Father Larry Richards’ counsel to Catholic men can be summed up in two words: “Man up!”
For a slightly more elaborate rendition, one needs to look no further than the title of his new book: “Be a Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be” (Ignatius, $14.95). The 192-page paperback encourages all men of faith to step up to their call to become strong, loving and wise spiritual leaders for their families and for others.
An inner-city pastor in Erie, Pa., Father Richards is one of the most popular personalities on Catholic radio today. His radio program, “Changed Forever with Father Larry Richards,” is broadcast nationwide every evening on Relevant Radio. As a gifted and entertaining men’s conference speaker, retreat director and homilist, Father Richards is known for poking gentle humor at our human follies even as he teaches the profound truths of the Catholic faith.
Our Sunday Visitor recently interviewed Father Richards about his new book and his message for Catholic men today.
Our S unday Visitor: Your title perhaps suggests that men have become less manly. How did this happen, and how do we begin to solve the problem?
Father Larry Richards: In the beginning of the book, I say one of the biggest problems is that men have become more feminine and women have become more masculine in society, but also in the Church as a whole.
We have to go back to the way God created us. He created us not better than one another, but male and female. To be the best we can be, we’ve got to become what we were created to be.
I have a whole chapter on Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. God created us different, and that’s the greatness of it. That’s why man and woman come together in marriage and become one flesh, to help each other, to form the fullness of what God created us to be.
OSV: What does it mean to “Be a Man”?
Father Richards: When I talk about being a man, I’m not talking about being a “macho man,” or going around hunting every day, belching and all that stuff.
“Be a man” were the last words King David spoke to his son Solomon before he died: “Take courage, and be a man” (1 Kgs 2:2, RNAB). David is the first of three key scriptural role models for men.
Then there’s St. Paul, who says, “The spirit that God has given us is no cowardly spirit, but one that makes us strong, loving and wise” (2 Tm 1:7).
Then there’s Christ, the Alpha and the Omega of all men. In the last 40 years, we’ve made Christ to be this wimp toast, “la-la-la” loving person who went tiptoeing through the tulips. That’s the exact opposite of who Christ was. Read the Gospels: There are a lot of things about Christ that would not be accepted in most churches today because he would say things that would be very controversial.
OSV: How do we get more men back into the pews?
Father Richards: There’s a hunger among men to come together and be challenged. When I do a men’s conference, I pull off the gloves. I say : “Gentlemen, I am sick and tired of spiritual wimps! God has called you to be men.” People will give me standing ovations, clap and whistle because they want someone to challenge them to be their best.
Some say, “Father, women are just more naturally spiritual than men.” I disagree with that. Look at Islam: Muslim men are very involved in their religion … and they’re willing to die for it, because they are challenged. They say, “If you want to be a man, this is what you have to be.” In the Church, we haven’t done that, and that’s why a lot of Catholic men don’t like to go to church.
But every time we hear, “The body of Christ,” and we respond, “Amen,” we are saying, “I would stake my life on what you just said, for the belief that Christ is present in the Eucharist.”
God gave his life to give us the Eucharist; so when we receive the Eucharist, it needs to cost us our lives. It demands what God demands of us: To sacrifice ourselves for him and to sacrifice ourselves for others.
Part of the problem is, we haven’t been taught that. It’s become that the liturgy is an “experience,” where we come together and hold hands, and we’re just a family. Yes, but every family has expectations and demands. What’s happening in liturgy itself is not the problem; how we’ve proclaimed it, taught it, or challenged people is the problem.
When they are challenged, men start realizing God has a plan for their lives, and they are called to be the protectors and supporters of their families. So they have to start spiritually.
OSV: Is it vital that the man be the spiritual leader of his family?
Father Richards: Absolutely. And again, that does not mean he’s better than his wife.
At weddings, I say to the bride: “Do you ever read Ephesians, where it says, ‘Wives, be submissive to your husbands’? Do you think that’s what it means?” And they’ll always say, “No, Father.” And I’ll say, “Yes, that’s what it means!” And every woman in the congregation is outraged, thinking, “Die, Father, die!”
I do that on purpose. But everyone who knows me knows I’m an equal opportunity offender, and the other shoe is about to drop.
So I tell the groom, “Do you know what it says next? ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church and gave his life for her.’ Do you know what that means, son? Your life is over. Every day you will have one purpose in your life: ‘How can I die for my wife today? How can I put her needs in front of mine?’”
That is true spiritual leadership, to die for your family. That’s the model of Christ. But it happens for both: The woman gives up her life for her husband, and her husband gives up his life for his wife. It’s got to be a practical, daily dying. It’s not a lording over anybody. It’s a servant leadership just as Christ was a servant leader.
OSV: What practical steps do you offer for men to grow into this servant-leader role?
Father Richards: The first is a daily surrender of his life to God’s Holy Spirit. It’s the key to the spiritual life. Men have to be led by the Spirit, who “makes us strong, loving and wise.”
The strength of Christ is to give away your life in love. To be a person of love means to put other people in front of you. A man should examine his conscience every day: “Did I do at least one unselfish act for somebody today?” If he didn’t, then he did not live a loving day today.
The first line of Chapter 1 says, “You are going to die!” I do that to grab people’s attention. What do you want to be able to say when you stand before God and give an account of your life? What do you want him to say? What do you want your family to say? A man of wisdom lives for eternity, not for the world. His main job is to get his wife and kids to heaven. Does he know that? Is he living that way? Or is he just saying, “I’m a provider”? Well, it’s nice to “provide,” but if they go to hell anyway then you didn’t provide them with anything.
Each chapter lists three tasks, and at the end is a checklist of 30 things that a man should change in order to become a better man.
I’m also big on reading Scripture every day, because it’s the owner’s manual on how to live. This is God’s way of challenging us and helping us to grow. We also need to listen to Christ every day, so any man must be a man of prayer. He has to be in relationship with God.
A man must become a man of prayer and a man of love. If men can focus on these two things, they can become great men.
Gerald Korson writes from Indiana.
Excerpts from ‘Be A Man’ (Sidebar)
“Christ teaches us how to be men through repentance. The problem is nobody likes repentance. Most people today come to Jesus Christ on their own terms: ‘What are You going to do for me today?’ or ‘If You don’t give me what I want then I am mad and I am leaving.’ Jesus is telling us that we have to change our minds, our attitudes, and our ways of life.” (Pages 49-50)
“ I always hear excuses about people’s pasts. Gentlemen, you will never grow in strength, you will never grow in the Lord, until you take responsibility and start making the decisions necessary for your future.” (Page 91)
“Make the decision to never let your wife or your kids go to bed or walk out the door without telling them first that you love them — life is just too short! It will change your family. It will change the world. ” (Page 124)