Men’s conference explores meaning of masculinity
By Dan Russo
CEDAR RAPIDS — In Hebrew, the word for male means “remembrance.” According to Nic Davidson, the keynote speaker at this year’s Archdiocesan Men’s Conference, this simple idea encapsulates what it means to be a man.
“A remembrance makes present again,” Davidson told a crowd of over 200 at Xavier Catholic High School April 28. “God created the male gender to make him present … You are a remembrance of God to this world.”
The 40-year-old convert to Catholicism from the Assemblies of God Church asserted that to do this, men must reject the twisted images of male laziness, stupidity, violence or lust pushed in our culture and embodied in characters like Homer Simpson or James Bond. Instead, he argued, they must embrace the authentic masculinity of sacrificial love displayed by Jesus on the cross.
“We are made to give like he gives,” said Davidson, in the first of two talks.
Davidson described obstacles to this mission, using examples from his own life. During a rough upbringing, his own father didn’t give him much of a role model. After being exposed to pornography at a young age, the experiences negatively affected his relationships with women and even other men.
“Porn is not just images of two people,” he said. “It’s a mentality. The porn mentality doesn’t just affect sex. It affects the way you view the world. We view people as what we can get from them.”
Years later, after struggles in his own marriage, Davidson was able to ditch what he described as an “ATM” mentality exacerbated by exposure to pornography.
“Most of us have had moments of brokenness even if it’s not an addiction,” he said.
Eventually, he and his wife were acquainted with St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, which helped them view their relationship in a new, healthier way, but not before they experienced a dark period in their marriage.
“She said, ‘I feel like if I couldn’t ever put out, you would leave me,” Davidson recalled of the lowest point. “I felt so broken.”
Later, he came to his wife with a proposal.
“(I told her), ‘I used you for seven years, the least I can do is offer you seven years of celibacy to make up for it,’ and then I prayed she wouldn’t take me up on it,” he said, garnering a few laughs.
But after a time of not having sex and focusing on one another, things did improve.
“My wife fell in love with me,” he said. “My wife saw I was in it for her and not her body. It doesn’t seem like a gift to step back, but it is. It actually planted the seeds of love.”
Davidson offered theology of the body’s suggestion that people use prayer, confession and the Eucharist as a way to find grace and overcome darkness. In his second talk of the day, he urged participants to become the men God wants them to be.
“Gentleman, this culture, this society, this town is actually waiting for you to be real men, to walk out, pick up your feet and show them what it looks like,” he said. “The rest of the world knows how to work themselves to the bone for a pay check. … Go into the world and show the world what a godly man looks like. Let the world know there is a God the Father who loves them and will bleed out for them no matter how they respond.”
Davidson was a last minute fill-in for Matt Fradd, an Australian Catholic apologist who was originally slated to speak, but canceled at the last minute due to a family emergency. Davidson stunned the crowd by starting his appearance off by speaking with a suspiciously well-done Australian accent before reverting to his normal Minnesotan cadence. He covered some of the same themes as Fradd would have, including the impact of pornography on families.
“I thought the humor Nic used was really on point,” said Zach Davis, president of the Archdiocesan Catholic Men’s Fellowship, the organization that has led the event for the last 22 years. “I think as guys we deal with a lot of serious stuff on the day to day, so it’s really important to be able to take serious stuff and find something in that to laugh about. I think every time we have a speaker who can do that well, it gets a good response.”
In between the two main talks by Davidson, there were breakout sessions on a variety of topics, and a forum on starting men’s groups at parishes, which is one of the main objectives of the men’s fellowship. Tables from various Catholic groups and other organizations were also featured as well as opportunities for reconciliation and eucharistic adoration. The day closed with a Mass concelebrated by Archbishop Michael Jackels.
In his homily, the archbishop reflected on ways to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives so that we can take action for the good of the church and the world.
“Somebody once said, ‘Cold butter doesn’t spread,’” said the archbishop. “Cold religion doesn’t spread. A cold religion is one that is not enflamed with the fire of divine love that is ignited by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. I can’t make anybody live according to the Spirit. I would if I could.”
Archbishop encouraged those gathered to “yield to the Holy Spirit” and “let that Spirit be expressed in word and deed.”
Nic Davidson, a Catholic convert whose life was changed by theology of the body, speaks April 28 in Cedar Rapids. (Witness photo by Dan Russo)