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I’ve never met him and never will. Don’t even know his real name. But our brief encounter on the road about 20 years ago comes to mind frequently.

At the time, I was working at a major life insurance company in downtown Des Moines. The metro population is around 250,000, so it is unusual to frequently recognize other vehicles in your daily commute from the suburbs. However, this particular car had a very distinct orange-like color, displayed a personalized license plate about one of our state universities, and the 30ish-aged driver drove  in an aggressive manner. So, in this case, I recalled seeing him at stoplights once in a while.

My wife and I occasionally rode together since our jobs were located across the street from each other, and this was one of those days. We were approaching a yellow light, so I came to a complete stop just as it turned to red. And glancing in the rearview mirror I broke into laughter.

“What in the world are you giggling about?” she asked.

“The guy in back of me is pounding on his dashboard because I didn’t run the yellow light. I think he wants to kill me!”

I could not help but notice his crimson colored face and recalled that I had seen him other times race through that same intersection on yellow. This time I had unintentionally changed his plans.

The man was one angry dude. Because of me, he was about to reach his parking ramp a whole three minutes later than anticipated.

That’s when I assigned my friend the nickname Dash Pounder Dan. To my mind he was majoring in the minors and had little reason to be upset about something so trivial.

But in respect, I probably own DPD an apology.

Because I had done pretty much the same thing when I left the Catholic Church for five or six years, experimenting with several other denominations. I was angry about things and people in the church of my youth.

I had begun to think of Mass as a ritual that had little meaning. I avoided confession, quit saying the rosary, sought religious services with better preaching and singing. I was angry about clerical sexual abuse-cover up, and doubted the efficacy of church hierarchy. Things were not moving quickly enough for me in the Catholic Church.

In retrospect, I was no different from DPD. I was pounding on a mythical dashboard, pouting like a three-year-old not getting his own way. I wanted to go faster. I wanted something better. I wanted the perfect church.

In the process, I found many good ones led by gifted pastors and congregations filled with people who loved the Lord. Then I discovered church splits and denominations who vehemently disagreed with each other on dogma and style.

That’s when I decided at the very least to find the church that was perfect for me.

Thankfully, after years of searching, experimenting, and studying, I found it.

Oddly enough, bible studies with dear friends from various Protestant denominations turned out to be a significant factor in leading me home.

To Catholicism.

To the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. To the church of my youth.

Yes, there are problems. The most significant is taking whatever steps necessary to be accountable and provide reparation for victims of sexual abuse. And cover-ups. And preventing either from ever happening again.

But it is THE Church founded by Jesus Himself. It is a Church led by imperfect leaders for imperfect parishioners. It is a church I’ve grown to love and appreciate.

So, if you happen to read this and recognize yourself Dash Pounder Dan, my apologies for laughing at the red light. I sincerely hope that you find the contentment in your life that I am finding in Mother Church.

The post Dash Pounder Dan and Being Mad at the Church appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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Those Catholic Men by Tcm Guest Contributor - 4d ago

Photo courtesy of NewMelleray.org

By: Harry Scherer

Recently, I experienced the joy of joining eleven other young men from around the country for the Monastic Wisdom Seminar at New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery in northeast Iowa.

I got an impression on the first night that the week would be unlike any other when one particularly humble and wise monk said, “My life is a doxology.” Then, he simply chanted the Glory Be, bowing from his hips for the praise of the Trinity. “That’s it. That’s my vocation. My work is done.” He said it as a worker would describe his daily job: simply and without pretense.

To our modern ears, the notion of one living his life solely for the praise of God does not satisfy our utilitarian urge to produce. I admit that I was skeptical, originally thinking, ‘what about the caskets you make or the food you grow?’ This work, it later became clear, is all a part of the doxology. As I saw monks in denim shirts and cargo work pants assemble caskets and pull weeds from their lush field, I was reminded of the conference in which a monk identified the “monk” as an archetype. “To discern a monastic vocation,” he said, “is to be in Christ and then ask Him what He would have me do.” Is there much distinction in this vocation from that of the universal Christian vocation which St. Paul outlines: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20)?

The monastic life, because of the defining solitude and silence, is the hyperattentive response to the exhortation of St. Paul. Through his autobiographical description, Paul defines the Christian life as that of suffering and ultimate identification with Christ. This subject introduces what I found to be the most beautiful and eye-opening moment of the retreat. That same monk who identified his life as a doxology described the “eschatological urgency” with which Christians must act. “Brothers, this is the bridal chamber. The Bridegroom is here. He is inviting you to an intimacy undreamed of in the old covenant.” The monk encouraged us to act with the fidelity, certitude and urgency of the Apostles and early Christians after hearing the Anointed One proclaim to the Galileans, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Because we “know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13), there is no time to waste in being the sons of God “who are led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14).

This identity with Christ, of course, cannot be done by man alone. One of the innumerable graces Our Lord gave to us by means of His Paschal Mystery is the ability to sanctify, through the grace of God, every encounter, sacrifice and moment of our earthly lives. In our world of incessant dialogue, there lies little time for being. There is even less time, as Pope Francis noted in Ave Maria: The Mystery of a Most Beloved Prayer, for the children of God to wonder at His creation: “We need to rediscover amazement in the life of the Church. We need to marvel.”

There was more than enough to marvel at the life of the monks of New Melleray Abbey during our six-day visit. Twelve unprepared men were forced to face themselves in the mirror for six days in solitude and silence. Through the psalms, we were reminded of our constant reliance on God; through the silence, our mortality; through the minimalist architecture, our tendency to excess; through reading, our ignorance; through the monks, our pride. May the monks of New Melleray and all men and women who responded to their monastic call with the fiat of Our Lady continue to pray and work for the other lung of His Church and the world which needs them so desperately.

The post Lessons from Monks for Men appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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Photo: Courtesy stanleyrother.org

The country church is red brick, its steeple a stout weathervane amid storms on the Oklahoma plains. In 1937, Stanley Rother was baptized as an infant beneath its roof in the village of Okarche. In 1981, Father Stanley Rother was killed by a death squad at Atitlán, Guatemala.

Today, he is known as Blessed Stanley Rother to the thousands who honor his memory. To the Indigenous people for whom he gave his life, he is known as Padre Aplas. Me? I call him Stan. I’ve never met him, but his picture is taped to my bathroom mirror and I chat with him each morning as I shave.

Shrouded in steam and the smell of Barbersol, I part my thinning hair. The farm report crackles in the background. I recall Stan’s pocket comb on display at an Oklahoma City museum. It lies in a case beside an address book and other items found in the room where he was murdered. Stalwart to the end, this martyr put up one hell of a fight. Those who found him said his knuckles were scuffed raw.

I have no business calling this man my brother, but he was born around the same year as my oldest sibling, John, and was baptized in a church nearly identical to ours. Like all three of my brothers, he wore an FFA jacket, showed Angus steers at the county fair and proved himself a decent mechanic.  Like all farm boys back then, he packed hay on flatbed wagons, bale hook in hand, no shirt on his back. When I think of Stanley Rother, I catch a whiff of cow manure and stale sweat.

Blessed Stan—brother Stan—pray for us.

Co-workers with God

I once had a friend who was a Lutheran minister. He grew up in Kansas and claimed that people took on the qualities of the land on which they lived. I believed his theory then, and I believe it now. I believe it because of the farmers I have known and the families they have raised. I also believe it because my father often said, “If you’re close to the soil, you’re close to God.” His wisdom echoed the words of Scripture in I Corinthians: You are God’s field.

My friend died chopping corn on a parishioner’s farm. Father Rother worked in fields with his parishioners and took a bullet in his chest because of it.

Some folks sing when they pray. They close their eyes and raise their hands. Not so for farmers. They bow their heads and keep silent. 

The holiest among them bend their knees, then touch the dirt to check its moisture.

Communion of Place

“From the bones of our dead, to the roots of our trees.”

This phrase from Nikos Kazantzakis captures the sacramental potential of an ordinary place. Communion with a place is as universal as processions, pilgrimages and the veneration of sacred relics. It is as particular as the blessing of homes, harvests, fields and flocks.

In the New Testament, Paul the Apostle sewed canvas in Corinth, while Tabitha wove blankets in Joppa. Aloysius Gonzaga nursed plague victims in Rome, Francis of Assisi tamed a wolf in Gubbio. Isaac Jogues paddled canoes across great lakes and Kateri Tekawitha hung crosses in forests of maple and oak. 

In a book called The Land, Walter Brueggerman writes of the grace endemic to particular locations, places where important words were uttered, vows were spoken and sacrifices rendered; places with deep roots and well-tended graves. If the Communion of Saints is an extended family of faith, then Heaven is surely an extension of a faithful family’s home place.

“In my Father’s House there are many dwelling places,” says the Lord. “You know the way that leads where I go.”

Thomas objects: “How can we know where you are going when we do not know the way?”

The Lord reassures the anxious apostle and all who would come to believe in Him: I am the way, He says. In effect, He is telling us: I am the way home, the way to your true and eternal home.

Family Photographs

My sister died last month. She was not a martyr but, like Stan, she fought hard. Despite years of a devastating illness, she never lost faith, she never lost heart.

Our family photo albums replicate those of the Rother family that are displayed in the same museum that houses his pocket comb and address book.

At my sister’s home, the night before her funeral, we opened the old albums and reminisced over snapshots of Pontiacs, prom dresses, hayrides and collie dogs. There were snapshots of a young man in a tee shirt with a crew-cut who would become Alberta’s husband of sixty years, the man who bathed and fed my sister the last twelve years of her life.

Alberta was buried in a cemetery less than a mile from a red-brick church, next to the grave of her firstborn child.

The wind was stiff the day we placed her body in the earth. Prayers darted like swallows through the gusts. Muffled cries rolled across furrows of upturned clay.

The soil smelled damp.

May the angels come to greet you.

In this region that my family calls home, chants still echo amid carved niches in wooden altars. And cows still bed beneath hay mows planked with ancient oak.

May the martyrs come to meet you.

May Stan be among those waiting for you, Alberta, tool box at his feet, scuffed hand reaching for the door. The screen door of the house, that good house, the sturdy farmhouse of the Father.

Mike Bonifas trains horses in West Texas. His writing has appeared in Dappled Things, Ruminate Magazine and Pilgrim: A Journal of Catholic Experience.

The post Holy People Stand on Holy Ground appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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Those Catholic Men by Thomas Connelly - 1w ago

The other day a lady described a man she had met and I was about to see again. Her description was summed up at the end by, “he is a nice guy.” I shuddered a bit and reconsidered my options. Was this man really someone I wanted to meet? Then that got me thinking, why is it almost an insult to call a man a “nice guy”? There is nothing inherently wrong with the term but it can have a sort of unspoken meaning. “He’s a nice guy, (but he is also a wuss).” A similar sentiment is conveyed occasionally when guys describe women. “She has a nice personality, (but is not beautiful/attractive).”

So, why do nice guys finish last? They probably aren’t doing anything wrong, that is actually part of the problem – they aren’t doing anything. Men are called to be strong, courageous, and prepared to defend. Does that mean you have to own a gun, be a football star, or earn a black belt in martial arts? Not necessarily, but those things can help point you to the deeper reality of the virtues that define a real man. There is a softening in our culture today that seeks to prevent men, and boys on their way to becoming men, from encountering danger and learning how to use their power, strength and bad-assery. Jordan Peterson describes this well in his 12 Rules for Life when he says, “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.” He is referring to skill and courage that is acquired by young people doing tricks off railings and staircases. Don’t prevent them from doing that, let them learn to harness and direct that power and skill.

There was once a priest I knew who taught in a seminary, and his favorite class to teach (the one that he was renowned for) was the public speaking class. On one occasion he was asked to give a course on public speaking to a group of consecrated women. He was coaching one of them as she was giving a practice speech and he stopped her—getting frustrated—and exclaimed, “it needs to be more virile!” He was looking for a certain strength and power in the speaking, something that he had seen so many times in the men he had taught for years.  He might have been looking in the wrong place for that.

It seems women, despite the PC ideals we hear about, want to hear that virility too. It is something not only desirable but essential. I have often heard the strength, power and ferocity of men spoken of metaphorically as a lion. If you have a lion in your care you basically have three options. First, you can chain it with the strongest bonds and bars and try to keep it under control. The lion may be kept at bay by this for a while but there is always the chance that he will break free and wreak havoc, or when we occasionally go to feed him he could lash out and strike. The second option is to just let him run loose. This is obviously not a good option because he will destroy everything we love. The third, and best, option is to train the lion and to use all that ferocity and power for the right things, the true things, the good things. Not many people would try to rob your house if you had a guard lion instead of a guard dog.

God does not want men to be merely nice. He wants us to be strong lions, but not the wild sources of chaos lions can become, or the weak beaten down caged versions. He wants us to be the strong powerful instruments of his will in the world, using all the potential for courage and virtue we have to fight and defeat the enemy and protect and defend the family.  Masculine strength needs direction, grace, and sometimes even healing.  But, it sure doesn’t seem anyone really wants us to be nice guys.  Thank God.

The post Nice Guys Finish Last appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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Preparing our sons for manhood can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to teaching them about life and sexuality.  We want to protect them from pornography, inform them about the changes they will experience in puberty, and teach them about healthy sexuality. Fathers often ask me where to find good resources to accomplish these tasks with their sons. In this article, I want to discuss three excellent resources that should be used before your son enters middle school.

  • Education on the Dangers of Pornography. Today pornographic images abound in all forms of media.  While we would like to shield our sons from this, it’s almost impossible.  However, we can teach out sons about the dangers of pornography and to come talk to us when they encounter any.  This can protect them from the harmful effects of those images.  To achieve this, I recommend the book, Good Pictures/Bad Pictures: Porn-proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen A. Jenson and Debbie Fox. This book is written for children ages 8 and above.  I recommend reading this book with your son just before he enters third grade.  That is the grade where many kids are first exposed to pornography.  Through reading this book with your son, and your ongoing conversations with him, you will help your son learn to reject all forms of pornography.     
  • Informing Your Son about Puberty: Adolescence is a time of great change for most boys.  There are physical, sexual, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual changes that occur during this time.  It’s important to teach your son about this so that when it happens it’s not a shock to him.  He will be ready for it!  One book I recommend that can help is Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys by Cara Natterson.  Surprisingly, this book is published by American Girl (the folks who make the American Girl Dolls!); however, it’s an excellent book to teach your son about puberty.  It covers all aspects of puberty, not just the physical and sexual changes.  Moreover, it pushes no political agenda (i.e. homosexuality, abortion, masturbation, birth control, etc.).  It simply presents the straight truth about puberty.  I recommend reading this with your son just before he enters fourth grade.  This may seem a little early; however, kids today are entering puberty early, and you want to educate him on this before he gets it in school or from his peers.
  • Teaching Your Son about Sexuality: All kids are curious about where babies come from.  Eventually we need to teach our sons about this.  This is probably the most anxiety-ridden conversation we will have with our sons.  Few men look forward to having “the talk” with their sons.  One book that can make this a little easier is Wonderfully Made! Babies: A Catholic Perspective on How and Why God Makes Babies by Ellen Giangiordano and Dr. Lester Ruppersberger.  This book is written for kids ages nine and older.  I recommend reading this with your son just before he enters fifth grade.  Having been through Good Pictures/Bad Pictures and Guy Stuff, your son will be ready to learn about sex.  Wonderfully Made Babies presents human sexually beautifully and from a Catholic perspective.  It is solidly based on a scientific research on human sexuality and the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality.  Any father can feel safe using this book to teach his son about sexuality.

With these three books, and ongoing conversations, fathers can feel confident that by the time their sons enter middle school they will be able to recognize and reject pornography, be ready for the changes of puberty, and have a healthy understanding of human sexuality.  Now, while your conversations about these topics will need to continue throughout their teen years, you and your son will have a firm foundation for those conversations, which will make them easier to have.

  

The post Resources for “The Talk” With Sons Prior to Middle School appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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Catholic schools have been part of the American experience, possibly since 1606, when Franciscans landed with the explorers at St. Augustine, Florida, but not always this country’s public education.  And there’s a reason why.

Prior to the mid-1800’s, there was no nationwide public education system in the United States. New England had a fairly developed public school system by 1850, but schools in the rest of the country were less developed, and many cities and towns had no public school at all.

Until the mid-1800’s, most Americans with money, authority, influence, and power, were non-Catholic Christians, and in New England, they were usually Puritans. Puritans were Protestants (specifically Calvinists) who thought the Church of England had retained far too many Catholic practices and beliefs when it separated from the Catholic Church in 1529. However, the Puritans’ efforts of purifying the Church of England were not as successful as they desired. Therefore, scores of Puritan ships departed for the New World with the specific intent of establishing a pure faith which was totally free of any and all things Catholic.

The Puritans landed in New England and began to set up their “city on a hill” or “New Israel”. Since a central tenet of their faith was ridding the world of Catholicism, their laws included numerous prohibitions against Catholics and Catholicism, including the death penalty for priests, prohibition from elected office, additional taxes for Catholics, and other provisions which effectively prohibited Catholics from living in New England at the time.

The Puritans were also very attentive to the education of their youth, therefore, they set up a fairly organized school system, which was run by Puritans, for Puritans, especially the children of successful Puritans. While they did allow non-Puritan students to attend their schools (the only schools in New England at the time), spots were limited, advancement was not guaranteed, and no Catholics were allowed, at least not knowingly.

Then came a man by the name of Horace Mann. Mann had grown up in a strict and dour version of the Puritan faith, then converted to Unitarianism as an adult. Mann became interested in reforming the school system in Massachusetts. He was wildly successful, and his ideas ended up spreading across the country. He is now considered the father of the American public education system.

Mann’s education reform included the requirement that all children attend school and that the curriculum included instruction on the Bible. However, being a Unitarian who did not believe the Bible to be inerrant, he established a non-sectarian approach to Bible instruction. In other words, he focused on the things on which all or most Christians agreed, and avoided the parts of the Bible where various denominations disagreed.

In essence, Mann reformed the American culture by designing a school system to which every American youth was required to attend. In addition to a cursory religious education, students were taught to be upstanding moral citizens and hard workers. The result was that the state took over the primary role of educating all children and that education expanded beyond reading, writing and arithmetic to religion and morals.

When the Catholic bishops saw that this was going to harm faith and families, they quickly concluded that it was time for a large Catholic school system as well. At that time the Bishops put faith before any worldly advancement or ideas of assimilation, because to err at such a young age in faith could have eternal consequences.

This became even more urgent as millions of Catholic Irish and Italian immigrants began to pour into the country due to conditions in Europe such as the Irish potato famine as well as other political and economic conditions in Europe at the time. The immigrants entering the U.S. in the mid to late 1800’s were mostly Catholic, and almost all of them were also very poor and uneducated. They would have been very susceptible to leaving the Catholic faith in a Protestant culture which still looked down on Catholicism and which ran a school system which was designed to assimilate children into a Protestant culture.

Mann’s model still prevails in the public education system in the U.S. However, the U.S. is no longer Protestant, nor is it Christian. In fact, many public school administrators and boards fear lawsuits and public outcry so much, they often suppress Christianity in their school and give preferential treatment to LGBT groups, atheists, radical feminism, and other ideologies which conflict with Christianity. When a Christian or a Christian group attempts to challenge a school administration’s discrimination against a Christian, people often use fear of Satanic clubs and groups as justification: “If we allow you to use school property for your Christian activity, we’ll have to allow the use of our property for Satanist clubs.”

This brings us to the reason why Catholic schools are the perfect answer to today’s problems. Catholic schools were designed to keep parents in the role of primary educator of their children with regard to faith and morals, to support the family, and to avoid the loss of the Catholic faith through assimilation into the Protestant melting pot of American culture. All of these purposes are still highly relevant, though the melting pot is no longer Protestant, it is now mostly pagan. In reality, Satan is already alive and well in many public schools.

Unfortunately, many Catholic schools struggle to deliver an authentic and faithful Catholic experience these days. However, this is not necessarily the fault of the school. I believe it is usually the result of the lack of the authentic living out of the faith by Catholic parents and families who send their children to that Catholic school. The school’s decline in its ability to, or interest in, transmitting the faith, is usually the result of years of apathy within the homes and lives of the individual Catholics associated with the school. How can we expect a school to teach, practice, and inspire, the authentic practice of the Catholic faith, if we ourselves, are not living the faith out in our homes? When a certain percentage of families are not living the faith in their private lives, it will naturally impact the school. In the same way, when a certain percentage of families are living their faith authentically, it will positively impact the school.

The key is to be the primary educator of your own child (especially fathers) with regard to faith and morals, which of course presumes that you are living the faith and actually know why we believe what we believe. Therefore, if you need a little catechesis and deepening of your faith, now is the time to do that. The bottom line is this: The school should only be in a supportive role to the parent. We cannot hand this obligation over to any outside entity or individual (including our wives) and expect good results.

For some of us, this means that we have to homeschool our children. Homeschooling is perfectly compatible with the Catholic faith. As a matter of fact, prior to about 1850, nearly every Catholic child was homeschooled in the U.S., because Catholics were either excluded from schools or no school existed.

The purpose of this article is not to claim that you must send your Catholic child to a Catholic school. Nor is it to encourage homeschooling. The purpose is to show a little about the reason we have Catholic schools, how we should approach Catholic education as parents, and thereby encourage a new perspective on how to reform Catholic education in your parish or community so there is absolutely no reason not to send your child to a Catholic school.

We are not there yet, but we need to be there, and we can get there. The way we get there is by deepening our faith as parents and by living our faith as families. When we assume our role as the primary educator of our children, Catholic school education will work as it is designed, and it will work well. At that point, the only question will be: Do we send our kids to Catholic school, or do we homeschool? Public education will be out of the question unless the parents live in a location where no Catholic school exists, and they are not capable of homeschooling for one reason or another.

The post Why Catholics Didn’t Go to Public School “Back Then” And Probably Shouldn’t Now appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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When I first sat down to write this, I was adamant about my purpose: I wanted to rant that men are oppressed by forces that are no fault of their own. That man’s oppression is the fault of women. Or maybe culture. I wanted to project my feelings of frustration with the current state of manhood onto something else or someone else.

I wanted to project my feelings because I felt like so many voices from the media, from the culture, and from modern feminism were pointing at me with the finger of blame for all of society’s problems. And these voices hurt me. They made me angry. The message I heard resonating from these voices was “You’re a man, so everything is your fault. You’re a man, so you don’t get a say about things. In fact, you shouldn’t even try to act like a man.”

And that right there is the very problem. Our culture has negative associations with the actions of men.

What do they mean “Act like a man”?  What is so wrong about how men act that makes people scoff?

But, there is something to the accusations.

I had a landlady once who lived upstairs and had been married twice. Divorced twice. She was in her forties, and would casually date men on and off.  She had several children from different fathers. And she was a good woman on many levels, with a good heart. As I was home one night, I overheard her talking to her daughter. Turns out her daughter’s boyfriend had cheated, and the mother “comforted” her in this way: “Sweetie this is normal. You have to expect this kind of thing. Don’t leave him just because he cheated. He’s a good guy it’s just part of how he is”. Two things came to mind when I heard this. The first was shock. The second, was a question: is this really the way things are? How many times does one have to be hurt before they begin to accept the hurt as “normal”?  Sure, maybe I’m not the cheating boyfriend, but I have my own sins and blights of character.

While I thought about how to blame all my woes on the culture, I came upon a talk by Fr. Mike Schmitz. In it he described the marks of a true Christian man. And the first mark, he says, is responsibility. Responsibility.

I paused for a second.

By blaming others for the current state of affairs, I was not pursuing responsibility at all. In fact, blame is the shirking of responsibility. Blame renders us powerless because it’s saying “well it’s their fault so they should fix it”. Blame keeps us from being able to even examine what’s within our power to change. It keeps our focus off ourselves and on everyone else. I had been waiting for others to change and make things better for me. The idea was “I can’t do anything about it anyway, so I’ll wait until someone else does”. Fr. Mike says this is the trap we fall into. It’s called passivity. It is the opposite of responsibility. The only way we stop this cycle of hurt is if man rejects passivity and starts leading with kindness once again. The first step is to accept that men started it, and that men can end it. That is our superpower.

I’m not saying that there are not faults and errors out there to be exposed.  Men are often caricatured in the media, etc.  But, I can’t really take that on as a project.  I can, however, take responsibility, and a lot more men might be better off if they do.

This article was written by guest contributor Georges Rizk.

The post Stop Blaming the World and Take Responsibility appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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When I first sat down to write this, I was adamant about my purpose: I wanted to rant that men are oppressed by forces that are no fault of their own. That man’s oppression is the fault of women. Or maybe culture. I wanted to project my feelings of frustration with the current state of manhood onto something else or someone else.

I wanted to project my feelings because I felt like so many voices from the media, from the culture, and from modern feminism were pointing at me with the finger of blame for all of society’s problems. And these voices hurt me. They made me angry. The message I heard resonating from these voices was “You’re a man, so everything is your fault. You’re a man, so you don’t get a say about things. In fact, you shouldn’t even try to act like a man.”

And that right there is the very problem. Our culture has negative associations with the actions of men.

What do they mean “Act like a man”?  What is so wrong about how men act that makes people scoff?

But, there is something to the accusations.

I had a landlady once who lived upstairs and had been married twice. Divorced twice. She was in her forties, and would casually date men on and off.  She had several children from different fathers. And she was a good woman on many levels, with a good heart. As I was home one night, I overheard her talking to her daughter. Turns out her daughter’s boyfriend had cheated, and the mother “comforted” her in this way: “Sweetie this is normal. You have to expect this kind of thing. Don’t leave him just because he cheated. He’s a good guy it’s just part of how he is”. Two things came to mind when I heard this. The first was shock. The second, was a question: is this really the way things are? How many times does one have to be hurt before they begin to accept the hurt as “normal”?  Sure, maybe I’m not the cheating boyfriend, but I have my own sins and blights of character.

While I thought about how to blame all my woes on the culture, I came upon a talk by Fr. Mike Schmitz. In it he described the marks of a true Christian man. And the first mark, he says, is responsibility. Responsibility.

I paused for a second.

By blaming others for the current state of affairs, I was not pursuing responsibility at all. In fact, blame is the shirking of responsibility. Blame renders us powerless because it’s saying “well it’s their fault so they should fix it”. Blame keeps us from being able to even examine what’s within our power to change. It keeps our focus off ourselves and on everyone else. I had been waiting for others to change and make things better for me. The idea was “I can’t do anything about it anyway, so I’ll wait until someone else does”. Fr. Mike says this is the trap we fall into. It’s called passivity. It is the opposite of responsibility. The only way we stop this cycle of hurt is if man rejects passivity and starts leading with kindness once again. The first step is to accept that men started it, and that men can end it. That is our superpower.

I’m not saying that there are not faults and errors out there to be exposed.  Men are often caricatured in the media, etc.  But, I can’t really take that on as a project.  I can, however, take responsibility, and a lot more men might be better off if they do.

This article was written by guest contributor Georges Rizk.

The post Stop Blaming the World and Take Responsibility appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The following is taken from chapter 2 of Leaving Boyhood Behind.

Some transitions in life are so radical that the old form of life simply cannot continue into the new form; the old form must give way and the new form be embraced. A man cannot be both married and unmarried, ordained and lay, or dead and alive. This transition, when one state of life “dies” and another is “born,” is the more universal understanding of a rite of passage: the passing of one state that allows for the embrace of a new one. The French anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep (1873–1957) first coined this terminology in his book Rites of Passage.  His work explains how cultures and communities ritualize and guide the transitions in life from infancy to old age. “For every one of these events [rites of passage] there are ceremonies whose essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defined position to another which is equally well defined.”  Van Gennep identifies three distinct parts that are present in varying degrees in any rite of passage: separation, initiation, and incorporation.

  • Separation: the leaving behind or “death” of the previous state in life, when a new way of living and understanding oneself requires that the old way and understanding be put away.
  • Initiation: usually the actual rite or ceremony. This process is intentionally guided by those who have already “walked the path.”
  • Incorporation: the final stage of being brought into the community and receiving instruction in the new form of life.

Van Gennep has identified and described a truly human need and practice. In other words, initiation is a human need.  It helps us to understand and mark transitions, as well as embrace and live our identities within a living community.

This pattern of separation, initiation, and incorporation is discernible in other realms as well, most notably in the Church, since the new life in Christ is, as St. Paul said, incompatible with the “old man.” The pattern is noticeable especially in the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist.

  • In Baptism, we are “[buried] into Christ’s death”20 so as to be “reborn as sons of God”21 — separation.
  • Confirmation “confirms” and “strengthens” the baptismal graces22 with the oil that is “a sign of consecration,”23 the full initiation into the new life in Christ — initiation.
  • The Holy Eucharist fully incorporates the Christian in the Body of Christ, the Church (CCC 1396) — incorporation.

When most people think of a rite of passage, however, they think of boys becoming men. The reason male rites of passage are so striking in our imaginations is that they are more orchestrated or public than those of females. We might think of an African tribe sending a boy out to kill a lion or Australian Aborigines circumcising their adolescent boys in an elaborate and public ceremony. Something within masculinity has a need to be fully equipped and challenged, or else it has a tendency toward a dangerous distortion. Masculine initiation is also a constant thread in ancient and classical literature and culture. Achilles, for example, was given over by his father to Chiron, a centaur, to be initiated into manhood. “Jack and the Beanstalk” was originally a story of a boy separating from his mother, going through the “battle” with the beanstalk and the giant, and then actually liberating his father so he could become a man like him and reclaim his inheritance. (The giant’s castle actually belonged to Jack’s father.)

Whether it’s Telemachus in The Odyssey or Daniel in The Karate Kid, we can see that boys need to be guided by mentors and fathers into mature and capable masculinity.

Women also go through rites of passage to womanhood, but these rites are deeply rooted in their physical and psychological makeup. In other words, they’re naturally occurring and naturally powerful. I was once in a room with my wife and two midwives as they discussed the experience of birth — an event that marks the ultimate physical achievement of womanhood. They were all mothers, had endured childbirth, and each was certain that she had “achieved” motherhood in the experience. As they were talking about the powerful experience of birth, one midwife described just how amazing it is to look back once you are on the other side of it. She beamed, “It’s life-changing.” She looked at me, paused, and said, “I’m sure men have things like that too, right?”

But the answer is no. Men don’t have things like that. At least, they don’t have them naturally. Paternity — the heart of authentic masculinity — is something a man must choose and embrace. Rites of passage are designed to help make a man of him so that he will choose it. Male maturity ends in fatherhood, in passing on life to the next generation. Female maturity, similarly, is rooted in motherhood. For both men and women, of course, the expression of being a mother or father can be in non-biological ways — clergy and religious are obvious examples. But for women, the physical and even painful signs of the feminine connection to motherhood come more naturally, since, even in an age of contraception, women experience these signs in their bodies, beginning with menstruation. Men, on the other hand, can coast along in immaturity if they have no “mirroring” experience offered by mature men, fathers and brothers who have trekked the difficult path of masculinity before them. “What a woman receives from her experience of her physical female nature, a man must receive from his culture,” explains Dr. Leon J. Podles, “because he will not receive it simply by living out the logic of his male body.”   Males need tangible rites of passage — in other words, concrete steps of separation, initiation, and incorporation — in order to become men.

INITIATION APPLIED TO MALES

What do Van Gennep’s distinct stages look like when applied to masculinity specifically?

  • First, the boy needs to be separated from boyhood. This means especially a real separation from the realm and control of his mother, who is the primary authority over his infancy and childhood. Through this separation, a boy “puts away” childhood intentionally and knowingly.
  • Second, a boy needs initiation. In this phase, a boy must receive mentoring or guidance in the ways of men, sometimes “proving” himself through physical challenges.
  • The third phase, incorporation, happens when members of the community, especially the men, accept and recognize his manhood and continue his maturation through mentoring and guidance.

It is important to frame a rite of passage in its full context — the exit from boyhood into a brotherhood of men — and not just in its sensational and ceremonial aspect (i.e., the physical and extravagant ceremonies of ancient cultures that really only show part of the whole process, the initiation). Traditional rites of passage for boys occurred during adolescence, commonly understood as beginning around age twelve. This makes sense biologically, since this is the age when a boy’s brain actually stops working like a child’s. The Catholic human geneticist Gerard M. Verschuuren describes this physiological process: “Because the brain goes through dramatic changes, adolescents have a way of behaving and thinking that is rather different from that of children. … Adolescents’ thinking is less bound to concrete events than that of children; they can contemplate possibilities outside the realm of what currently exists.”  By seeing the whole picture of a rite of passage — separation, initiation, incorporation — we can more fully understand what is missing today and what we can do about it. If we focus too much on the sensational, physical, and experiential, we will likely create silly or harmful caricatures of a real human need.

Young men are people and not machines, so we need to understand the transition into manhood as more of a birth than a programmatic process. A boy’s education and initiation into manhood are not just a matter of giving the right facts or information; it is an experience and introduction into a living and breathing world — a culture.

Allan Bloom, a great American philosopher and classicist, rightly connected adolescence with the true birth of man and his general education, since humans enter a unique period of formation during puberty that animals do not:

In all species other than man, when an animal reaches puberty, it is all that it ever will be. … Only in man is puberty just the beginning. The greater and more interesting part of his learning, moral and intellectual, come afterward. … We properly sense that there is a long road to adulthood, the condition in which [human beings] are able to govern themselves and be true mothers and fathers.

When animals reach puberty, the transition from birth to adulthood is basically over, and they can get on with life — eating and mating. For human beings, adolescence is the beginning of adult formation, when we’re meant to learn to go beyond merely eating and mating. It is because adolescence is a “beginning” that it is also foundational to our self-understanding, and why wounds and incompleteness in this age carry into older ages.

Sadly, for boys today, adolescence may be the end of boyhood, but it does not signal a smooth transition into mature character and belonging. It is usually a time where sin is introduced, new family tensions arise, and a frantic sequence of identities are “tried on” until something sticks or seems to work. According to popular “culture” and the media, the things that grown men can do are basically debaucheries: adult beverages, adult movies, adult clubs, adult language. We communicate to boys that to be a man, an adult, is to have the license to sin. Some men find ways to do this without hurting others, but the really manly men are the ones who are able to thrive on and display their sins without consequence — think rappers, womanizing tycoons, or gangsters. When we tell boys to “grow up” and “act responsibly,” they picture work, worry, and dysfunctional relationships. If this is all there is to mature adulthood, why bother? Why not avoid responsibility and enjoy a carefree life of sin? In other words, why not remain in ongoing adolescence?

Young men are debilitated by the modern world’s inability or unwillingness to affirm or define true masculinity, but the mirroring problem is seen in the isolated, lonely, and grinding lives of your average man.  Older generations do not have the outlets and means to pass on their wisdom and life, and younger generations lack the means and openness to receive it.  This is why framing our issues as issues of initiation (in its fullest sense), keeps us from reducing the “man-crisis” and its answer to codes of conduct and “3 easy steps to be more manly.”  Genuine human needs are simply not that easily answered.  Our issues are in our very idea of tradition, culture, identity, and belonging.  In other words, men are suffering from immaturity and insecurity because of the very anthems of the modern era.  Turning the tide is no easy “life hack,” but a recover of belonging and tradition that is at the heart of our faith, which is why, it seems, the Church and her great patrimony is uniquely suited to help overcome this tidal crisis.

For more see Jason Craig’s Leaving Boyhood Behind (OSV, 2019).

The post Why All Males Need Rites of Passage appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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Do you ever wonder when, where, how, and from whom you learned that it wrong to cheat, lie, and steal? That integrity really does mean how you act when no one is looking? That you feel better when you do the right thing, even when it means that accepting the consequences might not be easy?

In my case, the who is a combination of Mom, the Presentation Sisters with those daily catechism classes, and other significant adults in my life.

WHEN was a summer morning when I was about nine years old.

WHERE was in the back yard of our Depot Street home in Lawler, IA.

HOW resulted from an incident with our neighbor to the south, Mrs. Jones.

I think that Mr. and Mrs. Jones were in their mid-70s when the incident occurred. They were not mean people. Rather, they were elderly and preferred that we not kick or hit balls into or play in their yard. I don’t think they had the stamina to tolerate commotion. We tried to be respectful and never had any ‘little kids vs. old people’ altercations with them. It was clearly understood, however, that it was in everyone’s best interest not to cause them grief.

What happened that day was both innocent and accidental. Several of my little pals (probably the Scallys and Timlins) and I were playing an impromptu game of kickball in our back yard. It was a relatively small rectangle-shaped area that had a basketball hoop with a wooden pole, wooden backboard, and rim with no net, on the north end. Our property was about twenty yards in length and separated from the Jones’ garden by a shoulder-high wire fence on the south side.

We were having a lot of fun, running around doing what competitive little boys do, when someone kicked the nearly deflated basketball that we were using high into the air. It soared swiftly upward, heading south at a high rate of speed. To my horror, its path was on a direct trajectory directly toward the back of Mrs. Jones’ head as she was facing away from us, digging a spade into the ground.

Although it took only seconds, I can still picture that large ball making its way almost in slow motion toward the back of her neck. Suddenly it happened.

WHOMP!

THUD!

The elderly woman let out a startled shriek. Then I heard her moan before falling against the spade. The shovel kept her upright, but bent forward, in obvious pain. Everyone ran out of our yard in fear, shame, and embarrassment.

Everyone but me.

I was terrified because it was possible that she was seriously hurt. Every fiber of my being told me to run. She had no way of knowing who actually kicked the ball, and we all could have lied.

But for some reason I knew that I should not run. I could not run. It happened in my yard with my friends and we should have been more careful. But we weren’t, and we had hurt an elderly lady who was my neighbor tending to her garden. So, I walked up near the fence and timidly asked, “Are you okay, Mrs. Jones?”

It took a few moments before she was able to answer, and she never turned around even once.

“Yes, I think I’m okay.”

“Is there anything I can do for you? Should I go get Mr. Jones? I am so sorry.”

“It’s okay. I just need to stand here for a while. It’s okay. You can leave.”

And so I did.

But I’ve never forgotten about what happened and how relieved I was that she wasn’t hurt and how proud I was for accepting the consequences of my actions and thankful to Mrs. Jones that she wasn’t mad at my friends and me and determined never to let something so dumb like that ever happen to her again.

I was grateful to Mrs. Jones who taught me a lesson about forgiveness. Even though she must have been angry, she knew that we didn’t mean to hurt her, so forgave us in an instant.

And grateful to my mom, and those nuns, and Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, and the catechism books that taught me that it may not always easy to do the right thing, but it’s always best to do the right thing.

The post How I Learned to Admit Fault by Almost Knocking Out an Elderly Lady appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

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