On the Education of Young Men
In the introduction to the modern classic The Everlasting Man, the great G. K. Chesterton says that a man might sometimes need to get far enough away from home—which can be at times “too close to be seen”—in order to rediscover his proper perspective and understanding. The following words and thoughts are meant to provide men, especially fathers, the opportunity to “get far enough away” to re-examine some basic principles and ideas concerning their elevated roles and responsibilities.
A Consecrated Man
With the sacramental words of Baptism and the threefold pouring of the water in the form of the cross, the wonderfully created human soul is even more wonderfully restored. At that crucial moment when the stain of Original Sin is removed and sanctifying grace infused, a man’s soul is marked with the eternal priesthood of Our Lord and Savior and is forever consecrated to His service. A marvelous transformation occurs, and a man becomes a Catholic man, stamped so to speak in his very being with the mark of Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Made in the image and likeness of Almighty God, this soul is now filled with the Divine Life, equipped with an amazing array of spiritual implements including the infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Ghost. He becomes the very dwelling place, tabernacle and temple of the most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This man, this consecrated man, can never be the same again. He is now, and will forever be, a Christian man.
At the opportune time of age and grace, the second mark of Our Lord’s priesthood is imparted to the soul at Confirmation. Here strengthened (confirmed) as a soldier of Christ, the Catholic man is now given a deeper and active participation in the priesthood of Our Lord and is meant to defend and dispose: defend his Faith and the life of grace against “the world, the flesh and the Devil,” up to and including the shedding of blood as signified so aptly by the bishop’s slap; and dispose others by word and work, action and example to receive God’s grace. While not a minister of grace through the Sacraments, as only the ordained priest is in Holy Orders, the confirmed Catholic man is nevertheless meant, nay, is duty-bound to aid the Church and the priest in casting Christ’s fire upon the earth. Catholic Action, the spreading of the holy Faith and the Kingdom of God on earth, leading to the salvation of souls and the increase of the blessed in Heaven, is not an option nor a matter of choice for the confirmed soldier of Christ. By the very fact that Our Lord has so honored a soul with this signal grace, he is now obliged to help change the world! The ceremony of Confirmation is a real enlistment to service, to active Catholic duty where the spiritual soldier daily shoulders the Cross, denies himself and fights the good fight. Reading, studying, praying and sacrificing are the frequent spiritual exercises prudently scheduled into one’s normal routine that keep Christ’s soldiers in fighting shape. Confirmation signals the real beginning of the man’s mature participation in that constant warfare which is our lot in this valley of tears. Here is true honor and glory, true greatness; here is the action to which all men of good will are called and by which they can be only and finally fulfilled.
A Great Sacrament
The Apostle Saint Paul strongly encourages all those who are able to be like himself: celibate, entirely focused upon and uniquely dedicated to the love of God and His service. At the same time, he also boldly proclaims that Holy Matrimony is a great Sacrament. Much more than procreation, the response to the Divine dictate to “increase and multiply,” this greatness is due most profoundly to what the union of man and wife signify: the union of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:23): Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the savior of his body... Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it...
These inspired words should frequently be meditated upon by all married men and those who believe this state to be God’s will for them someday. While there are many other beautiful and even human reasons to get married, this state, and the daily and life-long living of it, must be permeated by a clear understanding of the dignity and duties of manifesting Christ’s union with His own beloved Bride, the one, holy Catholic Church. This signification gives the impetus and forms the necessary context of married life. The practice of virtues both natural and supernatural is incumbent upon the married man who stands in the place of Christ within his family, loving, leading, and guiding his “church.” The virtues so perfectly and manfully manifested by Our Lord are to be closely imitated by husband and father. The Church was born in Blood and that union was consummated upon the Cross—so too is a truly Catholic marriage.
The Place of Courtship
Why do we so frequently urge our young men to fight the spirit of the world and its insistent propaganda about early and casual dating? Primarily because of the reasons above: for the elevated calling of this “great Sacrament” demands maturity, at the very least to ensure a good and solid choice of a fitting spouse. Clearly and with an almost infallible certainty, teenage dating will lead to impurity, as smoke comes from fire. Yet as evil as these transgressions can be, something too frequently overlooked is that it takes a mature and fully formed man to make such a life-affecting decision as the choosing of a wife and mother. One’s own house must be in order before one is capable of properly deciding on a life-long helpmate. A young man must look not at the surface but much deeper in order to ascertain whether this woman is fit for him and fit to be the mother of his children, to be the “hand that rocks the cradle.” Puppy love and infatuation cannot normally lead to a wise and prudent decision. Only a certain maturity based on holiness and experience—a “house in order”—can make that choice. A high school boy, the best and brightest of them, is simply not ready to make that commitment “until death do them part.” If he cannot ask for her hand, if he is not ready to raise children, be head of a household, keep a job and direct himself and others well, he cannot marry—he cannot date. This is basic common sense. The contrary, the spirit of the world, is base foolishness leading to chaos and calamity.
Before and during the time of courtship, however, the glory of the married state must be carefully considered including frequent reflection upon the ends and above all the primary end for which Almighty God instituted marriage: the begetting and proper formation of children. The primary end is in the very nature of things; the nature of man and woman simply cannot be changed nor tampered with in any way. God created “...and saw that it was good.” Ultimately and most importantly, this is the reason for getting married. No man nor institution, not a government nor even the Church herself can change this, can alter its essence in any fashion. Contemplate for a moment the circumstances of what begetting children actually entails and be utterly stupefied by God’s inscrutable designs and man’s participation therein. According to the common opinion, when the marital embrace results in conception, the matter (as scholastic philosophers would relate) becomes apt to receive a form which in the case of a human being is the immortal soul. At that very moment, God Himself creates a soul! Stop and reflect upon this wondrous event and how it underscores and emphasizes the grandeur of Matrimony and those sacred acts which are safeguarded within. The chaste love of husband and wife can result in the omnipotent God performing an action greater than the creation of the material universe, the creation of a spiritual and immortal soul endowed with intellect and will in the likeness of God Himself.
Husband and wife lend a human hand to this Divine power. God alone can create, and by His Holy Will, only a man and woman can provide the necessary matter for a human being. That is a glorious gift and automatically places marital relations in their proper perspective: co-operation in the Divine plan of creation. Anything less than reverence and respect in this area debases the very plan of God and the true dignity of man.
With the Apostle let the sons of God loudly proclaim and chastely live, not even speaking among themselves of perversity, so as to protect this human contribution to the Divine design. A Catholic man cannot think, talk or act “dirty”; a Catholic man cannot watch or listen to, partake in or encourage anything which might even slightly besmirch this power of procreation, co-operating in creation. A good father prudently passes to his son the appropriate knowledge of his own body’s elevated nature and potential powers, both natural and supernatural. This is a grave parental responsibility and fatherly duty, not the work of teacher nor even priest unless forced upon them by necessity. Let fathers faithfully and prudently educate their young men in understanding of and respect for this gift of God. Too often this important duty is embarrassingly unfulfilled, and our boys are left to themselves to discover those “facts of life.” Woe to the neglectful man in this domain, for he sows the seeds of ruin; yet blessed and content the father who faithfully recognizes and manfully performs his duty, properly preparing his son for the future. Not an easy task, but one absolutely necessary for knowledge and order. The hard duty done well bears the mark of the Cross.
With this brief journey “far enough away” nearing its end, husband and father arrives back home, hopefully with a renewed resolution from a re-discovered perspective. For as Chesterton says in that same introduction: “Being really outside is only the next best thing to being really inside.”