About 135 years ago, a priest in the Archdiocese of New York took pen to paper and wrote a book about Christian men of virtue ... and why they were desperately needed.
Having been in education for most of his life, he wanted to guide young men in the ways of Christian values and help them distinguish right from wrong as husbands and fathers and Catholics. He provided direction for them, 450 pages of direction, and discussed every conceivable moral dilemma they might encounter with explicit answers as to how they should respond.
I came upon a copy of True Men as We Need Them: A Book of Instruction for Men of the World, by the Rev. Bernard O’Reilly, L.D., in an antiquarian book store, hidden in the religion section, among books about Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, Gnosticism and all the other favored distractions of our enlightened new age.
What was so startling is that all the sins Father O’Reilly deplored, such as licentiousness, addiction, adultery, drunkenness, spouse abuse, greed and self-centeredness, are hallmarks of modern America, but we no longer consider them “sins.” We hardly consider them wrong. That’s how much has changed in little over a century. America’s moral compass is broken and we don’t care.
At the same time, virtues such as modesty and integrity are clearly out of fashion, which probably means our society, however “enlightened” it fancies itself, has lost its way. The greatest tragedy is that young men often don’t know what it means to live decent lives because they take their examples from all the wrong role models: television characters, sports figures, Hollywood celebrities and Wall Street scam artists. The list is a long one.
Throughout my life, I’ve wondered what it means to be a good man. You see, we modern men suffer from a chronic identity crisis and are always asking ourselves troubling questions, like “Who am I?” “What am I?” “Where am I going?” “What’s the purpose of my life?”
As a guy with gray hair and grown kids, I like to think I know the answers to some of those questions; however, I have three brand-new sons-in-law, and I want to help them figure out the answers – once I get them to start thinking about something besides the Yankees and the Red Sox.
I recently read an article in a trendy magazine that explored the problems men face, which, despite all the hoopla, aren’t as serious as, say, the problems men faced during the Great Depression or World War II.
The headline asked, “What makes a real man anyway?” The writer suggested that things are going terribly wrong, so men need more therapy and medication. That’s certainly a different view from Father O’Reilly’s. What men really need is a deeper spiritual dimension, more prayer and more sacrifice.
While some social critics blame the feminist movement for our disorientation, I have doubts about that theory. If anything, we’re to blame for the problems women face.
Nevertheless, I’m troubled because many young men don’t seem to be motivated by anything but money, power, sex and partying. There has to be more to a man’s life than that. (O.K., maybe iPhones, sports cars and video games.)
The magazine article, with its pop psychology, offered no real solutions. But Father O’Reilly’s book, True Men as We Need Them, had a lot of answers, which I’m sure would be unpopular in 21st-century America.
Father O’Reilly wanted to encourage men to lead good lives and help them distinguish right from wrong as husbands and fathers. Between those covers, he dealt with every conceivable moral dilemma a man might face, and they are the same dilemmas we face today.
Sometimes doing the right thing can be more confusing than it should be. Once upon a time, it was commonly accepted that there was a right way and a wrong way, and good men chose the right way. But now, many men succumb to the deception of what Father O’Reilly called “the universal sway of evil example.” Turn on your TV and you’ll see what that is.
It’s time to begin educating young men – our sons and grandsons. It’s time to teach them the importance of values like integrity, honesty, fidelity, loyalty, generosity – all those “ty” virtues that have fallen into disfavor.
It’s time to remind them that a man is ultimately judged by his sincerity and goodness, not by his stock portfolio, his Facebook page and his romantic conquests.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.