There is so much pressure on us men of today to be successful. But what does being “successful” as a man really mean? Most of us men work very hard to be able to afford the (often very expensive) necessities of daily living. Many of us try to go above and beyond to provide additional comforts for our families and ourselves. Is having all of the latest technology, a sign of being successful? Or is it being physically fit and handsome and scoring with women? Or is it when we are envied by other men who wish they were like us? Is it all of the above, some of the above or none of the above?
What exactly does it mean to be a successful man?
Today’s culture has bombarded us with it’s opinion of success. We see the “successful man” all the time in commercials, on TV and in the movies: wearing the best clothes money can buy, driving expensive cars, working out at the gym for the best body and having sex with “hot” women with no ties, no real connection and no discernible consequences. Just fun, fun, fun. It may all sound good on the surface, but what this culture has engendered is an epidemic of broken families, lonely people and the necessity to dispose of the natural results of these sexual exploits through the gruesome slaughter of innocent babies through abortion. We live in a culture of polarization of the sexes with neither one being able to trust as their wounds pile up.
We need men to step up in this culture and stand against the mockery it’s made of masculinity. Being a man isn’t being the selfish hedonist we’re told it is. That’s weakness. Rather, it’s standing up for what is right and just and providing for and protecting the innocent and those directly entrusted to our care: our wives and children. Any man can give into his selfish desires. That doesn’t take strength or courage. The man who can stand up to his selfish desires for a higher purpose is the truly successful man.
Let’s look at two prominent men in Sacred Scripture. The first, Pontius Pilate. Our culture of today, might consider Pilate a successful man. After all, he had quite a power position! But what did he do with his power and where did he wind up?
God gave Pilate several opportunities to do the right thing. For example, he allowed Pilate’s wife to have a warning through a dream which caused her much suffering.In Matt 27:18-24 we are shown that Pilate recognized that it was “out of envy” that Jesus was handed over to him. When the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?”. He knew the truth! He knew Jesus was innocent and was being set up. The crowd didn’t answer but instead screamed “Crucify him!”. This was the perfect moment for Pilate to ”man up” as we say today. But in spite of his heart finding no wrong in Jesus, Pilate surrendered his supreme power and succumbed to his fears, his need for human respect, his desire to remain a “successful man”.. I imagine he thought washing his hands of Jesus’ blood would spare his reputation. How sad. Pilate threw away his power by not following what he knew in his heart was the right thing to do- to stand up for the innocent Jesus.
Poor Pilate. He wasn’t much different from you or me, just caught up in a culture of success and human respect never imagining his weakness would reverberate through the ages in the Creed “[Jesus] suffered under Pontius Pilate...” What a different story it might have been if Pilate had stepped up to the plate. What a different story it was for another man in this drama…
The second man in this Scriptural story that I want to focus on is the John the Apostle. This man wasn’t rich. In fact, as an Apostle he gave away everything to follow Christ. On the surface, John appeared to have no power. However, this young man’s power actually far surpassed that of Pilate. John followed his heart. He allowed himself to be real, authentic and to be what he was called to be…“a real man”.
When Christ was crucified, all of the disciples scattered out of fear. I can relate. We don’t know what happened to all of them at this horrible moment of the crucifixion. But, John did not hide. He followed Jesus. He stood at the foot of the cross and supported Mary, the sorrowful mother in her bitter agony. How much Our Lady must have loved John. How much his presence must have helped her in this terrible hour. I can only imagine what this must have been like for him- the fear and terror of being recognized, the intense grief and agony of watching his “teacher” and “friend” being ruthlessly and horrifically murdered for no reason and the immense sadness of watching Jesus’ mother in emotional pain beyond words. What an extremely helpless feeling this had to be…and yet John stayed. He held her and strengthened her with his love and courage.
How did Jesus reward John’s courage? By giving him His Mother Mary as John's own. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son’. Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother’. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home”. (John 19:26-27)
When Jesus gave Mary to John and John to Mary, he was giving all of us (as humanity), the gift of Mary as our heavenly Mother. Because of John’s choice to stand up to the culture and disregard human respect, he gained for all of humanity a blessing beyond all human hope and comprehension.
John was a truly “successful man”. We as men in 2011 are also called to be like John. Our heavenly father will give us the graces we need to be the authentically successful men He calls us to be.
So, how do we do this?
First: we need to recognize what true manly success is. We can’t hit the target if we’re aiming in the wrong direction.
Second: we need to surrender to Christ for the power to accomplish this. We can’t do it on our own power. He will supply all the graces and courage we need through prayer and the sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.
Third: we can’t go it alone. We need the support of like minded men, willing to engage in the battle to take back our culture for good. Thankfully, there are many solid Catholic/Christian men’s groups springing up. Join one in your area. If there isn’t one, start one. “As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow man.” (Proverbs 17:27.) We need our brother’s support and prayers. We need to be there for each other and help each other grow as men of God. We need to form armies to turn back the tide of destruction that is attacking our families at every turn.
Fourth: like John, we need to allow ourselves to be fully human and this means getting in touch with our feelings (oh no!) and asking God to heal the wounds that may be compromising our ability to be the men we’re called to be. It is a battle and few of us are without wounds. Only when we’re emotionally free can we truly choose the good and have the courage to stand up against a culture that would emasculate us for its own profit. Getting this emotional freedom may take time. It will take prayer and for many, talking it out with a compassionate Catholic therapist and praying for inner healing is the only way we’ll be able to step up and assume the role God has ordained for us in this world so desperate for real men.
John’s love overcame his fears and enabled him to do the right thing and be there for Jesus and for Mary. Pilate’s fear overcame his integrity and made him buckle.
Let’s not be too hard on Pilate. But for the grace of God go you or I. But, with the grace of God we can, like John, gain merit and turn the tide in this culture of counterfeit success.
Our children are depending on us!
* For a great start in understanding our emotional nature and how our emotions, rightly understood and guided by reason, can aid you in becoming the strong, truly successful man you’d like to be, I recommend you check out Feeling and Healing Your Emotions by Dr. Conrad Baars.
David Prosen, LMHC, is a licensed counselor and provides counseling for individuals, group classes, and also marriage and family therapy on a variety of issues, with particular emphasis in helping men deal with specific issues unique to their experience in the prevailing culture.
For information about his counseling services, click onto his Profile: catholictherapists.com/davidprosen/