October 13, 2010. Raleigh, NC. What are the hallmarks of
true masculinity? Is there a Catholic vision of true manhood?
If so, how does it differ from the images of
manhood we are fed in the media? What makes for
an outstanding husband and father?
Rob Agnelli sets out to answer
these questions in the interview below. A Regnum Christi member
since 2007, Agnelli teaches bioethics throughout the diocese of Raleigh,
NC, and speaks to men’s groups on issues related to
men and faith. Married and with three young boys, he
is currently working on a Master’s degree in Theology with
a concentration in Moral Theology from Holy Apostles College and
Q: Some would say that today’s society has “feminized” men.
Do you see this happening?
Agnelli: I absolutely think this is
happening. But at the heart of it really is the
push to remove any differences between the sexes at all.
Any differences are merely biological accidents. There is an equal
if not stronger push to make women more like men.
This is exactly what radical feminism is—women acting like men
who aren’t real men, but just some power hungry, self-serving,
façade of manhood.
For all the uproar that Humanae Vitae caused
both inside the Church and out, Pope Paul VI’s prophetic
warning about men easily forgetting the reverence due to woman
and reducing her to a mere instrument for the satisfaction
of his own desires appears to have been spot on.
“Gender equality” created in this fashion does not mean equality
in dignity. Gender equality as a goal only serves to
lessen the dignity of women.
The point is that the
response to the injustice that men for many generations have
perpetuated on women is not identity. As Chesterton said, "there
is nothing so certain to lead to inequality as identity."
Unbeknownst to feminists, however, they are acknowledging the superiority of
the male sex in trying to become like men. They
foolishly seek to alter inequality rather than seek truth or
Q: Is there a masculine “vocation”? If so, how would
you describe it?
Agnelli: In the truest sense of the word
vocation, I don’t think that there is a masculine vocation
per se. Masculinity is not a special calling, but goes
to the very essence of who I am. I am
not just a soul that is trapped inside a biologically
male body, but my male body is the visible expression
of my masculine soul.
That being said, part of fallen
man’s condition is that we have lost our way and
God has to call us back. So in this way
there is a vocation to authentic masculinity.
One of my favorite
quotes from Vatican II is from Gaudium et Spes where
the Council Fathers say that Christ came to fully reveal
man to himself. Now in this context it is referring
to all mankind, but I think it applies to men
especially. Christ shows all of us what a man looks
There is a scene in The Passion of the Christ
where Our Lord is being scourged that describes perfectly what
it means to be a man. Our Lord has been
scourged and is lying flat on the ground. All of
the soldiers are exhausted from inflicting the beating on Him.
Our Lady and John the Apostle enter the Praetorium and
Jesus sees them. He fixes His eyes on them and
begins to stand up so He can be scourged some
more. In essence, He looks upon them and says, “I
still have more to give.”
Now that is manhood. That
is what all men are called to and it is
their means to sanctity. In that sense men do have
a distinctive vocation. It is a vocation to give until
they have nothing left to give. It is stamped into
our very bodies that this is what it means to
be a man.
This is precisely why every man’s heart
stirs when he sees the bloodied athlete come back in
the game. This is why everyone looks upon the firefighters
who ran back into the World Trade Center, even though
they knew it was coming down, as heroes.
Q: What are
some common pitfalls or misunderstandings of what it means to
be a man?
Agnelli: When 95% of the Western world could
not read in the Middle Ages, the Church turned to
beautiful artwork and statues to form them in the Faith.
In our own day, we are in a similar situation
in that most of the Western world does not read
and are thus formed by pictures from Hollywood. So the
most common pitfalls and misunderstandings come from Hollywood.
There are two
archetypes of men that Hollywood portrays. The first is the
weak, sex-deprived, idiot husband who is totally disengaged in every
aspect of his life. Raymond from Everybody Loves Raymond comes
to mind. He is governed by mediocrity and his relationships
with his wife and kids are reduced to the level
of comedy. His wife governs every aspect of the family
life and all Raymond can do is mess up.
is the playboy who does nothing but chases after women.
He conquers one and then moves onto the next.
William Wallace, there are 50 characters that model manhood using
one of the two archetypes above.
So, what does a
young man conclude when he is fed a steady diet
of this, especially if his own father isn’t around much?
He decides he will be one or the other, and
more than likely both. He will live a certain amount
of time as a playboy and then end up settling
down to live the rest of his life as some
It is starting even earlier now in that popular
culture is setting up boys as being in conflict with
their parents. The image of the rude son and the
stupid father is everywhere in TV and movies.
Q: What are
the most important attributes of an outstanding husband?
Agnelli: Another quote
from Gaudium et Spes immediately comes to mind: “Man cannot
fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
An outstanding husband is one who makes a sincere gift
of himself to his wife.
This seems so high and out
of reach but it really isn’t. It is extremely practical.
It means things like giving her your full attention when
you come home by sitting down and listening to all
she has to tell you without doing 20 other things.
It means entering the house and inserting yourself into whatever
task she is doing. It means sending her out to
Starbucks with her favorite book while you take care of
dinner. It means taking the time to romance her and
take her on a date. We could insert so many
other ways this can play out.
Instead, most of the time,
we come home totally focused on ourselves. We can only
think about what a hard day we had at work
and how great the recliner is going to feel under
our feet. But we have to ask ourselves, “Is this
really all I have to give?”
Some of the best advice
I ever got was from a confessor a number of
years ago. He told me, “Do whatever it takes on
your way home so that when you open that door
you are ready to serve. That is what you were
For me, it means turning everything off in
the car my last five minutes and asking Our Lady
to help me to be like her and anticipate everyone’s
needs in the house. It is amazing how many times
she has come through for me. So many times my
wife will say to me later, “How did you know
that was what I needed today?” For others it may
mean stopping for a short visit to Our Lord in
the Blessed Sacrament.
Whatever it takes, an outstanding husband is
one who is ready to serve.
Q: What do sons most
need to see in their fathers?
Agnelli: In his letter to
families, Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II said that the role
of fathers is to “reveal and relive on earth the
very Fatherhood of God.” Talk about a lofty calling! We
are called as fathers to show them God the Father.
image of God is almost always based upon the example
of our own fathers. Much of the spiritual life is
spent like Philip in the Gospel of John asking Jesus
to “show us the Father” and correcting the places where
our own fathers failed to reveal Him.
Many men today are
living with their own father wounds. They don´t really know
how to be fathers. Rather than holding on to those
wounds however, we need to look for ways that God
reveals his Fatherhood in our own fatherhood.
Practically speaking, if
you can show your sons two things, you will have
been a success as a father.
The first is to
love their mothers. We spend so much time focusing on
building self-esteem in children. Don’t get me wrong, this is
important, but if you want a boy who grows up
into a secure man, then love his mother like Christ
calls us to love.
A huge problem is that fathers no
longer know how to model chastity to their sons. So
many men are wounded and addicted to pornography. This is
turn leads to many sons following in their dad’s footsteps.
It used to be finding his stash of Playboys, but
now it is as simple as checking his browsing history
on the internet. What is so absolutely heinous about pornography
is that it wounds a man’s ability to truly love
and in that way makes him something less than a
The second thing that sons need to see is that
their fathers are men of prayer. This means that we
must model prayer for our sons. It has to be
more than simply praying grace before meals. Your son must
see how your whole life is shaped by your prayer
There is nothing more manly than a man on his
knees in prayer. There is also no greater gift that
a man can give his son than to teach him
how to pray.