Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with Fr. Larry Richards by phone, talking about issues related to men and the Church. Hopefully, some of the richness of our conversation is communicated in this article. His new book, "Be a Man!" goes into great detail on what that means as a challenge to men who live in a culture that is working hard to remove their masculinity.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - The greatest gift a father can give his family is to be a man; and not just any man, but a man after God's own heart. This is the message that Fr. Larry Richards has been taking to men's conferences and retreats around the country for a very long time.
His new book, "Be a Man!" goes into great detail on what that means as a challenge to men who live in a culture that is working hard to remove their masculinity.
"Men are created to be protectors, supporters and providers," Fr. Richards remarked. "We are, by definition, givers. So, the way men relate to God, then, is different from a woman, they are action oriented. I challenge men to give themselves to a higher cause."
Whether speaking to a men's conference or in parishes, Fr. Richards' call to men involves living a life of sacrifice, being willing to do God's will not their own. He warns them that it's not easy, it's going to cost them something and it's going to hurt; but it's for a higher purpose.
"When I work with boys I always ask them, 'Are you man enough to be a priest? Are you willing. when others tell you to do what you want, are you willing to die to yourself and give yourself to a higher cause?
"My own personal style is to call men to be the best they can be. Too often in the Catholic Church we hear, 'Well, just be who you are because God loves you just the way you are.' Who really wants that?
"What I occasionally say on being a spiritual coach, it's just like when boys want to be good football players, basketball players, what-have-you. they want to be challenged to be the best not 'just keep doing what you're doing, that's good enough for now. Nobody wants that; you'd fire a coach for saying that."
Fr. Richards sees the higher cause as a major focus for men. Like the song "The Impossible Dream," a man's potential can best be seen when he is "willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause."
The danger he sees is taking this image too far where men see themselves only as workers. To counter-act this action-only stereotype, Fr. Richards turns to St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, who wrote, "This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man's happiness lies."
He tells men that this is a very simple two-step approach that we can all apply each day.
First, a man needs to be dedicated to a daily discipline of prayer out of which his service comes. There can be no more excuses for not praying. To be a man of God requires that we spend our regular time before the Lord.
"Scripture tells us to be still and know that he is God. It's hard for a man to be still. to be silent.
"Sure, it's a struggle," Fr. Richards goes on to say. "In that silence we have to deal with our own demons. Just as Jesus went into the desert and encountered the devil, our quiet times are when we confront our issues.
"There, in our own desert, we recognize that we need the Lord. we become vulnerable, which is the key to our surrender and discover that when we are weak, we are strong. At that point we choose to place God in charge of our life.
"Each day I have one hour of adoration. For part of it I pray, I read Scripture, but then I also just sit in silence. It is during this time of adoration that I get filled up so that I can do something."
Just as Jesus was refreshed after his desert and went out to preach and minister, men are called into the world to serve out of love - his love that is expressed as he gives up his life for God and for others.
A man has to come to the point of realizing that when he surrenders himself totally to God, good will come out of it.
"This is ultimately an act of trust," Fr. Richards explains. "That if I surrender myself totally to You, good will come out of it.
"I like to tell people that if they die to themselves every day and they realize that God is blessing them all the time; that ultimately when they have to give their final sacrifice of their own death, if just another day of dying - it is something I've done every day and God has been faithful every day, I can do it eternally as an act of trust.
"And in the process, the Lord blesses you even more abundantly, the more you give your life."
The type of love Fr. Richards is describing here can also be applied to our lives as husbands. In St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, he shows us the two sides of the marriage covenant - first he says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord."
Then, the apostle states, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." A woman's call to entrust her life is connect with a unique call for her husband - he must be willing to lay down his life for her. Again, it is his call to sacrifice.
A man's great love for his wife, however, can also be a hindrance if it is not put in proper relationship with a man's love of God. "One time I gave a talk, Fr. Richards said, "where I stated 'Gentlemen, you need to love God more than you love your wives or your kids.'"
"A guy came up to me and said 'Father, I completely disagree with you!' And I said, 'Well, you're completely wrong. You need to completely love God more than your wife and kids. Then you can love them with God's love not just your love. It transforms it."
We live in a world of gender-confusion where masculine behavior has been anathematized and ridiculed as an exhibition of testosterone. In fact, on the same day we honor fathers, New York City will be hosting the Folsom Street East, where homosexuality, debauchery and perversion to the extreme will be on display. Nothing could stand more contrary to God's higher purpose than this celebration of man's lower nature. Truly, we need to hear a clear message for men.
As one who desires to be a man after God's own heart, I am thankful for strong priests and pastors, like Fr. Larry, who can challenge me and encourage me to live a live with a higher purpose.
Fr. Richards' book, "Be a Man!"(available through Amazon) explores how you can become the man God created you to be. With straightforward and often hard-hitting language, he challenges men to be beloved sons of the Father who are strong, loving, courageous and holy; men who want to change the world by first being changed themselves.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fr. Richards graduated from Gannon University and St. Vincent Seminary
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1989 for the Diocese of Erie, and currently serves as pastor of St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie. He is also the Spiritual Director of the TEC (To Encounter Christ) Retreat Program for the Diocese of Erie and the Founder/President of The Reason for our Hope Foundation (www.thereasonforourhope.org), which is dedicated to preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Richards has directed hundreds of retreats, parish missions, and conferences for young and old alike. He is also heard nightly on Relevant Radio as well as through his podcasts.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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