Recently, I had the great honor to have an audience with His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke to discuss the state of Catholic men in the United States.
Here is Part One of the full transcript:
Matthew James Christoff: Your Eminence, we are delighted and blessed to be here with you. Today, we are here to talk about the state of Catholic men in the United States and how we might draw more men into the New Evangelization. Maybe to start, how would Your Eminence describe the state of men in the Catholic Church today?
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke: I think there has been a great confusion with regard to the specific vocation of men in marriage and of men in general in the Church during the past 50 years or so. It’s due to a number of factors, but the radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s has left men very marginalized.
Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society.
The goodness and importance of men became very obscured, and for all practical purposes, were not emphasized at all. This is despite the fact that it was a long tradition in the Church, especially through the devotion of St. Joseph, to stress the manly character of the man who sacrifices his life for the sake of the home, who prepares with chivalry to defend his wife and his children and who works to provide the livelihood for the family. So much of this tradition of heralding the heroic nature of manhood has been lost in the Church today.
All of those virtuous characteristics of the male sex are very important for a child to observe as they grow up and mature. The healthy relationship with the father helps the child to prepare to move from the intimate love of the mother, building a discipline so that the child can avoid excessive self‑love. This ensures that the child is able to identify himself or herself properly as a person in relationship with others; this is critical for both boys and girls.
A child’s relationship with their father is key to a child’s self‑identification, which takes places when we are growing up. We need that very close and affirming relationship with the mother, but at the same time, it is the relationship with the father, which is of its nature more distant but not less loving, which disciplines our lives. It teaches a child to lead a selfless life, ready to embrace whatever sacrifices are necessary to be true to God and to one another.
I recall in the mid-1970’s, young men telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time. These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of a constant and insistent demanding of rights for women. These divisions between women and men have gotten worse since then.
Everyone understands that women have and can be abused by men. Men who abuse women are not true men, but false men who have violated their own manly character by being abusive to women.
The crisis between man and woman has been made much worse by a complete collapse of catechesis in the Church. Young men grew up without proper instruction with regard to their faith and to the knowledge of their vocation. Young men were not being taught that they are made in the image of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These young men were not taught to know all those virtues that are necessary in order to be a man and to fulfill the particular gifts of being male.
Making things worse, there was a very fluffy, superficial kind of catechetical approach to the question of human sexuality and the nature of the marital relationship.
At the same time, in society, there came an explosion of pornography, which is particularly corrosive for men because it terribly distorts the whole reality of human sexuality. It leads men and women to view their human sexuality apart from a relationship between a man and woman in marriage.
In truth, the gift of sexual attraction is directed toward marriage, and any kind of sexual union belongs properly only within marriage. But the whole world of pornography corrupts young people into believing that their sexual capacity is for their own entertainment and pleasure, and becomes a consuming lust, which is one of the seven capital sins.
The gift of human sexuality is turned into a means of self‑gratification often at the expense of another person, whether in heterosexual relations or in homosexual relations. A man who has not been formed with a proper identity as a man and as a father figure will ultimately become very unhappy. These poorly formed men become addicted to pornography, sexual promiscuity, alcohol, drugs, and the whole gamut of addictions. Also, in this whole mix…am I talking too much?
Matthew: No, no. [laughs]
Cardinal Burke: Worsening this sad confusion of men in the culture, there has also been a terrible loss of home life. The culture has become very materialistic and consumer-focused, the pursuit of which has led father, and often the mother, to work long hours. The consumer mentality has also led to the idea that children’s lives had to be filled with activity: school, sports and music and all kinds of activities every night of the week.
All those things are good in themselves, but there has been a loss of balance. The home life in which children spend adequate time with parents has been lost for many families. Families have stopped enjoying meals together. I remember how my father gave us lessons and taught us manners at the dinner table. To spend time talking with my parents was very important to my growing up. When I was a young priest, I was saddened that parents and children told me that fathers and children rarely talked and, when they did, it was only briefly.
Families should have at least one meal together each week where the whole family is together. A boy or young man is unlikely to build proper manly identity and the manly virtues unless he lives with a father and mother, where he can witness that unique and complementary interaction between the male and the female in a home life in which human life can be welcomed, nurtured and developed.
All these various forces have come together and grievously wounded men.
Sadly, the Church has not effectively reacted to these destructive cultural forces; instead the Church has become too influenced by radical feminism and has largely ignored the serious needs of men.
My generation has taken for granted the many blessings we were blessed with in our solid family lives and with the Church’s solid formation of us. My generation let all of this nonsense of sexual confusion, radical feminism and the breakdown of the family go on, not realizing that we were robbing the next generations of the most treasured gifts that we had been blessed to receive.
We have gravely wounded the current generations. As a bishop, young people complained bitterly to me, “Why we were not taught these things. Why we were not more clearly taught about the Mass, Confession and traditional devotions?” These things matter for they form a spiritual life and a man’s character.
Going to Confession and to Sunday Mass, praying the Rosary together as a family in the evening, eating meals together, all these things give practical direction in the Christian life. Learning that it is not manly to be vulgar or blasphemous and that a man is welcoming and courteous to others; these might seem like little things but they form a man’s character. Much of this has been lost.
To be continued ….