Not a Gentleman? Stay away from my daughters…

Pope Francis.

Pope Francis.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2365 says this:

St. John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should say to their wives: I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.

Recently, a young woman I’ve known for a few years got engaged. She’s a stellar woman, strong, faith-filled and she has a solid character. I texted her later that day after hearing her good news: “I assume he’s worthy of you or you wouldn’t have said yes.” What I really meant was, he’d better be a Christian gentleman.

Having daughters has, of course, pulled out of me a very protective instinct in regard to guys. I have a funny t-shirt that my daughters, let’s say, dislike that lists the ten things a dad instinctually thinks in regard to any man who might want to date his daughter. I know guys. Guilty until proven innocent. I’ve only worn it once.

After I texted that young lady, I began to think about what I mean — concretely — by gentleman. I know John Henry Newman has a concise description [see here]. Then I thought of the men in my life whom I have tried to emulate, men who in my mind reveal the character of a gentleman. There’s a ton. I thought of my grandfather who had written these words to me before my wedding: “When Nana looked at Patti’s [my wife] face in the photo you sent, she said to me: ‘She has character. I can see it in her face. She’s a lady.’ So, Tom, to be worthy of a lady you must be a gentleman…”

I spent some time later that night writing down my thoughts, thinking of my daughters’ future. My flow’s not great, my thoughts are not so organized, lots is left out, but here’s what came to mind that night. Sorry for the length!

I don’t want my daughters to date or marry just “guys,” but gentlemen. I want my sons to be gentlemen. I want to be a gentleman. What’s a gentleman? Well, here’s what Patti’s taught me over the last 28 years I’ve known her. The man she challenges me to become is a man with redeemed masculinity, which is the theological shorthand for “Gentleman.” As to what it looks like, I’ve learned mostly from men in my life who have exemplified, or marred, this high calling. For the witness and influence of those men in my life, I am forever grateful to God (Prov. 27:17).

I aspire to be this Christian Gentleman. What is he like?

He’s responsible, self-respecting and God fearing. Responsible for his own decisions, responsible with his commitments. Self-respecting because he’s truth-seeking, authentic, not duplicitous; what you see is what you get. God fearing, as he knows justice makes fierce demands on him; demands that effectively reign in his unruly passions so that he can live, like St. Joseph, as a Just Man. God-fear also makes him meek, which means not “weakness” but strength harnessed for good. Gentle-men are gentle when they employ their strength. The meek are also humble, which makes them courageous in standing for the right thing, ready to take the hits that come when doing the right thing. He’s also humble enough to admit when he fails, accept the consequences and press on toward the better.

Gentlemen take criticism on the chin, but can also confront others when necessary. They follow through with promises, are consistent and are men of their word. They speak up for others who are unfairly wronged, and don’t join in talking trash about others. They prefer only to speak criticism to another’s face. They’re willing to sweat hard for the benefit of others. They love to work, but don’t allow their career to become an excuse for avoiding the harder work of relationships. They have a plan for life, know where they are going; or at least are committed to finding a way. They are fixers, but are willing to accept unfixable things and, yes, to just listen if that’s all she wants. Ain’t easy.

Gentlemen persevere, and base their choices not on personal comfort or ease but on what makes, for those they’re responsible for, a better world. Again, they persevere, and even if they can’t achieve the goals they set they don’t despair, but trust God will bless their sincere desire and dedicated effort to achieve them.

They control the tongue, and while their language can be salty, it is never vulgar or crass. And while their humor can be sharp, it is never cutting. Gentlemen know well that words have immense power to build and demolish, to reveal or conceal the dignity of humanity — of the woman.

Gentlemen hold women in high esteem. Not by idealizing or trivializing them, nor by conjuring twisted fantasies that suit the unredeemed elements of their masculinity, but by reverence for the unique, God-given gifts that define womanhood — the “feminine genius.” And for the wholly unique incarnation of that genius in each woman. Gentlemen know that if a woman’s gifts are augmented, they augment all that is genuinely masculine in him. The interplay between masculinity and femininity in a relationship is a source of endlessly creative tensions and equally endless reasons to laugh together. Vive la différence! Et quelle différence!

From what I see in Patti, here’s a snapshot description of the feminine genius I’ve come to revere: other-oriented; nurturing; readiness to suffer hardship for others’ benefit (compare the men of Mark 14:50 to the women of 15:40-41); intuitive; attentive to details; tender; compassionate; an astonishing memory that makes me think I have dementia. Her femininity says to me: to-be-cherished; never-use-or-exploit; I-need-stability; be-solid-in-character; risk-intimacy-trust-vulnerability; I-desire-authenticity; love-me-freely.

High bars, all. I want to reach them all.

Gentlemen are chivalrous, putting her well-being and fulfillment first. Gentlemen let ladies “go first” because that’s the nature of love; and look, guys are dense, and if somebody has to go first it should be her (Phil. 2:3-4). Not because she’s weak, but because love commands respect and putting the other first, and in general guys need that message more than girls.  An elder priest friend of mine said to me once, “One of the reasons God became a man and not a woman is because guys had screwed love up so badly, and misunderstood women’s dignity so badly, He had to show them in Person what it meant to be a man who loves like God…”

Like St. Joseph, gentlemen are guardians of a woman’s chastity, the virtue which guards the “garden of love” (cf Song of Songs 4:12), and they do this first by guarding their own. Every gentleman knows that chastity offers a singular opportunity for his heroism in her regard. He knows that by waiting until marriage he shows her he’s ready to be faithful to her for life, can exercise self-control, and if she is ever unable or unwilling to engage in sexual intimacy in marriage he will respect that without resentment and faithfully love her no matter what. A man who will not wait for sexual intimacy until marriage is no gentleman and is not worth another moment of a woman’s time.

The gentleman uses his strength to build a home around a woman’s life, enshrines her dignity and never uses his strength to harm her. Any man who threatens violence or inflicts harm, coerces with fear or intimidation is unworthy of her. Such a man is a despicable coward. A gentleman is never threatened by a woman’s strengths and gifts, but cultivates them, benefits from them and encourages them as if they were his own. He wants to see her personality blossom under his influence.

A gentleman wants to know the fissures and cracks of the woman he loves — as well as his own — and tries every day to learn how to build up the good in her life to protect what is fragile and help heal what is broken. He tries to appreciate her perspectives, wildly different as they can (and should) be from his own, and freely shares his perspectives with her. He is not afraid to be a leader and confront problems with her, when they arise, with a gentle strength that includes her strength. He wants the truth, knows how to argue with respect, seeking to understand more than to be understood.

He looks at her, speaks her name, notices her, compliments her with regularity and works mightily to show small gestures of care and love. He is worthy of her trust because every day he’s ready to die a thousand deaths to gain her heart, even as he gives her his own (Prov. 31:11).

Bloody hard. The fruit of grace begged for with regularity. But this is the way of THE Man, the Christ of the Gospels, of Ephesians 5. Christ is the exemplary Gentleman, and all who wish to take up their cross and be His disciple will also be gentlemen with Him.

When I worked at the Missionaries of Charity home and hospice for AIDS victims in D.C., there was a young woman who had been a prostitute for many years who became Catholic and received the sacraments during Mass one Sunday. She was far advanced in her illness. The Chaplain shared, after she died, that soon after receiving her First Communion she remarked: “That’s the first time a man’s ever come into my body who loved me.”


She’d met her first Gentleman, who loved her with the Redeemer’s masculinity.

Brothers, may we all be protagonists in Christ’s revolution of authentic masculinity. Certainly any prospective suitors of my daughters must be gentlemen or they will have to feel the heat of my cavalry.

Ladies, thank you for challenging us to be gentlemen. Don’t ever let us off the hook.

St. JP2, take me out: “The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine genius which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness”

Kelly Clarkson famously sang about her gentleman-husband, and her baby girl, who both helped repair the damage once done by her father…


I had a flash insight this morning during my prayer time that I felt compelled to share. It came as a blend of reflecting on today’s Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the new Twenty One Pilots “Cover” release (yesterday), Cancer. Here’s my morning journal entry:

True to form, this new TØP release of a cover of My Chemical Romance’s “Cancer” takes us to the margins of social existence, to the shadowy edges of life that are inhabited by pain, fear, alienation. The lyrics tell us of a young person (I’ll say it’s a woman) in the last stages of terminal cancer, wasted away by chemo. She feels the burning agony of distance that illness brings, a thirst for love that can no longer be satisfied — it seems. This is so powerfully captured by her refusal to kiss and her acknowledgment she will never marry. So much in those lyrics. I’ll let them — and the stirring rhythm and melody — speak for themselves. Your heart breaks if you’ve known someone ravaged by cancer.

Today the Church celebrates the Cross. Exalts it! The solidarity of God with human alienation — the tearing of the heart, the burning thirst for water, the terrible and unromantic curse of death. Yet into this dark and dry valley, Jesus infuses something utterly new: love (Rom. 5:5). The natural human response to pain is self-preservation, inward turning into isolation and despair. But in Christ God has torn open heaven and flooded the earth with His self-less love that turns darkness to light, death to life, fear to trust, despair to hope, self-preservation to martyrdom. As He suffered on the Cross, Jesus’ thoughts were only of others’ welfare, even when He felt abandoned by His only source of hope: the Father.

God is hyper-extreme love, so even when He is dying, emptied, abandoned, parched, dead, He loves. Eis telos, “to the end” (John 13:1).

In Baptism we were plunged into that love, made capable of it, recreated by it, filled with it, called to become it.

God has brought the margins to the center by sending the center to the margins: the healthy He sends to the sick, the strong to the weak, the rich to the poor, the housed to the homeless, the living to the dying, the knowledgeable to the ignorant, the righteous to sinners… And they are all reconciled as one Body, with co-mingled tears and joy.

The Church is a subversive cycle, undermining and destroying death itself by invading its every stronghold.

Mother Teresa once said in an interview that if God has given her health, it is not a sign of His favor toward her but a sign of His favor toward the sick. She is healthy precisely so she can use her health to care for those who are ill. The joy of acquisition is being empowered to place what I possess in service to the neighbor in need. No man is an island, and the salvation of one is effected by the whole Christ loving each member of the Body with the love-of-God-in-Christ-Crucified.

The Cross celebrates God’s beckoning of all humanity to encounter Him at the margins, amid the skulls strewn on Skull Place: Golgotha.

That’s all. Here’s the song:

Glassy Sea


Metairie Pump Station, September 4, 2016

Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Rev. 4:5-6

I have never given much thought to the meaning of this passage from Revelation, but the other day as I was finishing my daily walk-run along the levee and returning by way of the pump station, I looked down at the water and was taken by its calm sheen. It reflected the sky like glass. Suddenly I thought: that passage in Revelation [4:5-6]! I quickly spoke a stream of consciousness voice-to-text into my phone to catch my thoughts. I edited it later and added some Bible references in brackets. Here it is:

Of course! This makes so much sense of that “sea of glass” image. A glassy sea is a pacific sea, wholly still and untroubled. The storms of history have passed and the water is now able to generously reflect the beauty and majesty of the heavens with such exact precision. And as I recall from Revelation, the image of the glassy sea is juxtaposed to the Sinai-like storm that erupts from God’s celestial throne. Somewhere in Job God speaks out of the storm [38:1]. But then to Elijah He speaks through the stillness [1 Kings 19:12]. What a paradox! God is a tempest who is at once a zephyr who gives peace.

It reminds me of St. Teresa’s description of the “prayer of quiet” in which God, enthroned in the center of the soul, performs cardiac surgery as He “suspends” the faculties of the soul, disabling our white-knuckle grip on life. It’s the prayer that leaves us defenseless before God, unable to impress Him with our wonderful aspirations or genius insights — raw, unimpressive, not in control, ready to let God be God. Letting “Thy will be done” be done. It’s the prayer that allows us really know that God is in love with us, not because of our high performance; and not in spite of our low performance; but simply because we exist. God was madly in love with each of us even before we existed [Jer. 1:5]! Such “quiet” prayer, Teresa says, is our surrender to God, our accepted consent which allows Him a free hand in our deepest core. No human is worthy of that inner place. Only God. There He says: “See, I make all things new” [Rev. 21:5]. Such omnipotent tenderness, beating His omnipotent Wings to shelter us from the storm [Psalm 91:4]. Create in me a Sea of Glass, O God!

I think here of an interview I heard with a NASA scientist who studied the Shroud of Turin [the alleged burial cloth of Christ]. After spending an entire night alone with the Shroud, he remarked to reporters: “Though I’m not a religious man, I have to say that what struck me most as I looked at the Shroud through the night was the disconnect between the body of this brutally savaged man, and his face. They don’t fit. The body is lacerated, beaten and bloodied, while the face is serene. It’s like the face doesn’t belong with the body. It’s really striking.” The Christian economy of trust in God’s providential care is inscribed with and into the cross. The Carthusian motto captures this perfectly: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, “The Cross is steady while the world whirls” — steady because the re-creating “Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” is presiding over every catastrophe in paschal mystery [James 1:17; Psalm 29:10].

In the Catholic spiritual tradition, there’s a marvelous effect of grace in the soul that all should covet: stabilitas, “stability.” Those who possess this graced state become aware of a “disconnect” between a deep inner stability and the normal turmoil that characterizes life. It is not the same as emotional tranquility, which comes and goes. It’s far deeper. It’s a grace, but it requires on our part a strenuous effort to live a good life. It’s given to those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” It comes when you allow the anchor of your heart to set itself firmly in the immovable Rock of Christ, so that even when all around you is shaken, within you are as calm as the sea of glass — made glassy beneath Jesus’ beautiful feet [Mark 4:39]. Dying in agony on the cross, Jesus evidenced this stability: “Into your hands I commend my spirit” [Luke 23:46].

I remember back in late 2006 I was struggling with despair over balancing my graduate studies with work and family. There was one day I really remember, right after my 100+ long dissertation draft was rejected. “Piece of shit” was the exact phrase that was used by this particular professor. I was in near-despair, ready, after 6 years of work, to quit. I told Patti [my wife] that I just couldn’t go on. I was done. I’ll never forget what happened next. She took firm hold of my necktie and looked me straight in the eye, saying with stern love: “You are not quitting. We haven’t sacrificed for all these years so you can just quit now. You know you were made for this. God asked you to do this. We need you to do this.” At that very instant I felt an infusion of inner strength that was so clearly beyond me. I knew it immediately. It never left. Inner stability infused into my quivering soul through the Sacrament of Tough Love.


It’s not the first time God has shot mystical graces into me through my wife’s fiery love and blue eyes [Rev. 15:2!]. In a moment when I was sinking into the tumultuous sea, which had stolen all my attention [Matt. 14:30], God led me to still waters through her. All would be well [Rom. 8:28].

Years ago, I was flying from Atlanta to D.C.. I was in the very last seat in the back of the plane on the starboard side. After we had reached cruising altitude, the hatch across the aisle from me suddenly unsealed and a roaring rush of air began to pass through it. I was terrified! The pilot immediately descended what seemed like 10,000 feet in a minute. As this was happening, I noticed a man sitting just down the aisle to my left reading a book without any sense of concern. It was really astonishing. And he looked just like Ernest Hemmingway. So I fixed my eyes of him and soon felt interior calm. I knew all would be well because he clearly knew something I did not — or maybe he’d had imbibed some potent spirits!.

After we landed, as I was waiting for my ride, I could not help but think of that NASA scientist’s words. Or my wife’s words. That Face on the Shroud, so untroubled. The Face I must fix my eyes on reveals an inner heart captivated by the immovable Father’s Face. How lovely that Face must be!

“God is for us a refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea;
even though its waters rage and foam,
even though the mountains be shaken by its waves.” [Psalm 46:2-4]

Jesus, help me fix my eyes on you so others who rely on me can fix their eyes on me. O Spirit, Guarder of the Glassy Sea, steady my heart in His Heart…

Labor of Love

For those of you who don’t see my Facebook page and are willing to indulge a father’s pride, I wanted to share an update on some new music videos by (my daughter) Maria and Ashley, as well as a one-and-only that includes my daughter Catherine percussing. Catherine was a Jazz Band percussionist before she went to High School. I will not be posting for a while so you have a few to enjoy till then.

First, some Maria and Ashley covers (Maria has the shorter hair):

{This one below is a video compilation Maria assembled from a Twenty One Pilots concert she and Ashley attended in August, backed by their singing of the TØP song, “Truce.” My favorite image is right around 1:44}:

Second, just Maria is solo and “playing around” with Garage Band:

Third, Catherine is backstage with some of the performers in the musical, Legally Blonde, having some fun just before a show. Catherine is seated, percussing on the right:


This is a snippet from an email I sent to someone who asked me how to think about St. Paul’s praise of virginity as not being a “diss” on marriage. My response is not a systematic treatise, but simply a set of brief and free-flowing insights:

The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. 1 Cor. 7:32-34

While there is great beauty in the vocation to virginity’s “undivided interests” centered in the “affairs of the Lord,” there is also a great beauty in the vocation of spouses whose call to perfection is found precisely in the tangle of “divided interests,” i.e. worldly affairs and how to please one’s spouse. While consecrated celibacy-virginity beautifully witnesses to the reconciled completion of the Coming Age when God will be all in all, secular spouses, bound up in worldly affairs, bear witness to a God still-at-work in the mud. And they do this by means of their very volatile vocation of effecting in their daily lives the consecration and reconciliation of all-things-divided — effected by their love for God and neighbor in the midst of temporal, secular, worldly concerns.

Spouses, and all called by God to realize the Kingdom in the midst of worldly affairs, suffer in a singular way the awful tensions of a world-still-divided. A living martyrdom. They are the prime locus where God conquers all in this world that is still unconquered; heals all that is unhealed; redeems all that is unredeemed. They labor with profuse sweat amid the thickets of cursed thorns and thistles to cultivate soils worthy of Christ the Sower who scatters through, with and in them His Kingdom wheat. In them He sows into every portion of creation the living grains of God that will bear fruit for eternal life.

I wrote to my wife this summer while I was away for three weeks. Not too romantic in all its abstractions, but it made a point that is to me very powerful:

You’re my downfall, you’re my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can’t stop singing, it’s ringing in my head for you

Among a thousand other reasons, God has given you to me to teach me how to love with a heart divided without division. You are my distraction that is all at once the overthrowing of all distraction; the song that gathers up dissonant notes into an exquisite symphony. You are for me the temple where love for God and His creation no longer divides my heart. You are a sacrament, His sacrament, my sacrament, our sacrament. You are for me the way I learn to inhabit Christ best; inhabit not God-alone, but God-and; Christ the Creator-creature; Christ the God-man; Christ the God-neighbor; Christ the Bridegroom-Bride whose very embodied Person heals all divisions, reunites all distractions, reconciles all loves by revealing to us the deepest secret of God: His human Face. Your face. Our faces. Our children’s faces. To be fully alive means to look on all these faces and see One love weaving every love into one magnificent work of art. You.

So small

“No one can grow if he does not accept his smallness.” ― Pope Francis

After reading this quote in an article, I wrote this stream of consciousness reflection in my journal:

Every year I feel smaller and smaller. I realize more how much I don’t know. How much there is to know. How fragile I and others are.  I see how much I have not done, should have done, can never do. I wish I had, wish I had not… I see the vastness of the ancient universe. I, so tiny. Those whom I once saw as invincible, are rendered helpless by illness or misfortune. How limited is my control over life. I see all my flaws and limits more clearly as I age, and time wears away the desire for illusion, to see what I want to see. I look now: there I am.

When I was small I would always notice tiny things, relished hidden treasures. As I grew, I grew dull to them. But grace has reawakened in me a preference for the tiny and small and out of the way, the obscured beauties. I want to re-turn to childhood — “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3). At least on my better days. I love learning the small details of others’ hopes and dreams, pains and anxieties. I have grown again to cherish stopping along the road to catch view of a tiny flower. My wife and children have taught me that love is in the details.

I beg that God’s attentiveness to hair-counts, which seems to rank high on the spectrum of His delight, becomes my own. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid” (Luke 12:7). Yet I so easily get lost in a narrowed vision, become myopic. It’s usually an experience of pain, sickness, suffering — mine or others — that rips off my blinders yet again.

I pray often for what St. Teresa of Avila says is a sweet fruit of divine charity: to notice above all, amid the many flaws of others, the often hidden goods that are there. Not to dwell in their failings, which loom, and which oft may make me feel better about my own crap and distract me from my own mess. But at what a cost. Little Thérèse also saw this:

I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects–not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.

I see more clearly now than I ever have that God prefers nothing more than working great things within all these limiting factors. He came for the sick, he loves the outcast, he has preferential love for the 1 out of 99. The Most Low God, the Infinite lover of the itty. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Orthodox paradoxy.

And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah  — Leonard Cohen

All our weaknesses and broken jars must be given to Him as an offering; turned from inward fretting upward into a prayer, a cry for mercy. “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), i.e. everything human about your life is game for sacrifical worship. My fragilities, if turned from empty gaps or murky holes into spacious capacities for God’s gifts, become wellsprings of divine grace in the midst of the world. Only what is offered up can be consecrated.

When I wake up in the middle of the night, beset by the tempest of human failures and incomplete lives, I jump out of the boat into the Ocean of mercy toward the God who calls me to walk upon the surging waves, eyes fixed on Jesus, and trust.

“In peace I will lie down and fall asleep,
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:9)


Just wanted to apologize for the typos and other errors in this latest post on Prayer. I transposed it from raw journal form straight to the blog and did not review it carefully enough. But maybe that is just part of the point: in prayer you give what you have to God, in raw form, and ask Him to edit it for you! Theologians can justify nearly anything!