"A lay Catholic perspective"

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The Christian Man

by Neil MacDonald

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T HE ROLES OF men and women are complementary but necessarily different. Although men and women often do the same things, and even at the same time, they tend to function from different instincts and inspirations.

Groups in secular society generally concede (lately, at least) that the two sexes do not respond to life in all the same ways. They spend considerable time discussing, researching, and analysing male and female attitudes and behaviour.

The Church favours another approach. She holds up models for us to emulate — noble women and men who have exhibited holy, zealous, powerful, and joyful lives — and ask us to live by their example and principles.

Every man (like every woman) is unique, although still made in the image of God. Because each person has a unique personality, trying to develop a collective psychology for men is inappropriate. Such insights are of limited help in Christian ministry. Instead, the Church offers the apostles as the preeminent male models of Christ. The apostles' experience with Jesus reveals a considerable amount about male Christianity.

Nothing shamed the apostles more than their cowardly flight, just as Jesus was arrested. Tradition has it that Saint Peter wept every day of his life for his denial of our Lord, until lines worked their way into his cheeks.

On the other hand, Jesus fearlessly defended the apostles in the moment of ultimate danger. He told the soldiers sent to arrest him, "If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go."[1] In contrast to their cowardice, our blessed Saviour remained courageous all the way to the cross, although he faced the cruelest death any person has ever undergone. Even in his divinity, he was crushed to death by our sins.

What is the matter with you guys?

Women often misunderstand the lack of courage in men. The most insecure woman will normally carry out whatever is necessary for her extended family, ignoring any risks or discomfort to herself. Married women eventually realize that they often have to encourage their husbands, when they balk at difficult situations, perhaps even give them a "gentle" shove.

As precious as their help is to men, women can only do so much for them. The natural courage that women provide is not enough for a supernatural mission. Men must open themselves to courage from God, boldly accepting each day's trials as they come. As men live supernatural courage, women receive great courage from them.

What authority have you for acting like this?[2]

In the evening of his resurrection, the first Easter Sunday, Jesus breathed on the apostles and commissioned them to preach the Good News to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[3] After fifty days of extraordinary formation, the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to empower them for this work. With amazing courage, the apostles preached to the crowds in Jerusalem, and three thousand were converted that very day. The male apostolate is to establish the Church. The Church needs to be established in every age, as the growing, expanding, and maturing Body of Christ.

Laymen may protest that we cannot use apostles as models. Bishops, after all, are the direct successors of the apostles and represent the person of Christ in the local Church. However, every person is joined to the bishop and his mission through Baptism. Vatican Council II made a solemn point about the laity's role in the Church: "From the fact of their union with Christ the head, flows the layman's right and duty to be apostles. Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate."[4] The Council Fathers are very clear. We are all apostles, with the same commission as 'the Twelve'.

A true model

Saint Paul understood that he was a model for the Churches he founded. He offered himself as one of those holy examples. This is why I urge you to take me as your pattern and why I have sent you Timothy, a dear and faithful son to me in the Lord, who will remind you of my principles of conduct in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.[5] He reminded his disciples that they must also model Christ for their flocks. He instructed Timothy, ...be an example to all the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith and your purity.[6] Paul reminded Timothy (who obviously needed some exhortation) that he must have courage to lead Christ's people, ...so that...you may fight like a good soldier with faith and a good conscience for your weapons.[7]

Some disciples showed a terrible lack of courage and failed their vocation. We often forget that these men also were ordinary, not certifiable psychopaths. Paul told Timothy that Demas had deserted him for love of this life.[8] We have no way of telling whether Demas abandoned his ministry or left the Christian faith entirely. His Christian courage failed in the face of unknown temptations.

The notorious example of Judas Iscariot also confronts us. We know that God desires everyone's salvation,[9] but Judas refused to accept it. Judas had already made himself Satan's agent; he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contents.[10] Perhaps Judas' heart already belonged to Satan when our Lord chose him. Judas' betrayal of Jesus fulfilled the scriptures [11] but his own sinful decisions made him available for that rôle; we become either a slave of Christ or a slave of the devil.

The steady walk

All these models, both positive and negative, demonstrate the particular kind of courage men need to follow after Jesus. Men must each day decide to live God's word to them reliably and without compromise. Saint Peter earned a terrible rebuke from Jesus for tempting the Lord away from the suffering he had to undergo.[12] Twenty more years of holy ministry as the Church's first pope did not prevent Peter from receiving another stinging correction from Paul:

However, when Cephas came to Antioch, then I did oppose him to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong. Before certain people from James came, he used to eat with gentiles; but as soon as these came, he backed out and kept apart from them, out of fear of the circumcised.... I said to Cephas in front of all of them. Since you, though you are a Jew, live like the gentiles and not like the Jews, how can you compel the gentiles to live like the Jews?[13]

For Saint Peter to have compromised on such a fundamental question would have set the Church back for decades, and caused much confusion and division. His mission was to establish the Church and make it secure. Peter's infallibility in faith and morals did not extend to establishing good order. He needed the courage of his convictions.

The work of establishing the Church begins with a man's immediate family. Jesus also calls a man forward to the whole family of God, and the whole family of man. Peter was able to say to Jesus, "Look, we have left everything and followed you."... Jesus said to them, "In truth I tell you, ...everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much, and also inherit eternal life."[14] A man's embracing the Lord's call to establish God's kingdom in his family leads to a wonderful compatibility in Christian marriage, and the husband becomes a source of grace for his wife's share of the Church's mission.

God calls men to work as slaves of Christ who wholeheartedly do the will of God,[15] each day putting our flesh to death on the cross in order to obey him. This leads us to experience the power of Jesus within us.

The apostles were far from perfect, but their love of God and desire for his will drove them on, forming them into true shepherds — men who loved God's people without reserve. Inspired by the holy courage these godly men have modelled, let us embrace the cross without hesitation, that our Lord Jesus might use us to establish his kingdom and fill us with joy: ...as you share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad, so that you may enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed,[16] each man joining in his master's happiness.[17]


[1] Jn 18:8

[2] Mt 21:23

[3] Mt 28:19,20

[4] Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, 3:1

[5] 1 Cor 4:16,17

[6] 1 Tim 4:12

[7] 1 Tim 1:19

[8] 2 Tim 4:9

[9] Jn 3:16

[10] Jn 12:6

[11] Jn 13:18

[12] Mk 8:33

[13] Gal 2:11,12,14

[14] Mt 19:27,29

[15] Eph 6:6

[16] 1 Pt 4:13

[17] Mt 25:22,24