St. Joseph was chosen among all men, to be the protector and guardian of the Virgin Mother of God; the defender and foster-father of the Infant-God, and the only co-operator upon earth, the one confidant of the secret of God in the work of the redemption of mankind. —St. Bernard of Clairvaux
By now, most people preparing for Christmas Day have made it to the end of an Advent calendar: Only a couple more little doors and hidden chocolates remain before tearing through gift wrap and stockings.
But for those of us who mindfully immerse ourselves in these weeks of Advent, we are on a journey in preparation for the redemption of mankind. How very timely, given the current state of affairs, which tragically, appear mostly non-consensual.
During these past weeks, gathered near an Advent wreath, we first lit a Prophecy Candle and focused on Hope—on a foretelling of redemption spoken to us by sages and prophets. Next we lit the Bethlehem Candle, and spent a week dedicated not only to reflection and prayer for Peace in this world, but also in consideration of the arduous journey to Bethlehem. This past Gaudete Sunday, Joyous Sunday, marked the waning days of Advent. The Shepherd’s candle bears the light of Joy; we rejoice over our promised redemption, and rejoice in anticipation of God coming to our world as a man.
But there is another man for us to consider whose example, especially now, would be a welcome reminder of the kind of manliness we seem unable to recall or appreciate. He was a simple carpenter named Joseph, often a hidden or marginal figure in some tellings of the Christmas story but without whom we would have had no Advent or Christmas to celebrate.
Yes, it’s true: this original Average Joe was pivotal in the redemption of mankind. He was not unlike the Average Joes of today—noble men who conserve civilization and save mankind on a daily basis. This original Average Joe, the husband of Mary and father to Jesus, was a virtuous man who embraced and selflessly shared the gifts of true masculinity.
In fact, if not shouted down, one might say it is masculinity that once saved and is still capable of saving the world today.
Tragically, in our blinkered culture, masculinity is seen as something to suppress, something toxic, something that if not rooted out is destined to become abusive. None of this is true. These notions represent a disordered thinking meant to kill masculinity with shame.
Men who are angry or violent, who are sexually abusive, who degrade women, who are envious, greedy, or vain, are not masculine. They have rejected virtuous masculinity and succumbed to vices. Society is in desperate need of true masculinity, but it has been apparent for a while now that modern thinking rejects masculinity. Why? As Harvey C. Mansfield put it, “Modern thinking does not want to cooperate with manliness, and does not care for thumos.” Thumos is the spirited and bristling part of the soul. It’s the part that bristles and feels indignation. It is the part of the soul that makes men (and women, too, but especially men) want to risk their lives to protect their families, their religion, or their country.
Joseph resisted and rejected vices. He was a man who protected a woman’s honor, saving her from cruelty and likely from a stoning death—common punishment for a woman shamed by pregnancy outside of marriage. His valiant actions allowed Mary to fulfill both her human and her divinely ordered potential as well as that of her unborn child.
Joseph at first struggled to decide his course of action, tempted simply to send Mary away—not only to preserve her honor, but also to avoid his own embarrassment. But Joseph had strength, and as a man of faith and conscience, he obeyed what was asked of him by God through the message of an angel. Joseph was a law-abiding man and dutifully journeyed to Bethlehem for a census, compassionately leading his expectant wife upon a donkey to prevent her suffering from exhaustion.
Once in Bethlehem, Joseph persisted until he found safe shelter for Mary. After she gave birth, he accepted fatherhood with the intent to honor his wife and raise his son, and his mastery of carpentry skills enabled him to be a provider for his family. He was decisive and determined, courageously fleeing with his family to Egypt to escape Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents. His virtuous masculinity fostered family life, without which there is no basis for community.
There are countless “Average Joes” who embrace and model true masculinity by living virtuous lives, lives shaped by and ordered toward the cardinal and theological virtues: prayerful men of faith who seek to know and do God’s will; men of Hope and not discouragement; men of charity who love God and neighbor, allowing love to order their actions toward the goodness for others; men who practice prudence, the “charioteer” of the other virtues that guides character and judgment; men who embrace Justice and respect the rights of others, leading to common good in society; men who demonstrate fortitude, the gift of strength and courage during the pursuit of good—which compels men to be defenders, protectors, even warriors when personal or common good is threatened; men who exhibit temperance, the moderation and mastery over desire and passions.
In a contemporary code of masculinity delineated in Jack Donovan’s book The Way Of Men, there are four tactical virtues of manliness:
Strength: physical gifts that when rightly ordered, can give a man the means to protect and defend individuals as well as our country;
Courage: to risk life and limb for the goodness of others;
Honor: the impetus to become better men, rejecting any reason to have shame; and
Mastery of Skill: not only to become a provider, but also to fulfill one’s potential in life.
Of course, there are certain men who are sexual abusers; men who lie, cheat, and steal; men who abuse power; men who are slaves to their passions; men who are egoists and vain, never directing their actions toward the common good; men who abuse strength. These men are not masculine. The growing list of sexual abusers is comprised of unmanly men who are undisciplined and weak. They give in to the much easier abuse of the intended gifts of strength and power, unable and unwilling to control and properly order those powerful forces of thumos. They lack not only discipline, but also reason. “Manliness is often aggressive, but when the aggression is tied to the concept of honor, it transcends mere animal spiritedness. Allied with reason as in Socrates, manliness finds its highest expression.”
Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner and so many more, are weak and undisciplined men who reject ordered masculine virtues. Their actions are the antithesis and the death of virtuous masculinity. There is no such animal as “toxic masculinity” because none of the attributes of masculinity are intrinsically toxic; Rather, ”toxic” is the rejection, defamation, and dismissal of masculinity. When news is rife with crimes of sexual misconduct and lack of virtues, there is a wrongful and hysterical trend to define masculinity itself as toxic. There is an unjust notion that, based on the immoral actions of a few, all men will succumb to immoral and criminal behavior.
The progressive and liberal notion is simply to eliminate masculinity rather than to properly order it. They seem not to understand that masculine nature cannot be eliminated. Masculinity is not destined to produce “barbarians at the gate,” nor is it necessary guard against them with a cultural castration. A masculine nature can be ordered toward virtue, though it is likely that a masculine expression of virtue may pinch the sensibilities of many leftists and feminists. Perhaps it sometimes pinches because feminine nature has its own tendencies toward vice that need directing? Hmm.
Ordered virtue and discipline can and should be modeled and taught: by men who embody and practice the gifts of true masculinity; in cooperation with women, who men were designed to honor and protect; and within civilized society where freedoms and moral principles are rightfully defended.
While the Herods of the world become front page news, with their salacious behavior and criminal actions, the stories of the good and virtuous “Average Joes” tend to fade into the background, comprising non-newsworthy corners of life. St Joseph himself remains somewhat of an enigma; though he was quietly virtuous, he was the vital foundation of the Holy Family and therefore of society itself. It is within the family where children learn “the morals which are necessary for the enjoyment of ordered liberty, the virtues which are necessary for morality and freedom to thrive.”
On Sunday we light the Angel Candle, the fourth candle of Advent that represents the greatest of all virtues, Love. Not only is Love the greatest virtue, Love is God Himself, who came into the world as the baby Jesus. What might have been lost if it weren’t for that one “Average Joe” who embodied and shared the gifts of masculinity? Real men can and should embrace their masculinity. It is not toxic. In fact, it is the thing most needful today to help redeem the world.