I may or may not be listening to the Tangled soundtrack as I write this…and I may or may not be listening to the same song from that soundtrack over and over again…I could (and have in fact) gush(ed) endlessly about how this Disney movie contains the essential elements of Christian anthropology and Catholic teaching – including but not limited to: original solitude, original unity, authentic masculinity, the beauty of the feminine genius, the relationship between suffering and love, the call to die to ourselves, the fruitfulness that can only be born of self gift, etc, etc. The main characters – Rapunzel and Eugene “Flynn Rider”Fitzherbert – have an absolute dignity about them as they allow love to awaken them to the true, the good and the beautiful – to the ache in every human heart (Redemptor Hominis 10, Gaudium et Spes 24, Familiaris Consortio 11*). My favorite line comes at the very end – Eugene observes: “At last, Rapunzel was home and she finally had a real family. She was a princess worth waiting for. Beloved by all, she led her kingdom with all the grace and wisdom that her parents did before her.” Of all the wonderful topics this movie inspires, I want to focus on authentic masculinity – specifically – modifying the words of Eugene, I shall write about “a knight worth waiting for.”
I used to have a long list of the qualities I believed a guy needed to have to be worthy of respect (I wanted a Eucharist-loving, guitar-playing, Knight of Columbus, song-writing, sports-loving, rugged, foreign, cleans up well but also can rock a beard, empathetic, generous, solid man…). I have slightly adapted this list to:
- A man of deep, abiding faith
- A man of integrity
- A man who embodies authentic masculinity*
*If he could be all these three and also leave me in stitches with his sense of humor, that would be awesome, or as some might say, phenomenal.
Though Flynn Rider does come to embody these qualities, I’d like to turn to three other examples from popular culture of authentic masculinity…
1. The Fighter – James Braddock in Cinderella Man
Though Tangled certainly gave this movie a run for its money, it maintains its position as my #1 favorite movie. How is it possible that a girl could love a movie centered around boxing and blood? Because fighting and bleeding is part of life – and James Braddock willingly does this for his family. He knows what he’s fighting for; he willingly and with an endearing joy sacrifices his body (boxing and working on the docks with a broken hand), his dignity (returning to his former colleagues to beg for money so that he can keep his promise to his children that they will stay together as a family no matter what) and his passion (focusing his strength on being a good husband and father). I can’t think of a more Christ-like figure, nor one who so embodies the call of men outlined in Ephesians 5 in any other movie – and the best part – it’s all based on a real man.
2. The Hero – Mr. Incredible (Bob Parr) in The Incredibles
I’m not usually one to go for buff blonds, but Mr. Incredible has a place in my heart. Though he gets caught up in the usual temptations left to men by original sin (compensating pride, misdirected hankerings for reckless adventure and leadership that excludes others), he gets it. He gets that his wife and family are the greatest adventure and gift. Sometimes that adventure includes loving his family by willingly sitting in a 4 x 4 cubicle thriving on Dunkin Donuts coffee with a micro-managing boss. Sometimes it means risking his life to save his family from the grips of a fallen world. Regardless, he approaches his mission with courage, integrity and humble strength.
3. The Family Man – George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life
I think men such as “It’s A Wonderful Life’s” George Bailey too often get overlooked or cast aside in conversations about authentic masculinity. Could that be because it’s no longer cool to be a husband and father who continuously puts others first, sacrificing the dreams of his heart to help bring to fruition the dreams of others? We live in a culture used to having it all – the perfect job, beautiful wife, well-behaved 1.5 child/ren, etc, etc. Father Walter J. Ong, in “Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness,” writes: “The typical self-giving of men is the performance of valiant exploits for others, women and other men.” George Bailey – though he is not traversing Middle Earth like Aragorn, nor challenging the tyrannical English like William Wallace – is absolutely living out his authentic masculinity as he fights for a more just and loving society.
To all my brother knights out there, I thank God for you and I leave you with these words reminding you that your authentic masculinity is caught up in the fact that you are made for relationship, “It is not good for man to be alone and his home and his fruitfulness are in woman, his glory.” – Hans Urs von Balthasar. Whether you are called to be married to a beautiful princess here on earth or to the most perfect woman of all – Holy Mother Church – I pray for you and the battles you most surely will face. Ad majorem Dei gloriam!
*“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” –RH 10
“Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” – GS 24
“God created man in His own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love… Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” – FC 11