Lolek: A Reflection on Masculinity
The Polish word Lolek means “free man." Have you ever asked yourself what it really means to be a free man?
This question is becoming almost impossible to answer when we look at the kinds of men our culture glorifies. Good male role models are becoming few and far between. Bad male role models are becoming numerous.
If authentic masculinity isn’t exemplified to boys, how will they cultivate their masculinity and become men themselves? It’s a pervasive issue. So many boys today grow up never knowing their father. So many boys grow up in a good, stable home, but never develop a real relationship with their father. When fathers don’t live out their vocation as defenders and cultivators, sons suffer. Boys remain boys. Just look around. They become enslaved to the culture and find themselves adrift. So who can we look to to guide us wayward sons on the path to becoming truly free men?
Lolek is the nickname given to one of the greatest spiritual giants of our time; Pope St. John Paul II. If you want to learn what it means to be a free man, look at the witness of St. John Paul II. He listened, he loved, and he showed men what it means to lay down one's life for the beloved.
John Paul II was notoriously bad at keeping a schedule; he’d often show up hours late to important meetings. But the reason was not that he was aloof. He was always late because he’d run into someone en route and stop to talk with them. John Paul II knew that the person in front of him was far more important than any meeting he had to get to. For Lolek, to encounter another human being was to encounter the face of Jesus. And anyone who encountered St. John Paul II felt that. He spoke to crowds of millions, yet anyone who went to hear him felt like he was speaking directly to them. They felt known. Being a free man is making others feel known and listened to.
John Paul II talked about human sexuality more than any other pope in the history of the Church. Many people questioned how a celibate man could possibly have any authority on the topic of sex. If you find yourself asking that same question, just read his book Love and Responsibility. He preached on the beauty of the sexual embrace as an imitation of Divine Love. He spoke about personalism-- the idea that an individual can never be the means to the end, but must be the end themselves. He taught that the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person but that it shows far too little. He taught men to not use their wives for their own sexual satisfaction, but to make a sincere gift of themselves out of love for their wives. Being a free man is defending the dignity of our sisters in Christ, using our bodies for God’s glory, and striving to see the beautiful whole of the human person.
Toward the end of his life, John Paul II developed Parkinson’s disease which caused him to deteriorate. As he genuflected before the Eucharist while celebrating Mass, people could hear his knee slam against the floor because he was too weak to control his limbs. His hands shook violently and he eventually had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. During his final Holy Week John Paul II desired to address the crowd, but his Parkinson’s made him unable to utter any words. One of the most brilliant minds who ever lived was unable to speak even a few words. As his health declined, many of his advisors suggested that he withdraw from the public. But John Paul II refused. He wanted his flock to see the beauty of suffering. He wanted to continue to serve Christ’s Church despite his own pain and suffering. He wanted to lay his life down for the Church.
Being a free man is listening, loving, and laying down your life for the beloved (among many other things). If you want to cultivate your masculinity and become a free man, search for good role models. Look to your friends, look to your fathers, look to the saints. But do yourself a favor and start with Pope St. John Paul II. He made it his mission to help others take on the name Lolek, and it’s our mission to do the same.