Spring Encampment Success

See new image gallery on the Encampment website for a look into the father and son weekend.

Here is my homily from opening night of the encampment:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Check out the website for details on the next encampments as well. For the moment that really consists mostly in the dates and example schedule. I will soon have the registration page back up with the specifics.

Spring Encampment 2010

Happy Feast of St. Pius V, Pope of Lepanto!

I am in the process of creating a new website for The Knights of Lepanto Encampments.  That should be up in a few days.  Meanwhile, I will just announce the dates again for this years events and provide pertinent information.

  • Spring Encampment: May 28-30
  • Summer Encampment: July 30- August 1
  • Fall Encampment: October 8-10

The Spring Encampment will feature a talk by MSG Michael M. Cutone on the Leadership of Jesus.  Here is an Airmaria interview with Michael.

And here are some PDF documents pertinent to the Spring Encampment that will be helpful:

Please print the Advertising Flyer and post wherever you can.  Thanks.

The main event of the physical activities will be a massive Capture the Flag Game! Hope to see you for the chivalrous fun.

I am creating a “Testimonies” page on the website and would be grateful for all contributions from the men–and boys–who have attended. In terms of the men, I am especially interested in those who are not among the organizers. Please send your contributions of three or four sentences to mv@figuadalupe.com or leave your response in the comment section.

I would also be grateful for suggestions for the “Frequently Asked Questions” page. Please let me know what should be included there, especially if you had a confusing time and would have liked to have something answered before you arrived. Send your responses by leaving a comment.  Thanks again.

Marian Chivalry and the Soul of the Apostolate

Updated below (6/21/10)

Since the new year I have been instructing our MIM Cenacle in Griswold on the spiritual life, on the basis of Dom Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate, a book, I have mentioned here a number of times before.   The book was not really written for laypeople, so I have been adapting it for my class.  Reflecting on this effort, I can see it also needs to be adapted to the needs of Marian Chivalry.

Dom Chautard was a Cistercian abbot, whose service of the Church took him frequently from the monastery and often placed him in circumstances less than conducive to the contemplative life. To a large extent, The Soul of the Apostolate is the fruit of his own soul searching—his effort to make sure that he remained a contemplative when he was forced to live outside of his monastery.

As anyone who is trying to live the interior life knows, there is an inherent tension between the interior and active life, and though in no way mutually exclusive, one can tend to dominate and destroy the other.  In the vast majority of cases it is the active life and encroaches on the interior life, because, in fact, it is easier to be active than prayerful.  In fact, Dom Chautard writes that nothing is more difficult than fidelity to the interior life.  It also may and does happen that certain interior souls adopt unsound habits and allow their personal devotions to impinge upon their responsibilities, for example, a mother to her children, but by far the most common problem is that we sacrifice our prayer to our work.  This problem is critical because of the primacy of prayer over action: without grace our work has no merit and prayer is our conduit to the grace of God.

When teaching the doctrine of Dom Chautard to laypeople, I have to emphasize in a particular way the great spiritual writer says that the idea that action is inherently harmful to the interior life is a heresy.  In fact, the exact opposite is true: when there is the proper ordering of the interior and active life, not only does action not harm prayer, action improves it.  In reality, there should be a reciprocal influence of prayer and action on one another.  Prayer leads us to perform our duties better, and our duty fulfilled is prayer made fruitful and sincere.

In a layman’s life, indeed, in anyone’s life, the primacy of prayer is not necessarily measured by the amount of time spent in prayer, relative to activity, but rather the fidelity with which one strives to cut out a reasonable measure of space and time for prayer, and the holy anxiety with which one gives up that time and space only to fulfill one’s duty.  For someone who strives to maintain this discipline, even a few moments respite from the din of family preoccupations can be of incalculable value.

I thought about how this might be applied to the ideals of Marian Chivalry while reading the third part of the book, where Dom Chautard expounds on the five characteristics that the power of Christ takes on in us.  (The author claims the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure as his source, which I have not been able to verify as the work cited, Compendium Theologiae, is not known to me.  It is likely a pseudo work, that is, something based on the doctrine of St. Bonaventure but not actually written by him.)

The characteristics of Christi’s strength in us are as follows:

The first is that it undertakes difficult things and confronts obstacles with courage: “Have courage and let your heart be strong” [Ps 30:25].

The second is contempt for the things of this earth: “I have suffered the loss of all things and counted them but as dung that I may gain Christ” [Phil 3:8].

The third is patience under trail: “Love is strong as death” [Cant 8:6].

The fourth is resistance to temptation: “As a roaring lion he goeth about . . . who resist ye, strong in faith” [1 Pt 5:8-9].

The fifth is interior martyrdom, that is, the testimony not of blood but of one’s very life crying out to Christ: “I want to belong to Thee alone.”  It consists in fighting the concupiscences, in overcoming vice and in working manfully for the acquistion of virtues: “I have fought the good fight” [2 Tim 4:7].

Courage, contempt of earth, patience in trial, resistance to temptation, and martyrdom are characteristics of the strength of Christ within us, first of all, but also of His strength in our actions.  Dom Chautard says that through the progress of a soul in the interior life the divine action works in inverse proportion to our own effort.  That is to say, in the beginning of our journey, we act under the influence of God’s grace, but it is we who act primarily, while God guides and often restrains us from compromising our life of prayer.  But in one who is more advanced, God’s power manifests itself more fully and directly, the apostle being moved by grace and collaborating more transparently with the Holy Spirit.

The trick here for a knight of Our Lady is to understand that the spiritual discipline of the “strength of Christ,” is a kind of surrender, trust and long-suffering, while the vigor of the active life is generosity and mercy.  The inverse proportion of God’s activity within the soul must not become a kind of quietism, where we just assume that our prayers will supply for our lack of zeal for the works of justice and mercy.  In fact the spiritual life itself is a battle and can only thrive where there is the courage to face and overcome obstacles and enemies.

This has too often been the case among religious men, who have either tried to imitate the piety of women, or who ceased being religious men altogether.  Dom Chautard makes reference to the principle of St. Ignatius, the great soldier saint, whose maxim has been popularly rendered: “Pray as though everything depends on God and work as though everything depends on you:

Let this be the first rule of your undertakings: confide in God as if the success of those undertakings depended completely upon you and not at all upon God; nonetheless give your whole self to the undertakings as if you yourself would be doing nothing in them but God alone would be doing everything.

What St. Ignatius actually says is considerably more nuanced than the way it has been popularized.  St. Ignatius’ longer statement does more to integrate the active and interior.  He is not really speaking about the interior and active separately. His statement is about how the active life is to be conducted in a contemplative way. He says we must entrust the active life to God so as to be fully cognizant of how much our efforts make a difference and yet be docile enough in the actual doing to realize that our success depends entirely our union with God.

[The following insertion is from my email answer to a reader who had a concern about my lack of sourcing for the above quote allegedly from St. Ignatius and who notes that the CCC [2834] quotes St. Ignatius in a way that seems to him to be at odds with the quote I have used:

I will update the post to reflect the fact that I have not found a primary source. My source was a Jesuit blog. I have seen the passage quoted in a number of places without documentation. The particular site that I used is authored by more than one Jesuit priest, so I considered it safe enough. One may argue whether it meets an acceptable standard for a blog. In any case, I should make the lack sourcing clear.

In addition, I think several things are worthy of note. Maxims by their nature, truncate the truth into a slogan that can be easily remembered. They are by nature, statements of the truth (if they are true) that require some clarification. In this regard, it is a matter completely consistent with Church doctrine and the science of the saints that prayer and action are so integrally related, with the primacy of the former, that they must interpenetrate in order to survive and grow. Grace is always primary and free will always essential. So, there is a sense in which both prayer and action depend entirely upon God’ grace, but at the same time, there is a sense in which progress takes place only to the extent that we are heroically invested in the prayer or work, or better, in both.

So should we pray as though everything depends on God or pray as though everything depends on us?  Should we work as though everything depends on God or work as though everything depends on us?  The fact is that we can do nothing without God.  No prayer or action can happen without grace. Yet every good act also depends on the relative investment of our free will.

The catechism quotes the more well-known and shorter version of St. Ignatius’ words, but also without sourcing the quote. In fact the note says “attributed to St. Ignatius.” As I say, and in part, this is the point of the post in which I used the quote, it is helpful, especially for men, to see both sides of this.]

I have always said that a truly Catholic approach to spirituality that is suited for men will help translate the life of prayer into a plan of action.  But the inverse is true as well, the active knighthood of Christ will also make us men of deeper prayer.

The Anthem of Lepanto

The stanzas below I wrote to be sung to the tune Thaxted by Gustav Holst, adapted from a section of Jupiter from his suite The Planets as a setting for the patriotic poem by Cecil Spring-Rice, I vow to Thee my Country.  This exquisitely beautiful and sad melody has a special significance for me, since it was by providence used by Fra Didacus for the memorial video about our deceased knights, Thom and Marc Girard.  At that time it was pointed out to me what the original lyrics where and how appropriate a choice the tune was.

Eternal rest grant to Thom and Marc, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

For your consideration:

I cast myself before Thee, Thy bondsman and Thy fool;
Thy patronage is freedom, Thy slavery my school.
I offer Thee my sword hilt and wait for Thy command
To serve among Thy servants who pledge to take a stand.
That I might die in battle, a victim of Thy love:
My wish, my prayer, my promise, thus written in my blood.

I saw the bark of Peter ride dark into the sun,
But darker still the marking of crescent, hoard and gun.
Her sails lay flat and mellow, Her men had pledged their troth,
Left hand on beaded psalter, the right to keep their oath.
The haughty fiend had counted on fear to win the day,
But Thine own breath has countered to turn the wind their way.

My Queen, to Thee be honor and praise through all Thy knights
Who toiled and bled and parted Thy martyrs robed in white.
All courtesy and prowess, all strength and gentleness,
Thy heart a pyx of virtue, Thy face all loveliness.
Then at the hour of judgment my colors Thou may see,
Thy Son upon His white steed, Thou pray to come for me.

Ditching the Marital Biases

I recently posted a video under the title “Male Buffoonery from the Christian Media.”  The comedic vignette portrayed in the video humorously critiques men’s lack of appreciation for their wives in terms of the amount of work involved in running a household.  As humor operates by way of exaggeration, the husband in the video comes off as a consummate jerk.

I facetiously commented that such things never happen.  What set me off is that the video is just another example of media stereotype against men, and in this case it comes from a Christian source.  I know there are two sides to this.  I was just trying to make a point.

The reason I am posting about it again is that the video generated an interesting discussion in the comments that I think needs to be addressed.  I don’t mean to single anyone out, but to address erroneous ideas that are very commonly held.

Holy Baloney

The first is that somehow the exercise of legitimate authority is contingent on the personal holiness of the one who presumes to wield authority.  So it often happens that one who is subject to authority thinks they are only obliged to obey if their superior is, in their estimation, worthy of exercising authority.  Another way of putting this notion is “only the one who shows himself to be above the average man is worthy of being superior,” or “the one who is worthy to lead is only that one who morally, intellectually, or by way of popular acclaim, rises above the rest.”

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the matter of authority is that anyone who possesses an office of authority, as long as they act within their competence, and not beyond it, and do not command something contrary to the law of God, exercises authority legitimately regardless of their personal merit, talent, intelligence, holiness, etc.  It is not true, for instance, that a superior must be in the state of grace to legitimately command.  Our Lord Himself, while publically correcting the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, defends their right to command.  He tells the apostles: All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not (Mt 23:3).

All of this applies with respect to the obligation of a wife to obey her husband.  So says the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

[L]et wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience (“Holy Matrimony”).

Later on, I will explain the phrase “yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety,” but first I want to deal with an issue, about which my silence on the matter has been criticized.

Seeing Scarlet

I have dealt with at length the question of women as the weaker sex and their need to be protected, and have emphasized the singular responsibility of men to perform this task, that is, to make sure that women are treated according to their proper dignity.  My blog is about Marian Chivalry, so my emphasis should be understandable.  Yet, as we all know, it takes two to tango. Unquestionably, those who hold authority have a special obligation to avoid its abuse.  However, each of the sexes within marriage is prone to its own particular vices.  Pride and selfishness have their own specifically masculine and feminine dimensions.  If men must not abuse their authority, women, in a particular way, must not use their weakness as an excuse to cultivate the habit of emotional and sexual blackmail.

One of the problems with feminism and the emasculization of men is that the abuse of authority, especially within the family, has given credence to the idea that only those who are holy can exercise authority legitimately.  In fact, men have been emasculated precisely because they have bought into this lie.  They have willingly abdicated their authority because others, most notably their wives, have convinced them that they are not worthy to command.

Without underestimating the problem of the abuse of authority, one cannot neglect to condemn in the most strident terms this pernicious notion that a man must prove himself to be free of his faults (so obvious to his family) before he can be taken seriously.  This notion, quite frankly, is so bogus and destructive that it defies sufficient condemnation.  It is an excuse for willfulness.  It is the ruin of the unity of the family.

A man’s wife is his most brutal critic.  This almost universally true and not altogether a bad thing.  The principle contribution of women to the tradition of Christian chivalry has been the high standard to which women were expected to hold men.  The ever-present cultural and moral influence of Mary on the development of Christian civilization was in fact Her humanizing influence on the male sex.  But the ladies should not forget that most men who love a woman desire to be her hero, even if they know that, more often than not, they fall short.  Traditional women talk all the time about how much they want to have their husbands lead, but then they subject his every choice to microscopic scrutiny, and nag and complain about all his shortcomings.  Emotional and sexual blackmail become tools of the weaker sex to maintain a safe independence, that is, a way of maintaining control, while indulging all her feminine weaknesses.

Mutual Submission

It seems to me that the comment section of the post to which I referred above tended to be one-sided, either asserting that authority is only legitimate where the husband shows himself worthy, or on the other hand, is virtually always exercised legitimately, regardless of what he commands, or at least that the woman should just shut her mouth and do what she is told without question.  And this is the second error that I must address.  Indeed, the Catechism of the Council of Trent affirms that wives are obliged to

love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.

That phrase is specific, and does not suggest that a woman, who is the “helpmate,” and not slave, of her husband must yield in a mindless and servile obedience to her husband.  Ancient cultures, and some of them Christian, though not thoroughly Christianized, have regarded women as virtually the property of their husbands to be disposed of in an arbitrary way.  However, the famous passage of St. Paul, invoked by traditionalists to put women in their place does not affirm the wife-as-chattel mentality.  In Ephesians 5, St. Paul does indeed mandate the obedience of a wife to her husband, but he also states that husbands and wives are to be subject one to another, in the fear of Christ (22).  St. Paul goes on to explain this mutual subjection in terms of a wife’s obedience to her husband and the husband’s sacrificial love for his wife.  The next chapter (6) goes on in parallel manner to reaffirm the obligation of children to obey their parents, while at the same time, commanding fathers not to provoke their children to anger (1-4).  This makes it pretty clear that an arbitrary or abusive execution of authority within the family finds no mandate in sacred scripture.  No man may presume that his wife and children must swallow the consequences of his capricious will without question.

In fact, Ephesians 5 compares marriage to the love of Christ and His Bride, the Church, and the paradigm for husbandly love is Christ on the Cross.  The abuse of authority within the family is not going to be solved by feminism.  Emasculated men are a plague upon society and the family.  But neither is the problem of feminism and effeminacy going to be solved by ignoring abuses of authority or by absolutizing the rights of husbands.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II placed a great emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the obligations of those in authority to respect that dignity and to command according to the demands of the common good.  The Church regards as particularly pernicious the abuse of authority, because human authority is never absolute but entrusted to individuals specifically for the care of the persons, created in the image and likeness of God.  For this reason John Paul II placed a particular emphasis on the obligation of men toward women, while not at all dispensing from the obligation of obedience of wives to their husbands.  One would think that the need to address the problem of the abuse of authority, as well as the unwillingness to exercise it with legitimate forcefulness for the common good, would be obvious in the light of various modern forms of totalitarianism, fascism and fanaticism.

The Unspoken Issue

Worthy of particular note is a matter that goes largely unuttered when the topic of authority within marriage is discussed but which certainly underlies much of what is said, namely, the marriage debt.  It is a matter of grave obligation for men and women to yield to the reasonable request of their spouse and offer their bodies freely for the conjugal act.  This request is made legitimately where there is no serious reason to refuse (For particulars ask your confessor, and when in doubt, by all means seek counsel.)  In a particular way, this responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of the woman for obvious reasons.

Again, it takes two to tango:  the man has the power to physically or emotional intimidate the woman into an unreasonable use of marriage, but the woman has the feminine power of turning her sexuality into a tool or into a weapon.  And we all know exactly what I am talking about.  There can be no one-sidedness here.

All this being said, the position of authority of the man and his superior strength and power places a special obligation on the man to respect and protect his wife from his own lusts.   Only women get pregnant and men generally do not have to worry about being abandoned with a child.  One of the greatest fears of women around the world is abandonment by the father of her children.   Women are vulnerable in this matter in way in which there is no comparison in men.  They are also expected to satisfy their husband, and unfortunately, culture has left many men under the delusion that their masculinity is defined by their libido and specifically by their need to have their sexual desires satisfied whenever they want, on demand.  This is to a large extent what many men mean by their expectation of the unquestioning obedience of their wives.

Here is a special notice to men (if the shoe fits, wear it):  Wake up!  Do you wonder why you wife has lost interest in intimacy with you and why you are less and less satisfied with your relationship with her?  It is because you act like a pig, and you keep justifying it because in reality you are insecure in your own masculinity.  Grow up and stop acting like a teenager.

I am particularly irritated by Christopher West’s ambiguity on the question of imperfect sodomy, precisely because it has certainly become an excuse on the part of “demanding” husbands to subject their wives to behavior that is demeaning and sinful.  One of West’s followers in Poland, a priest, asserts that

Attempts to set limits to the expression of love as well as arbitrary exclusion of some ways of experiencing pleasure inhibit spouses and introduce doubt, fear and moral anxiety into their sexual life. This attitude may result in frigidity and lead to serious marital problems.

In spite of the fact that the writer of these words qualifies his statement by the assertion that mutual consent must be part of the decision making, he is foisting a bill of goods on women, who generally are more passive and are expected to consent without argument.  Needless to say, many men will take words like this as justification for subjecting their wives to sins against nature and other demeaning behavior.

I have always considered the Westian interpretation of Theology of the Body to be the lustful man’s boon, notwithstanding all the exalted views of sexuality and the dignity of women.  If men truly wish to find satisfaction within their intimate relations with their wives and to maintain their moral authority, then they had better learn to behave themselves.  That means not only do they need to have a more exalted view of women and sexuality, it also means that they need to be a good deal less attached to eroticism and more willing to love selflessly, by being satisfied with less.  (A lack of sacrifice and generosity on the part of both men and women in this regard can lead to dire consequences within a marriage.)

While it is true that legitimate authority has nothing to do with whether one is holy or not, it is also true that it is better and more effective to lead by example. Such is the example of Christ, who died for his Bride.

Saving Marriage

It takes two to tango.  One-sided answers will get us nowhere.  I have favored the position of women here, because they belong to the weaker sex, but that is no excuse for the ladies to invoke what I say like a club to wield against their husbands.  I know there are really situations in which men are grossly abusive, but there are also many situations in which women can be little manipulative monsters.  Everyone clean your own house.

Christian marriage is about self-donation and self-forgetfulness.  Husbands and wives must bear each other’s burdens.  There is no way around this.  There are no pat answers.  Finger pointing is useless unless we are willing to point the finger at ourselves first.  My purpose here is not to provide the solutions to individual problems, but to point out that if we do not get the theoretical side of the argument right, then our efforts at providing practical solutions are hopelessly wrecked.

We have the whole two millennia of Christian history as our moral experience and if we find ourselves unable to learn from our mistakes the institution of marriage will continue to erode until it becomes something unrecognizable. Effeminate and homosexual men are a plague upon a structured society.  Self-centered and crabby women only exacerbate the problem.  But neither does the restoration of masculine authority involve the institutionalization of the arbitrary exercise of authority by men or the legitimization of husbands treating their wives like prostitutes.

Christmas Conquest

In last nights post about tonight’s discussion group topic, I asked the question:

How can men surrender to the mystery of Christ’s condescension without surrendering their dignity, responsibility and strength as men, husbands and fathers?

This morning Pope St. Gregory the Great indirectly answered my question in the second reading from the Office of Readings:

For unless the new man, by being made in the likeness of sinful flesh, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan. The Conqueror’s victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition. But through this wonderful blending the mystery of new birth shone upon us, so that through the same Spirit by whom Christ was conceived and brought forth we too might be born again in a spiritual birth; and in consequence the evangelist declares the faithful to have been born not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

St. Gregory speaks about the Redeeming power of Christ, his victory of Satan, sin and death in terms of His having shared “our human condition.”  As the battle takes place in the valley of human misery, so victory begins in a stable where His own received Him not (Jn 1:11).

A true leader, a father, for example, shares the condition of those whom he leads. We exhort our superiors to “lead by example.”  Our Lord criticizes the pharisees because they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them (Mt 23:4), and so He tells his apostles: All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not (3).

I am reminded of the story of how St. Louis, King of France, landed in Damietta with his men, refusing a safer passage away from the fighting:

When the King heard say that the Banner of Saint Denis was ashore he came hurrying across his vessel at a great pace, and despite the Legate who was with him, he would not be stayed, but sprang into the sea, up to his armpits in water, and waded, with his shield round his neck, and his helmet on his head, and his spear in his hand, to join his followers on the beach. When he got to land and discerned the Saracens, he asked: What people those were? and they told him:  They were Saracens; and he tucked his spear under his arm, put his shield In front of him, and would have rushed upon them, if his paladins who were about him would have allowed it.

Prior to the landing the King had exhorted them all:

Friends and followers, we are unconquerable if we are undivided. The divine will has brought us hither; let us land, be the enemy’s forces what it may. It is not I that am King of France, not I that am Holy Church: it is you yourselves, united, that are Church and King…. In us Christ shall triumph, giving glory, honour, and blessing not to us, but to His own Holy Name.’

In the condensation of Christmas the King rallies with the men on the ground and gives them His Name and His power to conquer.

See also the story of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN, Medal of Honor Recipient.

Almighty Humility

Tomorrow night I will be speaking to the men’s discussion group about the mystery of Christmas, in particular about how omnipotence and humility come together in what Anthony Esolen calls Child Everlasting:

But can we see the wonder from the other direction? It may be that the child Jesus does not conceal omnipotence so much as reveal what it really means to be omnipotent. That’s because the Word through whom were made the heavens and the earth was from before the foundations of the world the Word who would be made flesh: It is a world made to be redeemed by that child.

Perhaps Esolen is playing on Chesterton’s Everlasting Man:

Bethlehem is emphatically a place where extremes meet. Here begins, it is needless to say, another mighty influence for the humanization of Christendom. If the world wanted what is called a non-controversial aspect of Christianity, it would probably select Christmas. Yet it is obviously bound up with what is supposed to be a controversial aspect (I could never at any stage of my opinions imagine why); the respect paid to the Blessed Virgin. When I was a boy a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother, you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows I as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.

There is something momentous to be learned by men from the God of hosts who chose the path of childhood as the expression of his omnipotence.  Kings from far away bow down, and the king in whose jurisdiction He is born fears him and sends soldiers to kill Him.  What is it about the Virgin Mother and the stable of Bethlehem that reveals so much of what it means to be the King of Kings.

How can men surrender to the mystery of Christ’s condescension without surrendering their dignity, responsibility and strength as men, husbands and fathers?

Magnificent Fathers

While I was home with my mother in California I saw several old movies that carried the theme of manliness and fatherhood:  How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Magnificent Seven (1960).

How Green Was My Valley is an American Film directed by John Ford based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn.  The story is set in South Wales in a small coal mining village and concerns the life and times of the Morgan Family as seen through the eyes of its youngest member Huw, played by a 12 year old Roddy McDowall.  Huw has five older brothers, all of whom work the coal mines with their father Gwilym, played by Donald Crisp who for this role won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. (The film also won Oscars for Best Film and Best Director, among other categories).

What struck me about the film was the way in which the father was portrayed as a strong but gentle man.  Gwilym is a real patriarch who has to deal with changing times and the vicissitudes of raising a family in a place with an uncertain economic future.  He is a stern old man, but never unkind.  He is committed to the welfare of his family and thinks little of himself.

There are two scenes that stand out in my mind.  In the first, the five sons who work with Gwilym respectfully disagree with him over the need to unionize the coalminers in the face of layoffs and pay reductions, a step that he would not support because of his objections to socialism.  The men are hesitant to cross their father, but are unwilling to be dishonest about their true convictions.  It is a very interesting vignette of a father maintaining his authority in a reasonable way without being overbearing.  The sons choose to leave home, but eventually come back in support of their father when the mother, Beth (Sara Allgood), defends Gwilym before all the minors in town.  There is a real sense of the burgeoning masculinity of the sons inevitably clashing against the authority of the father, and the old man managing it with both tenacity and self-restraint.

The other scene has to do with young Huw’s problems at school due to the prejudices of wealthier children and even of the teacher.  He takes a beating from one of the older boys and when he comes home bloody and bruised his father promises him a graduated monetary reward for each injury he will subsequently endure.  He then asks Huw if he is willing to go back to school and when the lad says yes, Gwilym sends for the town pugilist.  And so the boxing lessons begin.  Of course, Beth vehemently objects, but is overruled by Gwilym and the boy is on his way wholesome self-reliance and manhood.

There are several other examples of strength, compassion, good humor and selflessness on the part of Gwilym that make this film portrayal of a father highly memorable.

The Magnificent Seven is a Hollywood remake of the Japanese film by director Akira Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai (1954).  When Yul Brynner saw the Japanese original he immediately conceived the idea of recasting it as a Western.  The basic plot for both films concerns a townspeople of a small village that are being periodically raided by bandits.  Without any other solution at hand, the fathers of the town contract fighting men to protect them (samurai/gunfighters).  In the American film, the fathers of the town seek to defend themselves by purchasing guns, but are advised by Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) to hire men with guns instead.  Eventually, seven professional gunfighters, including Adams are found and the rest of the movie is a juxtaposition of the seven drifters and the fathers of the town, each group exchanging values and skills:  the gunfighters learning more profoundly the value of community and family life and the fathers learning the skill of self-defense.

One particular scene is striking both because of the positive light in which fatherhood is portrayed and because the spokesman for fathers is none other than Charles Bronson (playing Bernardo O’Reilly).  Several of the young boys of the town are taken with the macho gunslinger and want to hang out with him and imitate him.   One of the boys tells Bernardo that they are ashamed to live in their town because their fathers are cowards.  O’Reilly grabs the boy, throws him over his knee, gives him a good spanking and then lectures him:

Don´t ever say that again about your fathers.  They are not cowards!

You think l am brave because l carry a gun.  Your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility for you, your brothers, your sisters and your mothers.

This responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton.  lt bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground.

Nobody says they have to do it.  They do it because they love you and they want to.

l have never had this kind of courage.  Running a farm, working like a mule, with no guarantee what will become of it – this is bravery.  That´s why l never even started anything like that. That’s why l never will.

Admittedly, this assessment of fatherhood is ambivalent, as was American culture in 1960. Fatherhood is recognized as a good thing, but it is seen as unglamorous drudgery. At least the man is honest enough to admit where true courage lies. The most difficult things only cease to be burdensome when they are done out of love. Courage in its profoundest sense has to do with self-forgetfulness.

The dialogue and visuals in the movie are a bit kitsch, with plenty of cliché cowboy lines and silly swagger, as well as the annoying musical score that became the advertizing music for Marlboro cigarettes, but all of it was worth enduring just to hear Charles Bronson praise fatherhood.

Alas, Hollywood, how far thou hast fallen.