The world, the monastery, and manhood


Hi all,

Recently I’ve been working my best to improve myself - since my teenage years, I’ve dealt with pretty debilitating self-esteem and shyness issues to the point where I am sometimes literally afraid to talk to people. I’ve taken some great positive steps forward recently, feel I have grown much more into a strong, self-confident man. However, there is a side to this I just can’t get my head around, I have been discerning monastic life, and for the past two and a half years lifting weights has been a big part of my life, and I see it as a noble way to get stronger, body and mind - it has certainly built my confidence and character. So when I look at the quiet contemplative lives of monks, all of this strong manhood, self-confidence (properly ordered, not prideful) seems to be missing. It is a life of silence and penance - is there a difference in the masculinity required for lay vocations and monastic vocations? When I think deeply about the monastery or contemplative prayer it seems that the frailty of that life is not conducive to masculinity?

This is a confusing thing to try and explain but basically, I feel as though the masculinity I am trying to grow into is opposed to the monastic life. When on retreat or discernment weeks at monasteries, I’ve slipped into old habits of barely being able to hold eye contact, not being able to talk to people etc. under the guise of contemplation, but really it just becomes as an avenue into shyness and low confidence for me. However, the other side of the coin is that there is a real peace about the monastery, and I genuinely don’t care what anybody thinks about me when there because of the nature of the place. I’m just struggling to discern between what God wants for me.

Sorry for this convoluted set of questions.

I am continually praying about this and asking for the intercession of Our Lady and the saints, particularly St Joseph.

Thank you


Another crucial point - I am in some ways scared that the things required for manhood - self-sacrifice, strength, confidence etc. - are somehow egotistical, and so I avoid them on moral grounds and find I want to abandon them at the monastery, perhaps I simply have a warped view of things?


To me personally the monastery sounds better, haha…but that’s the kind of person I am :slight_smile:

What kind of person are you? That’s really what it boils down to my friend. If you desire to be a Monastic, then be a Monastic, I’m sure the Lord wants you to do what would make you happy, especially if it’s devoting your life to him, for crying out loud.


Being a man is not only about muscles and being physically strong. It is just as much, if not more, about using your brains for the good of the people around you. Those men who I have met and have also been monks and/or priests for some +40 years or more are more “men” than the 20-30-year-olds who believe they are men because they have muscles and a good looking body.


I never said it was anything to do with muscles. I’m saying that I find it difficult to uphold self-confidence and masculine virtues when placed in a monastic setting - I turn into a milksop. But if I’m not in a monastic setting I cannot be totally in contemplative peace, I’m just seeking advice.


Perhaps you want a monastery that has a farm. Caring for animals or wrestling bales of hay might be just what you’re looking for.


It sounds a bit like you simply aren’t particularly attracted to monastic life. Maybe consider diocesan priesthood?

Really, to me, being a man is all about sacrificing myself for my wife and family, doing my work well, and offering my suffering to the Lord.


The measure of masculinity is philosophical while still being practical when properly ordered toward God.

Masculinity can be secularly measured my physique and a stoic (philosophically speaking) demeanor although that displays the lack of being properly ordered toward God.

Discipline of the body, and then the mind, can have many forms. It can be anything from a strenuous exercise regiment to fasting or awaking early each day for prayer and the performance of occupational or assigned duties. It is all a matter of perspective and one’s state in life.

Monastic communities focus on charity and balance, “that in all things God may be glorified.” I know a few monks who are runners and others who like to lift weights to stay in shape. This discipline is great in that it displays an appreciation of the gift of life that God has given us in stewardship of the body, but fitness must serve a purpose. Exercise must be balanced with the daily schedule of prayer, assigned work, study, and meditation. There are some very fit monks in communities though they tend to be more lean due to the recommendation of fasting for purposes of devotion and penance.

Each person living the contemplative life (in the monastery or outside of it) seeks to grow in faith and love of God and their neighbor. All must try to root out predominant fault and by each’s God-given gifts serve the community to the glory of God. Masculinity in a spiritual sense is to be Christ-like. Living in light of the gospel, the beatitudes and ordering our lives to God’s will. Masculinity in a philosophical sense is to embrace challenge, not shying away from difficulties, one’s duty or responsabilities. This is measured by each of us in our daily examination of conscience and when we ask God for forgiveness of sins we have done and what we have failed to do.

Living a monastic life doesn’t always have to be as a professed religious in a monastery, you can also live as a single/married man while be an Oblate or Associate of a monastic community. This would be where you live with the monastic disciplines of the community you are associated with, sharing in the charism of that community, in so much as your state in life allows.

  • see Part 2 below…


Part 2:

The emotional effects a spiritual encounter has on a person can be extreme in some cases. We see and feel this often on retreat where we strip away the daily distractions and measure ourselves directly against God, realizing in humility our unworthiness. The turning into a milksop, as you have mentioned, is normal and your self-confidence will grow as you learn more about yourself through continued reflection and contemplation. You will learn, through time, to accept who you are as God made you while identifying your moral, emotional and cognitive patterns and insecurities. This is part of the growth process. Identifying our weaknesses/fears and growing through them while learning what it truly means to trust in God. This is not a one time lesson, it’s lifelong and is part of the spiritual journey. We are called to a life of continuous conversion, daily answering the call of God with, “here I am Lord!”

I applaud your courage in answering God’s call to seek Him further and I pray that your discernment of His will for you brings peace and growth.

Sorry this was so long, I hope this has helped in some way, if not then please let me know and I can try to explain further.
Pax Christi!


Perhaps God is preparing you for something. Father Czisek fasted for the whole of lent one year and later on he was a prisoner in a Soviet gulag for many years.


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