Thursday, April 02, 2015

Jesus, True Manhood—and the Catholic Priesthood

(Holy Thursday 2015: This homily was given on April 2, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 13: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Thursday 2015]

William Kilpatrick is a former psychology professor from Boston College.  In 2012 he wrote a book, published by Ignatius Press, entitled, Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West.

It’s an excellent book, and I highly recommend it.  But it’s also very disturbing and very unsettling.  A major part of his thesis is that Islam in its purest form is a huge threat to Western civilization as we know it, and to many of the freedoms that we hold dear. And yet, it’s a religion that’s growing in popularity in Europe and even here in the United States, especially among young men—many of whom are attracted to it because of its emphasis on war and aggression and fighting for a cause.  As Kilpatrick says:

War has a kind of mystical significance for men because it brings together all the elements that are important for establishing their masculinity: initiation, struggle, self-sacrifice, self-transcendence, love of comrades, and brotherhood.  The need for these is hardwired into men.  [He rightly notes that this is why guys tend to love to play sports.] For this reason, the jihad doesn’t have a recruitment problem: Islam has been highly successful in appealing to basic masculine psychology.  Not coincidentally, the progenitor of the current jihadist groups is called the Muslim Brotherhood.  (Christianity, Islam and Atheism, p. 166)

Now the reason I mention all of this tonight is because one of the major factors contributing to this phenomenon of young men (even young Christian men) going over to Islam is what William Kilpatrick calls “the feminization of Christianity”.  And it’s not only among those who are pushing for things like a female Catholic priesthood (which, of course, is never going to happen)!  In using that expression—“the feminization of Christianity”—Kilpatrick is rightly noting that there’s a general perception out there in Western culture that Christianity is a religion for women, and that real men don’t love and follow Jesus, because Jesus Christ was (for lack of a better term) a wimp!  And real men don’t love and follow wimps!

Now that perception is wrong on many levels (I don’t think the money-changers in the Temple, for example, would have said that Jesus was a wimp!); but nevertheless the perception is very common today.  Listen once again to Kilpatrick’s words:

Of the men who do go to church, a good many are there because of their wives.  Many men, especially young single men, stay away from church because they consider it unmanly.  They feel that religion, and particularly Christianity, is somehow feminine and that men who are attracted to religion are somewhat effeminate.  A study conducted by Lewis M. Terman and Catherine Cox Miles in the mid-1930s showed that clergy and seminarians tended to score low on a masculinity scale, whereas men who scored high showed little or no interest in religion.  One can only imagine how Christian clergy would score on the scale today.  (Christianity, Islam and Atheism, p. 167)

St. Paul, in his first letter to Timothy (who was a young priest) gave a pretty good description of what a Christian man—and especially an ordained priest—should be like.  Needless to say, St. Paul’s version of manhood is a lot different than the oppressive version promoted by radical Islam—but it’s also different from the “wimpy” version of manhood advocated today by many mainline Christians (and even by many Catholics).  St. Paul says, “Man of God that you are … seek after integrity, faith, love, steadfastness, and a gentle spirit.  Fight the good fight of faith.  Take firm hold on the everlasting life to which you were called when, in the presence of many witnesses, you made your noble profession of faith. … I charge you to keep God’s command without blame or reproach until our Lord Jesus Christ shall appear.”

True manhood, according to St. Paul, is marked by things like faith, integrity, consistency, commitment, and sacrificial love.  It’s not the machoism of the world—which is what you find, unfortunately, in the distorted idea of masculinity embraced by many Muslim men: men who treat women like their own private property and their own personal playthings.  That’s why practices like female genital mutilation are so common in Islamic countries.

Nor is it the “milquetoast version” of manhood that you find all too often in Christianity these days.

All of this should help us to realize why sharing our faith with others, and why supporting traditional marriage, and why fostering vocations—good, solid vocations—to the priesthood are so important for all of us to do.  If we don’t do those things and promote the type of manhood that St. Paul talks about in 1st Timothy, then another type of manhood—specifically the one promoted by Islam—will no doubt fill the vacuum.

And that will be disastrous for the Western world—and especially for women in the Western world.

Our ultimate and primary model for true manhood, of course, is Jesus himself.  During Holy Week we reflect on all that he did to save us.  Think of how committed Jesus was to carrying out the mission his heavenly Father gave him.  Think of what a pillar of strength he was in the face of intense violence and suffering.  He was all those things St. Paul mentions in 1st Timothy—and more.  He even washed the feet of the men who would either abandon him or deny him or betray him within a few short hours.

And he gave those men his own Body and Blood to consume for their spiritual nourishment.

You want to talk about integrity?  You want to talk about commitment?  You want to talk about sacrificial love?  You want to talk about being a real man?

Then talk about Jesus!  Not about Buddha, or Confucius, or Muhammad—or anyone else.

True manhood—true and perfect manhood—is found in Jesus Christ.

And it’s reflected, to a greater or lesser extent, in all good fathers—natural and spiritual.

On the third Sunday of June every year we pray primarily for all of you natural fathers.  Today, on this Holy Thursday night—when we commemorate the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist at the Last Supper—we pray for all spiritual fathers (all bishops and priests), that they will be true Godly men—the kind of Godly men that St. Paul and St. Timothy would be proud of; the kind of Godly men who will give their lives to promote the truth that will preserve Western culture; the kind of Godly men who will attract other Godly men to give their lives in service to the Lord as priests; the kind of Godly men who will live and talk and act like Jesus Christ—and help to save the world.