If you’re like me, then while growing up you might have struggled with some of the notions of masculinity that float around in our world and in our church. Much to our own detriment, I think we “churchy people” see make masculinity as something always militant, stringent, and aggressive. And, although this image isn’t entirely false, it doesn’t paint a full enough picture.
Truly to be a man of God means much more than many of us men have been shown. It’s deeper than being stoic and unfeeling — authentic masculinity has room for sensitivity, gentleness, poetry, artistry, friendship, and fatherhood. I discovered this beautiful truth of Catholic masculinity a few years ago, and it’s changed my journey toward Christ and my response to vocation.
This vision of true, Catholic manhood isn’t new, “progressive,” or “liberal.” It’s actually affirmed by the way Jesus lived and ministered in the ancient world — it precedes many of our “traditional” notions of masculinity by thousands of years. In this blog, I’ve picked five figures from the Old Testament (remember, this vision of manhood is old) who witness well to what it means to be a man chasing after the Lord. Notice how these characters from the Old Testament might teach us how better to live as holy men.
1. Joseph (Humble Servant)
Find Joseph’s story in Genesis chapters 37-50, and get out your popcorn and 3-D glasses because it’s kind of a nail-biter. Joseph was the youngest son of Jacob (Abraham’s grandson), and he was his father’s favorite (Gen 37:3). Joseph received from his father Jacob a coat of many colors, and Joseph’s brother grew jealous of the special treatment Joseph received from their father. Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him and sold him to a group of traveling traders, after which he ended up in Egypt. Joseph rose to power in the favor of both God and the Egyptian Pharaoh, and he eventually saved Egypt from famine and revealed himself to his brothers and father who had long since thought Joseph dead. His story ends with a beautiful family reunion and a reconciliation between Joseph, his brothers, and his father.
Joseph shows us a vision of masculinity that is humble and altruistic (other-centered). Joseph received his father’s favor with humility, and he lived into the gifts he received from both his earthly father and his heavenly Father. He trusted in the Lord’s power of deliverance from evil and he recognized his own need for the support of others. Joseph could have, in pride, rejected his father’s coat and Pharaoh’s appointment; however, he humbled himself to receive gifts from others and to use what he was given to serve those around him. Moreover, even after Joseph’s brothers had betrayed him, he still chose to use is power and influence in Egypt to save them from famine. Joseph lived as a man for others and received power from the Lord in humility and service.
2. Jonathan (Best Friend)
I remember reading through the story of King David and being surprised to find a bonus character whom I’d never heard of: Johnathan. Jonathan was the son of King Saul, and, all throughout David’s journey of dodging the jealous king’s attacks (Saul was envious that David had been anointed king by the prophet Samuel), Jonathan remained steadfast to David and “loved him as he loved his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:3). Jonathan and David had a beautiful and virtuous brotherhood founded on their shared love of the Lord, and “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1). The two men seek counsel from one another as Saul plots to kill David, and Jonathan promises to protect David from Saul’s wrath and to defend David’s name before the king. As their journey together draws to a close with a tearful goodbye, Jonathan swears an oath to David, declaring that the love which he and David share shall continue forever because it is founded on the Lord. “Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever’” (1 Samuel 20:42).
Jonathan shows a vision of masculinity that is grounded on intentional friendship. Jonathan declares his love for his best friend David, and he pays attention to how David feels and what David needs as they journey together. Jonathan affirms that he’s on David’s side and that he isn’t going anywhere. Moreover, Jonathan isn’t afraid to tell David that he loves him. In fact, the words that Scripture uses to describe the intimate brotherhood between David and Jonathan are stronger than normal. The author of 1 Samuel wants to emphasize to readers how powerful and intimate was the friendship between these two men. This brotherhood is a piece of the masculine vision from which many of us men all too often shy away. However, behind our human call to communion lies a desire in every man’s heart to share a deep love with a brother and friend. Jonathan shows us a beautiful example of love and friendship, for his very heart, was knit within his friend David’s.
3. Tobias (Faithful Son)
Tobias is one of two main characters in the book of Tobit (Tobit is Tobias’s father). Tobias is a noteworthy man because of his loyalty to his father and to his betrothed, Sarah. He goes on a journey at the instruction of his father where encounters the angel Raphael in disguise. Raphael and Tobias travel to the home of a relative named Ra’guel where they meet Ra’guel’s daughter Sarah. Tobias declares his desire to marry Sarah, chases away the demon that had plagued her, and immediately prays a prayer of thanksgiving with Sarah to God for His protection and deliverance. Tobias rejoices in his new wife, saying to God, “You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’ And now, O Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that I may find mercy and may grow old together with her” (Tobit 8:6-7).
Tobias shows us the crucial masculine virtues of loyalty and chastity. Although Tobias doesn’t completely understand the initial instructions from his father, he trusts Tobit and follows his directions (encountering both and angel and his wife!). Moreover, Tobias remains loyal to his directive from the angel Raphael to marry Sarah, even though those who had relations with her in the past had been killed by a demon. Finally, Tobias shows his loyalty to his new bride Sarah in that, upon finally having cast away the demon that plagued her, he lifts up their new relationship to the Lord, giving thanks and imploring God for virtue. Chastity means “to love well,” and Tobias loves his new wife with confidence and virtue as he consecrates his relationship with her to God and invites God into the future they have together.
4. Daniel (Trusting Visionary)
Find Daniel’s story in the book of Daniel. The first half of the book chronicles the different adventures of this young man and his friends. Like Joseph, Daniel has the power to interpret dreams, and Daniel interprets the dream of a Babylonian king, Nebuchadnez’zar. Daniel gains favor with the king and interprets more dreams and signs, including a haunting image of a disembodied hand writing on the wall. Unfortunately, the good reputation Daniel gains in the kingdom earns him the jealousy and ire of the other members of the court. These court members create a legislative trick that disallows praise of anyone except the king — because Daniel is faithful to the God of Israel, he breaks this law and is punished by being thrown into a den of lions. Thankfully, God intervenes in Daniel’s story and saves him from a night spent in a cave full of hungry lions. The next day, “Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God.”
Of course, it’s kind of lit that Daniel has secret dream powers like Joseph and that he seemed to tame a full den of lions. However, I chose Daniel for none of those things, but because he gives a shining witness to the virtue of trust. A man must often humble himself to trust in the process of things he cannot control, moving past his own pride into a posture of reception. A good man knows the limits of what he can and cannot do. Daniel understood that his gift of interpretation was from the Lord and was not his own achievement. Moreover, in the lion’s den, Daniel trusted that God would deliver him, for he had no earthly hope of saving himself. Daniel’s trust carries him throughout the entirety of his story, and this model of trust is one we all ought to emulate.
5. Nathan (Honest Prophet)
Nathan is a prophet, and we find him in 2 Samuel as a consultant to King David. Nathan arrives in David’s story right after the famous fateful scene where David commits adultery with Bathsheba and sends her husband Uri’ah to die in battle. After receiving the news that Uri’ah had died, David also received a visit from Nathan. In his wisdom, Nathan tells David a parable of a rich man with many flocks of sheep who steals the only sheep of a neighboring poor man. David is outraged at the rich man in the story, declaring “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserved to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6). Then, Nathan drops the mic on David: “You are the man.”
Nathan exhibits the masculine virtue of honesty. Nathan has no fear in calling out David for the wrong he’s done, not to shame him, but to call him back into the fullness of a relationship with the Lord. This honesty is a crucial part of authentic masculinity and intentional brotherhood. True men of God are able to call one another back to the Lord when they stray. This honesty comes not from a desire to seem holy or to one-up someone else but from a deep love for one another. Authentic masculinity in one man ought to inspire and promote authentic masculinity in another. Nathan shows us how to call our brothers back to the Lord.
These five men are just some of the many examples of authentic masculinity that permeate the Scriptures. These men are strong and fierce, but they’re also kind and gentle. They go far beyond many of our cultural notions of masculinity, and they reflect the ancient identity that God bestowed on all men. To be an authentic man of God is to be humble, altruistic, intentional, intimate, loyal, chaste, trusting, and honest. Let us follow these examples of these men to live as authentic men of God.