Masculinity is denigrated in our culture today – it is disparaged as ‘toxic” and polarised as against the interests of women. With the advent of the sexual revolution, indeed, many aspects of masculinity did, in fact, become toxic – the ready availability of casual sex, without accountability or responsibility, has led to the emotional repression of women, where they are compelled to acquiescence in sexual relationships without commitment, no matter what their genuine desires might be. Even worse, there is a potential physical endangerment to women, to the extent that moral parameters are now mandated, not by genuine respect, but by legal rules and guidelines. There is a crisis of fatherlessness – fathers fail to take up their responsibilities as fathers. This leads to a further consequence – men without a strong father and who lack respect for their mother can become violent against women and other men.
Against this – women are frequently treating marriage as a power competition – where the masculinity of the husband is derided and the woman’s femininity is negated. Grudges and resentments are nursed and fanned in an ever-growing assertion of the rights of one against the other – as though the person to whom one chose to have children is an obstacle to fulfilment.
We are born into an era in which we are told that to be complete people we must constantly assert ourselves; that our opinion matters, no matter how much we know about any given subject. We are taught, effectively, to adore ourselves rather than someone greater than ourselves. We firmly believe that sexual promiscuity comes without cost; that it means freedom and liberation. We believe the indoctrination of our era.
Toxicity and sexual predation have nothing to do with genuine masculinity: Men who listen to the message of our world will find themselves lost and empty. The hearts of so many men are going astray through weakness, through failing to step up, failing to take up the responsibilities of life; through impurity – manipulation by their passions, so that they are slaves to their motives and desires. Men must be disciplined to be the best version of masculinity they can be: They must govern their minds and their eyes. They must know what is theirs and what is not theirs.
In 1870 Pope Pius IX declared St Joseph the patron of the universal church. The Holy Spirit knew we would need St Joseph in our time. St Peter Julian Eymard observed that “When God wishes to raise a soul to greater heights, He unites it to St Joseph by giving it a strong love for a good saint.” (1)
Now is the time of St Joseph: The Catholic man must step up to the plate. He must be counter-cultural. His is not the world of sexual conquest without consequences. He must value the woman in her completeness, in her womanhood and femininity. He must be disciplined and self-giving. He must be a true father – one who respects his children’s mother as his wife, one who sacrifices his life for his family in the day-today activity of family life.
St Joseph tells us what it means to be a father; what it means to be sacrificial and loving, with chastity and purity of heart. Kevin Wells spoke of the role of men as fathers when he looked at priests in the Church today and the crisis in the priesthood resulting from an indulgent and effeminate generation of priests that had led to the sexual abuse scandals and a failure by those priests to lead their flock – to be true fathers to their Christian family. He illustrated the genuine vocation of the priest as a father to his flock by his uncle, Tommy, a priest who truly lived his vocation as a priest. In a vocation – as a priest, or as a married man – true masculinity involves taking on the challenges of life – the hard parts, and embracing them.
“Naturally people want pleasure and not pain, and will do everything possible to avoid pain. But most will never understand the depth of peace that comes from taking on a cross they didn’t want.” (2)
The Church and the world greatly need St Joseph. We need him to help us return to the love of Jesus and to living lives of virtue. We desperately need St Joseph’s protection – he is our loving and merciful spiritual father, holy, strong and ready to help. He protected the Holy Family – he supported and raised Jesus. He led the infant Jesus and His blessed Mother into Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. He is the perfect example of what a husband and father should be.
A very ancient prayer, found in the 50th year of our Lord, captures the fatherhood of St Joseph:
“O St Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O St Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O St Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us.”
The sacrifice of our lives in our vocations entails abandoning the demands of self, and embracing the cross. Bearing our cross is both the point of departure and a shortcut to freedom.
“Jesus came to save us. A life of sanctity never really begins until the work of renouncing oneself begins.”
To give ourselves over fully in submission of one’s will we have to bend our will completely to His-no matter how disregarded our actions may seem to be; no matter how absent or silent we feel God is in our lives. We must resign ourselves to God’s plan and bear our crosses ourselves. We must embrace the cross and walk its path as Christ did and as did the saints.
This is a hard call – we cannot do it alone: we need a prayer program. We need prayer and we also need fasting; fasting gives power over the unseen world. Fasting is ‘prayer squared’, as Father Galloway described it.
We should seize upon fasting and prayer as a gift, not simply a duty. Kevin Wells quoted an example of a suggestion by him and a friend that they would fast for a friend’s well-being, whereupon his uncle Tommy, responded:
“That’s good. How about we start a 48 hour bread and water fast for him right now?”
He and a group of men, from that time, started a practice of Wednesday fasting until dinner-time with the family. As time went on, further small acts of self-sacrifice were added to the regimen, including days without technology, cold showers in Lent and Advent and intentional acts of sacrificial love for, and additional time spent with, the family. Basically, he internalised and habituated self-discipline, control of the passions – the complete opposite of effeminacy. He engaged on a program of habituating and instilling what it takes to live one’s vocation as a man in a truly masculine way. God made men bigger, more aggressive; these qualities must be harnessed and directed to achieve the purpose that God has designated. Kevin Wells quoted one priest as saying: “Sacrifice isn’t a side job. It marks the mission and identity of a man.”
Living a virtuous life in today’s vulgar and inane culture is completely at odds with the lifestyle proselytised by the commercial world, the media and indeed, most people. The counter-cultural nature of living a virtuous life was faced by Wells’ uncle Tommy, who stated to young people:
“Premarital sex is a serious sin and greatly damages our relationship with Him. I’m begging you now- don’t even think about it! Let’s talk about becoming victorious in virtue and walk in another direction.
To live in virtue, however, could entail comment, ostracism or rejection by those who do not understand. If we are true to ourselves as the people God made us to be, however, the effects of our actions are greater than ourselves. Uncle Tommy also observed:
“Is the Church hated today? Of course it is, but so what?….It is for us to joyfully and honestly try to live our faith in Jesus in the certain belief that the peace that comes from such living is the most attractive force there is in our angry and violent world.”
He promised that if prayer and the sacraments were taken seriously, the person would eventually begin to find his soul joined with Christ’s. Therefore, he said, the person would find himself being conformed to Christ’s image-and when that unfolded…sainthood was possible.”
In other words, by living one’s life well, we can change the world. To live one’s life well, however, we must live with humility, (the complete opposite of the worldly message), with a negation of self and an embrace and engagement with the other. We must live with God in the forefront of our minds – we cannot live to the dictates of those who have no love of God in them:
“The works my father has given me to carry out, These works of mine testifythat the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me Himself. You have never heard His voice, You have never seen His shape, And His words find no home in you because you do not believe in the one He has sent…..
“I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you look to one another for approval and are not concerned with the approval that comes from the one God?” (John 5: 41-47).
(1) Donald H Calloway, “Consecration to St Joseph” Marian Press 2020. (2) Kevin Wells, “The Priests we Need to Save the Church”, Sophia, 2019.