Anthony Esolen on the Catholic “man-crisis” and Vocations
Anthony Esolen is making strong contributions to the discuss of the Catholic “man-crisis” and in particular to the crisis of vocations.
In a recent article in Crisis, Professor Esolen offers a strong set of recommendations of how to attract Catholic men back into a more ardent faith life, which will undoubtedly increase vocations. Interestingly, Professor’s comments echo some of the key themes from Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke’s recent interview with New Emangelization Project. Professor Esolen, speaking in a manly way, comments:
“If you do not believe what the Church teaches regarding the neuralgias of our time, I am not speaking to you. If you believe that women should be ordained, or that a man can marry a man, or that the government should permit people to snuff out their children before they reach a certain state of cuteness, or that the Pill is good for what ails us, or that divorcing men and women can call Solomon’s bluff, saw their children in two, marry their new squeezes, and be patted on the head by the Church for doing so, while the abandoned spouse is played for a chump all around—I am not speaking to you.
If it’s your worst nightmare that men might be kindled with ardor for the Church—the real one, not the mythical Futurechurch, known only to the illuminati, those who have taken a night school course in ecclesiology and who wear special glasses—then obviously we have nothing to talk about. You want the Church to conform to the world; you want the Church to suffer a shameful defeat. You want to deform the Church to infect it. I want the Church to cure the world by transforming it.
If you do accept the teachings of the Church but you are content with the status quo when it comes to vocations, I am not speaking to you. You’ve had things your way for forty years. Enough already. I want results. I want victory. So in that spirit I make these recommendations, to those who also want victory:
Do the obvious things that will attract men. You want men? Go get them. Tell them that you need them to do the job, which is true. Set up a men’s reading group, and read real works of theology and Catholic philosophy, works that are daunting in their significance for a deadening secular world. Read Romano Guardini, The Lord. Read Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture. Read C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. Those, for starters. Invite teenage boys to join in, and treat them as absolute equals. Set up a weekly morning prayer in the rectory for the men of the parish, early enough to catch most of them before work. Let them pray on their knees, on the floor, as I’ve seen done at one extraordinarily vibrant parish in Connecticut. Let them hear a sermon that takes the truth to them and gives them their marching orders of the day. Notice how quickly and completely all the differences of class and education are forgotten.
Let them forge friendships in the vicinity of the sacraments. Announce a monthly meeting for men, for confession, discussion, and fellowship. Make sure there is food and beer. [Note: This is exactly what happens at CatholicManNight…and it has drawn thousands of men to Eucharistic Adoration and Confession]
The hymnals have been neutered. Get rid of the neutered hymnals. If you do not have the funds to replace Worship III, Gather, Glory and Praise, and others of that ilk with real hymnals, then incorporate into your worship some of the old manly hymns of the Church militant. We have copier machines; this can be done. At least once a month, sing one of those hymns. That is not much to ask! Sing Soldiers of Christ, Arise, or Fight the Good Fight, or Rise Up, O Men of God. The women will be happy to sing these too, if truth be known.
Return all attention at Mass to the action of Christ. What good and true man wants to give his life to a coffee klatsch? And Mass is not a coffee klatsch. It is not a comfy gathering of nice people with a taste for spirituality. It is the sacrifice of Christ, reenacted by the priest in persona Christi; it is the single holiest thing in the world. When J. R. R. Tolkien was writing to his son Michael, during the dark days of the German bombing of Britain, he told him to bind his heart to the Eucharist: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.” Yes, Death, which on earth ends all, but whose foretaste in the Eucharist, says Tolkien, gives the dimension of depth and reality to all that we seek and love on this side of the grave.
So put the tabernacle where it belongs, in the central place of honor. Get every layman out of the sanctuary after the prayer of the faithful. Put the chair of the priest on the side. Get the singers out of the view of the aud –, I mean, the congregation. If you don’t have baritones, find one.
Do not reduce the Catholic faith to a political appendix. Preach Christ and Him crucified. Remember that human beings are unified only from above.
Semper fidelis. If you are teaching in RCIA, and you do not warmly embrace the doctrines of the Church, moral and theological, then you need to do plenty of praying on account of your confusion, and you should recuse yourself immediately. If you are teaching CCD, same thing. If you are teaching in a Catholic school, the moral burden upon you is heavy. Pray every day for your students and for the light to see what has been revealed to the Church and why. Your job is not to play Satan in the garden. Do not deceive yourself on that score. You must decrease, and Christ must increase.
If you have the wherewithal, separate boys and girls for certain units or courses in your Catholic schools; certainly for physical education, for the touchier elements of health, and perhaps also for literature and religion. Unless it’s an all male school, the boys will have mostly women for teachers. Then there should be some time during the day when they can be themselves, without social complications; reading Moby Dick instead of or in addition to Pride and Prejudice; arguing with one another in the company of a male teacher of theology, rather than holding their peace in mixed company. The girls will doubtless also enjoy the change of pace. They too will feel more at home during those times when they can be themselves too; and it will make the re-union all the happier.
You have to remember what boys are. If your worldly business depended for its survival upon attracting them, you would not be so foolish as to dismiss what your eyes tell you, not to mention the entire human race. You would say, “Since this is the job to be done, these are some clear measures to take.” Take them. The Lord who chose twelve men to be His apostles, and knew how to do it, will bless you.”