Men are rediscovering the importance of the spiritual life. And Father Larry Richards is helping them do it.
Order Be a Man!: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be here.
We always remember the last words that people say to us before they die, especially the last words of someone we loved. These words resonate throughout our minds and affect our lives in a lasting way. This is especially true of the last words of advice of a loving father to his son. King David knew this as he was talking to his son Solomon and was giving him his final advice before he was "to go the way of all the earth." David looks at Solomon and says, "Take courage and be a man" (1 Kings 2:2 [RNAB]).
David knew that if his son was going to be a great leader, then he would have to first be a great man. This book is about being the kind of man that each of us was created to be. To do this does not require perfection. For David most certainly was not perfect — he was a murderer, an adulterer, and the list goes on; but he was a man who knew who he was and strove with all his being to be better.
Yes, David was weak and filled with many things that we might not respect, but God says of him, "I have found in David, the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all my will" (Acts 13:22). Many of us can relate to David (well, at least I know I can!), and from the distant past he encourages us to be men who do God's will.
In the past forty years or so, you may have noticed that some of the women have become more masculine and some of the men more feminine. Some of us seem to be confused, going against the way we were created: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). There is a difference! Men are not called to be women and vice versa. This has caused more problems than we can deal with here; but we are different — not better, but different — and we are called to be fully men!
This book will focus on the biblical perspective concerning what it is to be a man. Therefore, we will use the following for our role models: King David from the Old Testament, St. Paul from the New Testament, and Jesus — the Alpha and Omega of all men.
It is Jesus Christ Himself Who reveals to us what it is to be a man. He was a man for others; He gave Himself away. He challenged people, He loved people, He was strong, and He died for others — and He commanded His disciples to do the same.
And so that is what this book is going to be about. It's about giving away our lives. It's about taking the one life God has given to us and giving it away. What you are being invited to do is to die for others, in the sense of putting others' needs above your own. Aren't you excited? But to be like Christ, and to be like all the great men, this will cost you your life.
Each chapter ends with tasks that must be accomplished and questions to reflect on and discuss. I would encourage you to read this whole book in its chronological order, for each chapter builds upon the previous one. If you commit yourself now to read the whole book and accomplish the tasks, then I promise you that your life will be changed forever.
So, are you ready? This is not the time to be a wimp. Today the world needs real men! Your family is counting on you; your friends are counting on you; your world is counting on you; your God is counting on you — so don't be afraid: take courage and be a man!
Be a Man who Stays Focused on the Final Goal
Call no man happy before his death, for by how he ends, a man is known.
— Sirach 11:28 (RNAB)
You are going to die!
Nice way to start a book, huh? I know, but I want you to let this thought sink in: You are going to die. This is the truest reality there is. This is what makes us all the same. It doesn't matter how rich we are, or how popular we are, or how powerful we are: we are all going to "kick the bucket" one day. Isn't that a nice thought?
Okay, you may say, so what? After we come to accept this basic reality, we have to make sure we do everything with our end in mind. God tells us in the Book of Sirach, "Call no man happy before his death, for by how he ends, a man is known" (11:28 [RNAB]). The world is filled with examples of men who began well and ended badly! We need to make sure that we are not one of them!
If we keep our end in mind then we can begin to reflect on what is most important: What will I accomplish with my short time on earth? What do I want people to say about me once I've taken my last breath? Was my life worth living? Will I be a person who changed the world? Will I be a person who gave more than I took? Or will I be a person who took more than I gave? Will people say of me, "I loved to be around that man because he was a true man and he gave his life away for others"? Or will they say, "That person was one of the most miserable human beings you would ever want to meet"? What will others say about you?
Recently I had a friend pass away. He was seventy years old, and a monsignor in the Catholic Church. He was a large man, and a good man, but he also had a fiery temper. As the bishop preached the funeral homily he said, "Monsignor was a man who had a generous heart, and he served the people with all his heart — sometimes with a smile, and sometimes with a growl." This man was not perfect, but daily he gave his life away.
What will the people who talk at your funeral say about you?
What we have to do is take some time to sit and meditate about taking our last breath. What do you want your wife to say about you? What do you want your kids to say about you? Or the people you work with? What do you want the people you just met to say? After you take some time in thought and prayer, write down what you want others to say about you and then start to make that your goal. Once you've decided, "Okay, when I am taking my last breath this is what I want", you can start living your life with your end goal in mind. You will start living in such a way that when the day of your death happens, the people who know you will say what you want them to say.
I have thought about this a lot in my own life. I was a typical blue-collar family child who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with no real religion in my life. My father was a city of Pittsburgh police officer, and my mother also later became a police officer; some thought that I would follow in their footsteps, and in some ways I guess I did.
My mother was Catholic in name, but didn't go to church much. She thought that the Church kept people away from God. She thought, "Oh, you do something bad or are in a bad marriage, then you cannot go to church." Although my mother saw the Church as keeping people away from God, it was my father who had the most interesting theology. My dad, my dear father, believed in the God of the Old Testament, the one that gave us the Ten Commandments. He believed that Jesus Christ was God's Son, but that Jesus changed the rules a little too much. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil.... Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:38, 39, 44). So my dad believed that although Jesus Christ was the Son of God, God the Father got mad at Him and had Him killed because Jesus changed all the rules. Quite an interesting theology! You think your family was dysfunctional? This is just the beginning of stories about my family — we all come from some kind of dysfunctional family. More on this in the next chapter!
As I grew up, religion was not really part of my family life; but my parents did send me to a Catholic school, and so I did have some religious influence. I was not a horrible teenager but I drank like the other youth. One thing that I never did was take illegal drugs, because my police officer father once threatened me: "If I ever catch you drinking, I will punish you but I will understand; but if I ever catch you taking drugs — I will kill you!" I believed him! That is why to this very day, and he has been dead a long time, I ve never tried any drugs. I still think he would come back and kill me. I did everything else, though.
I was a trouble-making son of a cop, and, in my day, cops' kids were the worst youth because we could get away with just about anything. All my friends got arrested except for me because of who my dad and my mother were.
I dated and had great girlfriends and did everything else that teens do. I thought that I would be a draftsman or a police officer or whatever else that I liked. I thought that I would marry and have ten kids — yes, ten — nine boys and a baby girl! I was just doing my own thing and thinking that life is just life and you have to make the best of it.
Everything changed for me one day as I sat in my English class during my junior year in high school. We were reading the play Our Town, a three-act play by Thornton Wilder. It is a pretty simple play, but it had a not-so-simple impact on my life at the time. At the end of the play one of the main characters, Emily Webb, dies. While in the graveyard with the other people who are dead there, she asks them if she could go back and relive a day in her life; she is reluctant to do so but decides to anyway. Emily decides to revisit her twelfth birthday. Here she realizes how fast time flies and how we take so much for granted.
The play encourages people to really live life and not to miss the little things. But what hit me as a seventeen-year-old kid was that I was going to die one day. And it scared the hell, literally, right out of me. I started to shake in class and to sweat; I began thinking: "Oh my God, I am going to die. I am going to die! So what is the meaning of life? Is there any meaning? Is there anything after death?"
Death is the ultimate thing that takes control out of our hands. Even if we commit suicide, we cannot control what happens after we die. Not one of us had control over our own birth and not one of us has control of what happens after we die.
I hate that! As a man I love to be in control! I don't know if any of you can relate, but I like to be in charge. When I am in control of things, I can determine, or at least influence, the outcome. I like that.
That is why I am not a big flier. If I were flying the plane, that would be fine, but I have to trust someone else. I hate that! Here I am, thirty-five thousand feet in the air, and someone else has total control of my life!
That is what death is, isn't it? The truth is that we cannot even take our next breath without God saying okay. While you are reading this book, a plane could be flying over where you are reading and all of a sudden you hear "putt . . . putt . . . putt . . . bang" and the plane comes crashing on top of you. You're dead — that fast. You are not even in control of your next breath; that is how dependent you are!
When I sat there and realized for the first time at seventeen that I was going to die, my next thought was, "God, I don't believe in anything." I suddenly realized that fifty years before, I didn't exist. Some of you may have already realized this but I didn't. It was hard for me to imagine that the world existed before I existed! Not only that, but it went on quite well without me. It will go on quite fine one hundred years from now without me also. Without believing in anything, I figured that I was in oblivion before I was born and that when I die I was going to go back into nothingness. That's all. The world existed a million years before me, and it will exist after me.
I knew I needed to believe in something, but why should I believe anything just because that was the way I was brought up? I thought, "Okay, I've got to find out what's real." I am not going to believe in something just because my parents happen to be Catholic and Protestant and happen to have had me baptized. I could have been brought up Muslim or Buddhist or atheist. Just because you are taught something, that doesn't make it true. I wanted to know "What is true? What is real? Is God real; does He exist?" I needed to find out for myself.
At the time, when I was seventeen years old, in Pittsburgh I was working in what was called the U.S. Steel Building. Each day I would walk from the U.S. Steel Building to the Church of the Epiphany, next to what is now called the Mellon Arena. I would enter that beautiful church and kneel there and ask God, "Do You exist? Don't You exist? Do You care? Don't You care?" I went there almost every weekday for many months. I was seeking, but at first I did not find anything or anybody — nothing. Nothing!
One day, though, I was watching TV. Now when I was a kid, and some of you can relate to this, we didn't have remote controls and we didn't have cable in Pittsburgh. Maybe other people did, but my house did not. My television had four stations. We had the three networks and sometimes we got the WQED on VHF. I'd have to sit real close to the TV so I could turn the stations. Back then, there were not many interesting programs on the four stations. But one day as I was watching TV, clicking through the channels trying to find something to watch, I turned past a Billy Graham Crusade. As soon as I saw who it was I thought, "Oh no, Billy Graham! Click off!" But right before I clicked Billy Graham off I heard him say: "I've seen people die!" and then I turned to another channel and then I thought, "Well, let's hear what he has to say", and so I clicked him back on. Billy said again: "I've seen people die. And some people when they are dying are so afraid they cry, 'I'm afraid. I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I'm afraid. Please help me! I'm afraid.'" Then, he said, "And I have watched other people die, and they are smiling from ear to ear saying, 'Jesus, I'm coming home.'" I remember thinking, "Boy, if you could face death with no fear, that would be the greatest gift you could ever have — to be able to face death with no fear." I needed to know if God was real or not.
I went back to the Church of the Epiphany, knelt down, and tried again: "God, do You exist? Don't You exist? Do You care? Don't You care?" Finally, one day, after about six months — sitting there in the church, kneeling, seeking, and just crying out to God — I came to know that Jesus Christ was real and that He was God! How did Christ reveal Himself to me? As I knelt there I became aware that I was not alone. Here before me was the God of the universe, Who had always been there, but I was so focused on myself that I could not see Him. I did not hear His voice at first but I felt His Presence. A Real Presence. A Presence that keeps everything in existence! I remember looking at Him and saying, "Lord, whatever You want I will do." So at seventeen years old while sitting in the Church of the Epiphany, I heard the Lord tell me: "I want you to be a priest." My life was about to change — a lot!
This was not going to be an easy task, as I soon found out. I went to the pastor of the local parish; but since my family never went to church, he laughed at me. He would not recommend me to to go to seminary. My friends thought that I was crazy; one of my friends said to me, "I will bet that you will never become a priest — you like girls too much!" God sure proved them all wrong, on the first part anyway!
Why do I share with you this story? Because the "God question" is the question that you will have to deal with before you can move on. Do you know that God exists? If not, what are you doing to find out if He is real or not? Let me help you. Read on.
How did I know in that moment that God was talking to me? How did I know that Jesus is more real than anything else? These are the same questions that I start my retreats with when I talk to high school students. For example, I once did a retreat for fifteen hundred boys at a Catholic high school in the South. It was a Monday morning at eight o'clock, and there was a full school assembly. These kids were not very excited to have a priest coming to talk to them during their first period on a Monday morning.
Reprinted with permission from Ignatius Press.
Fr. Larry Richards was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended college seminary at Gannon University where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mental Health Counseling in 1983. He continued his studies at the major seminary at St. Vincent in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and received his Masters of Divinity degree in 1987.
Fr. Larry Richards was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Erie in 1989. He is a popular speaker at Catholic men's conferences and serves as the pastor of an inner city parish, St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie, Pennsylvania. Father Richards is the founder of The Reason for Our Hope Foundation and the Spiritual Director of TEC (To Encounter Christ) Retreat Program for the Diocese of Erie.
Copyright © 2009 Ignatius Press
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