Man up! Be a man!
What do these phrases often mean? They are often used to criticize men who are not living up to some standard.
“You’ve been dating for how long, and you haven’t slept with her yet? Man up!”
“Are you scared? Aren’t you man enough?”
In today’s American culture, men are expected to live to an extremely high standard. We are told that real men don’t show emotion, do what they want, and are never scared. They are competitive, athletic, and assertive. Real men are muscular and aren’t afraid to show it off. They aren’t self-conscious about their bodies, and if they are, that’s weird and there’s something wrong with them. And finally, the true test of a man lies in however many women he can sleep with before one tricks him into getting married. But even then, he should still be able to go out with friends and do whatever he wants. This doesn’t describe most of the men I know, both in seminary and out. This is not who we are made to be, and it is not what Jesus is calling us to.
This image is not only a fantasy, but honestly, it’s not a man that I would want to be associated with in any way. Thankfully it doesn’t describe most of the men I know, both in seminary and out. This is not who we are made to be, and it is not what Jesus is calling us to.
God wants us to be genuine. Men are created in a broad spectrum from sensitive to stoic. From aggressive to gentle. So long as he is authentic to who he is created to be, James Bond isn’t any more of a man than Michael Scott.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you “aren’t a man” if you don’t do X, Y, or Z. The only thing all men (and women) are called to do is be authentic. They make the best priests.
When I was growing up, I was blessed to have met a lot of holy priests. These priests were strong, smart, and always seemed to know the right words to say. It was a great privilege to have them in my life, but they didn’t attract me to the priesthood. I would look at them and say, “Fr. John is such a holy priest. I could never live up to that. I must not be called.”
There was one priest that drew me to truly consider the priesthood when I was in high school and college. He would invite me over to the rectory to watch old Firefly reruns. We would compare and contrast our favorite Family Guy or South Park episodes (although he would admit that there were a few that he had to turn off), and laugh at the arguments of people on r/atheism on Reddit. He was the first priest I knew that was truly open to his humanity and willing to admit his faults. He knew where he was gifted, and where he struggled.
Seminary helps you become aware of your own faults, as well as your gifts. You learn that it’s ok to say, in all humility, “I’m really good at public speaking”, or “I have a gift for athletics” because that’s how you are made. You also learn, after much practice, to be able to say “I’m not a very good listener” or “I have a tendency to be really shy around people.” These faults don’t mean that you would make a bad priest, but rather the contrary. Admitting them would make you an authentic priest, and a genuine man.
Don’t compare yourself to others, or hold yourself to a higher standard that God is holding to you. Don’t say, “I want to be just like my idol, Fr. Joe.” Rather, say, “I want to be just like Jesus.”
In your next holy hour (or two), ask Jesus how he made you and how he wants you to serve him today. Grow in your identity as a beloved son or daughter of the Father, and learn to live as you are created.
Don’t “be a man” as dictated by the world. Be authenticly you, as God wants you to be.