UPDATE: Read Part 2 here!
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Taylor Marshall of the always fascinating blog, Canterbury Tales. Dr. Marshall is a true Catholic renaissance man and all-around gentleman. He is a college professor, PhD in Philosophy, hunter, fisherman, husband, father, author, speaker, homebrew aficionado, and, well, the list goes on. I think you’ll enjoy the wise perspectives he shares.
Dr. Taylor Marshall and his wife Joy have seven children and live in Dallas, Texas. He is the author Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages, which you can receive for FREE by visiting his website: taylormarshall.com.
1. What unique challenges do Catholic men face in the modern world?
There are two major challenges to men in the contemporary world:
1) The first major challenge to men is that we are called to choose two false extremes of male identity: either the soft metrosexual or the barbarian brute. Aristotle spoke of virtue as the mean between two extremes.
Men should be useful. Men should be know how to hunt animals, sharpen a knife, and use basic tools.
Men should be cultured. They should know which fork to use and have courteous manners around ladies. They should know how to act and dress respectfully.
I was at a wedding not too long ago and the groomsmen didn’t know how to tie their neckties. That’s a symptom of the general problem.
2) The second challenge is pornography and the hook-up culture of promiscuity. In elder times times, men had to funnel their procreative angst toward wooing and winning a beautiful girl for holy matrimony.
Today, naked girls are a bar visit away or a mouse click away.
I think this development has led to fearful, insecure men. In some cases angry and violent men. Pornography and promiscuity push men to either extreme.
2. You are a college professor and ardent Thomist. What practical role, if any, does philosophy have in the life of the modern Catholic man?
Philosophy has a daily application in my life. I try to read the book of Proverbs every day. There are 31 chapters and it fits well with a monthly reading plan.
The Hebrew Proverbs challenge the reader to fall in love with wisdom. Philosophy means “Love of wisdom.”
The book of Proverbs asks every man to choose between two women: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. The former is the personification of wisdom, right living, justice, and holiness. The latter is the personification of pleasure, drunkenness, illicit sex, and foolishness.
The last chapter of Proverbs, ch 31, describes how wisdom is personified in a man’s wife.
True philosophy, as Aristotle would say, is the endeavor to fulfill your final purpose. For the Catholic, it’s sainthood. If you are not daily striving for that goal, you’re failing. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
3. You are the father of four little boys. How are you training them to be holy young men?
According to Plato, the soul has “three levels” corresponding to the “three levels” of the body: head, chest, loins.
Little boys (and little girls) must be trained along these three “levels.”
The head signifies the intellect. Children need to be challenged intellectually and morally from a young age. For younger children this is accomplished by wonderful stories. I tend to make up my own stories for them.
The chest signifies the patterns of courage, fear, anger, bravery, and strength.
Boys especially need to be governed here. They must overcome fears. They must be challenged to jump off the high dive, water ski, eat strange foods, wrestle bigger boys, and swing at fastballs. Otherwise, they’ll become over-sensitive wussies.
They must be tempered, too. As they enter the teenage years, a young man may be overly courageous. He lives as if he were invincible. This is not virtuous. However, in our era I’d rather see a fool hearty boy than a timid one.
Lastly, the loins (stomach and genitals) represent a child’s desire for pleasure. As a child, this means food. For a teenager, sexual attraction enters the picture.
If a 9 year old cannot say “no” to eating a bunch of Twinkees, will he be able to say “no” to pornography when he’s 15 years old? I doubt it.
The virtue of temperance must be instilled form early on.
From a supernatural point of view, all this must be enveloped in grace. A child needs right catechesis and sacramental participation. My wife and I make a big deal about First Communion, Confirmation, and frequent Confession. I think it’s also good for children to know priests and religious. They need that example before them.
4. Male friendships have gotten weaker over the past few decades. How important are strong male friends in the life of the Catholic man, and what are some ways they can be developed?
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. I’ll be very vulnerable here. When I don’t keep up with my male friendships, I get depressed. My wife knows this and she’s wonderful about encouraging me to hang out with friends.
Aristotle says that true friendship is to love the other man’s soul. If you can find a friend like that, then be ready to die for him. Don’t lose him.
I think that we are so afraid of homosexuality that men have drifted apart. That’s too bad. We need to find close friends and not let the culture define “male intimacy.”
5. We live in increasingly casual times. Should the Catholic man seek to be above average in his appearance and conduct? If so, why is it important?
There’s a time to be casual and a time to be more formal. Men need to begin a personal appearance quest from their toes to their head.
Men, if you can’t shine your shoes, you’re screwed. There I said it. Nothing says, “I’m a scrub,” like scuffed up, dull shoes. If your shoes aren’t right, everything else about your attire is probably wrong.
Next think about socks, pants, belts, shirts, sports coats, ties, and then the pinnacle, the hat.
For example, you should wear a white dress shirt with a tie for formal occasions. The red shirt with the red or black tie says, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Don’t dress like a pimp. Dress like a man.
Begin to educate yourself about the difference between a blazer and a sports coat.
If you’re in doubt, get a Brooks Brothers catalogue and start studying.
Regarding casual wear, you can be casual but not look like a 15-year old at the mall. Ball caps, sports shirts, and gym shorts are cool for working out or jogging. But if you’re doing something casual with your lady, dress like a man, not a boy.
6. The saints spoke often of detachment from things of the world. How can the Catholic man balance the desire to enjoy the good things of this world without becoming overly materialistic?
Saint Francis de Sales said that one should become like a pharmacist. He handles drugs and dispenses drugs all day long. However, he keeps the drugs outside of himself. He does great good by means of drugs, so long as he does not digest them.
The same applies to earthly goods. We can be around them and handle them, but we cannot let them compete in our hearts for Christ.
7. As the crucifix reminds us, sacrifice is central to the Catholic life. What are some ways Catholic men can embrace sacrifice in their daily lives?
My pastor says that every husband should be practicing daily penance for his family. Fasting. Placing a pebble in your shoe. Refusing yourself salt. Saying extra prayers. Ordering what you don’t want off the menu. Those kind of things.
I also believe fathers should carefully introduce penance into the cycle of family life. No meat on Fridays is the obvious place to begin.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview tomorrow!