I am human. I am a man. I am Catholic. I am Irish.

Month: December 2014

Procrastination opposing the Heart of “a Man”

men cutting turf oldOne of the greatest difficulties or challenges to a man in the modern world are the vast numbers of distractions that exist to prevent him from achieving his mission as a man, which is to give, give, give to others until he can give no more, and even then, finding the energy to give more.

Some days it seems to me that many men or boys have lost that giving sense of what it means to be male. It seems ever more that many men no longer know what it means to be a man at all.

When I look back on my days growing up I remember the men in my life and the witness of masculinity they gave to me. I was blessed to have had strong, work-oriented role models in my life. These were men who longed for the outside, to get their hands in the earth, to exercise the muscular might the Lord has blessed them with in the service of those they worked for, in the service of their families and in the service of themselves, for nothing is more satisfying that embracing the natural appetite of the man. A man wants to work, a man wants to give and a man wants to create. This truth is inescapable but somehow many have lost it.

I remember watching my grandfather, father and uncles, stacking hay bales six or seven stories high on the back of a trailer. Although I was too young to lift a bale alone, I longed to one day grasped the blue strings and hoist it above my head for at that moment I would be exercising what my mind and body had been designed for, hard, effort. If something could not be achieved, the men in my life did not give up; they considered the problem and they worked until a solution was found. “Intrinsic” is the word. To a man, creatively insisting upon the completion of a hard task is intrinsic. I can still hear my father tell me “never leave a job until it’s done.”

I think back to pictures, in Ireland, of men working to cut turf. The effort and strength, and skill to master such a task, to struggle for long hours without stopping and, most of all, to enjoy every second; this is one of the most exhilarating masculine experiences on earth. Those men had tapped into something so very ancient, raw and true. Their minds were united and their hearts devoted. As men embracing their calling, they were in harmony. Those men could go home to their wives and children content that they had given and served and they would rise again to grasp their glorified selves again the next morning.

It is true that not all men are called to a life in the fields. We are all different. Some are schoolmasters, some carpenters, plumbers or electricians. Some are shopkeepers, barbers, writers, philosophers, priests, bishops and pope. However, there is one unquestionable element that unites us all and that is our effort, our creative longing to give for the good of others, our appetite to lead, protect and provide. That is our God given right. That is our God given purpose.

So stop for a moment and reflect as men together. What is it in our lives that keep us from that fulfillment, from that contentedness? As I sit here today writing these words I reflect on the whirlwind of empty activities that I have engaged my effort in that have furthered in no sense my yearning to provide for and serve my wife and child. These things are not bad in themselves but oh how they distract me from what my heart longs for and having tasted creativity just a little my desire for it is unquenchable. We as men all have that desire.

So I call upon you today. Put down your remote control, turn away from mindless Internet clicking, set aside the computer games that offer nothing only the filling of time. If you seek relaxation, then seek it with full knowledge of contentment in having given your day for the good of those you love. Step into the world and unite in mind with other men. Work together, laugh together, respect each other, listen, advise, love. Give of your life as Christ did and with Christ you will be able to one-day bow your head in quiet contentment, having achieved the masculine promise of victory over death for your calling is modeled in Him nailed to the cross. He who created all, He who gave all for you and I, and all whom He loved, He who bowed His head as you will and with peace He uttered the greatest words a man can ever express – “It is accomplished” (John 19:30).

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On Being “Irish” and Being a “Man”

grandfather and childIreland is a unique country in that there is special and immense national pride and passion in all things Irish. When we announce to another person, “I am Irish”, that phrase packs an enormous punch. It slices to the core of our very being. In those three words you are communicating to the other your communality with the heart of mother earth itself.

Ireland, and being Irish, encompasses so much that is good, ancient and, dare I say, spiritual. Ireland is songs and stories and history. It is beautiful mountains, forests, fields and streams. We take pride in our writers and poets, heroes of old, kings, queens, legends, history rich in Irish dignity, respect, strength, tragedy, bravery, power, loss, division, grief. I love Ireland and I am proud to lay claim to being born upon the land, which allows me to carry with me life-long the title “Irish”. It is almost as though I take upon myself all that I have mentioned. I seem to own the history, the songs the stories, the art, the writing, the poetry, the land, the heroes, the people with their idiosyncrasies and also their simplicity. That is mine. I take pride in all of it, as though it belonged to me, as though it were intrinsic to my very being, my humanity, deeply embedded in my lifeblood. And it belongs to me because I am Irish and I am in love with being Irish, with Ireland.

Now it occurred to me recently that one of the great experiences of being Irish is the desire to enjoy the company of others and to give yourself, body and soul to a conversation with another. I wonder do we, as people, continue to take that longing seriously? To sit and simply enjoy the company of another person with their conversation, their interests, their similarities and their differences from us, has the potential to be as exciting as exploring a beautiful Irish landscape with it’s old stone houses and hills, rivers and streams. If we think about it, a short time with an person, as a human being, can be every bit as satisfying as sitting on the edge of a cliff side in Donegal searching and encountering the awe inspiring Atlantic Ocean. Am I wise?

I truly believe that nothing can be said for a genuine experience of another person. To be truthful, just as a woman can enjoy the company of another woman, “God forbid”, so too can a man enjoy the company of another man. I venture to use the word beautiful, mysterious, mystifying, to describe that openness to good friendship.

As a young boy I remember driving around the countryside with my grandfather in his battered old yellow Ford Cortina. A child I was and I longed to understand this man in my life who I looked up to and sought to emulate. He held a masculine calm. He portrayed a calculated reserved disposition, which intrigued me so, in contrast to me who was so eager to express and convey my inner emotional life to all who would take notice. He would take me to the homes of his friends, and there, by their fires, over tea, I would watch and listen to them collaborate for hours as I soaked up every word, every facial expression, every hand gesture and every cryptic silence that communicated more than I could ever have imagined. It was a mysterious dance and I longed to know it as each set of two men merged their minds in ways only men do.

As I grew, I continued to witness those similar interactions between my father and my uncles, my father and his friends, my uncles and the world. These men became my role models containing all their faults and yet holding serenely to their trials, strength and humanity. They possessed a contemplative wisdom and emotional mastery, often in the face of strife and upheaval. As I look back upon it today, I know and see their weaknesses, but I see also what made them who they were – men – and I feel pride. I feel proud to be known as their kin, not only because I am related to them by blood, but because, like them, I too am now a man. I have been graced to learn, integrate, and make my own, the masculine witness they provided. Their creative strength, their desire to give of themselves, their competitive silence I now embrace. I do so though with a very stark awareness of what I now possess.

As I sit now with my male companions sipping tea or enjoying a small sip of whisky, I am taken back to the old days when my masculine foundations were laid. There is nothing greater to a young boy, than to receive the nod of approval from the men in his life. In turn, there is nothing more devastating to a young boy than to have that nod withheld. To see your father smile upon your achievements is nothing short of seeds cultivated, as a platform is laid for a young man to emerge and progress forward to adulthood confident in the affirmation that he is supported. To know that you have a man, who will fight for your right to develop into the person God has ordained you to become, is the greatest liberty a child can possess, a gift of freedom to ‘become’. A blessing from God the Father through my own Father, from his father, to me. Nothing is more precious.

As Irish men and fathers, let us remember today our duty to give our masculine witness to our sons and the next generation of boys. Masculinity is strength, but it is strength that comes with great responsibility. We can be strong and use that strength for our own selfish ends or we can be strong and use that strength to nurture those under our care toward greatness and heaven. Our strength has been gifted to us, let us gift it to others for their good, not ours. Teach what is good and wholesome, true. Teach young men their duty to woman, to child, the duty to give – to death if necessary. In this way Ireland will be forever great!

The greatest power we have as men is to give for others. Let us support each other in that goal so that we, and our male children can be proud of embracing, not only the title “Irish”, but also the title “Man”. God bless us in this mission!

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Christmas and Fatherhood

Irish Christmas

Let me tell you a little about my Christmas. I took a week off to enjoy with my family. I feel it is very important to do your best to spend as much time with your family as possible during the week of Christmas. As a man, I believe it is good for my family, for me to make myself available to them.

At this time of the year I usually experience some form of internal conflict, in the form of thoughts and anxiety. Whether it is the divil causing havoc or the Lord himself beating on my conscience I can never be quite sure, but I tend to have some type of ideological conundrum to solve, just in time for the New Year resolutions. Well this year was no different.

As a child, I always remembered plenty of presents set neatly around the room on Christmas morning as my siblings and I crept slowly down the stairs; tiptoeing and whispering for fear Jolly old Saint Nicholas was still in action. We always happened to miss him. I, being the oldest, took the lead as I guided by sister and two brothers to the site of the Christmas tree. On a cold Irish morning, the tiled floor was freezing to our little feet and the previous night’s coal fire was barely glowing and refusing to provide us with any more heat until we fed it. But feeding fires was not on our minds. In the dark of the morning we usually could make out the outline of our presents laying on the sofa seats and our hearts leapt with excitement to see them. And so was the magic. I always felt a strange profound sense of wonder to acknowledge that another person had been in our living room, big, round and red, having touched these very gifts, which my siblings and I now held.

As you can probably imagine, I was always the Santa apologist of my school. I refused to the very bitter end to acknowledge the non-existence of a man who provides so much magic and cheer. To this very day I will fight any man who claims otherwise. He is magic, he is joy, he is cheer, he brings families together and breathes the life of peace into their hearts, even if that is for only one day of the year. I love the idea of Santa Claus and what he represents and it is so that, on every Christmas, I am adamant that the tradition of experiencing that beautiful, unifying magic continues with my daughter on Christmas day as I now creep down the stairs with her to discover what wonders lie beneath our sparkling tree.

So what is the issue? Well the issue is that I am my daughter’s father and I am my wife’s husband and it is my responsibility as head of the household to work for their spiritual welfare and lead them to Jesus Christ, in body and spirit, who is after all, the absolute reason for the beauty of Christmas. All those feelings associated with Santa Claus, the joy, peace, good will for fellow man, love, sharing, kindness, gentleness, respect. All these virtues are Christian, of Christ. He is responsible. The magic I speak of is Jesus Himself and it is my responsibility as a man to ensure those I love and care for receive everything. That means Christ, Who IS everything we long for.

So my conflict is, am I emphasizing the gifts and Santa and the tree and music and movies without Christ? I believe the answer is that we should never lose sight of Jesus at any time of the year and especially during all feast periods, including Christmas. As we move through the Christmas period we should always be aware of Him. When we talk of Santa Claus, we should have Christ on our hearts and minds to also make our children aware that He is important. We should set our homes up to have religious Christmas images such as a nativity scene in prominent view so our children and our wives know Christ Jesus is important. And if Christ is important to me as a father, then he will be important to my wife and child.

Mass is an obligation on Sundays and all holy days. At mass, as fathers, we should kneel before our Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and bow to Him to show we acknowledge the breathtaking magnificence of God in our very midst. For if our children see us loving the Lord God, it will also become, for them, important. We, as fathers, lead our families to prayer, to Mass, to Jesus, as we are ordained to do. We must never stop short of this goal. We must be willing to die to achieve it and with every last ounce of our breath we must ensure our families are directed toward heaven. This is what it means to be a man – giving until we can no longer give, and yet still then, finding the energy to give some more, as Christ did when he accomplished his nailing to the cross and the downfall of the devil. May He, our King be praised forever!

And so as I moved through Christmas, I contemplated my role. I would provide to my daughter the love, peace, joy and magic that I experienced in my home in Ireland. I would also, however, expose her to the love, joy, peace and magic available in every Catholic Church throughout the world, the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Himself, our King born for us.

All that is good about Christmas is Christian. All that is good about Christmas is Christ. That includes the emotions. Give to others. The Spirit of Christmas is always “What can I give?”. It is never “What can I get?” Never forget this Truth. How very masculine it is. How very human. God bless you all this Christmas time.

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