A dark, dingey bar. Cigarette smoke fills the air. Tall, tatted-up bikers with more hair on their faces than on the tops of their heads are rowdily having a good time, exchanging stories, participating in arm-wrestling matches, and showing off their cool leather vests—you know the ones. I can’t explain why, but for some reason this is exactly where my mind goes when I think of Billiards. And to me, Billiards is synonymous with masculinity.
Growing up, my dad had a pool table in the upstairs game-room at his house. I would always walk by it, too intimidated to play because I knew I was no good and I would just end up frustrated. Recently, I found myself with a bit of free time between school, meetings, prayer, Mass, and everything else. I decided to go to the Newman Center for a low-stakes game of Billiards in an environment that felt much safer than the aforementioned bar.
As I was playing, I began to get frustrated with my poor performance. I decided to take a moment to pause and look at my situation in a new way. In so doing, three truths about authentic masculinity were revealed to me: it’s not all about strength, perspective is key (and a gift!), and perseverance pays off.
It’s not all about strength.
One of the most intimidating parts of a game of pool for me is probably the initial “break.” It’s not uncommon for someone to have a really good first shot that sends the pool balls scattered across the table—and even into a pocket or two if they’ve hit it strong enough. Placing an expectation on myself to strike the cue ball with the same intensity and skill in order to prove myself always results in poor aim and, thus, even more frustration and insecurity. Over time, I’ve learned to slow down, take aim, and hit the cue ball with control. Having a great deal of strength is great, but it’s useless if you don’t know how to control it. The same can be said about a variety of masculine attributes—if we don’t know how to exert self-control, we can’t be authentically masculine.
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Paul flips our understanding of strength and weakness on its head, calling us back to the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” (Mt 5:5). Paul so clearly understands that authentic masculinity isn’t about power, strength, or imposing one’s will on others. Rather, he embraces a spirit of true humility and meekness, recognizing that “apart from [Christ we] can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). It takes a truly masculine man to understand that it’s not all about strength.
Perspective is key.
Perspective is key and a gift—so use it! Have you ever noticed that all Billiard tables are placed right in the middle of the room? It’s not to inconvenience you nor a poor use of space; rather, such placement allows players to walk all the way around the table and see the game from different angles so as to make better decisions about their next shots and execute them well. Authentic masculinity requires us to discerningly approach situations by examining them through a variety of perspectives, instead of just going with the first choice that presents itself.
Further, our world and culture tell us that we are bigots or [another noun] if we don’t agree with its teachings. However, Paul reminds us to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col 3:2). He encourages us to “rid [ourselves] of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” (3:8) and instead to “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (3:12). When the world offers us vice, sin, death, and destruction, may we allow our minds be renewed by Christ so that we might resist the world’s perspective in favor of a Heavenly one.
Perseverance pays off.
It’s all about indomitability, folks! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the Newman Center to shoot some pool and spent a solid five minutes trying to get the same ball into a pocket. There might still be seven other pool balls on the table, but I’ll be darned if I give up on that one. And once I finally get it, it feels that much better knowing that I persevered through what might have felt like an impossible task at one point. How often in our lives—as sons, brothers, friends, men, husbands, fathers, what-have-you—will we face seemingly impossible tasks? Don’t we owe it to ourselves and the people we love to persevere through these challenges?
Jesus Himself says that “the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13). Christ never promised us an easy, comfortable life as Christians, but He does promise salvation to those who persevere. So, let’s persevere in prayer, the Sacraments, communal life, and the teachings of the Apostles (and we’ll grow in virtue, too)! What could be more masculine than that?
If you have access to a Billiards table, I encourage you to go play sometime soon. Forget the image of the dark, dingey bar that I painted at the beginning of this reflection and sit with the truths about authentic masculinity that I shared instead. And, if you don’t have access to a Billiards table, reflect on some of your hobbies and see what they might be able to reveal to you about authentic masculinity. Then, continue to enjoy those hobbies and let them help you be a better man.