Perception of men’s identities has gone through a lot of confusion in recent decades, with conflicting voices telling them they are too strong or too weak, that they need to take charge or give up control. More recently, the toxic depth of how men live out their sexualities and relate to others has been laid bare in the raft of accusations and allegations around the #MeToo movement. Issues of how boys are formed have come to the fore, with at least one recent commentator highlighting that all school shooters have been male.
The rise in men’s movements within the Church is both a reaction to cultural confusion and a support and formation for what it means to be a man of God. The Church teaches the complementarity of men and women, the idea of different strengths, perspectives and roles, while advocating for the equal worth and dignity of both. There is a natural strength in relationships when lived out in union with God. Women can wholeheartedly support Catholic men’s programs because they are about men becoming Christlike for the benefit of their wives, children and communities.
The Catholic Gentleman
Sam Guzman, a 29-year-old who works in marketing at Covenant Eyes, a company helping people recover from pornography use, felt there has been a lack of clear norms for masculinity for his generation. In college, he began reading a site called The Art of Manliness, designed to revive vintage manhood and the value of a virtuous life, holding up icons like Teddy Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin. After Guzman joined the Church in 2013, he found a lack of resources for Catholic men, although since then, many new masculine apostolates have been created. “One day, while praying St. Maximilian Kolbe’s consecration to Mary novena and praying that I might be used in some way, I had a clear mental picture of a site for Catholic men called The Catholic Gentleman,” he said. “It would move the reader from natural virtue to supernatural virtue and hold up the saints as models.” Guzman immediately began the site.
|'Into the Breach'
| Bishop Olmsted
On the feast of the Archangels in 2015, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix released “Into the Breach: An Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, My Spiritual Sons in the Diocese of Phoenix.”
It was inspired when Dorinda C. Bordlee, vice president of the Bioethics Defense Fund, spoke in his diocese on Pope St. John Paul II’s writings on the feminine genius. “We need something on the genius of men,” she said.
“That was the trigger that inspired me,” Bishop Olmsted explained. “I was concerned for a long time about the need for greater clarity of the mission of men. We need humble and courageous men to live our faith joyfully.”
The response was amazing, spreading across the United States and even into other countries and getting translated into other languages. It is being used by men of all walks of life, including those discerning a religious vocation.
The letter calls men not to hesitate to engage in the battle raging around them “that is wounding our children and families” and “distorting the dignity of both women and men.” Bishop Olmsted noted that the battle is spiritual, often hidden, and related to the fact that 12 million Catholics have left the faith since 2000.
He encouraged men, saying, “A throw-away culture cannot withstand the new life and light that constantly radiates from Christ. So I call upon you to open your minds and hearts to him, the Savior who strengthens you to step into the breach!”
The document has been amended for the book “Manual for Men” (TAN Books, $29.95), which includes prayers, lives of the saints, Scripture for men and papal documents. A trailer and the full document can be found at IntoTheBreach.org
According to him, being a Catholic gentleman means that you are faithful and a man of virtue. “We must practice things like self-control, honesty and self-discipline,” he said. “We find that the happiest people are the holiest people.” Guzman points out that we have daily opportunities to choose between selfishness and selflessness and to follow Christ, which is what being a Catholic gentleman is about.
Men’s conferences also have grown in recent years. On Feb. 3, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia spoke to more than 1,500 men at the Catholic Men’s Fellowship Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
He challenged them to live a “new knighthood,” making it holy by committing to prayer, courage and chastity and devoting themselves to serving the Church and its people. “Our first weapons should always be generosity, patience, mercy, forgiveness, an eagerness to listen and understand others, a strong personal witness of faith and speaking the truth unambiguously with love,” he said.
John Henz, a husband of 50 years, father to three sons, and a catechist, attends the conference annually. “We are hoping to find a bigger venue,” he explained, “because the 1,560 tickets usually sell out within four hours.”
The conferences are opportunities for men to recognize the importance of marriage and the role of men within the family, he said.
That Man is You!
Mark Hartfiel is vice president of Paradisus Dei(Paradise of God), a family ministry that includes the program “That Man is You!” It addresses pressures men face in contemporary culture. It began 12 years ago in Houston and is now in 600 parishes in 46 states with 25,000-30,000 members meeting weekly for breakfast to watch a 30-minute DVD and discuss it afterward. The program harmonizes social and medical science with the teachings of the Church and the wisdom of the saints to encourage men to embrace their vocations.
“The intent is to turn the hearts of men to their families and understand the grace received in matrimony and family life,” Hartfiel explained. “Homes can be the foretaste of heaven.” Becoming a man after God’s own heart is primary, he said. “If we don’t get it right with God, we are not going to get anything right.”
A newly released program in which men receive individual instruction but also can connect with others from home is Rise: A 30 Day Challenge, by Bill Donaghy and Chris Stefanick. The daily online videos and reflections are tools to strengthen and engage men, especially those who will never come to a group study.
“We have a crisis in the masculine identity; they are not intentional about living,” Stefanick said. “They are not showing up to church and not asking girls to marry them, and when they do, they are not remaining faithful.”
The program is about helping men live out their identities in Christ through practical ways of daily habits, such as prayer and making choices ahead of time. “We need to refocus on what it looks like to follow Jesus Christ every day,” Stefanick said. “It’s all about men living out their Christianity and living in the joy of the Lord.”
Another area that has been growing for men is recognition of the need for post-abortive healing. Kevin Burke is co-founder (along with his wife, Theresa) of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, which addresses this issue by looking at St. Peter’s journey.
“Men can look back on Peter’s anguish at having failed to defend Jesus and realize they, too, failed to protect those who depended on them,” Burke said. “Peter had the skills to lead the Church, but it was fundamental to claiming his vocation to face where he failed and abandoned Jesus.”
By healing and having hope that the child lives in the Lord, he said that men can reclaim their fatherhood and heal.
“It’s painful to face the gravity of their actions, but if they don’t face it head on, it crops up and leads to behaviors that hurt them and their relationships.”
Burke recommends that interested men visit the site abortionforgiveness.com to find healing services.
Patti Maguire Armstrong writes from North Dakota.