Monday, January 17, 2011


(This is the first part of a conference given by me to the seminarians on my weekly Prefect's Conference)

Ask people what they think about who the priest is and undoubtedly you would get responses like: Man of God, Man of the Cloth, a man for others (this one comes from John Paul II), man of prayer, etcetera. Many things could be said of the priest, but in rounding all of these definitions and descriptions of who the priest is, whether in himself or for others, the first and most basic thing that we could get is that the priest must necessarily first be a man. This is something so evident that nobody gives as much as a second glance. Yet, that the priest be a man is very important, if the priest is to be what the Church needs him to be what he is: the one who continues the mission and action of Jesus Christ in the world and in these times, the one who acts and talks in the very person of her Spouse. Masculinity, manhood, being essentially male and human is very much an important part in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which every Catholic priest through the ages has shared.

Let us take this ponderance within the context of seminary formation. The priest is a man, and he must be man enough if he is to incarnate the Christ who not only is the Savior of the world but is also the Spouse of the Church, and who continues to act and save in her and through her. Only men could be called to the priesthood, and it takes a real man, with all that this supposes, to be able to assume the heavy responsibility of the priesthood. Suffice it to say that the seminary is not only training in the ways of the priesthood, formation in the supernatural virtues, in parish administration, or in philosophical and theological concepts. Among other things, it is also supposedly meant to be a formation which allows for growth in masculinity. An appreciation for what authentic Christian masculinity is a hallmark of seminary formation. Alongside other virtues, the seminary must be a place in which formable young men grow up into men, real and mature men, capable of taking up the responsibilities that would be thrust upon their shoulders the moment they are ordained. Otherwise, we would be remiss in our duty as formators, and we would be giving the world a new generation of problematic priests, who would go out into the world, not to spread the Good News of salvation, but generate more scandals in the Church. 

Crisis in Masculinity

But what exactly do we mean by masculinity? What does it take to be a man, especially in light of priestly vocation and ministry? The dictionary refers to the term as manly character, the quality or condition of being masculine; something traditionally considered to be characteristic of a male. These may be clear-cut definitions, but they don’t make things any clearer for us, do they? We would be able more to define and identify it by what we see and perceive in human interaction.

The media has done a lot in shaping our own perception of the world and ourselves. With concern to our topic, it has done its own share of defining what masculinity is. In this part however, the problem is not defining masculinity, rather, it is in determining whether that which it projects before us about masculinity is authentic or its mere stereotype.

Masculine stereotypes abound in society, and the media plays no small role in propagating them. Scott Hahn, in his book about the catholic priesthood entitled Many Are Called, observes that all the popular media, in fact, draw from certain stereotypes when they want to convey masculinity. Instead of the real deal, they give us machismo, which is a caricature of masculinity.

They show us men who are sexually promiscuous, physically aggressive, and ostentatiously wealthy. They would have us believe that the measure of manhood is to be found in a guy’s bedroom and backseat exploits, his fistfights (sublimated, perhaps, into competitive sports) or his prodigal spending. The stereotypes would have us believe that the Y chromosome –maleness—will remain unfulfilled as long as any of these things are lacking.[1]

This could be very much observable in our society and in our culture. In many instances, pagpakalalake may mean to be aggressive, be given much to drink and game, be very athletic, be popular with the girls (and even be unfaithful in one’s relationships), to do “guy” things with one’s circle of male friends(whatever that means). One perception of this brand of masculinity may be seen in the lyrics of Beyonce’s hit song If I Were A Boy (at least from a girl’s perspective).  Being a man means being able to do what I want, without even paying the consequences; it means chasing after girls, being able to lie as I wish, to make the rules as I go, to be able to take things for granted.

However, as I have said, these are stereotypes, and they are believable. Many times, however, their credibility resides precisely in the fact that they are stereotypes, counterfeits, and caricatures. All such falsehoods depend upon a basis of truth, which they oversimplify, distort or exaggerate[2].

It is quite evident that nowadays we are witnessing a crisis in masculinity, not only in the manner of understanding it. This crisis is perceived not only in how the media portrays it, but even in how it is perceived and observed in society and culture. This is immediately felt with regards to the priesthood, which holds the very concept of masculinity in its very core. This is what Fr. David Toups, the associate director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. episcopal conference, author of a book entitled "Reclaiming Our Priestly Character”, said in an interview which he gave to Zenit on March 18, 2008, entitled Priestly Identity: Crisis and Renewal. He believes that there is a crisis of authentic masculinity in the world

There is a crisis of commitment, fidelity and fatherhood all rooted in men not living up to their call to be “real men” -- men who model their lives on Christ, who lay down their lives out of love, and who learn what it is to be a father from our Father in heaven.

So in the context of the priesthood, which flows out of society, there is a particular challenge to help men grow in manly virtue. The priesthood is not for the faint of heart, but for men who are up to the challenge of living as Christ in laying down their life on a daily basis.[3]

            Fr. Toups places a correlation with the crisis of masculinity with a crisis of that which is becoming of a man: commitment, fidelity, and lastly, fatherhood. Man as someone who could come up with a commitment and be faithful to it, a spousal commitment; as someone who could face the demands and responsibilities of fatherhood. These are things which would be expected of any grown man. I say this because another part of the crisis of masculinity is the fact that many men refuse to grow up, and continue to act and present themselves in society and real life as if they never left adolescence. In the Catholic blogosphere it took a woman blogger to express this in an entry. The Crescat has been known for her refreshing insights both as a catholic and as a woman. In one of her entries she expressed her exasperation concerning where all the real men had gone:

….it's as if they vanished over night leaving nothing but the stench of Hollister and Axe body spray to linger where they once stood.

Never before in my entire life has it been so hard to distinguish between a heterosexual male and a homosexual one. Boys, I call them boys because "men" does not apply, in their mid to late twenties are the strangest breed of effeminate creatures I have every seen. I certainly do not envy young ladies ten years my junior trying to find suitable mates. Not only do they have to decipher whether a man fancies them or not, they now also have to figure if the gentleman even fancies women at all.

At my age I am on the tail end of this gender blurring trend; however, to say I am completely immune would be an inaccuracy. Men in their early thirties, in attempts delay adulthood, have picked up on this trend... the castrated hipster in skinny jeans with the Beiber haircut. I'm not just referring to fashion trends but to the complete and total disappearance of manly demeanor and characteristics.[4]

            Reading her rant would have made guessing at the correlation between this crisis and the upsurge of homosexual subculture. It’s not so distant.

[1] Scott Hahn, Many Are Called, p. 20.
[2] Ibid, 22
[3] Toups
[4] Crescat

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