Plenty of men live their lives avoiding responsibility, work and effort. Many have no idea of the purpose of their lives and where they want to go. Others recoil before a culture that interprets any movement to male character development or leadership as hateful and oppressive.
All these masculine figures are missing one vital ingredient: manhood. They need it urgently.
Finally, Someone Speaks Out
Manhood is more than just having the right chromosomes. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) outlines what it entails in his new book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs. Reading this book solicits a sigh of relief that finally, someone says what needs to be said: Manhood is good, needed and achievable.
Senator Hawley’s book mixes several styles to make his point. It is part memoir with tales of how his family members and ancestors lived their manhood. It is part Bible study interweaving Scriptural stories, lessons and passages that indicate the God-given purpose of manhood. Finally, it is a social commentary on postmodernity’s desire to annihilate manhood and what needs to be done to recover it.
From a Catholic perspective, there is much to like in his presentation—and much to add. A Catholic can agree that men embrace “the calling” of being husbands and fathers. Missouri’s senior senator sustains that every man must assume the duties that make him at once “warrior, builder, priest and king” as he accepts “the mission of Adam” to expand and protect the Lord’s garden. He insists that commitment and courage are non-negotiable starting points.
A Commentary That Falls Short
Such observations form a foundation for manhood. However, the immensity of the manhood crisis seems to call for something more. That is not to say the book is wrong; it just falls short.
Written from a Protestant perspective, the author limits himself to evoking archetypes of strong Christian character and natural virtue in a supportive Christian culture that no longer exists for many young men.
He presents excellent models of ordinary and honest virtues at times that call for extraordinary and uncommon valor. His very personal appeal to manly self-discipline is directed toward generations weakened by a culture of gratification. His proposal contains no organized counter-culture to face an overwhelmingly hostile (and organized) culture.
Thus, an added Catholic perspective is crucial to address these shortcomings and build upon the U.S. senator’s foundation.
A Needed Catholic Perspective
Calling upon the Church would allow men to access more spiritual assets and resources to fight the enemy. It would provide more insights into the workings of the soul as men confront an adversarial world. The Church’s universal nature would give men the camaraderie and unity needed to put together a counter-revolution.
It can draw from masculine archetypes for extraordinary times, often found in the Church’s saints, clergy and heroes throughout history. True Catholic manhood offers “something more,” the noble ideal that will make all the difference.
The Role of Grace
One game changer is the Catholic notion of grace in this counter-revolution. The present manhood crisis will not only be solved by self-discipline but through transformations wrought by God’s grace.
The author would acknowledge this. However, he does not express grace in the traditional terms of “the created participation in the uncreated life of God,” which acts inside individuals and peoples. When grace works inside souls, it enlightens the intellect, strengthens the will and tempers the senses. Grace allows men to do things that are beyond the reach of human nature and touch on heroism and the sublime.
Senator Hawley’s understanding of grace is like the “night of fire” described by French philosopher and Jansenist Blaise Pascal (1623—1662), who held that the experience of God is through the heart rather than reason. Such subjective happenings are limited to intense personal experiences. They are often short-lived and do not have the stability or dynamism needed to cause great social transformations.
A Need for Sustained Grace
The great conversions in history have always been the fruits of overwhelming, then sustained grace. This presupposes a sacramental life whereby the soul receives sanctifying grace to remain in a habitual state of friendship with God. It calls for a liturgical life from which men can draw upon the power of the Eucharist.
This state of grace opens up an enormous range of possibilities for action and sanctification found in the cardinal virtues, the supernatural virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and other spiritual benefits. Many of these concepts are foreign to those outside the Church.
For example, this lack of sanctifying grace has practical consequences when confronting the present culture, which constantly assaults the Christian man. This is especially apparent when dealing with one masculine virtue that Senator Hawley, unfortunately, leaves unmentioned—purity. Today’s hyper-sexualized world is destroying American manhood. Without constant grace to fight the attacks of impurity, loving and obeying God’s Sixth and Ninth Commandments, the effort to restore manhood is doomed.
Manhood and the Cross
Sustained grace would also help American men understand the concept of the Cross. The Church teaches that every Christian must carry the Cross of persecution, misfortune and defeat. The senator recognizes the role of sacrifice, effort and work in the life of a Christian. However, those acts have their rewards by providing a more prosperous and honest life.
Grace goes further and helps men understand the suffering caused by tragedy, injustice and persecution that have no immediate reward. By understanding and loving the Cross, men learn to suffer as Christ did and with Him. The Church teaches the redemptive value of these sufferings that help form character and mold men capable of great heroism.
All society benefits from embracing suffering, which imparts a willingness to sacrifice for others. When the Cross marks all society, the sublime perfume of the spirit of abnegation permeates families, communities, economy, art and thought, thus giving value, meaning and beauty to all things human.
An Individualist Framing
The final element to restore manhood is Catholic unity. Senator Hawley’s solutions concentrate on the imperative need for men to discipline themselves and thus impact the lives of others through good example. Such views reflect a theological vision based on individual salvation and justification. Each man works out his path to God, hoping others will be edified.
Thus, his designations of man as warrior, builder, priest and king all tend to be framed in an individual context. Man’s role as priest is to be an individual spark of the divine that illuminates the darkness. He builds as a means of avoiding dependency upon government and thus achieves freedom. The warrior is told to confront “the evils of his life,” especially pride. The man’s role as king is focused on personal control over the passions, a manifestation of self-rule.
This man does not unite with the actions of others but merely figures as a beacon of individual virtue in a vast sea of iniquity. Such action may give rise to personal battles but not a much-needed counter-revolution.
A Need for Unity
For the Catholic, the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, in which all members’ actions become intertwined. Like a single body, every part is influenced by the virtues and vices of others. The Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints holds that all Church members are bound together. The faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven form an organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ as its head. There is a constant interchange of supernatural offices.
Thus, men can call upon the angels and saints for aid. Any act of virtue of one has a beneficial impact on all of society. There is an effort to facilitate and promote virtue everywhere because it benefits the whole, not only the individual.
When framed in this manner, life on earth takes on the character of a war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The Church naturally tends to be an organized center of the general fight against evil, not an isolated point of resistance, thus her glorious title in this life—the Church Militant.
Senator Hawley does a great service to the nation by forcing the subject of manhood into the public arena. He hit his target. The left has reacted with vitriol and outrage that someone might dare challenge the woke narrative of toxic masculinity.
The senior senator from Missouri displayed admirable courage and sparked a crucial debate. His book took manhood to write.
However, it is only a starting point that needs to be broadened and taken to the end because the nation has a right to the full solution. The fight for manhood in America is too important a battle to come up short.