Many of us are probably familiar with The Art of Manliness website and associated podcast. The AoM tends to have a lot of interesting material and guests, but not much about virtue vis a vis Christian morality. However, a recent episode featured author Stephen Mansfield discussing his book, Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men, in which he writes about exactly that. He talks about a well-worn observation of ours that men in our modern society and even in our churches are pushed toward feminization, but in fact men are geared to “do things” more than they are to talk or simply contemplate things. Of course I wouldn’t discount the value of good rhetoric and reflection, and I don’t think Mansfield does either.
Mansfield’s four “manly” maxims are:
- Manly men do manly things
- Manly men “tend their field” (take care of their responsibilities)
- Manly men build manly men (via a band of brothers and fraternal correction)
- Manly men live for the glory of God (fulfill their God-given purpose as men)
I found that Mansfield has interesting things to say about attracting men into the Christian church (he is a Protestant, although he’s written, among several books on the faith of public figure, what appears to be a favorable treatment of Pope Benedict XVI) and will probably add this book to my growing reading list. If you’re not inclined to read the book, the interview of AoM’s Brett McKay might be worth a listen (43 minutes).
Regarding what the Catholic Church, at least within my experience in our local parish, has to offer in the way of the catechesis of manhood, I’m sympathetic to Mansfield’s observation that many men’s retreats lean on the emotional appeal and the same might be said of other parts of parish life. As always, balance is important. With Junto friends I have attended retreats at both ends of the spectrum: the popular Christ Renews His Parish retreat and an Opus Dei silent retreat. The former definitely relies on the emotions opened by intense witnessing, and the latter on the fraternal challenge of daily discipline. I took away good lessons from each of them, but also have some critique of each.
As Mansfield might predict I am more strongly drawn to the latter type, including Argument of the Month Club, Knights of Columbus, parish men’s groups, and the Junto itself. All of these examples have something to offer Catholic men regarding their manly formation: catechesis, intellectual growth, accountability as husbands and fathers, and service to others. Each has been a blessing in my faith life, limited only by my own inclination toward laxity. But I carry on.
Catholic brethren, pray for me.