Sunday, March 04, 2007

Men for Christ & Family

In my daily interaction with young people in a Catholic school setting, I see how permeable are its walls to the pop culture of North America. Graham Greene once said that faith had been replaced in England and America with "ugly indifference," and North American culture "wasn't evil, it wasn't anything at all, it was just the drugstore and the Coca Cola, the hamburger, the sinless graceless chromium world" [Lawless Roads, 14-15]. That is a pretty big problem to try to bring down, and, not having an elephant gun of sufficiently large calibre, I won't try.

But I do think, however, that the Three Massketeers, being male and living, moving, and having our being in the lenten lands of postmodernism, we have something to say about being Catholic men of faith and raising boys and sons to become Catholic men of faith.

I see rootless boys in my school's setting who have no father to model for them what it means to be a faithful, Catholic father in the "domestic church" or in a society that belittles manhood. I see how the Church and, under her eucharistic wings, the Catholic school, tries to help boys take up the responsibilities of becoming a faithful Catholic man. It is, at best, remedial. To be a trustworthy mentor-figure for such boys is an honor for me. But they are bombarded day in and day out with the values of pop culture; the classroom for many such boys -- and girls too -- is seen by them as a necessary evil on the way to the rest of their lives at best and anachronistic, bothersome, and a scandal at worst.

In my opinion, this is because of fatherlessness. They have no father to whom they can turn as a living, breathing bearer of the promises of the Church's teachings, Catholic fatherhood in the flesh. Even if dad is on-site in the family, quality time spent in his presence is minimal, haphazard, and fleeting. Moments when father is truly present to a son are precious and few. How can sons learn from fathers in such a skewed and decidedly unfamily-friendly milieu?

Dr. Philip Mango, Catholic psychotherapist, analyzes the disease and possible solutions here. He sees four "archetypes" placed in men by God that help pass the holy tradition of manhood and fatherhood from one generation to another: the king, creator of order in family, Church, and society, the warrior, who defends and protects the weaker and fights for the honor of God without fear or hatred, the lover, who is not sentimental but quick to forgive, is uncontrolling, and faithful, and the wise guide, who able to convey spiritual knowledge and forsakes false advice, half-truths, and evil.

Dr. Mango encourages men to reject a "hectic, driven, agitated existence" and practice servant-leadership and self-sacrificial love, in loving God and serving family above all else.
Interested readers can visit his website at


David Nybakke said...


Boy, this post of yours, ... it brings to surface many feelings and emotions for me. Where did it come from? For me, this is a major, heavy-duty topic and I am not sure if I want to say thank you or curse you as it floods my being with all sorts of feelings.

As a man - as a father, I will try to collect these swirling thoughts, putting some order to them and respond shortly.

I will also check out Dr. Mango. Off-hand I do not usually care for psychological "archetypes" jargon as I spent many, many years (and many, many dollars) being in session with such psychologist - beginning from the time of my son's diagnosis of numerous learning disabilities (pre-school age); to family counseling through the years; then marriage counseling; and then divorce counseling (you would have thought I would have picked up on it for as many years of sessions I subjected myself and family to). Through all the years, faith and religion were never really a part of life nor the counseling sessions; “it” was going to be handled and fixed with intellect and basic modern psychology – the modern ‘new-age’ spirituality.

I really wasn’t able to begin breathing again until I ran across Gil Bailie and his teaching of Girard and MT. It was only then that some of the pieces began to come together for me but unfortunately my son had grown and so our relationship had shifted into a secondary nature. Anyway I hope your Dr. Mango leaves room for MT in all the mumbo-jumbo psychology stuff. In my humble opinion, there aren’t many more important topics in the world then this one, my dear Athos.


Athos said...

Dear Aramis,

Like yourself, I feel fortunate to have been pulled out of the quagmire of the Jungian swamp by Bailie's influence; prominently, his series "The Gift of Self." This after a decade of being highly involved with the analytical psychology of Jung on many levels.

That having been said, we should note well that mimetic theory for all the help and understanding it brings has many shortcomings too. We three Massketeers have well seen how it, MT, can be "hotwired" and driven far afield in service to themes and causes far from the teachings of the Catholic Church, Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium.

I think the operative principle in my post on manhood, fatherhood, and the inestimable need for godly men to teach their sons is the same principle that, fortunately, led me safely away from the pagan much and mire of Jungiana. Namely, a grace-granted faith that there IS a holy Alternative. Will fathers and men succeed in raising faithful sons? We are only called to be faithful, not successful.

But, secondarily, I think that from what I've read at this Dr. Mango's website at St. Michaels he is trying to use his psychoanalytic skills in service to the Church. And, BTW, I do believe that personal therapy can extremely beneficial; the whole "collective unconscious" realm that Jung strove to enter is really the same realm as the primitive sacred (cf. Satinover).

This is to say, reflecting bibically, just as Moses and the Hebrews plundered the Egyptians as they left bondage (Ex. 12,36), those who are striving to be faithful Catholics can utilize such tools as mimetic theory and psychoanalysis.



Porthos said...

In some ways, I'm not fit to comment on this. I can't offer myself as a paragon of Catholic fatherhood/husbandhood as I got into the Church rather late in the game. I've got more years as a Christian father/husband (in an essentially pagan household) under my belt, but some damage was done before I became a Christian--it's damage I can't seem to shake and which I will take with me to the grave, I think. I don't know what specifically I could point to in my family life so as to say "Here are the good results that flow from doing anything right." [hands up in the air, befuddled, helpless expression on face] Catholic teaching is kind of "vicariously" right for me. I'll try to obey it, as much as I can, and according to the grace I get, and I can see theoretically how it would "work" (actually produce happy, thriving families among the more intact sons and daughters of Eve). Beyond that, it's a kind of "cloud of unknowing" for me at the boots-on-the-ground level. Even that might be a bit too elevated a description. In short, do as I say, but please don't be as I be. I'm the kind of guy that needs those biohazard/radioactive marks plastered all over my stretch of turf. Traffic should be diverted around it and safely beyond. Stay away! Dangerous area! Toxic! Health Risk! Don't come here!

Athos said...

But you imply that one should not tell the truth of faith and morals if one isn't an 100% exemplar of the same, Porthos. C. S. Lewis said that once one sees that one has taken the wrong path, repentance is turning around and heading in the right direction asap. Same with one attempting to be a faithful father, husband, man. Any concomitant remorse, contrition, self-whacking should fall under the heading of "People I need to forgive" - me.

For children and spouses to see how we handle mistakes is part of the "program" as it were. We ain't perfect; that's not the goal. It's about at Whose feet we lay our sword, pledge fealty, in Whose name we try to be faithful, wise, loving, and brave. If we actually SUCCEED in doing so, that is by the grace of God, not any merit of our own.

Bailie says (somewhere) that just by their seeing that we have our eyes on a different horizon, and if we succeed just 2% of the time, they will know we aren't completely caught in the same ol same ol.

That is why I, for one, come back time after time to our eucharistic Lord saying, like Brother Lawrence, "See what happens when you leave me on my own?"

Porthos said...

That said, the article is good and I think you've got the best view on this, Ath, from your teaching environment. (I just want to insist that nobody look at my, please, as a shimmering example of Catholic maleness in any way, shape or form.)

Yes, it seems perfectly obvious to me that there is a crisis of masculinity, of male/modelling, and just as obvious that it is extremely hurtful to both men and women. And no, the educated end of the population has no idea what's going on or how to deal with this, because they think the fight is with vestigal patriarchy (if only!). Mimetic theory could and should be of help here, but it can't be and won't be because it only knows victim-speak and the well-worn parlance of unravelling the above-mentioned "patriarchy" that is supposedly holding everybody down.

At one point, Robert Bly was trying to do a re-imaging male thing from a kind of new age mumbo jumbo perspecitve. Whatever became of that?

Porthos said...

I had not seen your intervening post when I made the next one, Ath. I got you, but I am afraid pronouncements like that must remain fairly mandatory in my case. I have no doubt that God will clean up toxic spills. But let's not make any mistake that it is, in fact, a toxic spill.

Athos said...

Yes, it saddens me that the MT practitioners of whom we are aware stop short of the depth Girard's work is capable -- seen in his work and Bailie's, for example -- and settle for the hackneyed and threadbare social science culprits like "patriarchy". There they sit, circled round the dead horse, beating away on its carcass, feeling righteous and fulfilled.

Dear old Bly! See, this is probably the very area that Aramis and I put so much stock in our New Age Zen psychobabble days! I had a ball with the Men's Council of Tidewater (Virginia), taking turns using the "Talking Stick," drumming sessions, etc. What a hoot!

It may have "heightened consciousness" of the problem in significant ways, IMO, and, as per "plundering the Egyptians," I think the crisis of masculinity and fatherhood can be thankful for the men's movement of those dear-old pagan efforts.

It was a start, but would have, indeed has, ended in typical ends of the primitive sacred (although of suburban, middle class, kitchen cleanser sorts - making sure daughter Suzie gets the BEST doctor at the abortion clinic; talking to son Robert about unprotected sex, etc.).

Athos said...

My dear chap, Porthos, no one's sins are any less toxic than anyone else's. I'd say the fact that St Peter left the account of his denial, betrayal, and abandonment of Our Lord in the NT is telling.

But perhaps more important is that when Jesus asked "Peter, do you love me?" three times for the three times Peter betrayed Him, the forgiveness "caught". That is, Peter didn't say,

"Lord, my sins are toxic and unremovable. Go away from me, a sinful man."

Forgiven is forgiven, not denial of sin's reality. Look back, shake your head, laugh ruefully and past idiocy, but clinging to one's past, absolved sins? I hope this not what you mean, bro.

None of us is best father/dad/husband; and none of us is the worst either.

Porthos said...

So you did the Bly thing? Wow. I don't know whether to get envious or not, Mr. tribal elder sir!

It's too bad that's not the thing anymore; what a reality show it would make ("Survivor" meets "Men's Council")!

About the other thing, there are just . . . issues. Not temporal punishments, but temporal effects. I must remain hostage to them, to some extent, because certain things trheaten the well being of others than myself. It must be this way, so far as I can see.

This was actually one of my unspoken beefs with Evangelicalism for many years. There was a certain expectation that "victory" and "delivery" would be manifested in one's life, because, after all, Jesus wiped away my sins, right? Yet "victory" and "delivery" never came in that way. Instead, suffering.

As a Catholic, it makes perfect sense!

It's off the subject, but in my view, we've got to be somewhat careful not to fall into imitative rivalry with our Evangelical friends, I mean, by emphasizing our glowing, triumphant "testimonies." I've got a bunch of beautiful thorns to give Jesus. But what have I got to give to the world? Not much. Maybe nothing.

Athos said...

we've got to be somewhat careful not to fall into imitative rivalry with our Evangelical friends, I mean, by emphasizing our glowing, triumphant "testimonies." I've got a bunch of beautiful thorns to give Jesus. But what have I got to give to the world? Not much. Maybe nothing

A beautiful testimony of honest rags and bones trumps a "Me and Jesus" endzone dance any day in my book, Porthos. Bravo, Massketeer.

Porthos said...

The core of the article you link has the idea of the four (?) major archetypes of maleness, and their passive and active distortions. It seems to make a lot of intuitive sense. Does it fail to fly for you, Aramis? (Sincere and not baited or polemical question.) Is it misguided to even talk of archetypes anymore, or is there still (as Athos suggests) some juice to be wrung out of the collapsed Jungian contructs?

One of our primary models of maleness is St. Joseph. It works for me. Does it work for the world? Is this not a tough sell? Total self-giving servanthood, without a thought or expectation of personal fulfillment or self-gratification? Any takers out there?

In an odd, counter-intuitive sort of way there just might be. I think there is a heroic longing in men for this self-giving, a string that can be plucked by St. Joseph.

David Nybakke said...

I beg for your forgiveness here as I jump in before ceasing the swirling thoughts and emotions that this post and topic creates in me (as well as not reading the article Ath linked). But following up quickly with Porthos' comments; I believe that we are all "called out" as creatures to no longer follow in the ways of old. I believe that being “called out” holds for the 'vocation' of fatherhood. We must, at the very core of our being be filled with God, as we imitate the Son, and by our “yes” given to us by the Holy Spirit, we allow ourselves to hear (being obedient and listening) to the still small voice – following in the line of Abraham or Joseph (in his dream). This is not to say that some good does not come of psychology or science, but it is my contention that all other 'fixes' or 'models' of wellness or being in the world are no more than simple band-aides to get one past a particular mess, but leaves one more vulnerable in the next mess because we have not planted one in the unity of the Trinitarian God. And all of this points to the Eucharist and the Mass. Again, my 2 cents is that whenever dealing with the human, the creature, we must be within arms reach of the Eucharistic Table, at least spiritually and intellectually.

If MT is worth anything it will be because of its closeness to the victimage mechanism, with its interpretive powers of the Gospels, helping to expose the foundation of the world for what it is. It should be obvious that having its center so close in proximity to the victimage mechanism that it will be exploited and abused by the world, but it does not mean that we should dismiss it – just the opposite, we need to strengthen and deepen our understanding of it as we strengthen and deepen our faith in the unity of the Trinitarian God. This closeness to vulnerability (somehow?) is important to recognize as it may help our seeing the vocation of 'fatherhood' in light of Christ rather than some 'archetypes of maleness'.

Hopefully there will be more to follow, and so thank you Athos for the post.

David Nybakke said...

Oh, please don't think that I curse the field of psychology and/or counseling. I work with many in this field especially when it comes to gender issues. And I am no expert so my thoughts can most easily be scratched from sight. Over my lifetime I have come in contact with so many who are at crisis and all we seem to be able to give them is band-aides – so who am I to deny some sort of ‘fix’? I am commenting that from my lay position (of the world) I do not believe these ‘fixes’ will stand up 25, 50 or 100 years from now.

Athos said...

Okay, brother Aramis. I get your message that you aren't cursing the psychotherapeutic field in general. It just isn't "ultimate" enough to be helpful in helping to answer the question posed in my post on the crisis of masculinity and faithful fatherhood for Catholic men in particular or any guy carrying X/Y chromosomes.

Instead of leaving the discussion foundering if, in your words, "there aren’t many more important topics in the world" than this one, how should we proceed?

What's to do besides go to Mass?

Porthos said...

We could always conduct "Lord of the RIngs" themed Men's Councils . . . .

Or not.

Just thinking out loud here . . .

David Nybakke said...

First let me YES to St. Michael's Institute. There seems to be promise and hope in them there words.

Here is another source from where I find hope:

Men As Learners and Elders (M.A.L.Es)
a program offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation
Father Richard Rohr has been doing this sort of thing for many years AND he has incorporated Girard into his basic teaching tool-kit.

With all that said I must return to your question Athos, “What's to do besides go to Mass?” A hearty and resounding WHAT? What is there to do besides go to Mass? I think you have put your finger on the problem Athos! Your question zeros in on the fact that for most Catholic men, Mass simply isn’t doing “it” for them. Go figure that. Maybe we should start at the Mass instead of looking for things external to Mass.

A big problem I sense is the “BIG FIX” mentality of modernity or post-modernity. Nothing in education or training is going to replace the importance of putting in front of our young people the reverence of the saints. Catching the reverence is so important for raising well balanced men (and women).

These institutes and programs are fine, but they also need a strengthened and committed church community to meet the day-to-day grinds of the people. We are usually quick to dismiss that aspect of a good and faithful Catholic.

Athos said...

Blast it, Porth, you got my hopes up that it was Aramis replying!

But it isn't such a terrible idea: Here we are, communicating on our palanteeri, across vast distances.

And are we each like Denethor, Steward of Gondor falling prey to despair because of what we see in them?

Nay! We are the Three Massketeers, bound by our troth to raise the hearts, spirits and flagons of all men of goodwill and damsels faire, be they near or far, young or aged, strong or feeble, Duke or Carolina fans ... No - that's too much. UNC tar heels are on their own.

Athos said...

Now here something passing strange. Me seems to remember that you, Aramis, cast aspersions upon those who go to Mass, seemingly obvious to the eucharistic Miracle and banquet to which they are invited.

I can never discern the hearts of those around me awaiting the invitation to come receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our good Lord, tho' others have called them "pew slugs." (Yikes! That's so close to what Jesus warns about calling a brother a "fool" it gives me the shivers.)

So we agree: start by being with the Real Presence of Jesus at Mass. Excellent.

Rohr, as I recall, has long been a worthy teacher for you, Ar. I look forward to visiting his and the other sites you mention above.

Cheers and what ho!

Athos said...

Aramis wrote: Nothing in education or training is going to replace the importance of putting in front of our young people the reverence of the saints. Catching the reverence is so important for raising well balanced men (and women).

While I fully agree, I am at an utter loss as to a methodology for instilling, let alone, "catching" reverence, Aramis.

In my case, it caught me. This is one of my greater frustrations teaching adolescents. Then in her balanced way, my wife will inevitably say to me, "And what were YOU like at that age?" Right, I think. Right.

But how then to address this crisis of masculinity, fatherhood, and faithful discipleship for men in today's Church?

Porthos said...

If you'll excuse my speaking out of turn, I've tried to sell you guys before on this "Behold the Man: Spirituality for Men" series by Harold Burke-Sivers. I might as well have another shot at persuading youse! Free and downloadable. It helped me a lot in real time disposition adjustment, though I can't say how much it would speak to youger fellers. JP II's "Theology of the Body" figures rather prominently.

You can get the DVD version for 40 bucks here.

Deacon Harold also has a site for his Aurem Cordis organization.

Athos said...

I wasn't aware that it was free as a download, Porth. Thanks for the tip!

Porthos said...

I'd love to get your and Aramis' opinion on that series. More precisely, I have long loved (?) to have wanted to get (?) your and Aramis' opinion on that series. Or, I would long have loved to have gotten your opinion . . . I would have loved long to have gotten to have had you opine . . . I would have gotten opionated to have loved long to get . . .

David Nybakke said...

Athos asked: But how then to address this crisis of masculinity, fatherhood, and faithful discipleship for men in today's Church?

Tough question...and so we must begin with understanding that there are no simple answers.

First thing here is acknowledging that your wife is correct.

Okay, now on to secondary things...

Second default position is the daily readings: Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Past these 2 steps I don't know if I am any good for much more.

David Nybakke said...

(Porthos, I will look into the link you have passed on.)

I really don't hold out much hope for the Real Presence to come through in any of the "men's" work programs EXCEPT where there may be a crack - an opening up to the Spirit through an experience of a relationship with another. I really don't think we pick up the Real Presence through any program(s), but somehow we "catch it". So here again we are looking at how MT, and not men's work, brings about the crack in the armor. And it is here that I marvel at your work with youth, Athos, allowing His Presence to radiate through you, as you help them discover truth, beauty and goodness.

Humm, men's work or programs...for me, I just struggle to believe or find Gospel connections in the - beating of the chest (warrior) - torn shirt and "me man you woman" (lover) - (king) archetypes except maybe the wise fool (leader) as in St. Francis model. I find God speaking to men (as well as women) and instructing them how they are to be real and present in the world, in and through the Mass and the lectionary readings such as today:

Reading 1
Is 1:10, 16-20

Hear the word of the LORD,
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Come now, let us set things right,
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
If you are willing, and obey,
you shall eat the good things of the land;
But if you refuse and resist,
the sword shall consume you:
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!

...powerful, and to imagine, this is just the first reading. One could spend a semester or 2 just on this one reading looking at how to be in this world as a man.

In Bailie's Dante tape series he talks of Dante realizing his true masculinity by the Divine Presence when he came upon Matilda and Beatrice - in other words, he doesn't catch the spirit of manhood through these manly-man concepts of archetypal-psychological explanations. It is not that one can't find their maleness through some experiential-archetypal training, but the key is that the work or program needs to have a transcendent link by way of an external mediation. And so the question, “How do we help youth experience that Divine Presence in the world?” Maybe a tougher question is, “How do we help them experience it in the Mass?”

Humm, about this view? Children are not ours. I believe we, of the modern world, need to come to terms with this in a crucial way for everything we do and say is tainted with individualism and capitalism which inevitably fosters a false sense of possession. We are blessed with children by God and they are God's instrument to teach and guide us. We may be guardians of children, but it seems that as soon as we assume roles of teaching and instructing we begin to attempt to control lives and this only leads to internal mediation. In our modern times (using MT here) I find that parents and their children are so caught up in the cycle of internal mediation that it is almost impossible to see expected "fruits" from our own children. The constant scandal of parenthood is virtually impossible to overcome in our modern families. That is why Athos, YOU are such a hope and inspiration for manhood by your participation with the youth. Our children need the mentors of other fathers and men, as we also are desperately needed to help other families to stand upright against the whirlwinds of the world today. There is no such thing as an individual father or man, just as there is no such thing as individual families. Instead of worrying and fretting over our “own” maybe we should donate our own lives, and help lead our family, to concentrate on others, as the first reading today instructs us. We all make up the body of Christ and it is from that place that we are called to reverence through prayer and action.

I also think that the huge issue we see in fatherhood or fatherlessness is directly related to the problem in the priesthood and the Church today - a near total loss of respect for reverence.

St. Francis from The Testament:

…the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them. And if I had as much wisdom as Solomon and found impoverished priests of this world, I would not preach in their parishes against their will. And I desire to respect, love and honor them and all others as my lords. And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my lords. And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing physically of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others. I want to have these most holy mysteries honoured and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places.

Porthos said...

Good thoughts, Aramis. I agree that Athos' rubber-meets-the-road educational encounters (as per Athos' opening remarks) are of much more interest to me, and probably of much more solid value in male formation, than "encounter groups" of any stripe, BUT my ears are open on this topic and I am not discounting the idea.

Athos said...

So as to put it on the record, Bailie's reflection, ”No Father, No Family, No Faith”, must be mentioned in this discussion.

It will be one of grave and utter importance in years to come.

David Nybakke said...

Thank you Athos for putting on record Gil's reflection. Awesome! I couldn't help but go back up through some of our previous comments here and see some resemblances to his thoughts. Some similar reflections are:

We catch faith -

It is not in programs or workshops, but in the Mass -

Reverance for sacrifice - the Real Presence -

Being a martyr - not in the sense of a phyiscal death, but in being a witness to and of Christ.

Powerful! Awesome! Thank you.