Patti Armstrong began her article on Men’s Movements in Our Sunday Visitor last week with these observations: “Perception of men’s identities has gone through a lot of confusion in recent decades, with conflicting voices telling them they are too strong or too weak, that they need to take charge or give up control. More recently, the toxic depth of how men live out their sexualities and relate to others has been laid bare in the raft of accusations and allegations around the #MeToo movement. Issues of how boys are formed have come to the fore, with at least one recent commentator highlighting that all school shooters have been male.”
Houston, we have a problem. But by God we have a solution. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, handed down faithfully by the Catholic Church. The largest weekly gathering in my former parish, after Sunday Mass, is a men’s group called “That Man is You.” 200 men began meeting at 6am once per week to strengthen each other in the Word of God. “That Man is You” is currently up to 30,000 men meeting weekly in 600 parishes in 46 states. Men want to be men.
Women also want men to be men. The bracing article on Men’s Movements I just quoted from is authored by a woman. How many of you men are here because your wives sent you? The women in my parish are all excited about this Men’s Conference, probably a lot more excited than us men. How could we be men without the women in our lives? And yet, at some point, we need to detach from our mother’s apron strings and “estote viri,” be men.
Let’s talk about “safety.” All sorts of people, it seems, find it necessary to remind me to “be safe.” In one day last week, as I was preparing this talk, I noticed how frequently people say this to me.
I passed a large manly construction truck on the freeway with the usual bumper sticker on it: “Safety is my goal.” It’s good to be safe. But no one ever accomplished anything great by being completely safe. To be a man is to take strategic risks.
I was heading out the door with my bike for some exercise. One of the rectory priests called out “be safe.” If safety were my goal in cycling I would definitely not ride a skinny little racing bike into city traffic. My goal in cycling is assuredly not safety, but building my strengths and pushing my limits.
I was leaving a meeting with our school faculty and the principal ended the meeting with “have a safe day everyone.”
Let’s be clear: our primary goal, and the fundamental orientation of our life, is not safety. It’s getting to heaven, and the way to heaven includes much danger. “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Jesus said. And again, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The Son of God did not come to earth to be safe, but to lose his life. Safety is good in its proper proportion, but we must subordinate our desire to be safe to a greater good, that is, attaining eternal life. Life is an exodus, and we are travelers on a dangerous journey, towards a Safe Havens. As Bilbo Baggins told his nephew, “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door." But go out of that door we must.
Notice that while our public obsession with safety coincides with a public obsession with danger. That is, we love to watch other people risk life and limb in extreme sports, depictions of violence, cataclysm, and danger. We feed on a steady diet of danger and violence in news, movies, and video games. A young friend of mine studying film production said the goal of every movie maker is to produce an R-rated movie simply because PG-13 doesn’t sell anymore. Anything less than “Restricted” violence is not profitable. And to get that R rating they have to include a few scenes of extreme violence, even though it compromises the movie. I think this craving for what I can only describe as “replacement danger” is a consequence of too much safety and security. Men need a certain amount of unsafety in our lives, and if we can’t get it in a natural, healthy manner we will seek it in artificial, unhealthy ways. Isn’t it the height of cowardice to shrink from personal danger while eagerly watching others suffer extreme danger. So the Romans, in the decadence, flocked to the amphitheaters in their perfumed and soft togas to watch gladiators lung at each other and fight beasts barehanded.
Whence this Safety Obsession?
We crave virtual violence because we have insulated ourselves from the dangers of real life. In the old days life was not so safe. Just to drive a car, when I was growing up, was a mortal risk, at least the old junkers my family owned. Tires were bald, clutches didn’t work well, break pads were worn, and cars had a propensity to stall just when you needed acceleration. Neither airbags or even headrests had yet been invented, and some didn’t even have seat belts. But they were an adventure to drive and in some way satisfied the male need for challenge! Don’t get me wrong: safety is a good thing. But it’s not the main thing, and no man becomes a hero by focusing too much on safety.
I want to propose another reason for our safety obsession, which will probably get me into trouble. I refer to the feminization of our society. For the last 50 years we men have been trained to be safety engineers rather than heroes. Now, let’s admit it: we men are generally lazy—it’s one of our great weaknesses. (“Honey, could you please mow the lawn?”) The first males of our state, California Indian men, were by all reports shockingly lazy. The men would lay around naked all day while the women collected food, cooked, made clothing for the children, and kept the houses. I’m not sure how much progress we modern California men have made since them. Every California man dreams of being a beach bum by summer and a ski bum by winter. Who was behind the drive to legalize marijuana in this state? Mostly men, I’ll wager. But it’s not only California men. On a mission trip to eastern Russia in 2002, I was surprised to see women doing all the work. Not a man was to be seen in the businesses, the factories, the museums. Even the police and fire departments were mostly female. Where are all the men? I asked. “At home drinking,” one woman told me.
Women, God bless them, have had to step in where men and fathers have abrogated their duties. We are quite familiar with the term “deadbeat Dad;” have you ever heard of a “deadbeat Mom?” Radical feminism, which my mother used to identify as simple frustration with deadbeat men, is mostly men’s fault. If we were doing our job, women could do their job.
And what is a woman’s job? Safety. Women are designed to be “safe,” to provide a warm and safe environment, beginning with their own wombs. Their full breasts and soft skin and tender voices and gentle hearts feed and console and heal. No one can make a home like a mother, and the fact that many no longer keep the home has led to a general social fear, for “safe zones” on college campuses, for galaxies of laws that attempt to protect us from each other. Chaos is on the rise because Mom is not home. She’s at work because Dad is not at work.
And what is a man’s job? Engineering. Designing projects, executing plans, and achieving objectives. God built men to sustain risk and danger. While women have tougher psychological capacities (which they need to nurture human relationships), men have tougher physiological capacities. Our bodies are bigger and stronger, and our brains work more analytically. We are designed for discovery and conquest and bringing home the bounty of our exploits. What a woman rightly expects above all from a man is that he provide. But we can’t provide much of anything if we sit at home all day being safe. Neil Armstrong didn’t bring a piece of the moon to us by being safe. Thomas Edison didn’t patent 2,332 inventions by staying home.