St. Joseph encourages all men and women to follow his example.
In 2019, Gillette released an ad that introduced many viewers to the concept of “toxic masculinity”—a sense that masculinity simply means having enough power and strength to dominate others, forcing them to take the action that he demands.
The ad was praised by a few people but ridiculed by many more. Think of all the raunchy and selfish ways that someone can complete—and has completed—a sentence that begins, “Real men . . . .” Generosity and patience usually appear as wimpy or “loser” virtues to people suffering from such toxic masculinity. To them, St. Joseph is a sick joke, hardly a man to be imitated.
The celebration of Father’s Day this month gives us a good reason to consider what constitutes genuine masculinity.
Learning from St. Joseph
Pope Francis has probably not seen this Gillette ad, but he certainly understands the dangers of toxic masculinity. Last December 8, he signed an apostolic letter to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the naming of St. Joseph as patron of the universal Church. The pope also designated a Year of St. Joseph to extend until December 8, 2021.
In preparation for the 10th World Meeting of Families (held in Rome next June), Pope Francis asked last March 19 for continued reflection on his encyclical “The Joy of Love.” Fathers, single men, women, and the entire Church can certainly benefit from more attention to St. Joseph and family issues. “Joseph teaches us,” Pope Francis writes, “that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties, and our weaknesses” (2).
Just Below the Boiling Point
The Gillette ad did not mention something that many of us have observed for several years: Numerous people (men more often than women) seem to operate regularly at 210 degrees F, a mere two degrees below water’s boiling point. Therefore, such people very quickly reach that point.
Unfortunately, we have become used to mass shootings (almost always carried out by men). As I finish this blog, 47 people in the United States have died in mass shootings in the previous 30 days. How many people have decided that the US Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees everyone an absolute right to carry any type of firearm in any place?
Some regulation of firearms makes sense. “Only God is absolute,” a wise Scripture professor reminded me almost 50 years ago.
For those who ridiculed that Gillette ad and the concept of toxic masculinity, I think that these frequent mass shootings and the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol exhibited toxic masculinity at its worst. Yes, some of the rioters were women, but they were acting on lies repeated mostly by men. By their words and actions, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and similar extremist groups embrace toxic masculinity as their infallible creed to identifying conspiracies.
According to Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband, was a “righteous man” (1:19). He says nothing in any of the Gospels, but his trust in God and steadfast action (flight into Egypt and return from there) provide a safe home for Mary and Jesus. Like Mary, Joseph also treasured everything that happened, pondering it all in his heart (Lk 2:19 and 51).
“Joseph set aside his own ideas,” writes Pope Francis, “in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them, and make them part of his own history. . . . Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations, and disappointments” (4).
St. Joseph exemplifies a male spirituality marked by creative courage, transparency, and a strong sense of accountability. Wouldn’t every family be greatly strengthened if those virtues increased among all its members?
Real men live deeply in the whole truth about life, avoiding all self-serving lies. Real men accept responsibility for all their actions and act compassionately. According to Pope Francis, “Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift” (7). St. Joseph was “the real thing” and encourages all men and women to follow his example.