Chastity & Charity: The Shield & Sword of Manhood

There is a scene near the middle of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in which Frodo Baggins volunteers to carry the last and most powerful ring to Mt. Doom in order to destroy it. Because he does not know the way, and because he is small of stature, he admits that he will require help. The most powerful moment in that scene is when Aragorn says to Frodo, “If, by my life or by my death, I can protect you, I will. You have my sword.” Really what Aragorn means is that he offers all of himself and his skill in service of the mission.

In our world today, there is a battle for truth, goodness, and beauty. The enemy seeks to deprive humans of access to any of these by twisting their understanding of the transcendental realities. God, in His infinite wisdom and love, wants and needs men who are willing to fight for truth, goodness, and beauty; who are able to protect and provide for others; who are willing to lead and build up others, even amid difficult circumstances. He does not have a desire or use for those who use and abuse others; those who think only of themselves and tear down others. God wants warriors, not weasels!

Many men in our world today have a false understanding of masculinity, manhood. I know because I spent large portions of my life operating by such false conceptions, which caused a lot of emotional and spiritual damage and baggage. It took me a long time to learn that manhood is not about popularity, athletic prowess, or money. Neither is masculinity about making oneself feel bigger by putting down others. Rather, manhood is about kneeling down in service and helping others reach their fullest potential. Real masculinity is about becoming smaller so another person can become bigger.

Chastity and charity are two of the primary virtues that aid members of the male species in becoming real men. These two enable a man to possess himself and then to give himself away for the good of another. Self-possession (chastity) must precede self-gift (charity). The latter will not be possible or effective without the former. Men must have control of themselves and their faculties in order to give them away for the greater glory!

Think back to my example of the Lord of the Rings. In order for Aragorn to offer his sword effectively, he must know how to wield it to fight off enemies. A swordsman who keeps his weapon in the scabbard or does not know the skills of sword fighting will be useless against an enemy. Further, Aragorn used a shield throughout the journey to defend himself. This is how the virtues of chastity and charity aid men.

Chastity “lets us love with an upright and undivided heart,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2520). A man is not a man of integrity if his heart is not upright, or if it is divided. A man does not fully possess himself if he seeks lowly things like worldly pleasure, power, and money. A man’s heart is divided if he seeks these things before he seeks God’s will.

The virtue of charity flows easily from chastity. When a man’s heart is upright and undivided, he can begin to love as God intends love to be. God intends love to be four things: free, faithful, total, fruitful. True love requires all of these characteristics. An act that does not carry these four qualities is not real charity.

A man cannot love anyone (his friends, co-workers, and especially his spouse) if his heart is divided. A divided heart will cause him to withhold his gifts (his body, his mind, his resources) from those who need him. He begins to focus on himself, and he easily becomes enslaved to his physical and emotional passions. His actions of giving become conditional, not free; temporary, not faithful; partial, not total; and sterile, not fruitful.

Men must be transformed into chaste and charitable warriors. Women need men to be holy warriors to protect their beauty and dignity. Families need men (husbands, fathers, brothers) to be holy warriors so that families can flourish and produce good spiritual fruit. The Church needs men (priest and lay men) to be holy warriors so that she can be effective in her mission during the next generation. The world needs men to be holy warriors to counter-balance the negative effects of pride, greed, and lust that we see all around us. We must answer this clarion call and be transformed into real men!

In order to be transformed in that way, men must kneel down. First we must kneel down before Christ in the Eucharist, and we must tell him, “If by my life or by my death, I can serve you, you have my body, mind, spirit, resources…everything.” Then, we must kneel down before others, beginning with our families and spreading outward to all levels of society. We must tell them, in the same way that we tell Christ, “I offer everything to you, if I can serve you.”

That will be the only way that men can fulfill St. Paul’s command to love “as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25). Men must die to themselves and focus on serving others so that the Church might be found in all “splendor, without spot or wiring or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27) when Christ returns.

It is up to us, gentlemen. And, along the way we need the intercession of the perfect woman, Our Blessed Mother, that we might respond to the call.  Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary…

By

Derek Rotty is a husband, father, historian, theologian, & Director of Evangelization & Discipleship at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Jackson, TN. His first book, A Life of Conversion: Meeting Christ in the Gospels, is available from Our Sunday Visitor Press. Follow his other ruminations at www.derekrotty.com.

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