(OSV News) — Men are called to “make a difference in the world” through submission to Christ, selfless giving and courageous leadership, says a Brooklyn-based bishop.
“If a man truly grasped and believed he was created in the image and likeness of God and beloved to his Heavenly Father, he would far more naturally assume the role of a faithful son, a caring father, a protector, and a guide to his family,” said Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, New York, in his sixth pastoral letter, “The Man of God is a Man for Others: Some Themes in Men’s Spirituality.”
The letter, which Bishop Mansour told OSV News was some three to four years in the making, was issued Oct. 12 and posted on the eparchy’s website — and it’s already been tested in the field, said the bishop.
“The other day I had a retreat for young men and women and I took the 11th- and 12th-grade boys (apart) and said, ‘I want to talk to you man to man,'” said Bishop Mansour. “And so I talked a little bit about the pastoral letter and gave it to them. And it was very fruitful. These guys really appreciated it.”
A crisis of masculinity
In the letter, Bishop Mansour states that “men who live as ‘chips off the old (divine) block’ are the greatest need today; women and children long for this — many men also long for this.”
That need is even greater due to what Bishop Mansour calls “some worrisome trends in our culture to undermine masculinity under the guise of remedying past chauvinism or over-reliance on patriarchal structures, not to mention the absence of dads in far too many homes in our country and the need for inspiring male role models.”
As a result, “many young men are growing up without effective guidance about how to live out their male identity,” he wrote.
At the same time, while “in recent years there has been a great deal of profound reflection on the spirituality of women,” there has been “less on the vocation and mission of men,” he wrote.
Key Bible passages for Christian men
The pastoral letter draws in particular on several Scripture passages to explore the nature of men and God’s intention for them.
The creation accounts in Genesis (Gen 1:1-31, 2:4-25) show that both men and women have been fashioned in the image of God, and their genders are complementary by design, said the bishop in his letter.
“It was God who noticed what was lacking in man, well before man himself did!” he wrote. “God always notices our great need before we do and seeks to provide for us in that need.”
Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:1-20) “teaches all of us, but especially men, a form of servant leadership,” wrote Bishop Mansour.
Citing St. Paul VI, who articulated “a clear masculine spirituality,” he said that “a man needs to learn the value of sacrifice to be able to place others first and to adapt himself to the needs of women and children.”
St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which exhorts husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25-27), points to a “love (that) draws a man to sacrificial self-giving and invites his spouse to make a similar gift herself,” wrote the bishop.
John Paul II and complementarity
Pointing to St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, Bishop Mansour said the complementarity of man and woman enables them to view themselves as gifts, and to “also make gifts of themselves to one another in love,” which “gives sexual intimacy its meaning and purpose.”
“This natural God-given identity is part of what Pope Francis, and before him, Pope Benedict, referred to as human ecology,” Bishop Mansour wrote. “Our natures, different and complementary, are not merely social constructs open to alteration or redefinition but constitute a profound spiritual and physical reality.”
In fact, wrote Bishop Mansour, “to view our gender as anything less diminishes the meaning and beauty of our nature as created in the very image and likeness of God.”
The divine gift of procreation imparts “an amazing ability to make the world new again by bringing children” into it, he wrote.
Bishop Mansour also wrote that couples experiencing infertility, which “often causes great suffering,” model an “unselfish love” that enables them to serve others in “creative ways,” and “encourages us both in the family and the Church to greater love and respect.”
Chastity, which is “essential for holiness,” represents “a gift of love that places limits on our freedom” and “makes us truly free,” wrote the bishop.
“No matter what has happened in one’s past, the Gospel calls each of us to self-mastery and sacrifice,” he wrote. “Although this is counter-cultural and may seem impossible today, by the grace of God, such virtue is not only possible but happily achievable.”
Prayer and vulnerability
Prayer, without which holiness is unattainable, can represent a particular challenge for men, since it requires a willingness to set aside pride and adopt “a constant and consistent openness to grace,” Bishop Mansour noted.
“To be vulnerable as a man is no small request, for by his nature as protector, provider, and cultivator it would seem almost contradictory to be at the same time vulnerable,” wrote Bishop Mansour. “For this reason, it may be difficult for men to enter more deeply into prayer, for it is difficult enough for a man to admit that he needs help and cannot do something on his own, but to also enter into a prayerful state requires a man to now go a step even further, and to stand vulnerable before another man, that is before the God-man, Jesus Christ, and ask him for help.”
Some men may “avoid going deep into prayer because they are afraid of what they might hear,” he added. “The stillness of God’s voice, which is often a long-desired peace and an answer to prayer, requires a vulnerable and docile heart.”
St. Joseph serves as “the greatest witness to a truly masculine spirituality,” wrote Bishop Mansour, since he “became the man he was because of the grace of God and the help of the Virgin Mary.”
Regardless of their state in life, all men are called to aspire to the same, said Bishop Mansour.
“Whether a man is called to be a father, husband, generous single man, celibate priest, monk, or consecrated religious, if he is truly a man of God, prayer, and integrity, he will necessarily be a man for others,” he wrote.