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Behold the Man! An interview with Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers about his new EWTN series | Carl E. Olson | February 28, 2006

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Harold Burke-Sivers is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, and the founder of Aurem Cordis, an apostolate dedicated "to promote the truth and beauty of the gospel by encouraging others to submit themselves freely to the life-giving love of the Trinity and to become living witnesses to that love in the world." Deacon Burke-Sivers gives talks around the country on spirituality, family life, lay vocations, and other topics, and has appeared on "Catholic Answers Live", EWTN, and many local television and radio programs. He has a BA in economics from Notre Dame and an MTS from the University of Dallas. He, his wife Colleen, and their four children live in Portland, Oregon.

Deacon Burke-Sivers produced a series with EWTN titled "Behold the Man: Spirituality for Men," which debuted on Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2006. Carl Olson, editor of IgnatiusInsight.com, interviewed his former classmate and longtime friend about the series and men’s spirituality in the Catholic tradition.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Tell us a bit about your new EWTN series, "Behold the Man", and why you produced it. What do you hope viewers will learn from it?

Deacon Burke-Sivers:
I developed the idea for the series while attempting to answer the questions, "What does it mean to be a man in today's society?" and "How does contemporary culture speak to men about truth, faith, and the meaning of life?" I quickly realized that secularization, radical individualism and moral relativism were eroding the heart and soul of our spiritual lives as men. In "Behold the Man", I explore how living an authentic male spirituality – rooted in the Cross of Christ, the sacramental life of the Church (most especially in the Eucharist and Reconciliation), and the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II – allows men to open their hearts to love Christ more deeply and to follow him more closely as faith-filled servants of truth, goodness, and beauty.

The series examines how a Christ-centered male spirituality fosters and nurtures growth in holiness, how it encourages men to become defenders of the culture of life, how it inspires men to become loving servants of their wives, families and (as priests and religious) the Church, how it develops an understanding and appreciation of the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and how the power of the Eucharistic Christ can sustain men in the every day lived experience of their faith.

It is my prayer that "Behold the Man" will inspire men to live their faith with joy, enthusiasm and in loving fidelity to God's holy will. By doing so, we will become freer to love and more open to receive the gift of grace in response to the Lord's call to "be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

IgnatiusInsight.com: From your experience, what do you think most Catholic men think of when they hear the term "men's spirituality"? Are there stereotypes or misunderstandings that have to be addressed or overcome?

Deacon Burke-Sivers:
Negative stereotypes surrounding male spirituality abound. When I ask men what they think "male spirituality" means, many have no idea. Some men tell me that "male spirituality" evokes images of an "encounter" group where men sit in circles and "get in touch" with their feminine side, or of a "therapy session" where Jungian archetypes of the "mature masculine" and elements of New Age spirituality (Enneagrams, labyrinths, etc...) are explored.

Many of these misconceptions are fueled by a culture that has turned men into caricatures, extolling the "virtue" of egocentrism while portraying men as buffoons, jocks, and womanizers – as people not to be taken seriously. The moral lives and consciences of men are being formed and influenced by the secular culture, leading many of us to believe, "I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want." In short, we have bought into the lie! Thus, in a fleeting attempt at some semblance of spirituality framed within this narcissistic context, incoherent stereotypes prevail.

When we allow the culture to shape our consciences in accord with its "truth", the results within the family and society are devastating. For example, there are attempts to redefine and revise marriage that undermine the solid foundation of covenant, of the life-giving love between one man and one woman. There is widespread corruption and greed in the workplace. Relationships abound in which immediate self-gratification takes precedence over chastity. Prostitution and pornography are rampant. Domestic abuse and other forms of senseless violence perpetrated against women have reached epidemic proportions.

An authentic male spirituality is truly an encounter: an encounter with the Living God in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the quintessential example of what it means to be a man. We must listen to God’s Word as he reveals himself to us in Sacred Scripture and discern how to respond to that Word in faith through the Holy Spirit. Male spirituality means embracing the Cross in our own lives and meditating on what it means to make a complete gift of ourselves in loving sacrifice and service, because it is in giving ourselves away in love that we truly find ourselves in Christ.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How is Christian spirituality different for men than it is for women? What are some of the essential, basic building blocks of sound Catholic spirituality?

Deacon Burke-Sivers:
This may come as a shock but it needs to be said: men and women are different! We are different physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually but we live in a society that says, "In order to be equal, you have to be the same." This cultural affirmation denies the fact that, from the beginning, men and women are completely equal in God’s eyes. Since both are made in the image and likeness of God, neither is denied the unique gifts inherent in their "maleness" and "femaleness". Hence, there is a fundamental unity within the complimentarity of their one-flesh union. It is precisely in the "two become one flesh" union (Genesis 2:24) that we enter into the heart of the Trinity, into a relationship of intimate, personal, loving and life-giving communion with Almighty God. The way we live that spirituality as men and women, in response to God's invitation to love, is distinctive but complimentary.

The spirituality of woman is rooted in the fact that she is the heart of love. Our beloved Holy Father of fond memory, Pope John Paul II, makes this point quite clear: "In God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return (Ephesians 5:21-23). […]The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians . . . enables us to think of a special kind of "prophetism" that belongs to women in their femininity. The analogy of the Bridegroom and the Bride speaks of the love with which every human being – man and woman – is loved by God in Christ. . . . It is precisely the woman – the bride – who manifests this truth to everyone" (Mulieris Dignitatem, 29).

Male spirituality is rooted in headship (Ephesians 5:21-33), but is not the model of power and authority that is promulgated by the culture. The headship constitutive of male spirituality is rooted in service (John 13:3-16). An authentic male spirituality means that a man must possess the willingness and ability to give his life: to die protecting and defending his Bride, and also to die to those things within himself and throughout the culture that want to separate love from life. The separation of love from life, which is the culture of death, leads to the destruction of an authentic male spirituality.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How has your experience as a man, husband, father, and deacon shaped your approach to the spiritual life? And what elements of Benedictine spirituality, which you are very familiar with, do you incorporate into your spiritual life and your teaching about men's spirituality?

Deacon Burke-Sivers:
If we are open to God’s holy will in our lives, His grace will truly heal, elevate and perfect our human nature. Every phase of my life as a man of faith has been deepened and strengthened by a previous experience of God’s grace. In other words, when I truly endeavor to live an authentic male spirituality, I am a better husband. Because I am a better husband, I am a better father. Because I am a better father, I am a better deacon. This is easier said than done! However, I find that when I make a serious effort to live as a man of God, and make frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist an important part of my life, God’s grace imbues me with the strength to live as the person He created me to be, made in His image and likeness.

The Benedictines taught me about the centrality of prayer and the spiritual purpose of work. My appreciation of and love for the sacrifice of the Mass and Sacred Scripture was nurtured by the monks. The daily recitation of the Divine Office, together with active engagement in lectio divina, engendered a regimented and systematic approach to prayer, reading, and contemplation that I still follow to this day. Benedictine spirituality has even influenced the name of my apostolate, Aurem Cordis ("Ear of the Heart"), which is taken from the prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict.

St. Benedict’s Rule provides invaluable guidance in balancing an active work, family and prayer life. It provides a wellspring of spiritual wisdom that can be easily integrated into the practice of male spirituality. Particularly relevant is St. Benedict’s treatment of the role of the Abbot (the "father" of the monastery), and the chapters on good works, obedience, humility, and daily manual labor.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Some of the challenges and temptations facing men seem obvious: working too much, pornography, avoiding responsibilities, etc. What are some of the less obvious, but serious, temptations and difficulties that men have to contend with?

Deacon Burke-Sivers:
The temptations and challenges faced by men today, resulting from the gross misinterpretation of the relationship between truth and freedom, are rooted in our inability to make ourselves vulnerable. The culture has convinced men that it is a sign of weakness for us to open ourselves and share our hearts, our most intimate thoughts, and our deepest insights with others. Our role model, however, is not the culture but the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). It is Christ’s vulnerability on the Cross in the work of our salvation – in giving his life for his Bride in the ultimate act of self-gift – that is the source and summit of male spirituality. We are truly fulfilled as men when we make a firm commitment to live Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

Being vulnerable means not being afraid to be counter-cultural; to embrace and become servants of a culture of life! Being vulnerable means recognizing that receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation enables us to open our hearts and trust the Lord completely, not being afraid to say, "Lord, I love you but I am human and in my weakness, I've made a mistake" and then receive forgiveness. Being vulnerable means emptying ourselves before the Sacrament of the Eucharist in complete surrender to the will of God so that He can fill us. Being vulnerable means exposing the deepest parts of who we are to our "Brides": our spouses and the Church. It is only when we begin to understand the gift of vulnerability lived from the Cross, can we can begin to understand what it means to be a spiritual man.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How does men's spirituality fit into the overall work of your apostolate, Aurem Cordis? Are you currently working on related projects?

Deacon Burke-Sivers:
Aurem Cordis is my effort to promote the truth and beauty of the Gospel by encouraging others to submit themselves freely to the life-giving love of the Trinity and to become living witnesses to that love in the world. I give talks on a number of topics: male spirituality, the sacraments (especially the Eucharist, Reconciliation and Confirmation), the theology of the body, evangelization, the diaconate, family life, and others. I particularly enjoy speaking to men’s groups, youth, and young adults.

Currently, I am writing a book on male spirituality, which I hope to finish later this year. I’m also working on developing resources for parish men’s groups and writing a short book on Pope John Paul II’s approach to male spirituality. Most importantly, I am working hard to be a living witness of Christ’s love for his Church to my wife and children.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

The Meaning and Necessity of Spiritual Fatherhood | Harold Burke-Sivers
Hearing and Living the Truth | Harold Burke-Sivers
The Truth and the Lie | Harold Burke-Sivers
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley

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