PHOENIX — At the Phoenix Catholic Men’s Fellowship Conference, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia challenged more than 1,300 men to remember how masculinity was lived in the past by faithful Christian men.
“We’re here to recover what it means to be men and especially how to live as Christian men of substance and virtue,” he said at the Feb. 3 conference in Phoenix.
The conference was themed “Into the Breach,” after a recent pastoral letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, who released his new book, Manual for Men, at the event.
Among the event’s speakers were Father Sean Kilcawley, diocesan director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska; Hector Molina, an international Catholic speaker; and Terry Kennedy, former All-Star Major League Baseball catcher.
Archbishop Chaput said that history plays an important role in Christian culture. “Just as memory anchors each person’s individual story, history plays the same role for cultures, nations and communities of faith. History is our shared memory. … A community dies when its memory fails,” he said.
Pointing to the Poor Brothers of the Order of the Temple of Solomon, the Knights Templar, Archbishop Chaput expressed the need for men to remember the order’s courageous commitment to charity, truth and chastity.
The Knights Templar began 900 years ago, after the First Crusade recaptured Jerusalem from Muslim rule in 1099. The religious community was established to defend pilgrims journeying on the roads near Jerusalem, protecting them from Muslim raiders and highway criminals who robbed, raped, killed and kidnapped, Archbishop Chaput said.
“As warriors, the men had skills,” he explained. “The men had taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the patriarch of Jerusalem. And their first task, under obedience, was to patrol the roads.”
Archbishop Chaput said this was a “new knighthood,” different from those medieval knights who were “heavily armed male thugs — men obsessed with vanity, violence and rape.”
The Church took knighthood and made it into something holy, he said, noting that while some men didn’t live up to Knights Templar’s ideals, most embraced the prayer, courage and chastity the order called for.
“[Knighthood] provided the animating ideal at the core of the Templars: to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity and chastity and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak.”
Christianity is still a “fighting religion,” said Archbishop Chaput, borrowing the phrase from C.S. Lewis, because “living the Gospel involves a very real kind of spiritual warfare.”
“Our first weapons should always be generosity, patience, mercy, forgiveness, an eagerness to listen to and understand others, a strong personal witness of faith and speaking the truth unambiguously with love,” he added.
The archbishop said “Christian equality” understands “the reality of the differences and mutual dependencies of real men and women.”
“As men, we’re hardwired by nature and confirmed by the word of God to do three main things: to provide, to protect and to lead — not for our own sake, not for our own empty vanities and appetites, but in service to others.”
How do men reclaim Christian masculinity?
Archbishop Chaput said men must become the living proof of what the Church teaches: “the personal example of her saints.”
“Do love the women in your life with the encouragement, affection, support and reverence they deserve by right. Do be faithful to your wife in mind and body. Do show courtesy and respect to the women you meet, even when they don’t return it. … Finally, those of you who marry, do have more children, and do invest your time and heart in them.”
He condemned the recent sexual-harassment scandals involving celebrities as the “symptom of an entire culture of unhinged attitudes toward sex. Women are right to be angry when men treat them like objects and act like bullies and pigs.”
But a change in culture will only come through changes of the heart, he said, when a man “discovers something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires: in other words, when he becomes a new man.”
“A real reform of male behavior will never come about through feminist lectures and mass-media man-shaming by celebrities and award ceremonies. ... A man’s actions and words change only when his heart changes for the better.”
Concluded Archbishop Chaput: “So my prayer for all of us today is that God will plant the seed of a new knighthood in our hearts — and make us the kind of ‘new men’ our families, our Church, our nation and our world need.”