By Brian Butler || Executive Director of Dumb Ox Ministries
A few weeks ago, while praying, I read this: “Then, the chief butler said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my faults today.’” (Gn 41:9) This man in Genesis had a trade from which I get my surname, so obviously the verse jumped off the page at me. I’m guessing a butler has never had a more prominent role in all of scripture! So, what’s the context?
After being wrongly imprisoned, Joseph shares prison space with two others – a butler and a baker. What seems at first like nursery rhyme material turns spectacular when they both have dreams that Joseph interprets correctly for them. Joseph entreats the butler, when he is freed, to remember Joseph’s kindness by telling the Pharaoh about Joseph and his innocence. Yet, two years after being free, the butler had still forgotten and never told the Pharaoh. Finally, when the Pharaoh has a disturbing dream, the butler remembers his fault and finally shares the truth about Joseph with the Pharaoh.
What’s the takeaway for today?
After months of scandalous reports of how male entertainment and political moguls have violated women, we find ourselves in Advent, still in an avalanche of bad news about men. As nearly every news feed, website, and media show is overflowing with scorn over these sins of men, the dignity of every woman has been rightly held up for the world to reflect upon. In the wake of such atrocities, and as a man who promotes the dignity of woman and the call for authentic love via the right ordering of one’s sexuality, I am reflecting a lot on how I can make a difference, rather than merely whining about the problems we face. The horrors of any sexual misconduct should be decried by all people of good will, and as my friend Dr. Tom Neal beautifully highlighted in his blog a few weeks ago, (hyperlink: https://nealobstat.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/you-are-l-o-v-e-d/ ) there are good men and women willing to suffer for, protect, and heal those women that have been violated at the deepest level, such as girls who have been sex-trafficked.
This week, God is reminding me that the first place of healing is to recall my own sin. While the Catholic way is to lift up that which is true, good, and beautiful, too often we interiorly lift up our own virtue next to the bad news of another’s vice. Even as a Christian reflecting on my sin, I could be tempted to say But I’m not like that. I don’t do the perverted kinds of things those guys did. Yet, within that truth may be a hidden judgement, a hidden pride. Rather, the call of Christ is to remember here that, like St. Augustine noted, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” It is His goodness and mercy poured out upon me that redeems me and frees me not only from violating the gift of the feminine, but also the gift of manhood, and the gift of any human person. But it is His mercy that frees me to use my strength for the good of woman, never against her.
Every time I do what I am called to do that is good, I become a bit more free and I create space in the world for women to experience freedom as well. After all, though our history is filled with men who were saints and sinners, often the sins of men have been failings at our post to create spaces of freedom for women. At the dawn of our human story, Adam failed at his post. The first time that man failed woman was when Adam didn’t show up at his post to protect the most beautiful gift He had received in the garden of Eden: her name was Eve. Poor Adam and Eve have gotten such a bad rap. But, surely, there were many times that they loved each other well. Surely, Adam did many good and loving things for Eve. But, as the story is told in Scripture, we don’t get to hear about those moments. Instead, we see the original sin, as if it were a televised modern-day failure of man to respect woman and all that is good, true and beautiful in the world.
I have been deeply affected by Adam’s well-chronicled sin. Yet, many good, modern day men have impacted me as well. But the modern day men who have made the greatest impact upon me are not the one’s that amaze me via their televised achievements. While most of us may not be able to throw a football like this guy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVoqA-LKGb4 ) or lift over 1000 pounds like this guy, (hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGQ76-tzmlY ) the limelight is not the place that good men become great. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s in the shadows, when no one is looking, that good (yet broken) men face the reality of their sin with the hopeful reality of God’s great mercy. The reality is that there are still good men left in the world. I am grateful that I not only know a lot of them, but have been impacted and formed by a lot of them. These men have taught me, via their words and example, hundreds of things about the nature of grace, the goodness of creation, my role in the world, and how important it is that I find myself not by creating my own image, but by receiving the gift of the One in Whose image I have been made. It’s there, in the shadow of his wings and in the darkness of my own weakness and sin, that God Himself lights a candle, and the darkness cannot overcome it! Sounds a lot like Advent to me. It’s in the waiting for the light of Christ that our masculine and feminine hearts are stretched to trust that the original sin did not have the final word, but rather, that God would fulfill his promise to send a savior (Gn 3:15). And this savior would show all humanity how to love, and would do it by being fully God and fully man—man fully alive via intoxicating, self-sacrificing, self-forgetting, humble love.
Sure, it’s exciting to watch Drew Brees light it up on a game winning drive or to watch the strong-man do what seems physically impossible. But one reason your news feed may not be blowing up with extraordinary examples of virtue is that most great men are simply showing up for what they are supposed to be doing. Like Jesus, the new Adam, they are showing up at their post. Only every now and then, their greatness done in secret makes its way to the light of a larger audience.
Take for instance, the extraordinary example of Sir Nicholas Winton, (hyperlink: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQzqfsgftBo ) who secretly saved 669 children from Nazis on the eve of WWII. If it weren’t for his wife’s discovery while in their attic nearly 50 years later, most of the wider world may never have known the extent of what he did nor the details about the children he saved.
There are many great men for whom I can and should give thanks. Good men who give me examples to remember during the stretch of Advent. My grandfathers. My father. My godfather. My teachers. My coaches. My priests. My brothers. My mentors. A great boss. I am blessed to count many good men as shining examples for me of masculine excellence, of how to love, how to lead, how to sacrifice, how to show up at our post for the good of woman. I feel called this Advent to intentionally look not at what I lack, nor to resent those who give masculinity a bad name, but to give thanks for all the good men in the world — most of whom I will never know, as they live and love in the shadows of honest and virtuous secrecy, a lot like a dreamer of the New Testament: St. Joseph.
All this Joseph did was protect the perfect woman and create space for her to come alive in freedom while giving birth to the Savior of the world. All he did was save her and her son from being killed by those like Herod who sought to take their lives. All he did was dream, wake up, and obediently follow whatever that night’s angel told him to do. He was quietly, seriously faithful at his post! He made the world a better place by simply doing what he was supposed to do.
So, here’s to you—Mr. Make-the-World-A-Better-Place-Man! Your masculinity is good. Alongside the feminine genius which is unmistakably true, good, and beautiful, the advent of true manhood flows out into the world. As St. John Paul II noted, at every place in the world, the balance of civilization depends upon who man shall be for woman and who woman will be for man.
What do I want for Christmas? To fully realize the advent of true Christian manhood in my own life and the lives of men around me! My good brothers, let us do our part to hold the balance of civilization! Let us not get wrapped up in either the tabloids of masculine failure nor the glitter of masculine success. Rather, let us remember and learn from all the good, saintly men of past and present and remember the secret of their strength! This strength is not found in self-flagellation nor self-aggrandizement, but rather through sincere self-gift.
Let us reverently approach Jesus and St. Joseph in the deep stretch of Advent. Like the butler of Genesis, let us remember our own faults today, yet not wallow in them. Let us do what we are called to do by prayerfully leaning in towards the manger of mercy. Let us lean in, even in the darkness of our weakness and imperfection, towards the light of joyful hope shining above Bethlehem. Let us lean in, looking with faithful expectation for the ways Christ will redeem our faults and teach us again this Christmas what it means to be a true man who grows up to quietly, humbly, faithfully, radically love at his post, being a respecter and protector of the goodness, truth and beauty of every woman.