Recent years have seen the arrival throughout the Catholic world of new ministries to help men become true men of Christ. Websites like The Catholic Gentlemen, Catholic Family Man, and Those Catholic Men provide articles and videos to help men grow in faith and authentic masculinity (I had the privilege to write for Those Catholic Men for a couple years, touching on a variety of topics geared towards strengthening and educating Catholic men about the Faith).
Podcasts like The Catholic Man Show and Bad Catholic Dads provide audio content for men with a commute. There are books with titles like Be a Man, Manual for Men, and Marry Her and Die for Her which offer various approaches to modern masculine spirituality. We have also seen strong statements from our bishops, including Bishop Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation Into the Breach (originally written for men in the Diocese of Phoenix, Into the Breach has become a national Catholic phenomenon). And, of course, organizations like the Knights of Columbus and programs like “That Man is You” work in parishes to reach men in the pews.
In this surging sea of male-oriented Catholic resources, we find ourselves asking important questions, like, “What does it take to be an authentic man for Christ?” and “Who is the truly Christian man?” We find the answer to these questions in the vocation we received at Baptism: that we are to die to self and live for Christ. Such a radical sacrifice, the ultimate example of putting Christ first in one’s life, is most apparent in the life of a religious brother, a monk working away in a monastic cell. These religious men have in their own lives a taste of heavenly communion with God.
Yet the monk is not content to sit back and bask in some enlightened glory. He is always on his mission, the mission shared by all of the baptized: be Christ to the world. This mission involves a struggle, an endless battle against the forces of darkness. Monks are spiritual warriors, trained for combat, armed with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17). They are, as historian Warren H. Carroll notes, “athletes of Christ.”
Living as an Athlete of Christ
What is their code, these warriors, these athletes of Christ, these monks who model Catholic masculinity? They take their vows, their promises. They promise to renounce the riches of this world through a vow of poverty. They promise to devote both their body and their soul to the Lord through a vow of chastity. They promise to submit their pride to be tempered by humility through a vow of obedience. They die in their vows, or at least their former self dies, only to rise as new men in Christ.
Monks serve well as models of the Christian life, no matter our vocation. St. Benedict wisely highlighted the importance of ora et labora, of prayer and work, in his Rule. The rhythm of life in the monastery mirrors that of the lay Christian, albeit, with less time devoted directly to prayer. In and outside of the monastery, the Christian serious about his vocation to holiness goes about his day working to bring the Kingdom of God to all he meets. Laymen do this in the world while monks do so in their monasteries through their prayers. The monk’s day is a living prayer, but, then again, so should the layman’s.
St. Joseph as Our Model
These attributes of a monk recall the qualities of our go-to model of masculinity, St. Joseph. The earthly father of Jesus was “a just man,” meaning he did the right thing. He was a man of virtue, a model for the rest of us, a model of saintly manhood.
“But,” protests the average Catholic man, “I am no monk. I cannot leave my career, my life, and my family. My vocation is here, in the world; God did not call me to join a monastery. Nor am I St. Joseph, graced with Mary as a spouse and Christ as my son. What does a monk have to teach me? How could I possibly dream of being like St. Joseph?”
What can a monk teach you? Everything, my brother.
“Even in his poverty and chastity?”
Especially in his poverty and chastity, even in his obedience. And as for St. Joseph, you dream to be like him by asking him, daily, for his help and by following his example in your own life. Then, without delay, your impossible dream will become a new and shockingly beautiful reality.
Which leads to the purpose of this series. To distill what it means to be a true Man for Christ, we will reflect on the vows taken by an Athlete of Christ. We will look at what it means to live that vow both in the monastery and in the world. We turn to St. Joseph for an example, as we should always look to the saints for guidance. Lastly, and with some trepidation on my part, I will present some autobiographical examples of using these vows in my own life.
The series seeks to apply these vows to the lives of Christian men. Through key questions we can discern God’s call for us who live outside the monastic walls. What does it look like to live Poverty while making money? Is it possible to live Chastity in today’s hypersexualized world? How can I follow God in true, humble Obedience?
Keep these questions in mind as we go through this series. Reflect on them. Take them to prayer. My hope is that these reflections will provide encouragement for those of us who seek help in being real men of Christ. We are in this struggle together, united in the one Mystical Body of Christ as one family, adopted sons of our Heavenly Father. “And if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).
Editor’s note: This article is part one of the four part series, “Becoming True Men of Christ,” which will run each week. You can receive email notifications or sign up for our feed on Facebook and Twitter.