Some years ago I was in college, majoring in computer science, and dating a beautiful young woman. An older priest, Msgr. Curlin told me that he thought I was called to be a priest. I was puzzled as to how to react. No one had ever said this to me before. So I asked him if he’d like to meet my girlfriend. He was unfazed and told me stories of other men, now priests, who had said the same. In some ways he spoke like a military recruiter: “The Church needs good men, Chuck. God needs good, strong men.”
I was surprised to hear a priest speak this way. I was born in 1961 but came of age in the Church of the 1970s. It was a time of crossless Christianity. Crosses had literally been removed from my parish church and replaced by a “resurrection Jesus.” Notions of sacrifice and fighting against sin had largely been replaced by a kind of “God is Love, self-acceptance” emphasis. It was a time of “beige Catholicism” which demanded little and saw its main task to be as non-offensive as possible.
As a young man, none of this appealed much to me. I think most young men are “up for a battle.” They want to change the world or at least make a key difference. Now suddenly a priest was summoning me to manhood and to something sacrificial, something that would take a “strong” man. And my services were needed, God and the Church depended on men like me saying yes. Imagine that!
I didn’t say yes that day. I continued to date and worked toward finishing my Computer Science Degree. But I had heard a summons to a great battle, the ancient battle between Christ and our adversary the Devil. And the call grew. For various reasons my steady girl and I broke up. Saddened though I was, I saw an opened door before me and the call quickened. I walked through and began a process of discernment with the Archdiocese that led to my Ordination to the Priesthood in 1989.
I suppose there are many ways of seeing my priesthood. But most powerfully I see myself as a soldier in the army of the Lord. The battle today is fierce. We live in a world increasingly hostile to our holy faith and the teachings of the Church. And the call must go out as never before: The Church needs good men to be priests, strong and courageous. Men who will speak the truth in love, clearly and without compromise and celebrate the sacraments with devotion and faith. Men who know that the eternal salvation of many is dependent on them being zealous priests after God’s own heart. Men who by the grace of God are willing to fight for souls in the battle that matters most.
So there it is men. The Lord is looking for good men to engage the great battle for souls. And there’s an old saying, “If you find a good fight…get in it!”
This article was originally written for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese and appears in today’s print edition. The Website for the Catholic Standard is very good, lots of current articles and good links too. In case you haven’t visited check it out: Catholic Standard Online
Vocations for Men: Msgr. Rob Panke 301-853-4580
Here’s a video I stitched together with scenes from Fishers of Men and set to Lyle Lovett’s “I’m A Soldier in the Army of the Lord”
Among the measures of mature manhood that God Himself sets forth is faithful, stable, committed marriage. After observing, It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18) God says ….A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two of them shall become one flesh. Thus God indicates an essential description of manhood. This is what a MAN does. Three things are taught here:
A mature man recognizes that it is not good, not healthy, for him to remain alone and unattached. Thus he sets himself about looking for a wife in a suitable and serious manner. In ancient culture marriages were usually arranged, but in our culture that duty falls on the man himself. But a man, if he is a man, prepares himself for marriage, or perhaps for the priesthood or religious life. He is serious and steadfast about it. This may mean finishing college and embarking on the beginnings of a career but in the end he will accept the truth that it is not good for him to remain alone and unattached. In the recent past dating was usually understood as a time wherein one searched for a spouse. Today many see it “just for fun.” Marriage is postponed indefinitely. Many young men are not serious in searching for a spouse. Instead they “play the field” and use women sexually. They avoid commitment and drift from relationship to relationship. Some “father” children and still do not accept responsibility. They are not men, they are boys. For boys play. “Boys will be boys,” after all. Sadly many women allow and facilitate this immature and immoral behavior. But God is clear, a man (rather than a boy) accepts that it is not good for him to remain single and unattached and he respectfully seeks a wife.
Having properly sought a wife he marries her and leaves his parents to establish a home. In other words he actually gets married. He does not just shack up (cohabitate), or form a so-called “committed relationship.” He does not endlessly postpone marriage. He is serious about the summons that God has given him to make a lasting commitment to a wife, or as a priest or religious brother. He “settles down.” He actually commits his whole life to his wife promising to remain faithful to her unto death. This is what God says a man does.
A man clings to his wife. That is to say, a man works hard to preserve unity with his wife. He manfully addresses any threats to that unity. “Cling” is actually a very strong word. It means to stick like glue. A man says to his wife, “Honey if you ever leave me I’m going with you.” Too many men are passive husbands. Too often it is really the wife who works hardest to preserve the marriage. Very often when there is trouble in a marriage it is the wife who initiates a call to the priest or marriage counsellor. And if the husband comes at all the wife has to drag him. But a real man does not passively sit by as his marriage becomes strained. He addresses issues, cherishes his wife and works hard to preserve union with her. This is what God says a real man does. He has committed to his wife and to God and he is faithful to that commitment even when it is hard. He remembers that he committed for better or worse. And when worse comes he does not run, he stays and addresses the issues, seeks out necessary resources and takes leadership in restoring harmony to his marriage. God says a man clings to his wife. This is what a man does.
It is true that women have a role in all these matters. But this article is directed to men. A man doesn’t whine and say, “But what about the wife?!” He just does what he is supposed to do and does not point fingers. He accepts his own responsibility. Yes, there are men who have worked hard to preserve their marriage and the wife still walked away. Our culture has granted far greater possibilities to women. This is not bad in itself but it sometimes creates even greater strains on marriage. But in the end, I am convinced that if men are real men as God has tasked them, if they were more serious about seeking a wife, marrying her and clinging to her, we would have far fewer divorces.
Remember now, this is a blog. I could go on forever and make lots of other distinctions and explore all the “yes-buts!” What I intend is to start a conversation not anticipate every possible objection, cautionary detail or requested distinction. You, my dear readers are invited to do that in the comments.
So here is what a God says a real man does. How say you?
I preached this topic among others recently at the Feast of the Holy Family. Here is an excerpt from that homily that covers some of the things I have written here. Enjoy also some Christmastime photos of my parish:
When I was a teenager in the 1970s Jesus was presented in less than flattering terms, at least from my standpoint as a young man. The paintings and statues of that day presented Jesus as a rather thin willow-wisp of a man, a sort of friendly but effeminate hippie who went about blessing poor people and healing the sick. It is true he did that but usually left out of the portraits was the Jesus who summoned people to obedience and an uncompromising discipleship, the Jesus who powerfully rebuked his foes. 1970s Jesus was nice, and I should be nice too. In my 1970s Church we had no crucifix. Rather there was a cross and a rather slender and starry eyed Jesus sort of floated there in front of the Cross. Ah the 70s, a time of a cross-less Christ and a cross-less Christianity. The cross was all too much for a kinder gentler Jesus, a Jesus who affirmed, and was my friend. A friend, truly he is, but but was he not also the Lord? Was he not the omnipotent King? Somehow, even as a teenager, I craved a stronger, manly Jesus. My heroes then were Clint Eastwood and I loved John Wayne movies which my father called to my attention. Now those were men. (I know they were into revenge, but I’d learn about that later). But the Jesus I was presented with seemed soft and unimpressive compared to them and I was unmoved. Who will follow an uncertain trumpet? The basic message of Jesus 1970 was “be nice” but 1970s Catholicism (which Fr. Robert Barron calls beige Catholicism) stripped away the clarion call of repentance and trumpet-like command that we take up our cross, that we lose our life in order to save it.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when I actually began to study the real Jesus, the one in Scriptures. He was nothing like the thin little williow-wisp of a man I had been taught. He was a vigorous leader, a man among men. Someone who was formidable and commanding of respect. Someone I could look up to.
What follows is a portrait of Jesus Christ that I culled from a few sources and adapted. I wish I could remember the sources to credit them here but it was over twenty years ago in seminary that, from some dusty old books written long before the 1970s, I culled this portrait on the human stature of Christ. Note that the focus here is on the humanity of Christ. It presupposes his divine nature but focuses on the human nature and, as you will see draws most of its material straight from the Scriptures. As You can see the description is longish. In case you would rather print and read it later I have put it in PDF here: On the Human Stature of Christ
The exterior appearance of Jesus seems to have been a handsome one. A woman in the crowd broke out into praise of him with the words, Blessed in the womb that bore Thee and the breasts that nursed Thee. His response to her Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep itseems to suggest that she had bodily excellencies in mind as well as spiritual. The powerful impression which Jesus made on ordinary people certainly owed something to his attractive exterior which by its charm drew everyone to him and held them. Even if this was due primarily to his spiritual and religious power, still, his eyes, with their burning, waking, reproving looks must have been especially striking. For example see how Mark remarks of the eyes of the Lord in the following passages: 3:5,34; 5:32; 8:33; 10:21; 23:27. We also may cull from Scripture an impression of health, power, energy and well being in Jesus. Jesus seems to have been a thoroughly healthy man, not prone to fatigue and with a great capacity for work. We never hear that Jesus was visited by any sickness. A proof of his physical endurance is born out in Scripture. He was in the habit of rising very early (Mark 1:35). The hills and the lake were especially dear to him and after a long day he loved to climb some lonely height, or late in the evening get himself taken out on to the shimmering water of Lake Gennesareth and stayed out far into the night (cf Mk 4:35; 6:35). We also know that his public life was one of wandering through the mountain valleys of his homeland, from Galilee to Samaria and Judaea and even as far as to the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matt 15:21). Despite these arduous journeys he counseled that one should travel light, bringing nothing for the journey, neither staff, money, nor bread, neither have two coats (Luke 9:3). Hunger and thirst must therefore have frequently accompanied him. His last journey from Jericho up to Jerusalem was an astounding feat. Under a burning sun through a desolate, rocky waste he climbed some 3500 feet in a six hour climb. Despite this, he seems not tired since that night he takes part in a feast at the house of Lazarus and his sisters (John 12:2). By far, the greater part of Jesus’ public ministry was spent out in the open exposed to rigors of climate in a life filled with labor and toil with often little time eat (Mk 3:20; Mk 6:31). He owned no home and “had nowhere to lay his head (Matt 8:20) Hence he likely spent more than a few nights sleeping out in the elements. Only a sound body of physical stamina could have endured such as this.
And now to his mental stature itself. He faced many malevolent enemies among the Pharisees and Sadducees and dealt with them effectively reducing them to silence (so much so that they began to plot his death). In addition there were tiring explanations to be offered to disciples who were often slow to learn. His self assurance is manifest. In the midst of a raging storm he went on peacefully sleeping till his disciples woke him. He immediately grasps the situation and rebukes the storm.
There was tremendous clarity in his thought. He had an absolute grasp of His goal which gave him an inflexibility and finality (in the good sense) of his will. Jesus knows what he wills and determinedly pursues it. This is evident even at twelve years of age in the temple.
The three temptations in the desert are turned back forcefully by the Lord. He is never deterred by opposition. There is opposition among the kindred of his own town, among his followers (cf esp. John 6:57) and even among the Apostles (cf esp. Matt 16:22). Here we have a man of clear will. He demands the same determination and certainty from his followers. No man, putting his hand to the plough and turning back is fit for the reign of God.” (Luke 9:62)
He bore so clearly the marks of the true, the upright, and the strong, that even his enemies had to declare when they came to him, Master, we know that thou art a true speaker and care not for the opinion of any man. (Mk 12:14) He shows forth a unity and purity and transcendence that reflect his interior life of union with the Father. His loyalty to the will of his Father is unwavering and clear even though it leads directly to the Cross. Jesus in every way is a heroic and epic figure in the purest sense of that word staking his life for a known truth and demanding the same of his followers.
Jesus was a born leader. When he calls his apostles, they immediately arise to follow after him. (cf esp Mk 1:16; 1:20) Again and again the Apostles note how they wondered among themselves about the marvels of his actions and even how these struck terror into them (cf esp. Mk 9:5; 6:51; 4:40; 10:24,26). At times they did not dare question him any further (Mk 9:3). The same wonderment affected the crowds.(cf Mk 5:15,33,42; 9:14). He spoke with towering authority and the people sought the loftiest images to in wondering who he could be. Is he John the Baptist? Elijah? Jeremiah or one prophets? (Matt 16:14) His spiritual power and authority discharged themselves in stern language and bold action when the powers of evil arrayed themselves against him. Demons trembled against his awesome power (Matt 4:10.) He also rebukes strongly the evil that is in men and warns them that they will not be worthy of him if they do not repent (Matt 13:41sq; 13:49sq; 25:1sq; 14sq; 33sq; 18:34; 22:7; 22:11sq.).
He is absolutely clear and unflinching in dealing with the scribes and pharisees Matt 23:14,24,25). As shown above, he knows himself to be the Messiah and is anything but a fair-weather Messiah but follows the model of the prophets rebuking all enemies of the truth He proclaims He speaks of hypocrites, serpents and generations of vipers and liars (cf Matt 23:33). He calls Herod a fox (Lk 13:32). Although he was never one to tread lightly he never forgets himself or loses control. His anger is always the expression of supreme moral freedom declaring, for this I came into the World, that I should give testimony to the truth (John 18:37). Because He was so consistently true to His Father’s will his life was only “Yes and No” and he reacted with great severity against anything that was ungodly or hateful to God. He was ready to stake his own life for the truth and die for it.
To describe Jesus psychologically would be to describe his as a man of purposeful virility, absolute genuineness, austere uprightness and heroic in performance. He knows the truth, himself and with exact clarity executes his mission.