Daniel Craig’s smooth-talking bravado. Brett Favre’s Levi-wearing athleticism. Ryan Gosling’s hair-flipping charm. These are the things that make a man. Right?
St. Peter’s power-preaching authority. JPII’s communism-defeating courage. Pier Georgio Frassati’s mountain-climbing boldness. These are the things that make a man. Right?
Possibly. Not every man has those gifts, though.
So what makes a man, then? We all know the go-to “guys’ guys,” but let’s examine an untraditional man to help us uncover true masculinity.
Blessed Lucien Botovasoa was born in Madagascar in 1908. The oldest of nine, he grew to become a teacher, singer and choir director. He married his wife, Suzanna, in 1930 and understood his vocation to marriage as his means to serve God. He loved his family, he loved his community and he loved his faith. Everyone knew that he loved his faith. He was notorious for staying after class to entertain students with stories of the saints, and he would often invite people to pray the rosary with him as he walked around town.
Botovasoa’s outward love for his faith ultimately led to his demise. In 1946, political unrest in Madagascar led to a violent revolt against all things French—including the perceived “French religion,” Catholicism. The religious of his city were rounded up and executed, and Botovasoa soon received word that anti-Christian forces would be coming for him one day. Instead of running and hiding, he chose to spend that day with his family. He instructed his wife on how to raise their children, encouraging her never to betray their faith.
He was arrested that night, judged before court and executed by some of his former students. The person in court who sentenced him converted to Christianity after Botovasoa’s death.
This unassuming man exemplifies authentic masculinity. He wasn’t yoked and handsome—he was skinny and simple-looking. He wasn’t uber-successful—he was a humble teacher and artist. He wasn’t in a position of power—he simply loved sharing his faith with those around him. So what makes him so manly?
Blessed Lucien knew himself. Even when people thought he should be a priest, he knew he was called to love his family. Even when his wife thought he was too devoted to his faith, he assured her that he was at the service of both the Lord and their family. Even when his government was coming after him, he chose to continue serving those nearest him. He was met with pressure from every angle. Nevertheless, he stood his ground because he knew himself. He didn’t cater to people’s expectations for his life. Rather, he dedicated himself to prayer and following his convictions.
When I was in college, my buddies and I would do things simply because they were “fun” or “funny.” We put no thought into our actions aside from the thrill we gave each other. Our debauchery was fun in the moment, but it was draining in the long run. Sometimes I would prod my pals and ask them why we were doing certain things, but they’d either pay my questions no attention or turn them into a bit. I felt like I had no choice but to keep the laughs going. I didn’t know what I wanted by hanging out with them because I only cared about what they wanted.
There’s a big difference in how Blessed Lucien lived his life and how I lived my college days. Now, I’m not going to be extreme and say everything has to be super deep and intentional. Sometimes things are just light and fun, and that’s all they need to be. And that’s great! However, only boys make everything light and fun. My friends and I only hung out when it was free and easy. We lived as boys, void of self-reflection, and therefore void of any depth in our friendship.
Men—true men like Blessed Lucien—are willing to sacrifice a good time for the best time. Men get down to the core of why they do things because men want to know themselves. They want to discover who they are and then respect who they find. Blessed Lucien was known for his joy. He was all about having a good time. However, his lightness was born from knowing his identity and living in that identity, whereas my lightness was born from insecurity and ignorance.
Aristotle famously taught, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” We are infinitely complex beings, made wholly unique and unrepeatable. Real masculinity is about embarking upon the adventure to discover what is at the core of one’s being. After all, you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.
It’s one thing to have self-knowledge, and it’s another thing to have self-control. You can have the former and not have the latter. Real men, however, have both. They work to fix the parts of themselves that are weak and wounded.
Blessed Lucien was a master of himself. Just look at how he died. The most difficult time to have control over yourself is when you’re faced with death. Despite the temptation to despair or panic, Botovasoa approached his death with grace and compassion.
While he waited for his former students to take his life, he knelt beside a river and prayed for their forgiveness. Many “men” would have rolled up in the fetal position, sucked their thumbs and begged for mercy. Botovasoa, however, even had the boldness to turn around and kindly ask his students to behead him in a single blow!
St. Josemaria Escriva’s words are echoes of Botovasoa’s life: “There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast.” Manliness and purity. Masculinity and mastery. The two go hand-in-hand.
In our culture, chastity and sobriety are under siege. True masculine strength lies in our ability to order our desires in these areas. The more control we practice over ourselves when it comes to chastity and sobriety, the manlier we become. The less control we have, the more beastly we become. (That’s not a cool kind of beastly, by the way. It’s beastly to not be beastly.)
St. Paul teaches us in his letter to Titus, “that older men should be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, love and endurance…Urge the younger men, similarly, to control themselves…” (Titus 2:2,6). If you want to know what true manhood looks like, it looks like someone who can control himself.
There is no point in self-mastery for self-mastery’s sake. That’s just a giant recipe for a giant ego.
The reason men work to control themselves is so they can give themselves. From the beginning, this was man’s duty. Men were told “to cultivate (the garden) and keep it.” The Hebrew word for “keep” is shamar, meaning “to guard.” Adam was asked to lay down his life for Eve to protect her from anything entering the garden. We all know how that went…
Blessed Lucien was a man who shamar-ed. He made a massive self-gift for the Church in the form of martyrdom, yes. However, he also made one in the way he lived his life. He had a strong prayer life, giving himself daily to God. He loved Suzanna and their children, giving himself daily to their well-being. He loved his students, giving himself daily to their education and formation. He gave himself in many small ways everyday.
Saint Paul VI teaches us that “…man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium Et Spes). Men are made to give themselves, and it’s in doing so that they become manly. Let’s be manly.