INITIATION OF YOUNG MEN
Initiation of Young Men – by Matt Cabeen
Boyhood seems to be stretching on for longer and longer periods of time. We called the brave warriors from previous wars “men”, but they were no older than the 18-20-year-old modern “boys” going off to college or into the workforce. Part of the modern crisis of manhood is men extending adolescence into their late 20’s and in some cases, into their 30’s. However, not all of this is their fault. Some of the blame must be put on the father’s who never took the time or didn’t have the desire/knowledge to show their sons what a man is supposed to be or how a man is supposed to act. Part of this might be apathy. But part of this might be that in today’s world men lack a community of males to initiate their sons into manhood and to recognize their new status. This is yet another reason why it is so important to develop a group of male friends. Not just for your own sake, but for the sake of your sons as well.
If you aren’t sure where to start or need an idea of how to put together a “Coming of Age” Retreat for your boys, here’s a good starting point.
The Art of Manliness also has a blog on the importance of male rites of passage that you might find as a good reference.
Venue and Activity
This is up to the father of the young man to be initiated. The key is that there is some challenging aspect of the day, ideally one that additionally requires some teamwork. It could be camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, etc. Or the challenge could be a more intellectual one. Or it could be something like building a fire and preparing dinner for everyone. In and around Stillwater, we discussed Lake Carl Blackwell or other nearby outdoor sites. There is also evidently some land around Enid that is owned by the Trojan family or someone close to them.
The Talk: What it Means to Be a Man
Points to discuss:
- Man’s unique place in the universe: a person like God and the angels, embodied like the animals, the universe’s only embodied persons need to love as creatures with bodies.
- Complementarity of man and woman. Our bodies are obviously different, as are our charisms and gifts. That complementarity means something, that man and women are made for one another.
- Men and women participate together in God’s plan through their complementarity. That complementarity in their bodies, which we call the one-flesh union (see Genesis) is what allows them to beget children, with God’s help. A husband and wife participate in the body part, whereas God creates fresh for each person an immortal soul, making a new person in a son or daughter.
- That one-flesh union is informed and protected by the sacrament of Matrimony. In marriage, men and women are joined together in a mutual, total self-gift that is characterized by monogamy and permanence.
- The importance of our bodily complementarity and personhood means that a man has certain duties with respect to how he treats women. A woman must be respected as a person, and not as a body. We men are naturally drawn to the complementarity of a woman, but we must see each woman as a person: not turning her into an object. A practical way to look at a woman as a person is to look into her eyes.
- Another of our duties is to protect the dignity and personhood of all women: our sisters, our mothers, our friends. This means watching what we say and not permitting any disrespectful speech, from ourselves or others, about women. Our Lady provides a useful example of how highly we ought to regard women.
- As you become a man, God may call you to one of multiple vocations. Perhaps it is to marriage and family life, but perhaps it is to the priesthood or even to single life. We should be attentive for his call and also to the inclinations of our hearts. We also must live faithfully in whatever state of life we find ourselves in.
- Manliness requires courage. As disciples of Jesus, we may be unpopular, or our beliefs may be unpopular. It also requires wisdom, so that we speak when we must and remain silent when we must. The other gentlemen who are here with us today believe as we do, and we support each other as brothers—we have each other’s backs and affirm one another. Never underestimate the power of your example to build others up.
- As courageous men, we pledge to protect the innocent—particularly children, family, and the downtrodden. We are also protectors of human dignity, even the dignity of our opponents or of those who would willingly compromise their dignity. Just as we wouldn’t let someone eat garbage, so we wouldn’t let someone sacrifice his or her dignity. It is also important to protect the hearts of women we are friends with and not use them—another part of their dignity as persons.
- We men are called to Christian charity; we must be charitable to all persons, not just women. We should always be giving of ourselves to others in a manner appropriate to our present station in life.
Notes: During the talk, all are present. Beforehand, we discuss points where several of the men present can insert a short “testimony” about the point at hand, sharing an experience—“this is my encounter with this point”. This also serves to establish some of the men there as persons to whom the initiate can go with questions about particular points.
The Community and Welcome to the Brotherhood of Men
- We sing a song, or perhaps make a pledge of some kind or a ritual. Perhaps a “Bible enthronement” or something like that. The initiate is instructed not to speak of what we discussed with younger boys who have not yet been initiated.
- We eat a meal together, and the initiate is invited to talk to any of the men present to ask questions or hear their stories.
- At least some of the men give the initiate gifts. It could be anything: a wallet, rosary, watch, statue, article of clothing or jewelry, a book, a knife, a razor, etc., with a small speech or document describing how to use it in a manly way and/or about its meaning. This is also an opportunity for each man to have a particular gift that over time he becomes known for during the initiation process.
About the Author:
Matt Cabeen is a husband, father, and a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Stillwater, OK.
Related topic we have discussed before on the podcast: