In my first semester in the United States after coming from Malaysia, I remember realizing how I had never, in my life, heard the words “feminine” or being a “feminist” so many times on so many occasions. I come from a very apolitical background, so I remember being confused how gender could be made into such a political issue. With so much, sometimes even too much, societal attention today on women’s rights, feminism and all things women, western society has lost the sense of authentic masculinity and it is my conviction that our world today is in desperate need of just that: the restoration of true, authentic, Catholic masculinity is indispensable in our call to christianize society.
I have recently listened to a homily from Fr. John Hollowell, of the archdiocese of Indianapolis,in which he asserts how the Catholic Church teaches and affirms what various philosophers, especially Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas have taught and written about that of the natural law. The natural law is an essential theory that our postmodern culture today largely fails to accept. This natural law affirms that things are made with a nature, and if they deny their nature, disaster will ensue. Men by nature, are masculine, and the Catholic Church’s understanding of masculinity can be summed up in one word: sacrifice. Men are hardwired to sacrifice and to give ourselves for others. Think about our physical and biological makeup for a second. Our sexual organs are designed to perform an act of sacrifice. They are designed to enable us to empty ourselves and to give ourselves completely to the woman we love. Masculinity is written in our hearts by virtue of being a male. However, we need to choose to put into action that which is written in our hearts. We need to utilize our intellect and will to act according to that which we are called to be. This has unfortunately become increasingly difficult in our society today that lacks the presence of authentic masculine men. When we live in a culture that represses that which is written on our hearts, it is very difficult to live according to that which we are called to be. With a lack of authentically masculine role models, many young men fail to live a life of self denial and self sacrifice, but instead fall into two extremes.
According to Fr. John Hollowell, the two extremes and counterfeits of authentic masculinity are on the one hand domination, and on the other hand passivity and softness. Men who embody the characteristics of domination and arrogance, are those prone to commit acts of physical and sexual abuse and are concerned primarily with their own pleasure. They are also those who do good works for the sake of being seen. They engage in acts of self sacrifice but without a genuine intention. Instead of being sincerely concerned about the person whom they are helping, they use them as a means to pump their own chest. The other counterfeit of authentic masculinity are those who are navel gazers and serial complainers. They are soft, whiney and dissatisfied with everything in life. Instead of embracing their struggles with courage and confidence, they loathe themselves in self-pity and expect people to solve their problems for them. These two extremes have an important similarity: narcissism. Those in either extreme are concerned primarily with themselves, and fail to live lives of self-denial and self-sacrifice.
The ultimate masculine role model that we as men should look to, is the person of Jesus Christ. Christ did not pump his own chest when his hands were stretched out on the cross, neither did he whine and complain. We need to heed closely to his words: “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (cf. Matthew 16:24). We are not the center of the world. We should be attached neither to our own fleeting emotions, nor to our opinions so as to fall into intellectual pride. We should be attached to God, and God alone. Being masculine isn’t about being muscular or good at sports, neither is it merely about being aggressive or assertive. It is about sacrifice.
Jesus Christ showed us what it means to be a true man. He laid down his life, so that others might live. He did so not for himself, but out of love for all of humanity. Can we do the same?