons. This article originally appeared in The Leaven.

Ever After

16 Sep

marriageWe all know that the institution of marriage is under attack these days. One of the root causes is the widespread assumption that we have the authority to manipulate the institution. Yet Jesus courageously proclaims that marriage is within God’s sole jurisdiction: “What . . . God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).

In a valid Christian marriage, the man and woman are joined in a permanent, mutual bond that exists even when the spouses and the state consent to the legal fiction of a divorce. The more marriage is understood as a man-made convention, however, the more society will look to legal principles rather than biblical principles regarding marriage, and with disastrous ramifications.

Sadly, many Christians today at least implicitly believe that only the state has jurisdiction over their marriages, and they are divorcing at a rate comparable to that of society as a whole—if they choose to marry at all. No-fault divorce, prenuptial agreements, and “gay marriages” are natural progressions of an understanding of the marriage bond informed by the law of contracts, without regard to Scripture and apostolic Tradition.

Surely the exchange of marriage vows envisions a big act of faith and abandonment to divine providence. God asks couples to say “yes” in marriage before they literally know what they’ve gotten themselves into. Love may not be blind, but it is visually impaired, as we’re blissfully ignorant of most of the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead.

Family Ties

The reality is that once the husband and wife have exchanged their vows, everything has changed. The two have become one. And this affects in some fashion all our relationships.

After Maureen and I were married, for example, people I barely knew were my in-laws. My Irish wife became part of my French-Canadian family. We were to become “Mommy” and “Daddy” to the little ones God would entrust to us. Our friends and neighbors relate to us collectively as “the Suprenants.” And God Himself calls me–and most people–to an intimate relationship with Him precisely as a married person. I am the “pastor” of my domestic Church.

The fundamental relationship in a family is that of husband and wife, which forms the basis and framework for other familial relationships. Loving my beautiful wife as much as she deserves is humanly impossible, but happily the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is “time-released.” The sacrament only begins with the wedding ceremony; the marriage covenant continues “till death do us part.” Each step of the way, divine grace is there for the asking, enabling our love to reflect, albeit imperfectly, the mysterious and eternal love affair between Christ the Bridegroom and His Church, the Bride.

This process presupposes that marriage is not a static reality. We don’t say “I do” and continue to live as before. Rather, the marriage bond is ordered toward an ongoing deepening of the marital relationship. The more I know Maureen, the more I love her. The more I love her, the more I want to know her. Through the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the joys and sufferings of married life have brought us closer to each other and, most importantly, to our blessed Lord.

What if after I married Maureen I moved to another city and never gave her a second thought, perhaps visiting on Christmas and Easter, maybe calling her every few years when I needed some money or some other favor? Such a marriage would be neither love-giving nor life-giving, and the abundant grace available through the sacrament would be largely squandered.

“Absent father” is a common pejorative expression that points to a dad’s inadequate involvement in his children’s life. Even more fundamentally, though, we have a crisis of “absent husbands.” This phenomenon unjustly deprives the entire family of the pivotal relationship of husband and wife. While a good husband and father helps to form a positive image of God’s paternal, even spousal, love for His people, an absent husband and father images a Church without Christ, with foreseeably devastating consequences.

Maturing in Faith

From this brief sketch we see how marriage is a sacrament that plays out over time, calling for an ongoing, ever-deepening commitment to our spouse.

Baptism, by which all of us are introduced into the life of faith, has a similar dynamic. When we’re baptized we’re cleansed of original and actual sin and truly become sons and daughters of God. Yet this reality calls for ongoing doctrinal formation so that we can know Our Lord and His teachings more deeply and internally, and ongoing spiritual formation so that we can love the Lord our God more personally, more intensely, above all things, and with all our hearts, minds, and strength.

Baptism immediately entails a whole network of relationships in the Family of God. We have bishops, pastors, religious (some in habits and others incognito), godparents, and fellow parishioners–not to mention all Catholics through our participation in the communion of saints. And even those who are not Catholic or even Christian identify us as “Catholic”–hopefully “by our love” and certainly by our Church affiliation.

All these relationships are vitally important, but the basis of them all is our connectedness to Jesus Christ by being baptized into His death and thereby becoming new creations in Him. Our ever-deepening relationship with Christ gives us the grace to be constructive, productive members of His Body, the Church. That’s why the Church stresses the priority of prayer and the primacy of our own need for further conversion, repentance, and renewal as the necessary prerequisites for godly action.

An absent husband and father exemplifies a marriage that is not fulfilling its purpose. Similarly, an “absent Catholic”—one who does not pray, who gives the faith little or no thought except on Christmas and Easter, who does not work to foster his or her interior life–exemplifies a Baptism that is not fulfilling its purpose. And what is the purpose of Baptism? It is nothing less than communion with the Blessed Trinity and the company of angels and saints.

In my home, we are in “back to school” mode. May all of us make it our aim this school year to replenish our hearts, that we may be renewed in our baptismal commitment to Christ, to the glory of God our Father.

Anger Management

6 Sep

Why is anger considered a deadly sin? After all, didn’t Christ Himself get angry at times?

Anger is unique and tricky because it is both a capital, or “deadly” sin (gravely evil) and also a passion (morally neutral, or even amoral). All human beings have passions, feelings, and emotions. The passion of anger is rightly directed toward perceived evils, and the better formed we are the more our emotional response of anger will be calibrated rightly.

For example, a saint would be angered by sin; one with less virtue might be angered by having to wait an extra minute in a shopping line. But the intellect and will must call the shots, not the anger–otherwise, we will move from passion to sin. That’s why it’s often important to cool off–if necessary and if circumstances allow–before responding to a perceived evil or injustice.

The passion of anger can and must be put to good use. We have a duty to resist evil, and so the lack of passion is a defect insofar as it would lead us to indifference toward sin.

How we deal with our anger matters greatly. Any evil that comes our way must be opposed righteously–always with the goal of fostering the salvation of souls and never to exact revenge. The crosses, abuses, and frustrations that provoke us to anger are the very stuff of our salvation. That doesn’t mean we must become doormats. However, when we seek legitimate redress we must unite ourselves more completely to Christ and gratefully welcome these opportunities to grow in grace and virtue through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, we should pray fervently for those who cause us to become angry. Having a godly attitude toward them won’t necessarily change them (though it might), but we’ll find that these prayers will change us, softening our hearts but not our minds.

Our Lord was like us in all things but sin. Therefore, He experienced the passion or emotion of anger, but He never committed the sin of anger. Meekness is the virtue opposed to anger, and Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29).

For more on the virtue of meekness, which moderates the passion of anger, click here.

Blessed Are the Meek

15 May

At first glance, meekness may be the most unattractive Christian virtue. Today, many people think of “meekness as weakness,” the antithesis of the “holy” self-assertion that enables us to get our own way. We picture a meek person as a wimp or doormat, not as a virile, Christian man.

Yet, those of us who are serious about following the Lord and growing in Christian virtue know that the Bible presents a different image of meekness. Our faith extols meekness not only as a desirable virtue, but also as a beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Moses, who boldly delivered an entire nation from bondage, is described in Scripture as the meekest of men (Num. 12:3).

Surely Jesus Himself embodied all the virtues, but when it comes to meekness, there can be no doubt. He says, “Learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). Not only is Our Lord meek, but He also expects us to imitate His meekness. This message is for everybody, but in a special way it goes out to today’s men, for whom meekness sadly is a rare commodity.

Anger Management

We can often come to a richer understanding of words by examining their roots. Virtue (in Latin, virtus) is derived from the Latin word vir, which means man. Virtue, therefore, has historically been understood as implying a manly strength.

Meekness, sometimes used interchangeably with “gentleness” in biblical translations, comes from the Greek word prautes, meaning “not easily provoked.” This in turn comes from praus, which refers to a highly spirited trained horse. Such a horse has become so gentle and mild that a child may pet it or ride on its back. But the more important thing is that the horse no longer thrashes about wildly, but rather has been trained to take direction. The strength of the noble steed has been harnessed for good, not forfeited. Similarly, a harnessed river can generate power, and a harnessed or “meeked” fire can heat a campsite. Meekness, even in its etymology, has always implied harnessed strength, not weakness.

Applied to the human virtue, meekness implies an openness to God that allows Him to act through us, particularly at those times when our fallen nature might lead us to thrash about wildly. Meekness indeed involves a certain gentleness toward our neighbor, but it primarily applies to our relationship with God, as we daringly acquiesce to His harnessing of our gifts and talents for our own good and the good of His Church. Continue reading

The Heart of a Father

19 Mar

The Catholic Church “heartily” celebrates the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the heart symbolizing the immense love of our Lord and His Blessed Mother for each one of us.

Yet, Catholic husbands and fathers might also consider meditating on the heart of St. Joseph, the third member of the Holy Family, whose great feast we celebrate today. His heart is an apt symbol of the love he contributed to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation that was unfolding under his watch.

And now that same masculine vigilance and love, once focused on his beloved wife and the Christ Child, is bestowed on each one of us, as he is universally invoked as the patron of the Catholic Church.

At the outset of St. Luke’s Gospel, we learn that part of St. John the Baptist’s role in preparing the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah was to turn the hearts of fathers to their children so as to make ready for the Lord a people that was truly prepared for Him (cf. Mal. 3:23-24; Lk. 1:17). In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

His heart is always in the right place, and God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently just and faithful man.

St. Joseph’s fatherly heart jumps off the page throughout the biblical accounts of Christ’s childhood. Let’s take a brief look at just one such familiar episode: the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Lk. 2:41-52), the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (vv. 41-42).

These verses may seem unremarkable at first blush, though as St. Joseph is carting the Holy Family from place to place in the first century we can be certain these journeys were much more onerous than a leisurely afternoon drive in the air-conditioned minivan. But even in his fidelity to the Jewish practices of his time, St. Joseph gives us a most timely lesson on the value of men being observant Catholics. Too often we find at Sunday Mass mom and the kids, but where’s dad? St. Joseph challenges us men to allow our love for the Lord and zeal for our faith to set the tone for the entire family.

Real men go to church! Continue reading