Madonna House

A Vision of Manhood

by Tom White

This article is excerpted and adapted from a talk at the 2014 Pembroke diocesan men’s retreat, which was given by two Madonna House men, Fr. Tom Zoeller and Tom White.

The current view of humanity as put forward by scientists and other academics is rather bleak: the universe, they say, just happened, and human life is just an accident.

Therefore, they say, all human behavior can be explained by the forces of biological evolution. Human consciousness, love, free will, religious feeling, all are seen simply as complex manifestations of the chemistry of our brains.

Consciousness, self-awareness, the sense of identity, the sense of being and of a profound belonging: these are passed off as illusions.

All transcendental values and beliefs, such as goodness, truth, and beauty are carefully scrubbed, explained away, brushed off.

If this is all true, if the entire universe just happened for no reason at all, then what possible meaning can life have?

And with no absolute set of values, without any real identity, who can say what is right or wrong, good or evil?

Radical environmentalism sees man, not as the steward of creation, but as creation’s enemy; not as the pinnacle of creation, but as just another species of animal, and an aberrant and destructive one at that.

Our long, long struggle to push back the wilderness, to build up a human civilization, to protect our loved ones and to give them a better life, to cure illness, to understand the world around us, these are seen as arrogance and greed, or some sort of an evolutionary “mistake.”

Some people even speak of man as a “disease of mother earth which ought to be eradicated.” (You can find such views on the internet.)

And of course, radical feminism attacks and denigrates manhood in ways all too familiar to us. It injects suspicion and grievance into all interactions between men and women.

And the gay rights movement promotes policies that contradict the God-given nature of men, women, and the traditional family.

Moreover, a broad spectrum of self-appointed intellectuals attack Christianity and especially the Catholic Church at every opportunity.

These strange hostilities and suspicions are elements of our present culture that every one of us has to contend with every day. We are condemned as men and as Christians.

All this and more paints a pretty bleak picture of our times and of men in particular.

So, is all this a sensible and realistic way of looking at man? Is all this the Truth?

No, of course not, though we are all aware of the historical sins of men and of the Church, and we know that these ideas carry a grain of truth. And as men seeking the truth, we ought to welcome the chance to broaden our vision by listening to those with whom we disagree.

But I think if we really listen, we will encounter the modern desolation, anguish and confusion—and let us not forget sin, which is the real cause of most if not all of the present discord.

I have come to believe that the underlying answer to all the above problems and conflicts is to open our eyes and to help others to open their eyes to the understanding that God is Goodness (or Love), Truth, and Beauty.

And since we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we are made in goodness, truth and beauty.

In the early days of Madonna House, Catherine had the staff write the words, “God’s Image” on every mirror to remind us of this.

Of course, we must never forget that we are also fallen creatures. We all know the consequences of ignorance, passion, egotism—in short, sin—but nonetheless is it not our inmost desire to love and to do good, to hear and speak the truth, to experience and to create, or at least to protect, beauty? Is this not evidence of the goodness, truth, and beauty within us?

In this article, I will talk about Beauty. In part 2, I will talk about Truth and Goodness.

First of all, I have always deeply felt that this manhood that God has given us is a beautiful thing. In fact, in spite of all my sins, failings, follies, things left undone, etc., I am in love with my manhood. Not how I have lived it out—that is for God to judge—but God’s gift of manhood to me.

(This is not to slight womanhood in any way: God could not have given to woman lesser gifts than he has given man.)

Here are a couple of verses from Psalm 8:

When I see the heavens, the work of Your hands,

the moon and the stars, which You arranged

What is man that You keep him in mind,

Mortal man that You care for him?

Yet You have made him little less than a god;

With glory and honor You crowned him,

Gave Him power over the works of Your hands,

Put all things under his feet.

God made the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars, the galaxies and the vast voids between them, and yet his care is for us.

God has given to us men the power to build human civilization, and we continue to build it. We envisioned it, we designed it, we built it. We fought for it, and often we died for it. And we maintain and improve it.

Think of the great ships, roads, railways, buildings, airplanes and airports, dams, bridges, electricity, houses, household appliances and conveniences. By God’s gift and grace, in every area of life, we men are truly the providers.

(Again by saying this, I have no intention of slighting the God-given gifts and accomplishments of women.)

Besides making us and crowning us with glory and honor, God also created this sublimely beautiful, awe-inspiring, endlessly interesting, and often delightful world, and with the most open-handed generosity he gave it to humanity to enjoy, to understand, and to use for our needs.

He also entrusted it to us to protect and take care of.

He has given us eyes to see, and if we open them, we see beauty and wonder everywhere we look.

This is our faith: that the world is a beautiful place, that life is good, that God is a bountiful Father. And that if we don’t see it that way, then there is something obscuring our vision.

So what’s our part in all this? Well, our part is first to open our eyes and to see, then to recognize, to appreciate, to revere, to be stewards of, and to bear witness to the divine beauty that is everywhere.