2020 Arkansas Catholic Men's Conference

Published: February 1, 2020

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor presented the following talk focused on authentic Christian manhood during the Arkansas Catholic Men's Conference at Christ the King Church in Little Rock on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020.

Bishop Taylor

Bishop (Francis) Malone contacted me last fall to invite me to provide a bishop’s perspective on Christian manhood. But actually, I’m not too clear on how my perspective is different now that I am a bishop because much of what I know about Christian manhood I learned from my father, and for that matter, my grandfathers too — the same father and grandfathers I had when I was a deacon and a priest.

Indeed, you don’t stop being a deacon when you become a priest and you don’t stop being a priest when you become a bishop. Just like you don’t stop being a father when you become a grandfather. And of course I have since learned additional things about Christian manhood from the example of remarkable men I have come to know in ministry and above all through the inspiring example of Blessed Stanley Rother, whose holiness and courage I have had the privilege to investigate as part of my work on his cause of canonization.

But like I said, most of what I know about Christian manhood I learned from my father and grandfathers, and much of this has been reinforced over and over again by experiences I have had in almost 40 years of priestly ministry. I’ve seen families prosper because their men resembled the men in my own life. And I have seen families struggle because their men didn’t.

But like I said, most of what I know about Christian manhood I learned from my father and grandfathers, and much of this has been reinforced over and over again by experiences I have had in almost 40 years of priestly ministry. I’ve seen families prosper because their men resembled the men in my own life. And I have seen families struggle because their men didn’t.

And of course as bishop I’ve seen the same thing happen in parishes when the priests — whom we call father — live up to the ideals of Christian manhood and the sad results when they don’t. And even more so in the case of bishops, whom we rightly hold to an even higher standard. My father died last year shortly after his 90th birthday and I can think of no better way to unpack for us today the theme of Christian manhood than to share with you a few lessons I learned from him growing up and continue to learn from him and my grandfathers as an adult.

I’ll bet that these memories will resonate, for good or for ill, in your experience of the men in your life as well. If I were to summarize with a single word to describe my father in particular, that word would be “loyal.” He was genuine — which is the most fundamental thing that true Christian manhood requires. True to his God, true to his family and true to himself.

My dad was raised in a faithful Catholic home in Fort Worth, Texas — his mom was a convert and both of his parents lived their faith; never missed Mass. He attended a combination of Catholic and public schools, including Laneri High in Fort Worth, which was staffed by priests from Subiaco Abbey here in Arkansas. Over 10 years ago my dad visited the cemetery at Subiaco where he found the graves of his former teachers and Father Meinrad who had married him and Mom.

God used my grandparents to bless my dad with a solid foundation in the faith. Notice how important it is for an impressionable boy to be given a solid foundation in the faith. He learned from them how to pray, he learned morality — right from wrong, and he learned Church teaching — the Baltimore Catechism, but all of this would have remained just in his head without the contagious sincerity of his parents and the monks from Subiaco, which helped him make the Catholic way of life his own; their example set the direction for the entire rest of my father’s life.

Actions speak louder than words and boys especially model themselves on their father, especially when their father is genuine like my father and grandfathers were (mother and grandmothers too), no discrepancy between what they say and do. I and all my siblings grew up rooted in the faith right from the beginning.

There were crosses over every doorway and my mother’s parents were especially devout — that Granddad, incidentally, had been a convert from Judaism and had lost 20 cousins in the Holocaust, but when it came to his Catholic faith, he was “all in.” a true believer. He and my grandmother had a holy water font just inside their bedroom door and every night, they would kneel around their bed and say novena prayers before retiring for the night.

We would join them whenever we were visiting them and as a small child my brother, Joe, would genuflect whenever he walked past their bedroom door. Even as little kids we knew that their bedroom was a sacred place. It is quite remarkable — especially in today’s world — that all seven of us brothers and sisters remain faithful, active Catholics to this day and much of the credit goes to these men in our lives whose faith we experienced from the earliest days of our childhood.

The “faith dimension” of authentic Christian manhood was evident in my father’s life in several ways, the most important of which was that we knew for certain that he truly believed: It was not for show. Of course we prayed grace before every meal, including in restaurants, but just like with my grandparents, for him also, the bedroom was an especially sacred place of prayer.

He prayed there in private with the door closed so as not to be disturbed, but we knew he was praying because occasionally something would happen and we would “catch” him at prayer, which is a lot more convincing for a child than more “staged” moments of prayer. Once we were out of the home, he moved to a chair in the living room for what had become a daily holy hour in the morning and a daily holy half-hour in the evening. Except he just called it “doing my readings” from the Magnificat booklet and reflecting on these with his eyes closed, because saying “holy hour” seemed pretentious to him. He was just spending time with the Lord.

My dad had a special love for the Eucharist — another key trait of Christian manhood. He worked for Continental Oil Company and he had to travel a lot for business, including in Europe and the Middle East. He had been a pioneer in the computer field — since 1953 — and for many years worked with the data processing departments of Conoco’s foreign subsidiaries, as well as with central operations in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Most of his European colleagues were non-religious, but he always insisted on going to Mass on Sundays and holy days and sometimes his European hosts accompanied him.

One time he ended up at an Anglican church in London, realized the mistake, skipped their Communion and went out in search of a Catholic church where he could fulfill his Sunday obligation. In old age he became hard of hearing and he said that due to the echo and the way the priest mumbled and talked too fast, that it was impossible for him to understand anything in our parish church in Ponca City, but still he never missed Mass on that account.

He said he was mainly going for the Eucharist anyway. Indeed, for a while he was going to the Spanish Mass because he liked the music and it was the same Eucharist and he liked watching all the little kids and couldn’t understand anything in the English Mass anyway. Actually, he said he had a better chance of understanding the homily at the Spanish Mass than at the English Mass. The reason was that the priest didn’t know Spanish very well, so he used an interpreter for the homily. At that Mass the priest delivered his homily in English much more slowly and clearly for the benefit of the translator.

This faith dimension was also evident in the way he lived his marriage with my mother — another key to Christian manhood that I have seen neglected over and over again in almost four decades of ministry. My dad trusted my mom and respected her judgment — they were a team and always presented a united front to us kids. If they had disagreements, we seldom knew about it, and never was there a harsh word. “My dad was clearly the head of the family and he usually did whatever Mom said.”

I say “usually” because I do have a few stories that are sort of the exception that proves the rule. Like the time he cut down her not-yet-producing pecan tree because it was shading his garden … the aftermath was a “learning experience” for him. He did a better job of consulting after that. But he was utterly faithful. Once on a business trip to Milan his hosts had arranged for a trip up to a lodge on one of the beautiful lakes of northern Italy when all of a sudden several pretty girls showed up, arranged for by their hosts, to offer their services.

My dad couldn’t get out of there quick enough. After faithfulness to God, faithfulness to my mother was his highest value. She became ill when I was in fourth grade and had to go to the hospital in Oklahoma City to have a series of surgeries for varicose veins — probably due to having so many children in such quick succession, seven kids in a little over nine-and-a-half years — and Dad was there with her throughout.

And when she became ill in old age, he cared for her personally with assistance in the home for two-and-a-half years, all the way to the end, spending long hours simply holding her hand — that’s Christian manhood. And then he grieved her daily for the following two-and-a-half years, all the way to his own death last year. Their union was very close and it was very touching to see. My dad’s advice to each of my brothers as they prepared for marriage was simple and always the same, two simple words: He said, “be kind!” No matter what she does, no matter how stupid it was, no matter how much you disagree, no matter how hurt your feelings are, no matter what, always be kind. That’s what she’s going to remember.

If God came first and Mom came second, we kids knew that we came next — ahead of everything else. Ahead of his career, for sure. He and Mom were truly open to life. Like I said, they had seven kids in less than 10 years. I was born nine months and six days after their wedding. They paid a big price for their openness to life. For one thing, there were times when things were tight financially, but Dad always trusted that God would provide — another mark of Christian manhood — trust in God. I remember times when my paternal grandfather sent food to us from Fort Worth on the train — mainly game that he had killed. And once we got a box of clothing from my cousins in St. Louis, which was great because fashions that were already going out of style in St. Louis were just coming into style in Ponca City.

In 1960 Conoco shut down the computer department in Fort Worth where there were both sets of grandparents to help with the children, and transferred him to Ponca City where they knew only one other person, who had also been transferred from Fort Worth — and who just happened to be my godfather. At that time he and Mom had five children aged 6 and under.

To give you an idea of how hectic that was — and how much he had come to trust in God — the family lore is that due to this chaotic move, I enrolled myself in first grade, which is a bit of an exaggeration. The deal is that we moved over the Labor Day weekend and Dad had to be at work early the next day for his new position, but this was also the first day of school at St. Mary’s and we were still in the process of moving to a small, very crowded rent house. So they called the parish office before leaving Fort Worth and told them to put me on the list for first grade.

So that morning, Tuesday after Labor Day, 1960, Mom simply drove up with a car full of five kids, pointed to a door and told me to go in that door and tell the first adult I saw that I was supposed to be in first grade. And that’s how it happened. I guess, later on, one of my parents must have come back by to fill out whatever forms were needed in the school office. I was always a pretty independent kid, but I think that is also pretty strong evidence of how secure we kids felt, in part due to the sacrifices my dad made so that my mother would be able to stay at home and raise the kids full time. They had less money to work with but we had a wonderful life.

My dad also taught me by his example about “hope” in the context of Christian manhood, in particular once we were teenagers. Like I said, our home life was quite secure — one of the benefits of having a stay-at-home mom, but like any adolescents, we did have our moments. I had one brother who had an especially hard time finding his place. He was belligerent and Dad threatened to send him to a military school if he didn’t shape up. But my dad never did give up hope on him — another mark of Christian manhood: He’s your son in the bad times as well as the good times.

Dad had to swallow a lot of bile over the course of maybe four years, but was still always there for him. After this brother flunked out of college the second time, Dad was still there for him, though no longer financially — he wasn’t going to pay the bills of an able-bodied 20-year-old party boy. A party boy who was soon on his back on the cold floor of an auto repair shop, and who after about six months came to the realization that he didn’t much like lying on cold concrete floors, which led to a moment of conversion. This brother then saved enough money to pay his own way in the local community college — Northern Oklahoma College (NOC) — we called it “no other choice.”

And after two successful years on this third attempt at a higher education, paid for on his own dime, Dad resumed helping with tuition — resumed helping him in the same way that he had helped all the rest of us. This brother ended up retiring early after a very successful career, now runs a quilt shop with his wife and was elected to the City Council of Ponca City a couple of years ago. That brother who gave my dad so much grief, has turned out to be the most loyal of all.

He bought a house two doors down from my parents in order to look after them in their old age and then he was the one on the scene who cared for them all the way to the end. I doubt that any of this would have ever happened if Dad had given up hope in him when that would have been very easy to do. Christian manhood demands that we not give up hope, even when we have to be firm in the face of disappointing situations.

And of course, love, the foundation of all the rest. Faith, hope and love, the three theological virtues. My dad loved intensely but had a hard time showing it physically, other than tearing up sometimes. We brothers and sisters hug each other all the time, but with Dad it was always very awkward. He just couldn’t get the hang of it — he would always stiffen up — I don’t know where that came from. I think it may be typical of his generation. So he showed his love instead by being a good provider for us and by always being present in the home when he was not on a business trip.

Being there for one’s family is another mark of Christian manhood. My dad was a family man and we always knew that we were his greatest treasure. Home was where he always wanted to be. In old age he would play cards with my mother and any of us who were present almost every night — Casino or Shanghai depending on how many players there were available. And he looked after my two widowed grandparents, one on each side, moving each of them, when the time came, from Fort Worth to Ponca City so that he could take care of them in their last years of life.

I don’t know if this is exactly what Bishop Malone had in mind when he asked me to give this talk, but it is through my dad that I learned many lessons about what true Christian manhood requires. I’ll bet many of you can say the same thing about your dad or about some other important men in your life, maybe a grandfather or an uncle who took you under his wings. And I am sure this is the kind of man you want to be for your wife and children.

My dad had his priorities in order and he trusted God implicitly. He said he felt a little guilty because every time he had another child, he miraculously got an unexpected raise at work — and viewed through the lens of faith, he saw God’s hand in this, God intervening to provide for us. My dad was loyal to God and God was loyal to him. He made decisions rooted in faith, hope and love, and as a result the faith was passed on to us, seemingly hopeless situations became great blessings and love remained always the force that held it all together. The same is — or at least can be — true in your life as well. You be loyal to God and he will be loyal to you. Make all your decisions out of an inner reservoir of faith, hope and love and you will experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God in your own life and in the life of your family.