I recently gave a talk to the young men of my church preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, and I thought I would share some of the reflections I had while preparing.
I was blessed with the opportunity to speak only to the young men. I have spoken to mixed groups before of course, and there are many very insightful young women in our confirmation and youth group programs, but sometimes a man just needs to speak to those becoming men, to call them out into their masculinity. That is in fact the only way they will ever become men, if they are called.
The theme of the confirmation retreat was Acts 4,31:
As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
That last line just hit me. Speak the Word of God with Boldness.
This line really speaks to what it means to be a Catholic man, but only if we dive into it, start to tease out its secrets. Otherwise it risks becoming another bumper sticker that gives us a warm fuzzy without telling us anything.
Speak the Word of God. Easy, right? Except the Word isn't just the scriptures, isn't just the teachings of the Church, it's Jesus himself. Logos. To speak the Word is to make Jesus present, not just in words but in actions. To pick up the mantle so that we can say with Paul, "Be imitators of me." It's not just being able to recite scripture, it's about making that scripture come alive, communicating Jesus to those around us.
So how about boldness? What does it mean to communicate Jesus with boldness? To us males, it's a call to be men.
So what does it mean to be a Godly man, a man of God?
Elijah tells us with a pun. Towards the beginning of the Second Book of Kings, there is a series of confrontations with 50-man squads led by a captain, all because Elijah told the king he would die in his bed for sending for a sign from the god of the Ekron.
The first two captains called up to Elijah where he was on a hill saying, "Man of God, come down!"
"Man of God, am I?" the prophet replies, "then let divine fire come and destroy you and your men!"
And it happens.
The first time I read that it seemed a little odd, even vindictive, but in the original language "Man of God" sounds a lot like "Fire of God," or "Divine Fire."
Divine Fire. That is what it means to be a man of God.
"But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it."
"I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division."
So what is it to be a man of God, to be bold?
It is to be meek.
He that conquers himself is greater than he that takes a city. We are our own worst enemy, and it is our stiffened necks which cause the most damage. Jesus said, "Follow me, for I am meek and humble of heart," which we have completely ruined with our worthless language and our derision of all things masculine. To be meek does not mean weakness, but refers to the horse that will take its bit, the soldier who will follow orders. Humility means to be down to earth - humus, human.
To be bold, to be on fire, means we must be strong. We must be courageous, we must be confident, we must be heroes. It is only the strong man who can be gentle, for gentleness is the restraint of strength, not its absence. Meekness is neither the absence of strength but its proper channeling and usage. Humility is being rooted, and knowing our proper place in the order of things.
This is the Man of God, the Man after His own heart - on fire, hunting after the will of God, so bold that he is able to conquer even himself, so bold that he can listen to the quiet whisper and make Jesus present every minute of every day, to everyone he meets.
Speak the Word of God with boldness, for the Master wishes to set the world ablaze through you this day.