For many, the coronavirus lockdowns may feel less like a medical quarantine and more like an exile. But throughout history, exile has been seen as a divine catalyst for reflection, repentance, and renewed readiness. We should expect it to be no less so today.
So here on the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, we have the opportunity to learn from the exile of Joseph the Just, a working man who was called to take God with him into the unknown. In their details, Joseph’s crises were not the same as ours today: he faced the prospect of his child being murdered and, should he succeed in avoiding that, the challenges of supporting his family in exile. We have our own crises: most immediately, we face the crisis of coronavirus and the resulting crisis of widespread unemployment, but more generally in our culture, we face a deep crisis of manhood, and a crisis of misunderstanding the vocation to work.
But these crises—ours and St. Joseph’s—are only outer shells of one more fundamental, a moment termed by Hans Urs von Balthasar as the Ernstfall: the decision point where we chose—or fail to choose—to unite ourselves more closely to Christ’s availability to the Father. And in considering our own crises in light of St. Joseph’s example, we can learn to see, even here in our coronavirus exile, an opportunity to offer a more fundamental yes to the work of God in our lives.
Crisis One: Manhood and Fatherhood
If you want to substantiate today’s crisis of manhood, the evidence is legion, and it is found not only in the culture at large. A particularly glaring bit of evidence can be found in our Church’s recent sexual scandal. The scandal is often (and rightly) considered a crisis of transparency, of corruption, of power, and of politics. But none of these characterizations get to the core.
The more fundamental problem is that many men today—and many clergymen as well—simply don’t know what it is to be a man. More specifically, they have abrogated their responsibility as fathers. They simply don’t possess the zeal, courage, fortitude, prudence, discipline, and heroic fire to chase away threats to those they are entrusted with—be those threats found in others or, especially, in oneself. What’s more, there is a serious lack of male accountability—the sort where men hold one another accountable—and a serious lack of heroes to emulate (virtuous heroes being long out of vogue). What men have today is an emaciated image of manhood where effeminacy is considered non-threateningly quaint, responsibility is considered burdensome, and the sickly self-comfort of victimhood replaces the generative discomfort of challenge and adventure.
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