Men in the Church

A while back there was a discussion going on over at Amy’s old blog. It was a fascinating discussion about the role of men in the Church, feminization and/or effeminization (depending on who is speaking and whether they properly understand it of course) of the Church.

I say it is fascinating for a couple of reasons that come to mind readily…

First is that there is a definite and pronounced recognizement that the proper roles of men and women in the Church seem to be out of whack. I say proper rather than traditional because we Americans tend to have a limited view of what constitutes tradition. Anything that we are used to seems to qualify for traditional.

Second is that everyone seems to be dancing around the central issue and making some very good tangential points that just do not get to the heart of the matter.

Third is that there seems to be a backlash against the current problems and against what is seen as unmanly, whether that is seen as effeminate or feminine.

Some are aguing that the Church has too many women doing what men used to do. That is certainly true in the sense that most Masses that many go to have at best 1 or 2 men beyond the priest as a lector or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, never mind the choir and cantor. The numbers are certainly skewed. We certainly need more men visible in our public worship.

Some are arguing that the Church has become too feminine because of this. But as one astute female commenter pointed out, the Church IS feminine. She is the Bride of Christ after all.

However, the Church is also the Body of Christ. The Church is both male and female. Male in that we are Christ to the world. Female in that we, the Church, are the Bride of Christ.

Those arguing against a supposed feminization rail against the homosexual abusers in the priesthood and epispcopacy. They see a priesthood that has all too many men acting like women or having female traits that destroy the calling of some to the priesthood.

These three themes certainly all have valid examples to back them up. But I do not think any one of them is right, nor is it that all three are right. They are the outgrowth of the problem and it is a problem in the West specifically, thought I certainly believe that it can exist elsewhere as well.

The roles of the sexes have been totally messed up. Men are not supposed to be men except as in how they support women’s choices, either sexually or in the family. Man is no longer seen as the pillar of strength and support of the family, especially in the way that it mirrors the Church as the Body of Christ. Men are no longer supposed to assert their masculinity unless his dominant female association (mother, sister, girlfriend or wife) approves. Men aren’t sure how to act around women anymore. Not that we had all the answers in bygone eras certainly.

Women are asserting themselves in ways unthinkable 50 years ago. They are replacing men in roles of head of family and household, whether the man is present or not. They are told they can have motherhood and career and wealth and happiness all for free. Almost. All you have to do is give up any kind of total union, physical and spiritual, with your chosen male. Don’t trust him. Don’t let him have “power” over you. You are the one in control. In other words you are the man of old.

The media and culture support these ideas by presenting strong women paired with oafish buffoons for husbands. The wives are the ones who control everything and everyone. Men are mere bystanders to their own lives. At best we are just another child for the wife to take care of.

Think about all the commercials and sitcoms that portray these things. There’s a lot aren’t there?

Now how many examples do we have of a man and a woman who complement each other and complete each other and do and want what’s best for each other?

Not many.

What does it all mean?

It means that men don’t know what’s expected of them any more. One of the reasons that men are civilized is that our wives and mothers, including the Church as Bride of Christ and the Blessed Mother have helped us get there. Men left to their own devices makes you think Calvin’s doctrine of Total Depravity doesn’t even scratch the surface. A totally male dominated society without the moderating influence of women probably gets you something like the Taliban.

What we seem to have done is recognized this as a society and decided that men as a group need less power and influence.


Now what?

That’s what we have been asking ourselves for 40 years. We need to know what it is we are supposed to live up to.

Men in general are goal orientented and tend to define ourselves by what we do and what we accomplish. The female half of the species, as noted on Amy’s blog, tend to define themselves by their relationships.

Which is actually perfect for a lot of what passes for theology now. The total emphasis in my parish for instance with our pastor is all about relationship. And to be sure there is much truth in it, but there is much more to the Church than that.

This sort of thing I think tends to appeal to women more than men. Women, I have always joked, DO relationships and men HAVE them. The difference is that men are in them and women are working on them. It’s no wonder that men are not attracted to what comes from the pulpit in many places. It’s all about the stuff we try to avoid the rest of the week.

To quote the great philosopher, Foghorn Leghorn, “That’s a joke, son.”

Seriously though, I think men that stay away do so because the Gospel is presented in a way that appeals primarily to women. We don’t hear the facts of the Gospel and what we are supposed to do about it. Loving one another and boiling it down to that phrase only is not going to appeal to many men. We tend to want to know all of it and what we need to do with it. What actions do we need to take?

I think so many people in the Church leave and go to evangelical and other churches is because they get more than the love thy neighbor sermon and because these churches keep them DOING things. They keep learning and doing things in their new churches. In our parishes we rarely hear or do anything it seems. Even when we have parish missions, we are preaching to the choir as it were. We are then left to our own devices as to what we are to do with it.

Other than the parish Men’s Club and the guys who setup and cleanup for the picnics and festivals, young men to those approaching middle age don’t participate much in parish life it seems.

Catholic men need to man up and be what they are supposed to be. Men of God and spiritual leaders of their families and communities. Strong men protect their families, both physically and spiritually. Strong men volunteer to be lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy communion. They volunteer to be religious education teachers. They volunteer to work with St. Vincent DePaul and the youth group. They volunteer to take communion to the sick and visit the elderly.

Yes, I understand that women can, should and do these things as well. That’s beside the point. We have a vocations crisis in the Church because in too many places, men are not presented with a positive view of the what it means to be a priest.

Authentic manhood is rooted in Jesus Christ. He is our model. He confronted evil and fought it. He battled unto death with evil and rose from the dead in triumph over it. He served His friends and followers. He loved His Mother and his human father and was obedient to their authority over Him. He never backed away from Truth because He is Truth. Jesus Christ was the perfect man and the perfect expression of masculinity.

If we men follow Christ and model our lives on His, we can only move closer to Him, begin to lead our wives and loved ones and start to fill up the pews in our parishes again. Authentic manhood will only be authentic when working with authentic femininity in the service of Christ. Authentic manhood is not about “being the boss” or making other do what you want. It’s not about putting women in their place.

 It’s about men retaking their place in the Church. It’s about leading others to do what is Right and Good with and in cooperation with good Christian women.

Who will be the one to step up in your parish?

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