There is a crisis in masculine identity and mission today. It is due, in large part, to the failure of men to know and to live out our identity and our vocation. Accusations, abominations, sexual misconduct and cover-ups abound in the news. And, almost exclusively, it is the sins of men.
As a man, I’ve seen the ripple effect of my actions and attitudes in what happens in my home, towards my wife and four children, and how it echoes into the neighborhood, and the world, for good or ill. Whatever we see played out in the world, after all, is simply the macro-version of the micro-battle happening in everyday life. Tragically, from the media headlines and social media feeds of the day, it looks like men are losing this battle.
We’ve seen the astounding repercussions, the massive void hollowed out when men (fathers in particular) are absent. When men fail to rise up to their full potential it unleashes all manner of distortion and dysfunction in the home, the neighborhood and the nation. The “father wound” is felt, and “father hunger” is real and apparent in the hearts of so many young people, though perhaps undiagnosed.
Conversely, when men rise, follow their vocations as they are designed to do, the course is corrected. My own father demonstrated this to me by his example, shaping me by his steadfastness and devotion to God and to family through all of the vicissitudes of this life.
But we are truly fallen creatures. Greed and lust are the chains that bind these men who are so negatively affecting our Church and our culture, while duplicity and a damning silence about it seem to be infiltrating the life of society and the Church at an alarming rate.
Men, we need a reset. A refresh. A rekindling in who we are and what it is we’re called to give to the life of our families and the culture at large.
St. John Paul II often said, referencing the Second Vatican Council, that “Man… cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes, 24)
But what does a “gift of self” mean in real life? How does one live this out, especially as a man striving to provide for his family or dealing with the stresses of work or newly married or discerning a vocation to the priesthood?
Jesus is the ultimate example of giving of oneself. He is always going to be the answer. Jesus gave his life for all. Men today often will not have to literally give his life up and die for someone, but they can follow Jesus’ example of love for his family, for his disciples, and especially for the women who surrounded him.
He showed both compassion and courage with the woman who was caught in adultery, as He rightly rebuked those would stone her while He demonstrated deep love to the woman who had chosen wrong over right.
During His way to Calvary, he stopped to recognize his mother, to humbly have his face cleaned by Veronica, and to speak compassionately to the weeping women.
To men whose vocation is marriage, follow our Lord’s example of compassion and love. Be patient, be kind, and be thoughtful to your wives, to your children, and to your family. Fulfill your vocation wholeheartedly, giving of yourself for your family.
To men whose vocation is to the priesthood, Jesus again is the answer. He was displayed righteous anger when confronted with thieves in the Temple. He referred Himself as the Good Shepherd, one who gives their life up for their sheep, to protect them and to search out the lost ones. He also took the time away from his ministry to pray in solitude, to be with His Father. Men, our identity is found in Christ.
God’s dream for the first man and first woman was to live a life of fruitful, self-giving love in grace, peace, and happiness. Though we often fail to live out this dream, this gift of self can blossom when we unite ourselves to Christ, entrusting our bodies, minds, and souls to Him in love.
We were meant – intended – to imitate the self-giving love that God used to create us, to create the world, and that flows infinitely within the Holy Trinity. This is a love that is free, faithful, and totally gratuitous, desiring only more life and love to flow from that Gift, to grow bigger and beyond itself, rippling out “to the ends of the earth.” This is the fundamental vocation, as St. John Paul II wrote, of every human being.
This gift of self remains the key for our dying world today.
As a husband and father of four little ones, I discover herein my mission and my path to real happiness. Many single men think that getting married and settling down, having a family and real responsibilities is the proverbial ball and chain. But truly, if men are called to the vocation of marriage, therein lies the opportunity for self-gift, for choosing to fulfill their God-given identities and discover true happiness. The ball and chain of commitment actually become the very anchor from which a man can operate and live out this love.
But is happiness really found in the daily grind of life, the washing of dishes, the making of lunches, the business trips and endless meetings? It is. St. Teresa of Avila said “God is in the pots and pans.”
Living this gift of self can be found in real engagement with the life and the lives that surround us right here and now. It is spending time each day with God in quiet, unplugged Adoration and prayer. It means being present to our family, actually looking at our spouse, grateful for the person she is as well as the things she does for the family.
It means dedicating time with our children, engaging them in a phone call or a text daily, or at least once a week if they’ve grown up and are on their own. It means being intentional with friends and truly any human being that comes across our path. It means putting down the smartphone and engaging the person of infinite worth and value right before me. It means asking that question that has become more of a stale formality, the question “How are you?” and actually staying for the answer. All of these are practical ways of living the gift of self.
As men, we must begin to sincerely radiate this self-giving love. We must allow ourselves to “be changed through suffering” and extending ourselves outward. Only then will a man “discover the breadth of his humanity.” Only from a knowledge of this deepest identity of gift can a man come to the knowledge of his mission, which is nothing short of restoring society and rebuilding a true culture of life and love.
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