Meditations for Layfolk - Manliness

Man's great gift and greater responsibility is his manhood. As a child he sets his face towards it; and when he reaches the season of its arrival he stands or falls by his acceptance or repudiation of it. It is a thing that does not come of itself. Each must achieve it for himself, for there are many that we meet with in life who do not seem ever to have won their manhood. They have drifted through their days; they have existed rather than lived. "It is easy to be honest enough not to be hanged. To be really honest means to subdue one's party spirit, one's vanity, one's prepossessions, ideals - stating things fairly, not humouring your argument - doing justice to your enemies, whether you are stronger than they or not; making confession whether you can afford it or not; refusing unmerited praise; looking painful truths in the face, and not merely seeing the inmost part of them; knowing what one means, and knowing when one has no meaning, and shaking off one's plausibilities, and fifty-five things which men see with pleasure and which the angels see through." (Aubrey de Vere) All this clear-sightedness is what is surely expected from a man as part of his manhood; yet it is some thing also that does not come by the mere passage of years, but by the very definite overcoming of nature by supernature, or, perhaps more accurately, it is the true evolution of nature when developed by supernature. It is not a thing that one becomes, but a thing one ultimately and definitely acquires - indeed, it is precisely that which man is put here to acquire. He is human just in proportion to the degree in which he attains to this ideal. He has, that is to say, the dominion over himself, the lordship which reason and will can alone secure.

The possibility, of course, is rooted in man to start with. But long ago his nature received a severe check from the Fall; all the stately ordering of its several parts were disturbed by that dread catastrophe; the nice harmony and balance were disturbed. The springs of man's beautiful nature were diverted to other ends than that of his real destiny and the noble generosity of his nature was warped by a terrible disease of selfishness. Meanness, pettiness, the desire of his own personal satisfaction to the utter disregard of the convenience of others, took possession of him and dominated his life. He no longer appeared as the lord, but as the pirate, of creation. The fine upright nature was gone, and in its place came a low-aiming instinct for pleasure and preservation. Yet all the while the older ideals remained beneath the new and distressing selfishness. From time to time he felt that he was made for better things, felt the movement to a better life, felt uplifted by emotions that rather puzzled him by their greatness. He saw self-sacrifice and proclaimed it divine, watched the mother in travail for her child's delivery and declared it to be itself something worthy almost of worship. He found that truth was a god, and lying an evil spirit. Gradually, through that "light that enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world," he began his upward struggle to something more worthy of him than the Fall had reduced him to. In the revelation of the Old Testament, in the fragmentary gospel of the Greeks, he felt himself being led to a greater and nobler vision for the whole of creation groaned, feeling itself working to a new birth. Then came the fulness of time, and the Perfect Man was born, lived, died, and became the model for all generations.

This is the very purpose of Christ. Of all the instructive yearnings that paganism and even Judaism could not satisfy, Christ gave a definite approval and a finer example. He was the desired of nations, the figure of the substance of God, the exact reproduction of that ideal that through all the centuries had been ill expressed and largely unconscious at the back of the human heart. Man had waited and tarried for the morning, and now the day was breaking. He found set before him the perfect figure of a man - gentleness, self-sacrifice, hatred of hypocrisy and cant, sympathy with the frailties of human nature, and the fierce love of justice, truth, and innocence. Suddenly he discovered that the wonderful word, which his mind had vaguely formed for itself as the ideal of human nature, was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Here, then, is for me the perfect manhood or manliness at which I have to aim. Obviously it will not be without a great struggle that I shall get anywhere near the goal; but just as men nowadays take as their model some statue or picture that represents for them the perfection of the human form, and by careful exercise endeavour to reproduce the same perfect development in their own bodies, so is it also with the soul. I have to guard against the supposition that I have come close up to Him, or suppose that when I give way to beastliness that it is different in me from what it is in others ("I am really not that sort"); and I must guard against the opposite fallacy of thinking that I am utterly unable to follow Him. I must take my life as an artist takes his clay, and out of it form as great a masterpiece as my own powers and my material allow.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.