When I was 13 years old, I tore a coupon out of a comic book, wrote in my name and address, and mailed it to a company by the name of “Charles Atlas Ltd.” The ad that I answered was written in a comic book format and started out by showing a young man who was a “97 pound weakling” being humiliated in front of his date by a bully kicking sand in his face.
The ad then showed the young man in his home kicking a chair and sending away for the Atlas body building course. After receiving the course, the man built up his muscles and was later shown on the beach punching the bully in the face. He was then declared the “hero of the beach,” with his girlfriend standing next to him admiring his muscular body.
When I received a Charles Atlas booklet in the mail, I read it from cover to cover and then ordered his bodybuilding course. I wanted to be like the guy in the ad – muscular, tough, and admired by pretty girls.
During that time, I was a big fan of “All Star Wrestling” and professional boxing. Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Those were the glory days of boxing in America. I remember Ali’s first loss of his professional boxing career. He was beaten by Smokin’ Joe Frazier in 1971 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Ali made a comeback and beat Frazier in two subsequent matches, “Ali-Frazier II” in 1974 and “The Thrilla in Manila” in 1975.
To me, real men were warriors who didn’t back down from bullies. That’s the way the Williams men were – my dad, my grandfather Tom Williams, and my uncles, Tommy and Bill Williams – tough, strong, and always ready to do battle.
This past Christmas, one of the gifts I bought for my children was a DVD of the documentary Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer. I actually purchased the DVD because I wanted to watch it but decided to “kill two birds with one stone” by wrapping it up and giving it as a gift to my family. As a teenager, whenever a Gene Kelly movie was on television, I made sure to watch it. (That was before you could buy or rent movies.)
Last Sunday evening Georgette and I watched the Gene Kelly documentary. If you’re my age (55) or older, you’ve probably seen one or more of the movies Gene Kelly starred in during the 1940s and 1950s. During that time, Kelly was one of the most well-known male dancers in the world. His most famous movies included Anchors Aweigh, An American in Paris, and Singin’ in the Rain.”
One of the points made in the documentary that I was not aware of was that after Kelly started acting and dancing in movies, he was referred to by the press as the first real American male dancer. This was because of the masculine way he danced. He was muscular and athletic, and blue-collar and working-class people from around the world identified with him because he appeared to be like them. As a boy, Kelly had been called a “sissy” because he took dance lessons. He hated the fact that male dancers were often portrayed as being more feminine than masculine.
There were film clips shown that compared Kelly and Fred Astaire, another well-known male dancer during the same time period that Kelly was performing. While Astaire stood upright and glided through his routines, Kelly danced “closer to the ground” and engaged in more aggressive dance routines. Astaire often danced wearing a top hat and tails, and Kelly routinely performed in casual and everyday work clothes. He frequently wore tight T-shirts to show off his muscular torso.
The day after I saw the Gene Kelly documentary it occurred to me that one of the reasons I probably liked watching his movies was because he danced like a real man. Then I thought about my favorite saint, Louis de Montfort. I became interested in him after reading a story about him.
During de Montfort’s early years as a missionary priest, he celebrated Mass every Sunday morning in a large room of a building located in the middle of a small town. The room shared a common wall with a tavern, and each week during Mass, the noise from the tavern was so loud the people attending Mass were unable to concentrate.
One Sunday after Mass, de Montfort walked over to the tavern and chastised the customers for getting drunk on Sunday and disrupting the Mass. He ordered the owner and all the customers to keep the noise down every Sunday while he was celebrating Mass – or he would take matters into his own hands.
The following Sunday during Mass, the noise from the tavern was the same. After Mass, de Montfort stormed into the tavern and beat up every one of the men inside. Each Sunday thereafter, the customers of the tavern remained quiet while Mass was being celebrated. It was easy for me to identify with St. Louis de Montfort; to me, he was a real man.
So here’s my question for you: Was Jesus Christ a real man?
If you were to judge Him in the same way I used to judge men, the answer would have to be no. He wasn’t a muscular strong-man who kicked butt when He was confronted by bullies. In fact, He was the exact opposite. He did nothing to defend Himself while ruthless, evil men tortured and murdered Him.
There are a lot of men who have trouble identifying with Christ. They may not realize it, but to them He may not have been a real man. How could He be when He allowed men to beat and spit on Him without defending Himself?
So what was it that led me to a deep and abiding love for our Lord? I read St. Louis de Montfort’s book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which convinced me to follow his blueprint for devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. If the blueprint was good enough for de Montfort, it was good enough for me.
By following de Montfort’s blueprint, over time I developed a closer relationship with the Blessed Mother, who did for me what she does for everyone who turns to her. She led me to a deeper understanding of her Son.
I now know what a real man is.