Emangelization

Trumpet_1A few years ago, my mother recounted an experience from her youth. I had not been aware she was a performing musician. I did know she was a marvelous singer, as my dad had preserved a few songs they recorded on reel-to-reel tapes from the 50’s.

My mom played the trumpet in high school. At the start of her senior year, she sat first chair in the band, having out-performed her male classmates for the honor. But each week, a boy was given a chance to unseat her. I could hear the smirk in her elderly voice over the phone. She was still proud to be ready for the competition, week after week, and never yielded her seat.

To give some perspective, this episode was set in rural southeastern Kentucky circa 1940.

I did not play in a school band or orchestra, so I have no idea if this sort of thing is common. My mother gave me the sense that some were bothered that a girl was the best trumpet player in the school, and somehow this was an offense that demanded rectification.

archbishop burkeAs Cardinal Burke’s Monday interview made the rounds of the blogosphere, my mother’s story came to mind. I could write something about the connection of manliness with lace, cassocks, and capes outdoing the most zilla of bridal veils. (Have Cardinal Burke and his culturewar allies missed the significance and possible benefits of the use of leather in vestments?) But I wondered instead about how those Harlan County boys must have bailed on music, and thus a tradition for Kentucky football was born. At the expense of bluegrass, country, and other art forms.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly casts a strong light on Cardinal Burke’s thinking here. My own sense is that the world is complex rather than simple. Young men have deeper thoughts than competing with girls for first chairs, be they for playing the trumpet or sitting next to a priest. If there happened to be a Catholic in the Kentucky mountains in Cardinal Burke’s day, it struck me that seminary was a way out of poverty as much as a manly way of life. Ms. O’Reilly reminds us of the feminized depictions of Jesus and Saint Joseph of the last few generations. (When you think of Jesus’ foster father, do you think of lilies and elderly beards, or chisels, hammers, and rough hands?) And she asks the question: are we talking about masculinity as such, or just about an exclusive boy’s club?

The effort to reach out to men is a good one. But I don’t agree that there’s some essential balance operating between the sexes, that every pat on a girl’s head means one less for a boy. Emangelization, if you will, is not really a new idea. I hope the heresy of man-woman zero-sum doesn’t get promoted too deeply. Boys and girls both need fathers. If we adult men fail as men, I’m not inclined to pass the blame to someone else. Part of being a man is owning up to one’s own mistakes. Maybe a better place to start a “new” emangelization is to say that the feminists were not to blame for our substance abuse, our misplaced anger, our mid-life crises, and such.

And if we’re dragging priest numbers into the conversation, maybe it was more a matter that after 1947 (the moment when seminaries were at peak population) American men had that hand-up to college through the G.I. Bill and suddenly there was more of a choice between mining coal and serving as a priest.

I think some men need to exert themselves a bit more to get the whole story.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Emangelization

  1. Katherine says:

    Fair enough. However, at least some areas of academia, a category of students we have particular concerns about these days, in terms of their struggles, retention, etc., are non-minority males. Something is amiss.

    • Todd says:

      No doubt. We’ve rid ourselves of the scourge of lead-based paint only to over-medicate (in some, but not all instances) boys who lack good role models. As far as school is concerned, do teachers teach the way they want to teach, or do they teach the way the student best learns? Diet, environment, media (tv and computers), role models, the cult of celebrity, substance abuse: the problems strike me as like a Medusa. I’d like to know what sets apart healthy men and work on that as a baseline, rather than rely on some rosy memory of a generation past. It might also be that the problems of males are not new, just newly diagnosed. Men of Archbishop Burke’s memory also misbehaved in their day: biker gangs, lynch mobs, organized crime, alcoholism, and such. Maybe the difference today is not causation as much as it is shining a light on the situation.

  2. Devin says:

    Two tangential points. One is that the charge of the feminization of men in Christianity is not a new charge. Both Julian the Apostate and Nietzsche made the same allegations (albeit in different contexts). My second point is that Christianity does or should have a domesticating effect on men. There is some truth to the stereotype that when left to their own devices, men will rape, pillage and burn. I hopefully plan to attend the upcoming Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and while browsing the break out sessions, I didn’t notice any mention of domestic violence in the program. I believe that the recent Extraordinary Synod cursorily examined this topic though.

  3. Hillary says:

    Thanks for the links. I would agree, most of Burke’s statements here are troubling (flawed logic, etc), and I found myself in agreement with most of Ms. O’Reilly’s article before reading her commentary. I used to get really angry and defensive with any suggestion that girls should not participate in liturgical life as altar servers. And rightly so; I credit my own altar service with conversion encounters and a deep love for Christ and the Church. I would not want that opportunity taken from my younger sisters in Christ because of my younger brothers in Christ whose maturity finds girls icky.

    I’m more bothered by this because they came from Cardinal Burke. It was a surprise for me to learn that before his recent service in Rome, he was episcopal moderator to the US Association of Consecrated Virgins. Until his international appointments, it seems he was probably the most knowledgeable prelate in the US about this vocation and one of its greatest champions. In reading his writings and listening to his talks regarding CVs, there is no hint of misogynistic tone, no disgust for feminism, no pitting women against men, none of the silliness I read in the above. There is just absolute respect and awe for those consecrated women and their witness as living icon of the Church who is both the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. His admiration goes far beyond frills, veils, rings, and lace.

    Burke’s comments suggest that the church is no longer manly enough, it is no longer masculine enough to attract men. Perhaps this is true in the ways that masculinity draws men. However, I would pose that perhaps the Church has not been feminine enough to attract that masculinity. Authentic femininity is not caught up in frilliness and silliness. It has something more to do with freedom, courage, creativity, and joy.

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