The Box and the Masculinity of Christ, Part 1

 

From Catholic Exchange:

The auditorium was filled with around 50 teenage boys, nearly all of whom were impatiently waiting for what they expected to be a boring lecture to begin. A hush fell upon the room as the speaker walked to the chalkboard and drew a two-dimensional box.

“What qualities does our culture say a real, authentic man has?” the speaker asked.

The teenage boys were silent before one young man had the courage to speak up. “He’s strong!” he yelled out. The speaker then wrote the word “strong” inside the box.

Another boy exclaimed, “He’s independent!” The speaker then wrote the phrase “independent” inside the box.

Soon others began to participate. Various responses were being shouted. The speaker frantically attempted to write down everything the teenage boys were saying.

“He wins fights!”

“He has sex!”

“He doesn’t show emotion!”

“He’s tough!”

“He drinks a lot [of alcohol].”

“All the girls want him.”

“He’s violent!”

“He never shows weakness!”

The responses subsided. “Now,” said the speaker, “what the guys who don’t fit these characteristics get called?” The boys knew the answers all too well and reluctantly began yelling out labels.

“Wimp!”

“Faggot!”

“Gay!”

“Sissy!”

“Queer!”

“Loser!”

“Pansy!”

Again, the speaker attempted frantically to write down everything that the boys were saying. The difference, this time, was that he was writing outside of the box. Once the boys had calmed down, the speaker began making the excellent point of how our culture puts an enormous amount of pressure on boys to conform to a narrow, false view of masculinity and authentic manhood. If the boys don’t conform, they get labeled names that horribly damage their self-esteem, change their social standing, and can make growing up miserable. The culture’s message is clear: if you show emotion, show weakness, refuse to have premarital sex, refuse to get drunk at parties, et cetera, then you’re not a real man. You’re a failure who will never succeed in life. No job, no girl, and no future. The boy has but two options: conform to the culture’s standards, or be rejected and suffer.

The speaker continued. “The message our culture sends to boys about masculinity is a lie. And this lie is being lived by thousands if not millions of boys across the globe. Unless we are willing to discuss this issue and guys are willing to tear apart this false box, things will never change.” The teenage boys in the audience began to take turns discussing the issue. The speaker moderated a dialogue between them. It was very thought provoking. After the presentation had ended, the boys began filing out. I hoped that the speaker’s presentation had some lasting impact on the way these future men view their masculinity, their role in this hurting world.

As everyone left, I stuck around, staring at the diagram on the chalkboard, with all of the characteristics and labels intact. My mind began to wander. What Catholic theology could say about what I had just seen? How Jesus Christ might relate to this box for so-called authentic men?

Toughness was listed by these teenage boys as a masculine trait, and certainly Our Lord was tough. How many of us could survive a scourging (Matthew 27:26, John 19:1)? Strength was also listed in the box, and yes, Our Lord was strong. After all, he spent most of his life as a carpenter-builder (Mark 6:3), which takes a fair amount of physical might. It goes downhill from here: Christ’s conformity to the culture of death’s idea of an authentic man ends.

By their own admission, teenage boys are taught that it is not masculine to show emotion. Yet when Lazarus died, Jesus cried (John 11:35). When Jesus cleansed the temple, he displayed anger (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:13-16). Indeed, Our Lord is an emotional, passionate man.

Is Jesus independent? No. He defines himself in terms of the Father (John 14:9). Jesus teaches that He and His Father are “one” (John 10:30). He prays to God the Father, asking for strength (Luke 22:42). Rather than being independent, Sacred Scripture shows that Jesus is completely dependent on His Father.

Does Jesus win fights? Yes, he does win fights, but the fights aren’t physical. Instead, they’re spiritual and intellectual. Jesus takes on the Pharisees again and again, giving them an intellectual pounding (Matthew 15:3-9, 23:13, Mark 8:10-13, Luke 14:1-6, et cetera). Likewise, Jesus combats the devil in the desert (Matthew 4:1, Luke 4:1-2). Not surprisingly, Our Lord is victorious (Matthew 4:2-11, Luke 4:3-12).

Jesus further lacks conformity to the box by not having sex with many women. Jesus does not condemn the sexual act, though he puts it in its proper place: between one man and one woman, with remarriage being forbidden (Matthew 19:1-9, Mark 10:1-10).

Similarly, Jesus did not drink obscene amounts of alcohol, although he did drink alcohol, and even turned water into wine (John 2:1-10).

What of showing weakness? The teenage boys confessed that a real, authentic man does not show weakness. Yet Christ allowed Himself to be weak during His passion and death. At any time, Jesus could have asked God the Father to send Him an army of angels to save Him from suffering and death (Matthew 26:53-54), but he did not. Instead Jesus allowed Himself to be the victim, to be weak. Yes, the infinite God of the Universe allowed Himself to be brutally murdered. The twist here is that this weakness Christ displayed was actually strength, because it redeemed all of humanity for all time. As St. Paul teaches, it is when we suffer weakness for God’s sake that we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

As one can plainly see, Jesus doesn’t fit into the culture’s supposed box of real masculinity. He never conforms to the world, just as he chose to not conform in the first century A.D. Rather, He chose to fulfill a heavenly plan: His mission, ordained by the Father. For this he was persecuted in the same way that we continue to be persecuted for following Him. Therefore, I urge all boys, all men to follow Christ, even though it means certain anguish. I urge you to break free from the conformity of the box in order to be made in the image of the one who exhibits masculinity itself.

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