What does it mean to be a real man? Below, Christopher Kerzich argues that all men would do well ask this question and to contemplate the "vocation to Manhood." He offers five Biblical principles on the topic.
Before addressing the men’s group at my summer parish assignment I began thinking about what to say to a group of men older and wiser that me about call, vocation and mission. After unsuccessfully writing on a variety of topics I remembered a quote that impacted my discernment to enter seminary. The late John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York once said:
“The priesthood is tough and it’s for real men. You have to be a real man if you want to become a priest.”
The striking thing about this quote is that one could interchange the word “priesthood” with a variety of other nouns, with a variety of vocations. So this began me on a path to explore one vocation that is rarely discussed: The Vocation of Manhood.
As we see on the news and throughout society, what it means to be a man is miscommunicated and quite possibly under attack. We see the projection of men as brutes, abusers of women and drugs, as well as violent animals. Our society may soon have the majority of an entire generation in which men are not raised by a father. So I began looking for a source for exploring this vocation at the center of all men.
Now I’m not going to write and tell you of my great experiences and how I’ve derived deep wisdom from them, this would be naïveté and quite possibly stupidity. What I am going to discuss are principles that are at the center of every man, principles that we all can recognize in our lives which have been shown to us by Christ. So through an exploration of five principles I hope all men can have a better understanding of our vocation, call and mission as men.
Where do you feel more like a man: walking down cubicle alley at the office or walking down the fairway on the course? Do you feel more like a man walking though the mall or in the woods? You see adventure and wilderness is a central part of a man’s soul. For John Eldredge, author of Wild at Heart, “the masculine heart needs a place where nothing is prefabricated, modular, nonfat, zip lock, franchised, on-line, microwavable. Where there are no deadlines, cell phones, or committee meetings. Where there is room for the soul and where the geography around us corresponds to the geography of our heart.”
I saw this recently during a visit to Vacation Bible School at the parish to which I was assigned this summer. In the morning the kids were asked to describe a God sighting they found in the past couple of days. One boy said he saw God in nature when he went fishing with his grandfather. The other boy that spoke said he saw God on a walk with his father when they sighted some deer. You see, we as men need this time in the wild or a time for adventure to grow deeper in our vocation to manhood.
We see this through Christ’s time in the desert. He went into the wilderness to conquer the devil’s temptations just like we need to go to our “desert” to conquer the darkness from within and without which effects our manhood. One needs to overcome arrogance and know where true power rests.
St. Luke in his Gospel tells us, “Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil...When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (Luke 4:1-2, 13).
I spent some time in the Tohono O'odham Nation, a native American reservation in southeastern Arizona. One day we were met by one of the community’s elders who took us to one of the most sacred places on the nation. This mountain is where young men would once climb, live alone for a couple of days and then return an be accepted by the community as a man. In essence he was describing their tribe’s ritual for Manhood. Our guide pointed out that one of the problems in his community is the lack of existence of such a ritual today. Teens no longer know when men in their community welcome and accept them as men.
Eldridge points to this reality in his book stating that we must understood the central truth of a boy’s journey to manhood: Masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who is he and what he’s got in the company of men. He cannot learn it from other boys, the world of women or from any other place.
As Christians we find such a ritual on the cross.
“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do]” (Luke 23:33).
Through Christ, the Cross becomes the fundamental ritual of all humanity. This ritual takes us to a place of sacrifice. This sacrifice is the offering of one self to the other (one’s wife or children) or for the priest for his parish (a total surrender to be like Christ). It is through this sacrifice a man affirms his son or a younger member of society and instills in him a true sense of manhood.
Christ shows us that all men are called to be fathers. In order for a man to become a father he must learn how to forgive. Beginning this journey, a man can look to forgiving his own father.
We see the scars of the father-son wound throughout society. These wounds can result in men either overcompensating for their wound and becoming ambitious and violent men or retreating toward passive aggressiveness. This wound lies within a man and constantly communicates a negative message until forgiveness is possible. Christ points the way for us to forgive.
“When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11: 25).
If you want to be a father you have to learn how to forgive. So who do you have to forgive? What are the primary relationships in which men have to forgive? Spouse, children, siblings?
At the end of our lives it seems the measure of the man as judged by God might be the man’s willingness to forgive.
When I lived in Washington, D.C., I observed something interesting. When one met a new person he or she often encountered the question, “So where are you from?” I don’t ever recall hearing a person answering, “Colombia Heights, Capitol Hill, Georgetown.” Instead, it seemed people often found part of their rootedness in where they grew up or went to college or lived for the majority of their lives. This demonstrates that we live in transitory society where people can easily pack up and move cross country multiple times throughout their careers. What does this do for our rootedness as men?
Where did the Son of Man find his rootedness?
The Gospel tells us:
“As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Luke 9:57-58).
You see, as men it’s our job to go out and return. We get up early leave home and head to work, we travel and live on the road in which our weekly home is a hotel room, we live in firehouses for an entire day before being able to return home. We go and come back.
Now the question is what are we going out for and what are we returning to? Are we going and returning as better men, better husbands and better Christians, or are we returning worse off? Are we rooted in our families, faith communities and God, or are we different people abroad then at home? Priests do the same throughout their ministry. A priest goes from parish to parish, community to community and returns home to Christ in the Eucharist.
So where do we as men find our rootedness? What are the concrete realities of our lives?
In various ways each of these points are connected, but they all flow to point five: sanctity. So what do I mean by sanctity? It means to be concretized in Christ. To be holy is to be another Christ in the context of your vocation. It means to be on the path to becoming a saint!
Husbands you are Christ’s representative to your family. A priest is Christ’s representative to a wider community through giving his life for people he may not even know. We can find this reality in the Prologue of John’s Gospel.
John’s Gospel starts with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:1-3).
We as men are supposed to conform our lives to the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ. So in the vocation of Manhood we are not self-made but Christ made. All of these aspects of our vocation as men flow toward conforming our lives to that of Jesus Christ. Diving into the scriptures we see Christ as the perfect example of what it means to be a man. Therefore, whatever our vocation, the calling which dominates our lives, it should be found in and through Jesus Christ.
Christopher Kerzich is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago studying at Mundelein Seminary.