One of the root causes of the downfall of Western Civilization is the breakup of the family. This process has been going on for decades, at least since the introduction of birth control but possibly as early as before World War II with women leaving the home to enter the work place. At first it may have been out of necessity especially during the war but later in the fifties more women were entering the work force out of desire. The importance of motherhood and of the mother rearing the family was being diminished by the propaganda of the secular modernist. It only became worse in the sixties with the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement and has continued to the present day. Now, today it is once again out of necessity that both parents must work to support the family or because the father being absent, the mother must work to pay the bills. I am not against women working but I feel that it is extremely important for the mother to be at home when the children are young. Being a mother is a fulltime job and if the mother isn’t home then the children suffer.

The other issue that is causing a break down in the family is the crisis affecting men. Emasculated men and absent fathers have harmed the family, leaving the mother to raise the children, be the bread winner and try and fill in the gap left open by men who don’t know how to be men. C.S. Lewis called these men, men without chests because he saw that men were becoming weaklings, lacked courage and had no moral or virtuous compass that guided their lives. And this was in the late forties.

On any given Sunday most of the parishioners in the church are women. The father is absent. If children, especially boys see their fathers going to church, they are more likely to continue going to church when they are older. Since I’ve returned to the Catholic Church, I was amazed at how many women are in positions of leadership within the church. Where were all the men? I asked. They were staying away because there was nothing that drew men to the church. There is a very big difference between the spirituality of women and the spirituality of men and because men are absent in participating in the church, the atmosphere within the church and its celebrations have become overly feminine. This does not appeal to men at all. Men need to worship as men and they need to rediscover their own masculine spirituality. I think the best example for men is St. Augustine.

Augustine of Hippo lived at a time that was similar to our own. The world he knew was collapsing before his eyes. Anxiety, uncertainty and fear filled the hearts of the people as the barbarian Vandals sacked Rome in 410 A.D., something that was thought impossible. Augustine responded to this event by writing his masterpiece, The City of God in which he addresses the hopelessness and despair of the people who identified strongly with their secular world that was falling apart and who struggled to cope with it.

Augustine grew up in a culture that was on the fringe of Roman civilization. It was Roman but also North African. The household he lived in was Pagan from his father and Christian from his mother. This created a conflict in the young Augustine. He felt the lure of the Pagan world but also felt the desire of his mother to live a Christian life.  He was caught between two worlds and didn’t belong to either. For that reason, he became a seeker and he sought some kind of security. In his autobiography, The Confessions, he tells us that he didn’t find what he was looking for in career advancement, sexual relationships or in eastern religions. His search for home and security was realized through personal faith. The opening lines of The Confessions give us an idea of this recovered sense of home: O Lord, you have made us for you and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you At thirty-one Augustine found his rest and home after following a life characterized by physical wandering, searching and experimentation.

What better guide for Catholic men today. The spirituality of Augustine is one of exile and longing. This theme could be very useful for Catholic men today as we face a hostile global culture that is becoming even more hostile towards the Catholic Church. The philosophy of “Relativism” is colliding with Catholic teachings that are nearly two thousand years old and are causing a crisis of identity in Catholic men.

In the City of God, Augustine tries to help his Catholic flock understand what is happening in the world and he does this through the image of the city. He explains that there are two worlds or cities, one the City of Man or the secular world and the other the City of God or the spiritual world. The City of Man is finite and based on material and sensual pleasure. Biblically its origin is with Cain, the son of Adam. It is not entirely evil but is tainted as a result of the fall of Adam and because of this it is predisposed towards evil. The City of God is infinite and is founded upon God and is centered upon Christ. The City of God exists in the world and must function within the secular world so the challenge of the City of God is, to be in the world but not of it.

 Augustine wrote at a time when the secular world was falling apart. It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the crisis and to give into despair and hopelessness. To do so was to forget who we are and where we came from and the turning of our backs on our history, our ancestors and our hope in Jesus Christ. But, if we stay focused upon the City of God and upon our hope in Christ, whatever happens in the City of Man can be endured, for this life is only temporary and our true home is elsewhere.

The theme of The City of God is to be otherworldly in the world. The challenge of us men is to determine our task and to actively implement that task in promoting the interest of heaven while living on this earth. Augustine tells us that the secular world, though imperfect, should serve as a place of preparation for the spiritual world. In his “On Christian Doctrine”, he writes: we have wandered far from God and if we wish to return to our Father’s home, this world must be used, not enjoyed…so the invisible things of God may be clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, that is by means of what is material and temporary we may lay hold upon that which is spiritual and eternal. Augustine believed that the secular world is tainted by sin of our first parents and this made us exiles upon this earth; Thence, after his sin, he was driven into exile and by his sin the whole race of which he was the root was corrupted in him and thereby subjected to the penalty of death (The Enchiridion). So, the idea of exile does not for Augustine begin with the collapse of his culture or civilization but with the fall of Adam.

Within our very makeup there is a sense of exile and longing, a sense of something missing deep within our souls. There was a time when a man could receive guidance and wisdom from the church on how to live in the world and understand his place in it. Since the Enlightenment this knowledge was usurped and replaced by secular wisdom that is unable to care for the soul and leaves a man empty and starving for something deeper in life.

Augustine named the City of Man, Babylon characterized by a self-centered, independent and self-reliant philosophy, in other words, based on pride. The City of God he named Jerusalem and it was characterized by justice, peace and humble obedience to the Word of God. Its core values are self-denying love of God and love of neighbor. Through the imitation of Christ, virtue was achieved. The City of God is made up of three parts, the Church Triumphant (Christians in Heaven), the Church Suffering (Christians in Purgatory) and the Church Militant (Christians on Earth). Because it is in the secular world, the Church Militant is constantly assaulted by its worldly influence. The church on earth is a shining light in the darkness and everything that is pure and good about the church must be defended and is worth fighting for. The fighting spirit of our ancestors is diminished in our churches and many Catholic men have lost the warrior spirit. Men in general and Christian men in particular are neutralized by the spirit of conformity. We are asked to conform to the ways of the world and if we don’t, we will become outcasts by the general public. We are asked to set aside our maleness and for lack of a better word, to become pansies. Women are becoming more masculine while men are becoming more feminine, thus we lose our souls. This is what male spirituality must address.

The crisis that Catholic men face is a loss of identity. This is a result of the cultural changes that developed over the decades following the Second World War and in particular since the Second Vatican Council. Since we must live in this world, we must remember that we are sojourners who must keep our eyes on our true home, Heaven. Catholic men feel a deep longing within their souls. It is a longing for something that is missing in their lives. We long for home but a fundamental question arises, what is home? Is it our home and family or our neighborhood? Is it our city or country? Maybe the home we long for is something else or maybe someplace else other than this world? Having this feeling of being lost could actually become our strength.

What plagues our world today began with the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries. The world view before this time was one where Mankind was created by God to love and serve Him and who was to live in harmony with creation. The Enlightenment shifted our world view to where Mankind became the center of the universe obedient to no one but himself. Man became self-made – I think therefore I am.

In the 19th century this world view was strengthened by men such as Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud. Their ideas promoted a man-centered philosophy. The superman became supreme and God was dead. Because this philosophy has permeated our modern society, it has created a me mentality, a self-serving philosophy whose foundation is materialism and greed. It is an empty philosophy based on the wisdom of the world and feeds only the ego and not the soul. The interior life of men has become a void.

Once, our culture offered the necessary tools to help men cultivate a strong interior life based upon God and Christ. Older men became spiritual fathers to younger men and prepared them to become true men with chests who could face a hostile world and live a life center upon Christ. What we see today are men who have become feminized or who have become barbarians and savages, the product of Modernism as passed on by Marx and friends. All men in western society need guidance today but Catholic men have a greater disadvantage. Since the Second Vatican Council, the tools that developed a Catholic man were either eliminated or watered down so much that they are hardly usable. On top of this we can add the instability of a hostile world with wars, natural disasters, a failing economy, terrorism, possible civil unrest at home and abroad and the constant degradation of the male, filling men with anxiety, uncertainty and fear. The world as we knew it is falling apart.

This has made some men into seekers. We seek to fill our longings and emptiness by leaving the church to pursue education and career advancement or we turn and seek it in New Age religions and Eastern Spiritualities thus removing ourselves even further from our Western Spiritual roots. Other men wander aimlessly through life living a barbarous life that is out of control. Drugs, alcohol, entertainment, pornography and sex are pursued, becoming the purpose of their life. They seek no refinement of their soul because they are so preoccupied with earthly pursuits. None of this ever reduces their anxiety, uncertainty and fear.

What is extremely important to Catholic men’s spirituality is the building of community of likeminded men who will support each other and pass on knowledge to younger men. How should a fellowship of men with other men be? Augustine tells us this; For when we are harassed by poverty, saddened by bereavement, ill and in pain…let men visit us, men who cannot only rejoice with those who rejoice but weep with those who weep and who know how to give useful advice and how to win us to express our own feelings in conversation. Men have to worship together, sing or chant together and experience Christ together as brothers in faith. And, when they come together with their sisters in faith their voices will rise to heaven in a chorus of true celebration to the God who created them.

These are the ideal qualities of manly behavior but having a disciplined life is also important for Catholic men. Prayer, fasting, meditation, contemplation, divine reading trains the mind and shifts the soul towards God. Reading spiritual classics such as The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis or The Confession by St. Augustine can help a man walk in the footsteps of Christ. Ultimately choice becomes a factor. The Catholic man must choose between conformity to the world or willingness to be an exile, living courageously in defense of what is good and pure.

Recommended Reading:

  • Communism and the Conscience of the West by Venerable Fulton Sheen
  • The Crisis and the Cross by Venerable Fulton Sheen
  • Transformation in Christ by Dietrich von Hildebrand
  • The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  • Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age by Bishop Athanasius Schneider and Diane Montagna
  • Thy Will Be Done: The Greatest Prayer, the Christian’s Mission and the World’s Penultimate Destiny by Daniel O’Connor

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