In our society today, the topic of authentic masculinity, what it means to be a real man, is either ignored or condemned. Our society consistently attempts to blur the lines between men and women, ignoring innate biological, psychological and hormonal differences. In addition to ignoring natural gender differences, our society also wages a silent war against masculinity. Many over the years have noted our society’s war on women by setting unrealistic standards of beauty through cosmetics, surgery, and editing techniques on magazine photos; however, less have noted our society’s attack on manhood. By simply turning on the T. V. and observing with a critical eye, one can see that our media and television programs do not cast men in a positive light. Current portrayal of men typically falls into one of two categories—the self-sufficient, talented, successful man, who uses those around him, specifically women, to gratify his every desire or the bumbling, weak man, who needs his wife to control him. Unfortunately, both depictions of men fail in different respects. Therefore, we need to explore what it truly means to live as a man. In order to achieve this goal of identity, what it means to be a man, we will look a different aspects of manhood.
To begin, a man possesses real strength and the ability to affect change in his environment. Men can lift heavy objects, endure physically demanding tasks, and perform challenging forms of manual labor. God the Father has given this innate physical strength to men. Now, not all men have the physique of body builders, but the size of one’s muscles does not determine the extent of one’s manhood. This strength, seen in authentic manhood, appears in a wide array of forms, in keeping with the diversity and individuality of men themselves.
The natural power that a man possesses because of his strength scares modern society. Modern society often seeks to strip away a man’s strength because it is dangerous; yet, it is not a man’s strength in and of itself that is dangerous, but it is the man who does not use his strength in the correct manner that is dangerous. Author John Eldridge, in his book Wild at Heart, makes an apt comparison in regards to men. He notes that a scalpel, the instrument used to make incisions during medical surgeries, is a dangerous tool. It is a medical knife and knives can do serious damage to people, but in the hands of licensed doctor, a scalpel can save a human life. In the same way, a man’s strength, although potentially dangerous, is something very needed in our society today, like a scalpel.
In addition to physical strength, a real man possesses an interior strength. He lives within a specific code and is able to identify when his immediate desires run contrary to this code. In a Catholic context, the authentic man lives after the model of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the teachings of His Holy Catholic Church. A man uses his interior strength to stand up and confront the evils around him. In this way, a man follows after the example of Jesus, who was not afraid to confront the religious leaders of his day and correct their errors.
By definition, the authentic man is meek. Meekness means simply strength under control. The true man does not pursue every whim or fleeting passion. The true man keeps his eyes fixed on the Lord and is able to say “no” to temptations as they arise instead of abusing his strength for his own gratification.
With this physical and interior strength, the authentic man carries himself with confidence and interior peace. The man’s confidence comes naturally because he knows the true source of his strength, the Lord his God. Because the authentic man knows the genuine root of his individual strength, he does not despair during the challenging times of his life; instead, the real man perseveres in his current predicament, trusting that his God will provide for him according to His perfect Will. The man carries himself with peace and confidence in his interactions with others, unafraid to speak a difficult word when necessary for the good of a neighbor, yet always speaking with charity and humility.
Finally, the authentic man possesses a heart willing to sacrifice for the good of others. A real man knows his strength, knows it is a gift from God, and desires to use this strength in God’s service. This service may be simple acts of charity throughout the day, putting others’ needs before his own, or this charity may take larger more dramatic forms. Ultimately, a man’s Vocation, whether to religious or married life, will require him to sacrifice for the good of others. In his sacrifices, a man surrenders from a position of strength for the good of others, not because he is too weak to will a situation otherwise. In this way, the authentic man follow’s Christ’s example in His Passion. Christ tells us that no one takes His life from Him. He lays it down freely (Jn. 10:18).
Authentic manhood, what it means to be real man, is not something that our society discusses openly. Our society is afraid of men’s strength and undercuts men in its portrayal of them. Nevertheless, manhood is a noble calling, possessing an innate dignity and value. Real men are desperately needed in our society to rise up and live after the model of our Lord Jesus. Do not be afraid of your strength men, of the holy and noble desires the Lord has placed on your heart. Find other Catholic men around you. Start a Men’s Group in your area, and refuse to live according to the degrading standards our society has set for men.