Isn’t it time for a Theology of Masculinity for the New Evangelization?
Sparked by Fr. David Vincent Meconi’s, SJ September 2013 editorial in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, I wanted to expand on his questions and comments about the need for a theology of masculinity. Here is part of what he had to say:
Provocative and important as Pope Francis’ comments are about the need for a theology of women, John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and his effusive recognition of “the feminine genius” certainly began that conversation. But what have recent popes and magisterial teachings done to address the nature of man and masculinity? How would the men of our parishes and in our pews be different today if John Paul had written the encyclical, say, On The Dignity of Man—Viri Dignitatem? How would men today be more able to live out their own unique discipleship and role in both the world, and in the Church, if we were able to articulate how men embody the Christian vocation to holiness in exclusive and particular ways?
I am a son of John Paul II, and am deeply impressed with Benedict and Francis, but I am frustrated about this omission and have wondered about it much over the last few years.
Fr. Meconi goes on to suggest that a theology of masculinity is needed especially in America where we are not growing boys into men. “America, especially, has a way of infantilizing men.” Video games, porn, and comic book hero movies are some current ways of achieving this. His piece is well worth the read.
He ultimately goes on to suggest that Christ is the ultimate model of masculinity just as Mary is for femininity. He then stresses the priestly aspect of Christ as the remedy for men. I would agree and want to add some “whys” to the need for a theology of masculinity. I think it is essential for the New Evangelization. Lastly I want expand on his model for a theology of masculinity.
Biology vs. Culture
Motherhood and fatherhood have always helped define femininity and masculinity. But while biology defines more what it means to be a woman, the culture defines more what it means to be a man. The woman’s body is designed to conceive, carry, bear, and feed children. Women have a distinct and physical connection to the phrase in the Eucharistic prayer, “This is my body which has been given up for you.” The man has a relatively small, although highly pleasurable, biological role in the conceiving of children, but no biological role in child rearing. It is all culture after conception. As Theology of the Body suggests, the male anatomy does point him to loving someone outside of himself; but when the cultural winds blow harder, they co-opt the voice and authority of defining what it means to be a man. There are philosophical and political agendas that seek to liberate women from the oppression of their bodies and from men. The media has helped to relegate men to irrelevant roles: think Everybody Loves Raymond, or Two and a Half Men—buffoon or playboy. The Culture of Death is winning on this one!
The Problem of Fatherlessness
Blessed John Paul II used to say “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 75). I would add that “The future of the family passes through fatherhood.”
Fatherlessness is an undeniable and well-documented elephant in the living room! Fatherlessness has increased criminality and juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, poor school performance, premature sexuality and out-of-wedlock births among teenagers, gender confusion, the number of women and children in poverty, the likelihood of childhood sexual abuse or child abuse, teen runaways and homelessness, gang involvement, and the risk of suicide attempts and completions by teens. This is the short list, and it is well documented elsewhere (see David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America). The mass shootings in the news of late almost always involve a fatherless kid, but this does not get commented on by the Church or Catholic media. (Al Kresta was a recent exception on his show, Kresta in the Afternoon, in the last few months.) The Culture of Death is winning this one, too!
A Pro-life Issue
At least 30% of abortions are coerced by others, (and I suspect mostly men) according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. This double distortion—coercion of another and abortion—is a distortion of authentic masculinity. Masculinity is a pro-life issue!Church Attendance Problem
The Church is losing men! The typical Sunday Mass has about 60% women and 40% men. Many men see going to Church as women’s work. There are 76% of baptized Catholics who don’t attend Mass regularly. But if fathers thought that going to Church was important and went, their children and wives would follow. Fathers have a profound effect on the next generation according to a census study from Switzerland. If mom and dad attend regularly, 34% of their kids will attend regularly. If mom goes regularly and dad goes irregularly or not at all, that drops to 2% or 3% of their kids who will attend regularly. If dad goes regularly and mom irregularly or not at all, the percentage jumps to 38% or 44%! This alone should give us pause to look at how to engage men for the New Evangelization!
The Gospel: Fatherhood Restored
So if masculinity is in crisis, and the culture is distorting it; if fatherlessness and men are literally and figuratively killing our society; and if the next generation of Church attenders is largely dependent on men going to Church, where is that encyclical “On the Dignity of Men”? Where is a clear articulation of masculinity?
I am frustrated by the first question, but the answer to the second question is found in the Gospel and the Catechism. Fatherhood is central to the Gospel: from original sin, which attempts to abolish God’s Fatherhood (see JPII’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 228); to salvation, which restored God’s Fatherhood (revealed as Abba—Daddy or Papa, Jn. 10:30-33, Mk. 14:36—and the father of the prodigal son, Lk. 15:11-32); and to the living out of earthly fatherhood as Malachi and Luke state, “turn[ing] the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 3:23-24; cf. Lk. 1:17). (For a little more on the Gospel and Fatherhood, see my blog here.)
All Men Are Called to Fatherhood.
Thus I would tie masculinity directly to fatherhood. All men, young, old, and in between, married and single, are called to fatherhood, first and always to spiritual fatherhood, then possibly to biological fatherhood. St. Escriva says it this way, “Don’t let your life be sterile.” Men must be fruitful with spiritual or biological children! Men are called to be fathers (mentors/big brothers/friends) to the fatherless. Fatherhood is a part of God’s essence—so why would it not be the essence of masculinity?
Fatherhood Lived Out As Prophet, Priest, and King
How is this lived out? I would build on Fr. Meconi’s idea of Christ as the model for men in His priestly function. I would say that men’s spiritual and biological fatherhood are to be lived out as priest, prophet, and king as the foundation of authentic masculinity. This of course is based on the sacrament of baptism, where men (and women) “become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office” (CCC 871). I will unpack this in a later blog.
Men: The Most Leveraged Focus of the New Evangelization
But let’s say men were living out their authentic Catholic masculinity in spiritual fatherhood—we would see the ripple effects go through the family, the neighborhood, and the whole of society! Each of the problem areas mentioned above—the identity crisis, the effects of fatherlessness, abortions, and poor church attendance—would all be positively impacted. I think focusing on men is the most leveraged activity of the New Evangelization.
While I haven’t thoroughly read Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which is on the New Evangelization, I did search it for the words “men” and “women.” Men are not to be found as a focus, while women are (“we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” 103). I am not begrudging this initiative; I just think it makes sense from the data of our Culture of Death to go after men for the good of families, the Church, and society.
John Paul II gave us a great deal to think about our sexuality. Shouldn’t the Church be leading the charge on defining masculinity? Isn’t it time for a theology of masculinity that will serve to ignite the New Evangelization in the third millennium?