By: Michael Heinser
“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”
― G. Michael Hopf, Those Who Remain
Notre Dame burned. I can’t think of a more poignant picture of Western Culture than the image of smoke pouring from the cathedral as the three hundred foot spire collapsed into the flames. The pride of the modern age makes us look with disdain on the men of ages past, for we live in the age of science and technology, and a time in history where food has never been easier or cheaper to procure, where less of the world is in poverty than at any time in human memory, and where the collective knowledge of the world is at our finger tips through the internet. Yet, as the cathedral burned, there was a sense of loss, not only that a cultural treasure might be severally damaged, but more so, an awareness that the modern age wouldn’t be capable of rebuilding it.
We live in an age of unprecedented wealth and prosperity. So where are our Notre Dames? Where are the stunning monuments to our faith and culture? Where are the modern buildings that will stand for the next 900 years and teach our descendants about the men who came before them, and the ideals that they held dear? There aren’t any. And what’s more, we largely don’t care. What changed between the builders of Notre Dame in 1163 AD and 2019?
We did. Easy living begets soft men, as G. Michael Hopf says in the beginning quote. We are a culture of weak men and even those of us who are trying to be strong men of God don’t realize how much the sins of our culture have influenced our world view. The age of radical feminism is a fitting time to look at the place of men, both in the church and the world.
The construction of Notre Dame began in 1163 AD and continued for 200 years. Let that that sink in for a second. Generations of craftsmen dedicated their working lives to building a religious and cultural monument to their age, and for the ages. They made a place to worship God for generations to come, and achieved the construction of a church that so far has stood for over 850 years! But what have we done? What have we made to glorify God, and to last the ages?
Men, we need goals. Big goals! Lofty and difficult to achieve goals.
This doesn’t mean that each of us is supposed to dedicate ourselves to building churches, but rather, we need to figure out in our life, using the talents that God gave us, what goal(s) we are going to strive to achieve. To what good(s) are we going to dedicate ourselves?
Obviously, our first and highest goal is heaven. Let’s treat this goal as what it is, the most important thing in our life. Nothing else matters. Today, none of us in this area of the world, are being asked to die for our faith. We are being asked to make time for it, though, and that might be a harder thing for us to do. Now before you laugh, I’m in no way minimizing the sacrifice of the martyrs. Many of us would like to think that if we were called to die for the faith we would choose death rather than deny Christ. Yet how many of us make enough time to talk to our Lord on a daily basis? How many of us take full advantage of the gifts the church gives us in the sacraments? Notre Dame took 200 yrs to build. Today, God is asking each of us the same thing he asked those craftsmen so long ago, to give him freely of the time that He has so generously given to us.
Next we are called to be strong men in the small everyday things. Great things begin in the small ones. One doesn’t jump off the couch and go run a marathon, at least not if you want to finish said marathon. It is easy to forget during the busyness of the day that all we have is the present moment. So what can we do right now to make us stronger, holier men? Maybe it’s only having one cookie after lunch instead of two and offering it up, maybe helping a friend after work, or maybe its just saying in the quiet of your heart, “Hey Lord, I’m thinking of you. Please help me to grow in virtue”. The point is, don’t lose the forest for the trees. We have to grow into the men we are meant to be with baby steps. So, we have to get started and start taking those baby steps.
Then, we need to find a cause. Find something worthwhile to which you can dedicate a couple hours a week. Join a pro-life group, help at the local parish, start a fraternal men’s group. Look around your local community and find something that you can do to make it better. Men, we are asked to give of ourselves. So find that cause and give!
Lastly, saddle up tomorrow no matter what happened today. John Wayne said it best when he said
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. [It] Comes to us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.” We cannot stop trying. It doesn’t matter what we hear in the news, what mistakes we have made, or the pain we have felt. God expects us to saddle back up tomorrow and try again. Because that’s what a strong man does. We need to continue to be strong regardless of what we are asked to suffer.
The world needs you. The Church needs you. How do I know this? Because God foresaw you from all eternity, he saw the world that he created and as Genesis says, he saw that it was good. In that world he decided that he needed one of you, and he put you here to do his work. In the softness of the modern age, it’s our job to make sure that we are the strong, tough men God created us to be. The world and the Church need us.