August 01, 2011

Catholic manhood defined

By Brian Caulfield *

There are many ways to describe Catholic manhood – faithful, honest, virtuous – but let’s start with the most basic.

A Catholic man is a man who loves. That may sound simple or trite, but only because the word “love” has been so devalued through overuse and outright misuse.

The Webster’s on my desk defines love: 1. strong affection; 2. warm attachment (~ of the sea); 3. attraction based on sexual desire; 4. a beloved person; 5. unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for others; 6. a score of zero in tennis.

Definition #5 comes the closest to what we are talking about here. But let’s put it in more masculine terms: “Greater love hath no man than to give up his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The words of Jesus Christ, as he contemplates the Cross, are a model of Catholic manhood, the definition of Catholic love.

The love that Jesus expresses is the love of a Father, his own heavenly Father. We all know the “John 3:16” signs held up from the stands at ball games, and we may roll our eyes at those “fundamentalists.” But what does that particular verse say?

“For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son … that the world might be saved through him.” We’re talking about the love of God the Father for us, for humanity! This is very personal, very real, the essence of our purpose and mission in life.

Jesus Christ is the perfect expression – the full embodiment – of the Father’s love, and he passes on this love to us. “This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you …” (John 15:12).

A Catholic man is one who is sent on the mission of love that comes through Christ from the Father.

Now, let’s talk more about love.

Love is more than an emotion or as Webster’s insists “strong affection.” It is more than sexual desire. Love is the strong and settled determination of the will to always think, speak and act for the good of another.

What does that mean? Certainly it means giving up your life for your wife, children, friends and even strangers in need. We read often of men who dive into frozen lakes to save a child or run into burning buildings. Think of 9/11, with the tenth anniversary approaching.

One-time heroic deeds draw attention and headlines. But most of us are called to daily self-giving love. This can be every bit as heroic because it requires a sustained act of love over a lifetime, in which we will experience setbacks, disappointments, anger and every kind of temptation. As St. Paul wrote, “I die daily” (1 Cor 15:31).

We will be tempted to think: one lapse doesn’t matter, one small theft at work, one infidelity, one look at a pornographic magazine or website, one little revenge on an enemy or a friend, one “white” lie.

A Catholic man loves so much that he would rather die to his own self than commit one sin. In everyday terms – he would rather hold his tongue than hurt his wife in anger, sacrifice his own comfort to play ball with his son after a hard day’s work, wake up at dawn to get work done for a promotion, and even risk being the “bad guy” by disciplining his children.

He also is willing to look “foolish” in the eyes of the world by taking his family to Mass, getting on his knees at night to pray and handing on his faith to his children.

A Catholic man is willing to “die daily” so that others – especially those in his family – may have a better life, and life eternal in heaven.

Catholic men: Let us join together in this great adventure!

Brian Caulfield is editor of the website Fathers for Good, an initiative by the Knights of Columbus that features regular articles, videos and other multimedia on the subject of Christian fatherhood. A father of two young boys, Brian writes on the spiritual truths found in daily life and the issues men face while striving to live out their vocation.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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