What does it mean to be a real man? The previous article provided some excellent insights into this from the Diocese of Memphis NFP Center. There are also many books that try to define masculinity and manhood. Three of the more popular ones are “Wild at Heart, Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul” by John Eldredge; “A Man and His God, Contemporary Male Spirituality” and “The Quest for the Male Soul, In Search of Something More” by Fr. Martin Pable, OFM Cap.
My favorite definition of the characteristics of a real man is in the book, “Raising a Modern-Day Knight, A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood.” The author, Robert Lewis, describes these four characteristics:
- A real man rejects passivity.
- A real man accepts responsibility.
- A real man leads courageously.
- A real man expects the greater reward.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
- A real man rejects passivity.
In his book, Robert Lewis believes that “men seem to have a natural aggressiveness to initiate, explore, and achieve.” Yet for many men today passivity, especially in their families, in the church, and in the community, is a way of life. Why is this so? Robert Lewis explains it this way:
“Though it varies from man to man, this inbred aggressiveness – both physical and psychological – is not a learned behavior, it is innate. It is part of being a man . . . For some reason, men of every age become passive when it comes to initiating this action in their homes, with their families, and in their community. Why? . . . Men have been imitating Adam’s example ever since (the Fall of man). Have you ever wondered why the Bible constantly calls men to love their wives, spiritually instruct their children, and responsibly lead their homes? The reason is men have a fallen nature that actually bends away from these responsibilities. It comes with maleness. It comes from Adam . . . Families cry out for men who will do more than ‘tune out’ when they come home from work . . . Real manhood begins with a decision to reject social and spiritual passivity when nothing is the more comfortable and natural option.”
A real man accepts responsibility
A real man accepts his God-given responsibilities, which above all includes being obedient to God’s will and plan for his life. This includes taking responsibility for deepening his faith in Jesus Christ, loving his wife, leading his family, training his children, working diligently in his job, and actively participating in his church and community. Of course, we all know that we can often fall short of fulfilling these responsibilities, but that is why we have to depend on the grace of God, especially through the Sacraments, the power of prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the support of other men. In addition, Catholic Sociologist, Stephen B. Clark, in his book, Man and Women in Christ (pg 639) states that:
“Men assume social responsibility most naturally and effectively when (1) it is clear to them that the primary responsibility for the well-being of others rests on them and others are relying on them, and (2) when they have been trained at an early age by the men in their lives to recognize and assume that responsibility faithfully.”
A real man leads courageously
Men are wired to lead. They were created to lead. Robert Lewis believes that many men in our generation are refusing to lead and that they are “passively yielding to the feelings and emotion of the moment instead of aggressively leading with God’s truth. Our homes and communities are in chaos because of it. Leadership demands that men have the courage to master their passions and bridle themselves with the truth . . .The courage to lead with truth rather than surrender to feelings always separates the men from the boys.” Where do these truths come from? As Catholic men, we know our primary source is the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. That is why it is important to spend time reading and studying Scriptures and Church teachings. That is why it is important to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other men for support and encouragement.
A real man expects the greater reward
What motivates a man to reject passivity, accept responsibility, and lead courageously? Robert Lewis puts it this way:
“If you think the call to manhood is a call merely to heavy responsibility and dutiful service, then you’ve completely missed the example of the second Adam. Yes, real manhood is at times rigorous; it demands courage and requires sacrifice. Nevertheless, it is primarily a call to life.”
Here are some Scriptures that speak of this “greater reward.”
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
But as it is written: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. (1 Timothy 4:7)
Although these Scriptures speak of a higher reward in heaven, what greater earthly reward is there than a wife that admires and respects you, children that love the Lord and are well-adjusted and responsible, and numerous experiences of God’s blessings – even if these are mixed with suffering and difficult circumstances.
Conclusion: Jesus Christ is the perfect example of real manhood. He did not accept the challenge of his call, devoid of joy, even though it meant suffering on the cross. He too expected a greater reward. Here’s how Hebrews 12:2-3 describes it:
For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
So let us faithfully “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1). Then one day we will hear these marvelous words of Jesus spoken to us.
Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy. (Matthew 25:21)
(Maurice Blumberg was the founding Executive Director of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (http://www.nfcmusa.org/), and is currently a Trustee. He is also the Director of Partner Relations for Partners in Evangelism, (http://www2.wau.org/partners/), a Ministry to the Military and Prisoners for The Word Among Us. Maurice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.)
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. How do the characteristics of a real man described in this article compare with your own understanding of a real man?
2. Which of the characteristics of a real man listed in this article do you agree with? How do you assess yourself against these characteristics? What steps can you take to improve this assessment?
3. Which of the characteristics of a real man listed in this article do you disagree with? Why?
4. How important is it to you to hear these words of Jesus, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), when you stand before him? Is it important enough to motivate you to live more fully an authentic Christian life as a real man?