In You, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in You;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in You
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me Your ways, Lord,
teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are God my Savior,
and my hope is in You all day long.
Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to Your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
-Psalm 25: 1-7
-by Tim Drake
“Is it true that men generally don’t like to attend religious services and don’t get involved in church? Consider the evidence:
— Citing dismal statistics, researcher David Morrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2005) concludes that men “are the world’s largest unreached people group.”
— A 2011 Christian Century article, “Why Do Men Stay Away?” notes how men are “famously outnumbered” by women at worship and “often are not particularly happy about it” when they do attend.
— A Barna study published that same year found that over the preceding two decades church attendance had declined by six percentage points among men, that the percentage of men who had volunteered at church had suffered a similar statistical drop over the same period, and that an estimated 39 percent of all men could be considered “unchurched” — meaning that they haven’t attended a church event (outside of an event such as a wedding or funeral) in the previous six months.
— A December Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article on men’s participation at church cited a statistic that 64 percent of parish life is comprised of women. The perception — or misperception rather — is that men are less involved in church than women.
The reality, however, is that there also is evidence of a resurgence in male involvement in church, at least as far as Catholic men in the United States are concerned. For the past two decades, a Catholic men’s movement has been steadily expanding in size and strength to the point where it is having a huge impact on male spirituality and involvement in Catholic communities. On both a national and local level, the Catholic men’s movement has come of age, as an increasing number of Catholic men are seriously embracing the faith and their roles as husbands and fathers in leading their families to Christ.
Many may recall the multi-denominational Promise Keepers movement of the mid-1990s that held large stadium events across the country. The Catholic men’s movement is not like that: It’s less flashy, more consistent, and growing.
“Promise Keepers conferences were designed to be spectacles,” writes John P. Bartkowski, sociology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio in his book about the movement. “And the problem with a spectacle is it needs to be outdone by something more spectacular and more stimulating the next time around.”
My own diocese hosted its annual Catholic men’s conference during the second weekend of Lent. The first of these conferences, held 17 years ago, was attended by approximately 300 men. Over the past five years, the event has consistently drawn more than 500.
Chris Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of St. Cloud, said that she’s seen a growth in the younger base among attendees.
“From the evaluations from the men, they want good solid Catholic speakers that challenge them and give them ‘meat and potatoes,’ not ‘fluff,’ ” said Codden.
Many other dioceses also sponsor annual Catholic men’s conferences. In 2002, there were just 16 Catholic men’s conferences. According to Dan Spencer, executive director for the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, there are now approximately 75 diocesan-sponsored Catholic men’s conferences each year.
“There have been six or seven new conferences just within the last eighteen months, in places such as Omaha and Des Moines,” said Spencer. New York is currently organizing a conference, he added.
Typically, men’s conferences feature a prominent priest or Catholic leader who provides one or two inspiring talks, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayer, and the celebration of Mass. They also often feature workshop or breakout sessions focused on topics of particular interest to men, or small-group sessions where men spend time with one another talking about issues that face them and their families.
What’s more startling, however, is what comes out of such conferences. Men often are inspired to meet more regularly to hold each other accountable and for support in living out their faith in daily life. As a result, thousands of men across the country remain active in local men’s groups that meet quite regularly.
Here I can speak from experience. Nearly 10 years ago, three other men and I began a morning men’s prayer and book-discussion group. Once a week, we gathered for prayer, support, dialogue, and accountability. I told the men at our first meeting that I had no intention of the group lasting forever. I said that we would work through a couple of books, and that would be it.
Yet here we are, 10 years later, having read and discussed countless books. We have expanded our group, and about a dozen of us continue to gather every Tuesday morning at a local restaurant. Over the years, more than 100 different men, including priests and seminarians, have participated. Some have driven more than 90 miles to see what we’re doing.
Not only that, but God has multiplied the effort. Some men who originally were part of our group have moved and started men’s groups elsewhere. At least four men have established separate weekly men’s groups within their own local parishes. We’ve also been told stories about the impact our gatherings have had on other restaurant patrons who have seen our group joined in prayer.
This phenomenon is being replicated across the country. Spencer said that parish-based groups have “exploded.” He cites that Milwaukee has approximately 130 men’s groups, Cincinnati has 75, and Kansas City has 60.
“Some are Bible-study groups, others are accountability groups, some study the weekly Sunday Scripture readings,” explained Spencer. “Some involve the Knights of Columbus. Others begin with a study or a book, while others create their own materials. Approximately 105 dioceses participate in the three-year ‘That Man is You’ program.”
The local efforts bear fruit for parishes and beyond. Some parish-based men’s groups have mentorship programs for boys in high schools. Others have started parish retreat-based programs like Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo, weekend experiences of spiritual renewal that lead directly to the formation of ongoing small faith-sharing groups. The fruit of many of these efforts is that it motivates men to be more involved at all levels within the parish — in liturgical ministries, in religious education, in volunteerism, in charitable works, and much more. As examples, Spencer noted that men in Kansas City have been working on an anti-pornography initiative, and a group in Columbus, Ohio, recently participated in promoting Home Enthronement to the Sacred Heart.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that men’s participation in such groups strengthens their families and marriages, deepens their faith, and leads them to a greater participation in the sacraments. According to a Gallup Poll study of “That Man is You,” men entering the program tended to place in the bottom 25 percent of Gallup’s Spiritual Commitment Index, but finished the program in the top 25 percent.
Jesus Christ continues to call men — as he did the Twelve — to follow Him, and they are responding.
If we are to be conformed to Christ, then we need to conform ourselves “to the Gospel precept of fraternal love,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (#2488). Christ and the apostles demonstrate properly ordered fraternal love among men. It stands in stark contrast to the disordered love that our contemporary culture tends to celebrate and model.
Just as men on the battlefield band together under the leadership of their general to protect freedom, so evangelical Catholic men are being arrayed in a spiritual formation as a band of spiritual brothers centered around Christ to do battle against the cultural forces set on destroying our families.
Make no mistake. We are on a battlefield, and the choice is stark. Either we are for Christ or we are against Him. There is no middle ground.
“There is a hunger,” Kevin O’Brien, former professional football player and co-founder of the Catholic men’s conference Men of Christ, told me. “Men feel an emptiness inside and want to see faith presented in a masculine modality. They want to be challenged. When faith is presented in its proper form, men are attracted to it.”
Many of our brethren have been seriously wounded through the bullets and the shrapnel that the culture is hurling at us. Men’s groups offer a tremendous opportunity to strengthen men in virtue. Iron sharpens iron, the saying goes. As men, we must avail ourselves frequently of the life-giving and grace-giving Sacraments the Church offers us. We must find ways to strengthen and embolden one another for the task ahead. The time is now. Are you spiritually ready?”