Manliness. Thanks to websites like the Art of Manliness, Catholic Gentlemen, Whiskey Catholic and many others, the internet is a buzz with discussion of what makes a man a man. What traits, virtues, and abilities must a man exhibit to be considered a true man, and not an adolescent adult? Is he judged by his brothers to have met the agreed upon standard of manhood, or is there a God-given goal on the heights that each man strives to reach? And, most importantly, if he reaches those lofty peaks is he given a “man card?” These are all questions that need answering.
In simple chapter and verse, Acts 13:22 says; “And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David, the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”
While this verse clearly states, do God’s will, I find such Biblical quotations, or sentiments, to cause me to lose the trees in the forest. How do I do what I need to do? So, I will pick one virtue each man MUST possess; perseverance.
Why perseverance as a prerequisite for manliness?
Are we not all called to persevere in Christ? We are, but I think there is an aspect of perseverance that is distinctive for manhood. Perseverance implies several other traits of the possessor; fidelity, discipline, strength, courage, and, as Catholic men, trust in God. St. Augustine, in On the Gift of Perseverance, wrote,
For we are speaking of that perseverance whereby one perseveres unto the end, and if this is given, one does persevere unto the end; but if one does not persevere unto the end, it is not given … But since no one has perseverance to the end, many people have it, but none can lose it. For it is not to be feared that perchance when a man has persevered unto the end, some evil will may arise in him, so that he does not persevere unto the end. This gift of God, therefore, may be obtained by prayer, but when it has been given, it cannot be lost by [disobedience].
We elevate and draw strength from the martyrs precisely because they endured their trials unto the end for the sake of Christ and His Church. Something about the consummate survivor, or the man who bears his trials with a smile that stirs the heart.
I remember watching Sands of Iwo Jima with my dad, and just being amazed when John Wayne gruffly said, “Saddle up,” and just kept going forward. Some of my favorite book examples of perseverance are the Lord of the Rings. When Lord of the Rings was first published, one critic complained that Tolkien’s characters are too Romantic and static. However, this is exactly the sort of example men should emulate.
Through thick and thin, a man should be upright and steadfast. Men who are not governed by circumstances, but instead rise to meet them. Within this tale is supreme loyalty to friends despite desperate times; loyalty that accepts death rather fleeing from it.
Think of the Wiglaf in Beowulf. When all other ‘men’ fled the dragon, leaving Beowulf alone, Wiglaf rebuked them, “…As God is my witness, I would rather my body were robed in the same burning blaze as my gold-giver’s body than go back home bearing arms. This is unthinkable…I well know the things he has done for us deserve better. Should he alone be left exposed to fall in battle?”
Prayer, Obedience, and Fidelity
How does a man achieve such levels of manliness, especially when a man is confronted with habitual sin, failure, and seemingly insurmountable trials? As St. Augustine said, pray.
In years past, I defined my prayer life as a quick, muttered prayer before falling asleep, and a prayer before meals. Usually, the duration and intensity would increase as difficulties increased. This approach in no way cultivated a strong relationship with Christ. I could not persevere in prayer.
Eventually, after I began turning to God first instead of others or distractions, I realized God would not fix my problems, but assist me in learning from them in overcoming them. Prayer and contemplation help us to fix our eyes on Christ and his example. Christ prayed for God’s will to be done, was obedient unto death, and is faithful to His own forevermore. Prayer can be difficult, but it is the means to gather strength to push forward.
St. Teresa of Avila had this to say when speaking of prayer in her work The Way of Perfection,
Let us now return to those who wish to travel on this road, and will not halt until they reach their goal, which is the place where they can drink of this water of life. As I say, it is most important – all important, indeed – that they should begin well by making an earnest and most determined resolve not to halt until they reach their goal, whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however hard they may have to labor, whoever may complain of them, whether they reach their goal or die on the road or have no heart to confront the trials which they meet, whether the very world dissolves before them.
St. Ignatius of Antioch in one of his final letters before his martyrdom wrote,
Heed the bishop, that God by heed you, too. My life is a ransom for those who are obedient to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons; and in their company may I obtain my portion! Toil together, wrestle together, run together, suffer together, rest together, rise together…
To my fellow men, we must up lift each other up in Christ, and hold each other to a higher standard than what the world offers, which is no standard at all. Christ guides and strengthens us, but we can also reinforce each other to do God’s Will. Encourage one another by word and example.
No matter how many times you fall down get back up, go to Confession, and just keep going. We admire the men who can persevere precisely because it is so difficult at times to carry on. But, it is not impossible. We should pray for each other that we can honestly echo St. Paul’s words at the end of our days,
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.