I had a recent epiphany as I was preparing myself for Reconciliation and realized that I was about to confess many of the same sins I have been struggling with for years. I have made progress in some areas, but feel that I am going backwards in others. Didn’t Einstein once say that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?”
I spoke with a few Catholic brothers the next day and they readily confirmed facing the same problem: we all struggle to break out of repetitive sinful behaviors and avoid self-created obstacles to drawing closer to Christ. We also agreed that we desire a closer relationship with Him, we all want to get to Heaven with our families and we all want to be devout in the practice of our Catholic faith. So where do we slip up? Why do we fall short?
I don’t often write specifically for a male audience, but I believe our gender has some particular and unique challenges to staying on the right path. I hope to offer some useful insight which will help you, me and other Catholic men be more aware of these self-created challenges and take the necessary steps to overcome them. Let me start by listing a few general observations about men which may be uncomfortable to read and acknowledge:
- We often struggle with humility and let our pride and egos get in the way.
- We like to be in control.
- We can be stubborn and inflexible to change.
- Our identities are often wrapped up in our careers.
- We struggle to ask others (especially the Lord) for help.
- We are often inclined to action when reflection and discernment are more appropriate.
- We are usually uncomfortable with open displays of emotion (ours and others).
- We may be overly concerned about the opinions of others (What will our buddies think?).
My wife would say this list accurately describes me! What would your wife or girlfriend say about you? Do these observations resonate with you? My intent is not to make any of us feel bad, but to illustrate some of the obstacles between us and Christ. OK, we have acknowledged the problem…now what? Let’s explore how to get on the right path and stay there.
Over the years since my conversion into the Church, I have become increasingly self-aware about my shortcomings and how they negatively impact the practice of my faith. Knowing my challenges is only half of the equation-I must be willing to address them (remember that guys are inclined towards action!). Before we begin, let’s examine what we know for certain-we have a goal (Heaven), a road map (Scripture and Tradition), examples to follow (the Saints), leadership (the Pope, Bishops, Priests and Deacons), clear teaching authority (the Magisterium of the Church), help along the way (the Sacraments) and we have Divine guidance (the Holy Spirit). It is obvious that we have the tools and resources we need.
Let’s consider how we can make progress and stay on the right path. I don’t know about you, but if I can’t form the solution to a problem into an actionable and achievable goal, I will often struggle. Here is a list of eight practical actions I am working on which I hope you find to be helpful:
- Surrender. We have to surrender on an ongoing basis to Christ for His will to be done in our lives. Guys, we are not in charge…as much as we want to be! St. Ignatius of Loyola once said: “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”
- Pray. Work on developing a daily prayer routine with the goal of at least an hour a day devoted to prayer. Sound difficult? Think about how much TV we watch a day. Consider how much time we spend in our cars each day and how much time we devote to exercise. We have more than enough time for prayer if we plan for it, schedule it and commit to it. Pray the Morning Offering or other prayer before you leave home-10 minutes, Rosary in your car or while exercising-20 minutes, Daily Jesuit Examen-15 minutes, Prayer with all meals-5 minutes, Prayer with our children and spouse-10 minutes. Add it up-we just did an hour of prayer.
- Become passionate about the Eucharist. Want to fully experience Christ and be closer to Him? Seek out the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in daily Mass when possible and spend quiet time before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration every week. St. Francis de Sales once said: “When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence.”
- Go to Reconciliation more frequently-OK, we are hopefully praying and asking for God’s help with our burdens, but we are still saddled with the sins we commit daily. Go to your Priest and partake of this wonderful gift we Catholics enjoy, but may not utilize enough-the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Commit to going once a month. A thorough examination of conscience and honest confession will lift your spirit and keep you on the right path!
- Accept and Study our Faith. Accepting the teaching of our Church is necessary, but so is the knowledge that our full understanding may take time. Trust that two millennia of Church teaching is probably much more reliable than what you or I might conjure up on our own. Go to a parish bible study, take apologetics classes, read the bible and catechism, and read great Catholic authors like Peter Kreeft, Don DeMarco, Scott Hahn, Francis Fernandez, G.K. Chesterton, Fr. Groeschel, Fr. Spitzer, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.
- Practice Detachment. Let’s ask ourselves if we really need “it”, what ever “it” is. Let go of the material things that are in the way of our prayer lives, church attendance, charitable giving, friendships, volunteering and certainly our relationships with Christ. The Catechism (2556) says, “Detachment from riches is necessary for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”
- Understand our True Vocation. For those of us blessed to be married and have children, we must recognize that helping our families get to Heaven and being good husbands and fathers (and not our business careers) is our real vocation. It is so easy to allow our family to serve our work (my issue many years ago) instead of having our work serve our family…and in turn, our family to serve the Lord.
- Be Courageous. Christians are meant to stand out, not blend in. Blending in speaks to conforming and making sacrifices so our faith becomes part of the mainstream…and we need to fight it! We live in difficult, trying times. Families are under attack, our children are at risk, many people are blind to the need to respect and value all life and atheists are one of the fastest growing groups in the world. We have an opportunity to be beacons of light and good examples of Christ’s redeeming love. We will be judged one day on the fruits of our apostolate and hope to hear Jesus say the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This list may look like a lot of hard work, but the real challenge is to practice these actions not as a bunch of new “to-dos,” but as part of a broader, unifying approach to a balanced and meaningful life that places Christ first in all areas of our lives. I simply want to encourage all of us to remember that we are called to lead lives of holiness and we are made for Heaven, not this world. As Catholic men, we have a responsibility to be strong fathers and husbands, leaders in our parishes, good stewards in the community and humble followers of our Lord. Look to the example of St. Joseph, Patron Saint of fathers and the Universal Church for his obedience, humility, selflessness, courage and the love he showed to Mary and Jesus. If we can emulate St. Joseph even a little each day, we will be that much closer to becoming the men we are called to be.