Whenever I read about male or female identity in the way God intended it, something within me comes alive. My heart burns to see those identities restored within our nation and within our Church. I long for men and women alike to truly know their identities in Christ: to know not only the unique gifts that they can bring to the world around them, but also to know that they are gifts themselves. My vision is that by being secure in their God-given identity, these men and women will be able to confidently step into the calling God has placed on each of their lives.
Working in youth ministry, I’ve noticed how many of the people in pastoral positions serving as role models for young people, aside from priests, are female. Research has shown that children are more likely to remain in the Church if their father has provided a model of faith, yet a high proportion of the Catholic Church is female. I know the ideal of authentic manhood, I believe it exists and I long to see it in action. But, if I’m honest with myself, there are a lot of moments when the question buried deep in my heart – and I believe the hearts of many of us – emerges: ‘Where are the men?’ I’m disappointed to know that the doubt exists within me, but it’s one which takes determination and a lot of faith to challenge.
In my ministry I have the privilege of visiting a lot of different parishes around the country, and witnessing a pretty good cross-section of the Church. At times it’s naturally easy to be critical of the church set-up and in particular the gender balance, but right when I need the reminder, God always points me towards the signs of hope that, in my cynicism, I overlook.
Not long after I joined my Catholic community, around 15 of the men in the community staged a flash mob of ‘Let It Go’ in bold, deeps tones during a talent show to support a couple of nervous little girls eager to showcase their favourite song.
A few months ago I had a really fruitful conversation with the assistant head of a school my team were going to be visiting, standing in the porch after mass whilst his 3 year old son clung to his leg and his 18 month old daughter used his shoulders as a climbing frame.
The other day I noticed a man sitting a few rows in front of me in mass with his hand outstretched on a piece of paper for his 2 year old daughter to draw around (or more accurately scribble over!) whilst listening intently to the homily. It struck me that he seemed to be depicting the ideal of manhood within the Church: whole-heartedly seeking the Word of God whilst being a strong, calm presence providing love and security for his child.
This is fatherhood. This is man as he was created to be. These are men of God, and men of the Church. They are models of leadership within their families, teachers of the gospel to their children, servants to their community and defenders of the faith. Above all they are sons who know their sonship, and they are beacons of hope – both in our Church and in my heart!