Your Excellency:

Right now the weather here is hotter than those vestments Pope Benedict refused to wear for World Youth Day.  By noon the sidewalks wiggle with waves of heat, and the very air leaks terrestrial perspiration.  The afternoons are too sultry to work in the garden of She-Who-Commands-My-Heart-and-My-Spade, and my preparations for teaching my fall classes are nearly complete.  With time on my hands, I surfed the net this morning, where my wandering fingers carried me to our diocesan website.

This website testifies to the gifts conferred by your teaching and leadership.  While caring for the poor and educating the young, including the worshipers of iPod and YouTube, you have also done much to strengthen the hearts of the faithful.  This past spring, for example, you asked your priests to become “slaves for the Lord,” old language which doubtless rang like music in the ears of your tougher padres.  The site also reported that 14 diocesan priests were recently trained to offer the old Latin Mass and can now celebrate “the Mass in the extraordinary form,” as it’s called.  A Catholic News and Herald article describes how Dr. William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abby College, ordered the clauses permitting abortion, contraception, and voluntary sterilization stricken from the college’s employee health policy.  Despite protests and the threat of a lawsuit, Dr. Thierfelder stood his ground, saying that, “As a Catholic College sponsored by the monks of Belmont Abbey, Belmont Abbey College will not offer nor subsidize these coverages,” for, “[t]o do so would be to act contrary to the college’s stated mission and identity.”

To ask priests to work as Christ’s “slaves” is manly.  To make available the Latin Mass, masculine in its stillness and its austere rubrics, is manly.  To take a stand like Dr.  Thierfelder is manly.

Manliness sounds threatening—even provocative—in today’s culture.  By its absence from daily conversation we know the depth of the word’s offense.  How often do we hear manliness praised today in the Catholic Church?  How often do priests offer homilies touting such masculine ideals as restraint, courage, duty, and honor?  What place is made for men in Mass when the musical repertoire consists of “Be Not Afraid,” “Eagle’s Wings,” and “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love”?

The Church has spent 50 years moving, as the Chinese might say, from yang to yin.  In many parishes the fear of offending ordinary sinners from the pulpit, the cloying hymns, and the squishy prayers have elevated feminine values while ignoring or even disparaging masculine ones.  Many musicians, priests, and lay ministers have reduced Christ to a namby-pamby advocate of peace and love who came not with a sword, but with a bottle of soap bubbles and a magic wand.

In June, I visited my father in Florida, where I attended the Saturday evening vigil Mass.  Down the aisle came a single altar boy, followed by a train of ten women—lectors and Eucharistic ministers—and a lone priest.  Their assemblage brought to mind a Tupperware party.

Our own diocesan web page provides my second example.  Of the employees listed there, at least 80 percent are female.  If these figures were reversed, wouldn’t there be hell to pay?  Why this discrepancy in hiring?  Does it occur because the diocese also “employs” priests?  Is the pay too low for men?  Do women oversee the hiring?

In the meantime, deemphasized masculinity and the general failure of fatherhood have ravaged American families.  Every year tens of thousands of boys come of age without fathers.  No one teaches them what it means to be a man.  No one shows them how a man stands up for his family, how a real man goes out every day and takes the punches that life throws at him.

Occasionally, the Church does respond to such needs.  At the Catholic University of America, for example, the Rev. Robert Schlageter, O.F.M., has organized Esto Vir (“Be a Man”—from the writings of Fr. Jose Maria Escriva).  With Father Schlageter’s encouragement, students designed Esto Vir to appeal to the chivalric side of young men, particularly those more at ease on a sports field than in a prayer group.  Members of Esto Vir practice prayer, brotherhood, chastity, self-sacrifice, and fortitude.  Realizing that frat parties and skirt chasing breed not men but boys, they perceive life as a battle and wish to become fit soldiers.  They understand that men need to hear from the Church more about the Christ who drove the moneychangers from the temple, who fought off the temptations of Satan, who told the Pharisees to put a sock in it, who took a beating, a trial, and a crucifixion without once wallowing in self-pity.

There’s a scene in The Godfather, Your Excellency, where a tearful movie star, Johnny Fontane, asks Vito for help with his failed career.  “O Godfather,” he snivels.  “I don’t know what to do!  I don’t know what to do!”  The Godfather doesn’t hand him a tissue or hold his hand.  He shakes Fontane, slaps his face, and says, “You can act like a man!”

We need the Church these days to teach young males (and quite a few old ones) how to act like men—or better yet, how to be men.

Joe Ecclesia