By Edward Pentin
VATICAN CITY, MAY 21, 2009 (Zenit.org).- As Western society continues to challenge men’s traditional role in the world, so their mental and spiritual well-being is coming under threat, leading to a host of problems. So how should men respond?
Father Phillip Chavez, an American priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, has been concerned about this trend for some time, and is tackling it through the Amator Institute — a popular ministry he founded, based in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.
The Institute helps restore men’s Christian identity, making them — in words from its Web site — “strong husbands, fathers, and leaders in society — cultural champions of mature masculine character and courageous spirit.” It may sound old fashioned to much of the secular world, yet his ministry has growing support among Christian men and women from all over the United States.
Last week, I caught up with Father Chavez in Rome after he’d been meeting officials at the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Part of the reason for the popularity of his ministry, he explained, is that men have “huge insecurities” in today’s Western society, mainly because they are “influenced so much by an egalitarian model of femininity and masculinity.” This means that although men may agree with the long-held understanding of a man’s role as leader, protector and provider, “they don’t think that way, nor do they operate that way,” he said.
But Father Chavez firmly believes that despite these challenges, every man can rediscover this role given to him by God once they reconfigure their minds to think in these terms. When they do, he said, they find answers in their lives. “Oftentimes, if I ask men what does the leader, protector and provider within you tell you to do in this case. They say: ‘Oh, I get it Father, I understand, I think I know what I need to do,'” he explained. “It’s really cool.”
Father Chavez devised the “leader, protector, provider” model as it relates to the natural order, but is also grounded in the supernatural order — that is, the supernatural summons to all Christians to share in the three-fold office of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King in building up the Kingdom of God.
Since it began, his ministry is not just proving useful to men. Father Chavez said women are also responding positively, mainly because they intuitively want men to lead, but in the Christian sense of leadership, as one “who lays it down, who sacrifices.” Everyone knows, he said, that “a true leader is one who sacrifices, who dies to himself” rather than someone who bossily pushes his weight around. But he also believes that women, too, are victims of contemporary society in the sense that they’re being wrongly trained to be leaders, protectors and providers — to be independent and self-sufficient. That brings them inner tension and conflict, he said.
Father Chavez explained that as well as men not being properly mentored by other men, this feminist trend is also causing men to lack courage. “Everything in society is working against the man, so when we talk about men needing to man-up, well, I say at the same time the woman needs to woman-up,” he said. “They need to become more receptive to a man’s role to lead, protect and provide.”
In recent months, Father Chavez has been focusing on fatherhood and what he calls “the journey of sonship.” Like Christ, he said, young men need to hear from their fathers that “you are my beloved and in you is my delight” if they are to become fully rounded men, capable of raising a family, and fulfilling their purpose in life.
With that final thought, and as Father’s Day approaches, many Dads would perhaps do well to take note.
More details of Fr. Chavez’s ministry can be found at www.frphillipchavez.org.
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Love for Life
In this month of Mary, and with increasing threats to the most vulnerable in many parts of the globe, what does a leading Mariologist have to say about the crucial importance of Our Lady in the world today?
To find out, I sat down this week with Father Paul Haffner, a professor of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Athenaeum here in Rome and, as it happens, the author of a book called “The Mystery of Mary,” just translated into Italian. The book, whose latest English edition was published last year, is an introduction to Mariology, but also covers more advanced material.
Father Haffner said that Mary is central today in our battles with secularism and, to see how, one needs to refer to the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at places such as Lourdes, Fatima and La Salette. Although the content of these apparitions vary, they commonly warn and help her sons and daughters in the face of many trials and dangers. They also adhere to the Gospel, and all involve prayer, charity and self-denial, Father Haffner said.
“Those aspects are extremely important in a world that is selfishly frenetic, seeking its own destruction,” he explained. “So, as I say in my book, Mary encourages a love of life from the first moment of conception — a doctrine safeguarded by the Immaculate Conception — right until the natural end, which God decides. For Mary, that was the moment of her Assumption, which was also decided by God.”
“The dignity of the body, the theology of the body, is also guaranteed by Mary’s perspective,” he continued. “But I would say that the Marian approach is by no means incidental or marginal, but central to theology.” He added that, for this reason, those who don’t fully embrace the Marian perspective “don’t fully embrace Christ.”
Father Haffner is very keen to promote what he calls “two frontier doctrines”: Mary as co-redemptrix with Christ and as universal mediatrix. He said these ae longstanding Church traditions which, although not yet dogma, are found implicitly in Scripture and explicitly among the works of the early Church Fathers, some doctors of the medieval Church, and in papal teaching.
Mary as co-redemptrix helps us today, he said, because it shows us how God is very generous with those who work with Him. For those who love God, Father Haffner continued, “God gives, he cooperates, so there’s this working together which is very strong in the Christian tradition.” He stressed it doesn’t mean Mary is on the same level as Christ, “but she perfectly cooperates with the redemption, and is a model for the rest of us who very imperfectly cooperate.”
Father Haffner said Mary also helps come to a better understanding of women’s role in the world and in the Church. Mary’s image gives us a balanced picture of “motherhood, the importance of virginity, of being Christ-centred,” he explained. Finally, he explained how, through Mary’s intercession, mankind is guided toward safeguarding the family, to justice and peace, and concern for the poor.
Pope John Paul II, well known for his devotion to Our Lady, devised seven prayers to be said to her for each day of the week. Here, to close, is his one for today (Thursday):
“Take from all our hearts the selfishness that sours relationships and keeps us centered only on ourselves. Give us hearts aflame with charity and filled with love. Make us, like the apostle John who was commended to your care, loving children of our heavenly Father, conscious always of your maternal presence in our lives.”
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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: email@example.com.