Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.
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I AM A MAN
The night before I left for seminary—my “last night” if you will—some friends were sitting on my front porch having some beers. We were joking around and doing what we all do best: busting on one another. While everyone in the group was taking their fair share of sarcastic shrapnel, eventually the barrels were turned onto the topic of my impending celibacy with the comment; “Enjoy your last night… you have to turn in your ‘Man Card’ tomorrow.” Zing!
I was reflecting on that moment while flipping the channels the other night. The old television standby of a James Bond movie appeared on the television menu, one that happened to be one of my favorites: Casino Royale. This film by far had the best acting and the best plot development of the Bond films; it also had one of the better 007s: Daniel Craig.
Daniel Craig’s Bond personified a more modern male ideal… an ideal regularly championed by any Maxim or FHM magazine. But watching this film also got me thinking how much this character—played by any actor—had been one of the major definitions of manhood I had growing up. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know, but the standards of sophistication, coolness under pressure, suaveness, and most importantly skill with women are heights that most men usually feel called to aspire to.
Climbing “Mount Bond” was a challenge that I always lost but never stopped trying to conquer while growing up. The closest I got in my attempts were smoothly ordering a “Coca-Cola, two cherries, no ice” when going out to restaurants, my own underage version of the famous vodka martini… I know, I know, you only wish you could be THAT cool. But usually losing fights in Middle School, breaking into sweats when talking to girls in High School, and never really getting over a fear of roller coasters pretty much put the kibosh on any ambitions for the Central Intelligence Agency.
When I turned 21 I tried the vodka martini; I much preferred a Guinness. In the end, I know it’s a game no one can win. What came first, the “archetype” or the Bond? I don’t know, but I do know that for a lot of us guys, the ideals and aspirations represented in the figure of Bond, James Bond, need to be reckoned with. He’s out there, and like it or not he’s a part of us; Maxim magazine would fold and we probably wouldn’t have to protest war if he wasn’t.
Still, my experience is that simply rejecting “the secular value” doesn’t work—I found I made more progress in coming to terms with the 007 ideal during the times I’ve asked myself why I feel the need to destroy the bad guys and conquer the dim-witted but voluptuous blond. (Geez, does she just have to sit there and scream? Can she pick up a gun or something and help out? Thank God Halle Berry eventually came along.) It turns out that the Walther PPK comes out almost always when I feel insecure about something. And here I am, in the process of giving up one of the main measuring sticks of the James Bond ideal. I have to admit that that ideal was one of the obstacles to me making the leap to join the priesthood in the first place. I also have the feeling that the ideals of Bond are not likely to completely go away.
That being said, I was happy to see in Casino Royale that they let Daniel Craig break a sweat… bleed when hit… get his heart broken… and even mourn a death. Maybe James Bond is growing up too.
I went into the House Superior’s office the other day for a meeting. Hanging on the wall was a framed poster with the phrase “I AM A MAN.” When I asked him what it was, he told me that it was an original sign from the garbage workers strike in Memphis, 1968. He was able to get his hands on one of the rare originals when he was pastor of the Paulist house in Memphis, which had a history of being involved in such issues at the time.
In 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, the labor movement and the civil rights movement came together in a monumental struggle for human and public employee rights. On February 11, over 1,300 sanitation workers – nearly all were African American – went on strike demanding their basic rights to organize a union, to gain a living wage and to receive the respect and dignity due all working men and women. During the strike Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis to support the workers.
He intended on leading a march despite the injunction against it. On April 3, Dr. King spoke at the city’s Mason Temple for what would be his last speech the night before he was killed.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.