Whenever we have a baby, people ask “how much did he weigh”? When I answer they just nod satisfyingly. I don’t get it. Does knowing John weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces help you understand the mystery of John? No, but numbers make us feel like we’ve grasped something, but I think for many folks I could say he weighed three pounds and they would just nod and move on. Facts helps us feel like we know something, but the truth is that fact will never be true again. To know John any better you’ll need to see his face and hear his voice, and with every bit of flesh that goes on that image of him you’ll understand the wonder of John. But his facts – weights, heights – are changing, they’re growing.
You know there’s a Catholic man-crisis. You knew it long before the article The Catholic “Man-Crisis” from last week. But it gave us numbers: the hard facts of the problem. But those facts are changing, there’s a face and a body of new facts growing from those.
How? Well here’s some of the facts from the article:
- Only 51% of Catholic men strongly agree that the “Sacraments are essential to their relationship with God.”8
- Many men are not moved by the Mass and are less moved than women across the various aspects of the Mass: the readings and the Gospel, homily, music, the Eucharist, prayer, worshiping with other people, the presence of God.9
- 50% of men agree that “Mass is boring” and 55% agree that they “don’t get anything out of the Mass.”10
Those are big numbers. But when 50% of the men at your church show up with those feelings and attitudes, they are visible to 100% of the boys in the congregation. The thing about young boys is that they are very perceptive and very insecure. They’re insecure because they are looking for their identities, trying to understand what it means and is going to mean to “be a man”. So, from early childhood they observe and imitate. My daughter’s games are story-based, she’s embellishing a plotline of a story. My son on the other hand is always a character – he’s a fireman, priest, soldier, and so on. He’s imagining what it is like to be those men, to be a man, and he’s “trying them out”.
This goes on throughout childhood and into teenage years when young men join various social groups, imitating and imagining who they’re going to be. This is not to say that they are not authentic or are not themselves during these times, its just the nature of being human – we learn how to be human from other humans.
When 100% of the boys see a disengaged, lethargic, community of pew potatoes, with little half curtsy genuflections, staring blankly, or even checking out women, or reading the bulletin (or their phone) during the homily – all of this makes it very clear:
Being a Catholic man is not a real thing. This is a façade, a cute thing to outgrow and leave to the women. I need to look elsewhere for things that will truly shape who I am as a man.
When these men are encountered outside of Mass it becomes even clearer: what is being proclaimed up there from the altar, however timidly, is not being lived out here. The message to the boys is clear:
There is not a connection between the cute things we do on Sunday and the reality of real life. You can be a hearer but don’t have to be a doer of the word.
And those boys will grow into men. And did you see the statistics on the effect of fathers on the family’s faith? You don’t need that number, we all know the power of dad’s lukewarmness or zeal.
Men are leaders. And even the men of those statistics are leading in regards to the faith – they’re leading everyone out the door.
In the comments under The Catholic “Man-Crisis” article someone asked: “Awesome. Good. Sure. I’m convinced. So what do we do about it?”
I bet you think the answer is hard. Its not. Here it is:
1 – Pray and reform yourself. Be holy.
2 – Parishes, regain your men. Dear priests, please preach well. Please. We men are suffering. We’re wearing chains of sin and vice and we want to be free, and Venerable Bede said that man is “cleansed from the filth of vice by the mouths of preachers.” Pious platitudes and rambling nonsense are not good enough. Teach us, challenge us, preach! And bring those men together in brotherhood. In Pope Francis’ first encyclical he said that the “history of faith has been from the beginning a history of brotherhood… Faith teaches us to see … that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers…” Beautiful things happen when men understand that faithfulness to their common Father necessarily entails a love of their brothers. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God… We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:1,14). As Joseph Ratzinger said in The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, the Church gains in missionary zeal as she makes her “internal brotherliness more vital”.
3 – Connect holy men with youth. I quit my job in youth ministry not because the “youth group” was struggling, but because it was becoming increasingly clear that the answer to our problems is not more youth ministers. We need more men. Go read the book of Judges and you’ll see sections introduces with “And a generation arose that did not know the Lord…” The faith is always passed on from generation to generation and the father is critical. The next part of the story after such quotes is how Israel completely lost its way. The statistics from the Man-Criss article tell us that a generation has arisen that does not know the Lord, guess what’s next? Not only do we need to regain our men (see citation 2), but we need to connect them with young people. I was a “trained and educated” youth minister, but the day I realized that the goofy old guy that can’t throw a frisbee has by vocation a call to pass on the faith in his community, I dedicated any apostolic efforts to connecting those goofy men to boys that need mentors. Fraternus, the organization I work for, is completely dedicated to this simple mission: challenge men to holiness, equip them to be mentors, and get boys in front of them. But an important note on this: this needs to happen within the parish community. Ratzinger in his book on brotherhood also said growth in true Christian brotherhood “can first be realized only within the local community – within the particular parish” (emphasis added).
There you have it. Reform yourself, regain the men, and connect them with youth. I think this is a pretty simple plan to follow. Pray brothers. There’s a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it.