Beyond a Wing and a Prayer: A Catholic Vision of Masculinity
"A wing and a prayer" is a saying about a plane that is badly damaged but makes the landing. Men have been in a sustained identity crisis, as I have alluded to elsewhere. Radical feminism sees men as the oppressors from which they need to be liberated. They are right if they are talking about brutal and domineering men, but not all men are this way. Men have been badly damaged by being seen as the oppressor just because they are men. This damage has created another problem-passive men. So men in an identity crisis are the beat-up plane. In my research and thinking about a Catholic vision of masculinity, I conclude that being a spiritual father is the summit of being a man. This is the core of all men's identity: young, old, single, married, divorced, with or without kids. Now for the prayer! I developed this prayer to summarize, as briefly as I could, my thinking to date about a Catholic vision of masculinity. I offer it in hopes of restoring men's identity: one that is distinctly masculine and not in need of overthrowing. It is packed and dense, and it is not meant to be read just once! I have added some questions after each paragraph as well to help you reflect on it better.
The Abba Prayer for Men
Abba (Papa, Dad, Daddy), make me know my true identity as your beloved son (Gal. 4:3-7, 1 Jn. 3:1) so profoundly that I live out my spiritual and/or physical brotherhood, husbandhood, and fatherhood in active service to others. Help me become fully who I am (JPII) by always remembering who I am in you.
Do I hear these words and sense that I am a beloved son, or does it ring hollow?
Have I thought about what it means it to be a spiritual husband to the Church and a spiritual father to those beyond my own children or nieces and/or nephews? What would it look like to serve my spiritual bride and my spiritual children?
Drive out the fear (1 Jn. 4:16-19) and senselessness in my life by revealing this love to me, that I may encounter it, experience it, participate deeply in it, and make it my own (JPII, Redeemer of Man, 10), not just in my head, but in my heart, so that my hands will do only your will. Help me to receive this love as a little child (Mt. 18:3) and also to put aside childish things so that I can become a man (1 Cor. 13:11) and obtain my eternal reward in your kingdom.
Emotionally, fear is the greatest impediment to love. JPII says without love our lives become senseless and incomprehensive to ourselves. Where is fear in my life holding me back? Are there big fears? Are there small ones?
If I have fear, I need to experience perfect love to drive it out. How have I ever experienced and encountered God's love for me in my heart and received it as a child? How do I presently experience it on a consistent basis? If I do not, what would I need to add?
What childish things do I need to put away? How would this affect my relationships?
Do I sense that God will reward me for my actions here on earth? How can I expand this awareness?
I will then take up the challenge of your "demanding love" (JPII, Letter to Families, 14), and following St. Joseph, I will live out the summit of my manhood as a spiritual father, exercising the virtue of chivalry as priest, prophet, and king, to fulfill the prophecy that God will turn "the hearts of fathers toward children" (Lk. 1:17, cf. Mal. 3:24).
Having experienced God's love, how can I take up the challenge of his demanding love? What is my next right thing to do?
All men, single or married, with or without kids, are called to spiritual fatherhood. Do I see this as the summit of my manhood? How can I best fulfill my manhood as a spiritual father?
Holy Spirit, help me cultivate the virtue of chivalry (C.S. Lewis) in myself and in others through a life of sacrifice with extreme meekness off the "battlefield" and extreme valor on the "battlefield." With my meekness, which is having the power to fight but not using it, help me create safety for women, children, and the vulnerable. And with my valor help me oppose those who are brutal to or dominate others. Jesus, teach me to rid myself of the extremes of domination, brutality, and passivity, and to leave my mother and father(Gen. 2:24, Mt. 19:5, CCC 2779) so that I can lay down my life for my physical and/or spiritual bride.
Have I defined the right battlefield? My wife, kids, and other family members are not the enemy or the battlefield, while evil, sin, and the culture of death are the enemy and the battlefield.
Do I have a tendency to be too brutal or too passive? Who needs me to create more safety for them by using my meekness and/or valor?
If I am too brutal or passive, it is likely that I have not emotionally left my mother and father, or as the CCC (2779) says, I have not purified my maternal and paternal images that get in the way of seeing the Father as he truly is. What do I need to do to help me move beyond this?
Because of my baptism, I am the priest who sanctifies my physical and spiritual families by linking the human and divine, the prophet who teaches the faith by speaking the truth in love, and the king who governs through service by ordering the gifts of others for the good of all.
Am I helping people around me to become holy by linking them to God through my love from my priestly identity?
Am I using my courage to use my prophetic voice to teach the faith to my friends and family? Whom do I need to reach out to?
Am I governing as a king by identifying and affirming other people's gifts to help them use them for the good of others?
For this reason I kneel before you, the Almighty Father, my Lord, my everlasting King, ... and my Abba, from whom every man is named father; accelerate my being rooted and grounded in your name, knowing the very fullness of your love (Eph. 3:14-21), so that I remain connected with you and my brothers to be courageous to provide for and protect my physical and spiritual families. I pledge with all my being-my head, my heart, and my hands-to serve you and you alone and to radiate your merciful and challenging fatherhood to everyone in my life.
St. John Paul II and St. Joseph, Pray for us.
Am I aware that God is totally other, transcendent, Lord and King, and yet he is my Papa?
How much do I know that because I am a man, I am named "spiritual father" by my Father in heaven?
If I am going to be courageous, I need to feel connected to others and to God. Jesus is attacked the most in the desert when he is alone, away from his friends! If I am having trouble being courageous about my faith, how are my connections to other Catholics and good people?
What part of my life do I need to work on most to strengthen my faith-is it in my head, my heart, or my hands?
Am I radiating mercy and challenge in my spiritual fatherhood to my spiritual and biological children?
If I can't identify any spiritual children, who are three men, boys, or girls that need a spiritual father? I can write down their names and commit to praying for them daily for God to open doors to have a conversation about the faith.
Again, this is a lot to chew on. I encourage you to pray this daily over a long time and reflect on it. I have been entrusting you (all the men who need this formation) to Mary since last summer. So what's "beyond"-i.e., not in the prayer, but in a Catholic vision of masculinity? It is complementarity, the language of the body, and the role of emotions in men's lives. But there is only so much you can cram into a small space. I have begun to unpack this in other articles, and more will follow. If you want to print the prayer by itself, click here. My hope is that you will go beyond a wing and this prayer to experience both knowing and becoming the man you are!