First of all, as a new dad, I've just got to ask you: how much sleep did you get? You see, while I may think my baby girl is the best and most beautiful baby (and I mean come on, she's adorable), she's no baby Jesus. Did He keep you and Mary up all night? Because the past few nights my baby girl has decided that the middle of the night is the perfect time to practice her new talent of rolling around . . . I can’t help but wonder if you experienced stuff like that . . .
As a Catholic man I've known for a while now that if there is one saint that I should get to know, if there's one resident of heaven that I should be on good terms with . . . it's you.
You knew what it really meant to be a husband, a protector, a provider, a man devoted to his wife in all the right ways. You were, and still are, the model human father in a way that no father ever was or will be.
If God the Father trusts you with His Son, Jesus, then I think I should probably learn to trust you with my life, and the life of my family.
In our world today, being a father isn't something that people think is cool, and not only that, being a father is considered a drag. The world says, 'Who would want to be a dad and waste all your time and money caring for a bunch of rugrats?'
Even when the world does acknowledge fatherhood, it belittles it. How many times do we have to see the stupid, lazy, checked-out, sitcom dad to realize this?
While I may completely disagree with that image of a father, I've got to be honest with myself and realize that this attitude is everywhere and I have to guard my heart against it. Just like the fish is the last one to realize that it lives in water, many times I am the last one to realize just what kind of atmosphere I am living in and how easily this attitude can affect me.
So here's the deal St. Joseph, I'm asking you to help me. Help me realize what a gift it is to be a father.
Help me to be a holy man, and help me to desire holiness. Help me to be a devoted husband and to lay down my life for my bride in the same way that you laid down your life for Mary, in a reflection of how Christ laid His life down for His bride, the Church.
Help me to be a loving father, and to teach my daughter to value your Son and heaven over anything on this earth.
In high school I accidentally told a girl I loved her and then said I was kidding to cover up my embarrassment.
I've unintentionally made a joke about a girl's recently deceased grandfather.
I've attempted to ask a girl on a date from a stage in front of 1,500 people only to find out that she wasn't even in attendance.
And one time I even emailed my niece's math teacher under the pretence of asking her 'a math question' in hopes of getting her number so I could ask her out. Let me tell you: there's no challenge quite like sending an email to someone you've only met once in passing, asking for their phone number so you can ask them out on a date . . . talk about tiptoeing the fine line between friendly and creepy.
But it’s awkward
I was talking to my nephew* recently about a girl. This is a girl that he goes to school with, and more importantly, a girl that he thinks is really cute. I asked him if he had talked to this girl or was going to talk to her in the near future. He just responded, 'No, that would be awkward.' He liked this girl, but he wouldn't talk to her because of a fear that their first conversation probably wouldn't go that smoothly.
This isn't just about dating; I think that a lot of us guys have become so afraid of awkwardness that we never take risks. We're not sure how we might appear if we take a stand for our faith, so we keep silent when the Church is mocked. We know that we're not perfect ourselves, so we feel too hypocritical to challenge someone else for something that they're doing or saying that is wrong.
The road to greatness is paved with awkwardness.
We've got to be willing to take risks, we must be ready to put ourselves out there if we want our lives to count. Imagine if the early Church had kept silent for fear that they would be shunned by society for preaching the Gospel. Imagine if the Saints had let the fear of being different keep them from radically living out their unique vocations. Who knows how many souls wouldn't be saints if they let their fear of looking weird overshadow their desire to follow God.
The fear of failure
I wish I could say that every risk has a good ending, but that's not reality. The good news is that really awkward experiences make for the best stories later on (if you're really lucky, someone caught the mishap on video).
But don't let the fear of failure hold you back from taking risks. Ask God for the courage to stand up and remember that nothing worthwhile comes without taking a risk.
Trust me, sometimes those risks really turn out well. Despite a weird introduction, that math teacher emailed me back. We got married in April and we're expecting a little girl in February. Thank God for awkwardness.
*At last count, I have approximately 18 nephews. To protect the anonymity of this one, we'll just call him Matthew.
I love NFL football. Right now rookies are in training camps and preseason games, with their heads buried in the team's playbook.
This has always fascinated me, because it's always the same with the rookies making the jump from college to the pros. If they don't know the plays they're tentative on the field. If they have to think too much about what they are supposed to do, it slows them down. A player can have all the talent in the world, but without knowing their plays and assignments they can't go full speed.
This is like where we're at as a culture right now in regards to manhood. We have lost what it means to be a man. We have the tools and everything we need is wired within us, but since we don't know confidently what it means to be a man, we move slower, tentatively.
We don't know the playbook well.
Society has taught us a million things about what is means to be a man. We've lost track of God in all of it, and as a result, we've lost track of who we are. We were made to be men of God, adopted sons of the King of Kings. This should be reflected in everything we say and do.
One of the ways we've gone off track is that we have a false idea of what it means to love your neighbor.
Love Your Neighbor
We live in a culture of relativism. This is the belief that there is no universal truth, and that truth differs from person to person.
As a result, 'loving your neighbor' has become more of a general accepting of someone for everything they choose to be and do. This idea is summed up as the great 'virtue' of tolerance. On the surface, it seems like a great and honorable ideal. Everyone can do what they want without being judged and nobody hurts anyone else’s feelings.
Yet we find something radically different in the biblical vision of love. In the gospel of John, Jesus says 'No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends' (John 15:13).
Love is tied to responsibility to others; we should desire to lead our brothers and sisters to Christ. Jesus didn't say, 'No one has greater love than this, to accept and support every action and choice your friend makes.' It's not just about our personal journey to heaven.
We are the Body of Christ and as a community we are our brother's keeper. We should always live with heaven as our goal, and desire it for those around us.
Love is Bold
2 Timothy 1:7 says 'For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice (timidity) but rather of power and love and self-control.'
Let me tell you about a high school student name John. The summer after he graduated from High School he was working construction with his best friend. John was also dating a girl behind both of their parents’ backs. She had just finished sophomore year. Near the end of the summer they had decided to have sex. John was 18 so he reserved a hotel room in another town and had planned the whole evening, including how to lie to their parents.
The day before this was going to happen, John decided to mention it to his best friend at work. They both went to Church but neither was really trying to follow God at that moment in their lives. So when John told him his plans he expected some support.
However, instead of the support John had expected, his friend quickly turned, “You’re being stupid and I will NOT let you do this!” He said it so strongly that John was shocked and angered and they got into a huge argument. They were in each others’ faces screaming and cussing at each other. The last straw came when John shouted at him, “And just how do you think you’ll stop me?!” His friend replied calmly, “I’ll call your mom and tell her.”
John told him that he would not be his friend any longer and he replied that he was fine with that. That he would rather lose John's friendship then stand by as he sinned by having pre-marital sex. John walked away very angry and their relationship was strained. John left for college and things were not ever the same. John did not follow through with his plans that weekend.
Was it worth it?
The best part of this story though is that four years later when John was standing at the altar of a church, watching his bride come down the aisle toward him in her white dress, he knew he had that friend to thank for being so willing to love him boldly back in High School.
That friend was a groomsman in the wedding party so John was able to thank him personally. If not for him, John wouldn't have been able to give the gift of his virginity and his entire self to his wife.
John would later become the youth minister that changed my life forever, introducing me to Jesus Christ and the beauty of the Catholic faith. My life has never been the same since.
You never know how much good you can do by calling on your brothers and sisters to the greatness they were created for. Love isn't timid. Love is bold, especially when it's messy. Sin (and it's consequences) doesn't just affect one person. It affects their family, future spouse and children, and in my case, a future teen who needed to hear the Truth.
'There is no place for selfishness – and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice' -Pope John Paul II
Don't be afraid to fail. It's better to be a man of action and face the loss of a friendship than to be a coward and let someone fall. Our brothers and sisters deserve nothing less from us.
With the grace of God, we all can become the men of God we were made to be. Pray for an outpouring of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in your life, so that you can recognize the times God could be calling you to speak to someone around you.
As St. Peter warns, when you do speak, speak with 'gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil' (1 Peter 3:16-17).
One of my favorite things about being a man is that we know everything. Or . . . no . . . wait a minute. We think we know everything. There, that sounds more like it.
But seriously, in high school I thought I had it all figured out. Why? I don't know. Maybe it was because I got my driver's license and drove a really cool beige minivan, or maybe it had to do with my ability to make sweet graphs on my TI-83 calculator. Perhaps my ever-increasing bench press played a role. (Ok, that last one may be a bit of a stretch.)
But yet, for some reason, I thought I knew it all. If you had a question, I had an answer. If you couldn't figure something out, I could. And, armed with this array of knowledge, I was gonna teach the world a thing or two. That is until I started getting older and realized something: I didn't know as much as I thought.
So, here we go. After many mistakes and lessons learned in my own life, let me share a few things I think every Catholic guy should know:
Start discerning your vocation now. Let's be honest. You know about the future, you've thought about the future, and you probably want something more for your future. For many guys, this is as far the discernment process goes. Yet, there is so much more. While you may not know your vocation in high school, now is a good time to start praying about it. Am I called to be married? Am I called to be a priest? What is God asking of me? You may not get the answer right now, but it's best to start asking the questions.
Write (and stick to) a monthly budget. No matter what vocation you are called to, you are going to need to know how to budget. Priests need to know how to budget for their parishes, and husbands need to know how to budget for the sake of their families. Whether you like it or not, money is important. It may not be the most important thing, but last time I checked, it plays a pretty big role in our lives. Learn how to use it properly now. The best way to do that is to setup a monthly budget. If you don't know where to start, ask your parents, or check out a financial expert like Dave Ramsey.
Go to confession regularly. If there's one thing I wish I had taken advantage of more often in high school, it's the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Think about it. The Savior of the world is waiting to forgive all our sins if we simply come before him in Confession. And yet, somehow, we make excuses. I'm too busy. I'm too afraid. What will the priest think? As I reflect back on my high school years, I could have gotten a lot of weight off my shoulders if I had just been humble enough to make frequent use of the Confessional.
Eat healthy. One of the greatest things about high school was that I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and work it off through exercise without gaining a pound. Pizza. Soda. Fast Food. You name it. It had little effect on me. Want to know how this habit works now that I'm in my 30s? Not so well. It turns out that eating poorly not only causes me to gain weight, but it decreases my energy level too. Now, you may think, 'That's alright. I'll be able to change and adapt.' Well, unfortunately, that's not as easy as you think. Start eating healthy now, and give yourself some bonus points if you can cook some basic meals. This way, the next time you're hungry and think, 'Why wait? I'll just grab a snickers,' you'll go for the healthier option.
Be a prudent voter. When it came to politics, I always followed one rule: Vote for whomever my parents vote for. It was easy. It was lazy. It was foolish. That's not to say I didn't agree with my parents' choices, but I was taking the easy way out. Voting is an important freedom that we have in this country, and we should all take it very seriously. Just blindly showing up in the voting booth doesn't cut it. You need to do your research. Find out about the candidates (and not just the ones running for President). Learn about the propositions. Your vote matters, especially as a Catholic man of God, and even though you may not be able to vote yet, now is a good time to start learning how.
Write down your goals. Most of us are told repeatedly to set goals. The problem is that setting goals isn't enough. You want to achieve them. And do you want to know the number 1 way to go about doing that? Write them down. It's one thing when you say you want to do something, but it goes to a whole other level when you've written it down and it's staring you in the face. You're less likely to 'forget' about it. You're less likely to 'put it off until tomorrow.' And, you're more likely to feel motivated to wake up everyday and do something about it.
Live a chaste life. Did you know that there is one thing you can do right now that will instantly improve your future vocation? Live chastity. If you're called to be a priest, this will make you a better servant for your parish. If you're called to marriage, this will make you a better servant to your wife and family. I know it's not easy, but the discipline and sacrifice will pay off. There are many families that would've been a lot better off had the husbands and fathers started living chastity earlier. So whether you're in a relationship with a girl or by yourself, start living chastity today.
Treat women with dignity and respect. Speaking of chastity, it's not enough just to abstain from sex. How we treat the opposite sex in public or private says a lot about who we are. The dignity of women is under attack, and it's on us, as men, to do everything we can to protect them. We need to honor them. We need to respect them. We need to pray for them. And it all starts with you. Being a real man is not about how many girls you can 'get', but how they get Christ from you.
I love being a man, but with this gift comes a great amount of responsibility. I may still have a lot to learn, but I do know that working on these things now can save you a lot of agony and pain in the future. But more importantly, they can put you down a greater path to holiness and allow you to lead others closer to Christ.