Updated: Oct 13, 2021
I had a brother who wasn’t from my family.
We worked a ranch down by the border where the rain clouds aren’t ever seen.
Ol’ Rocko got fired by the boss man.
Now he works a dozer down by Eagle Pass.
from “Canvas,” Shane Smith and the Saints
I envy pilots, bronc riders and quarter-backs. Their jobs require grit and fortitude and they earn the respect they receive. Some professions, by their nature, elicit admiration and high regard. These days, priesthood is not one of them. But, then, neither is police work, politics, journalism or medical research at the CDC.
What does a good man in a tarnished profession do? Tough it out? Laugh it off? Grin and bear it? Suck it up? Or, if you happen to be a priest, offer it up?
According to blogger Brett McKay, every man, regardless of profession, needs to connect with a masculine archetype, be it the Hunter, the Athlete, the Soldier, the Farmer, etc. When men fail to connect with some sort of primal identity, they end up living lives of addiction, depression and dissipation.
How does a priest—or any man—escape such a fate? Does he construct a man-cave? Gut a deer? Butcher a hog?
I uncovered a trailhead to the answer of this question in the words of a priest who was once a hiker, manual laborer and avid skier. He maintained that authentic men are not defined by the drive to procreate, provide and protect, but by an inner longing and reverence for beauty: “There exists a deep intuition of the soul where the meaning of one’s life is joined to the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of all things.” (Letter to Artists, St. John Paul II)
To use more blue-collar language, nothing feeds a man’s soul like a blazing sunset, sparkling trout in a mountain stream, songs that make you weep or acres of yellow, swaying wheat. In short, when men no longer recognize beauty, they overlook a fundamental reason to live life with gusto and gratitude.
As a young boy, I was mesmerized by clouds of incense floating in the soaring vaults of our parish church. Enfolded in sacred chant—and unnerved by the “double-dare-you” expressions on the statues of the saints—it was the first time I sensed the call to priesthood. Since that day, beauty’s blend of sanctity and adventure have invigorated my manhood and sustained my vocation.
Some men discover beauty when carving smoothness from wood, strumming a guitar or contemplating the dawn while perched in a blind. Others prepare a path for beauty’s bounty by plowing furrows into the earth. Still others cradle her fragility when they cup in their hands the scraped knee of a trembling child.
In a society of weakening family bonds and community ties, items as simple as carving knives, tractor tires and first-aid kits can restore a sorry masculine soul as effectively as rosary beads in the hand of a monk.
I am not a pilot, a lineman or a para-medic, yet I’ve been converted and blessed countless times by evening light descending through canopies of hickory, at the hour when campfire smoke scents the air like incense in the vaults of a church. I have felt beauty’s power pound my chest like summer thunder. Her quick feints and agile grace have fired my spirit like the nervous glance of a skittish horse.
I’ve also been enraged by ruthless flames glowing beneath the whip and whirl of prairie wind, while lightening etched the sky like gypsum strata in cliffs of ragged rock.
And so, as a priest, I am left no choice but to access the primal identity not of a sailor or soldier, but Savior.
In this season of rancor and sin, I am compelled to offer my life, again and again. To pour out mercy on the table of this resplendent, wounded world which is nothing less than the altar of the magnificent Christ. Where Wine flows warm as blood on weathered wood and unleavened Bread tears like a child’s soft and tender skin.
Through Him, with Him and in Him,
O God, almighty Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours,
forever and ever.