I am writing this after much thought and prayer about what I have been observing in these last 5 years, when it comes to masculinity offerings and virtue development in the Church today.
First, allow me to say that there are many wonderful opportunities for a man to challenge and stretch himself in the Church, when it comes to adult faith formation and initiatives at his parish. In recent times, there have been programs introduced which have done a terrific job at igniting a man’s interest towards more intentionally pursuing his growth as a man, and address some of the key areas where he struggles, specifically, as it pertains to his chastity.
I applaud these programs and I encourage men to utilize them if they discern that such are needed in their walk as men. I have developed some concerns, though, in my observance of men and during some recent reflection on my own experiences working full-time with men in the last 15 years.
My observation is this: there is a crisis in masculinity and it is primarily a crisis in the formation of men. The human condition and our fallen nature makes us prone to sin (concupiscence) and many men might view this as a crisis in their life, and indeed it could be, if he has malformation as a man. However, the key with any sin is to uncover what is beneath the sin, wherein lies the true crisis. As God works all for the good for those who love Him and are called to his purpose (Romans 8:28), it is imperative that men today view their sin as an opportunity for grace and deeper union or intimacy with God. In this way, man views his own sinfulness as the early Church would view it. The “happy fall” or the Latin phrase “Felix Culpa”, which brought us a savior such as Christ Jesus, is important to reflect on.
It is important to make a distinction with my above comments about sin. Provided a man knows how to tackle the issues he is dealing with, programs designed to help him address his sin are of great value. However, they are limited in their overall ability to develop and ingrain a deep abiding fulfillment as regards his identity, formation and journey as a man. This is truly a process that requires long-term mentoring, brotherhood, friendship, fraternal correction and re-direction, vocational understanding and awareness, virtue development and spiritual maturation.
Because there is not one specific program in the Church today to provide all of the above, a man is left to piece-meal his formation and overall masculine identity. Hopefully, he has a good foundation from his family, but let’s face it, many men do not!
So many men are left to continually plug into a program that is addressing a specific need. I have seen this with men who have attended TKM’s programs over and over again. The program gives them a good feeling and a real sense of belonging. My guess is that the brotherhood piece of our apostolate is very attractive and appealing to them. But even this is limited in its scope. Men need to truly evaluate all areas of their journey, and go deeper by identifying not just the obvious ones, but the other areas that are preventing further growth in holiness.
Many Catholic men today find themselves in the proverbial “hamster wheel” of recycling the same programs over and over, only to realize that eventually, the program is no longer providing the benefit that it once did. Worse yet, the man mistakenly believes that the program is his identity, and continues to make it out to be more than it is actually designed to be; an aid for his journey, but not the journey itself. This is the real danger and I believe that too many men are getting trapped into this way of thinking.
I offer a suggestion here. Each man should evaluate the areas of his life that he needs supports and deeper conversion, and with great precision address each of those troubled spots. Once those areas have been addressed, or the man has received a benefit he was seeking, or has learned what has long been escaping him, it is time to move on, and, at the very least, look to focus on other areas of his spiritual life. Now for some men, certain ministries can provide a more stabilizing life-long connection and so men need to evaluate if such are also necessary to maintain for their journey. The key is not to use the program as a crutch, but ultimately as a stepping stone to a greater degree of holiness as a man.
Briefly here I will outline some great programs for men. For those seeking growth in the area of masculine identity, and to answer the deep questions such as “who am I as man?” and “what am I made for?” I suggest: “That Man is You”; “Theology of the Body Institute”; “Fathers of St. Joseph”; and even TKM can offer some valuable insight here with our retreats and seminars.
Although virtue development is always in season for men, there are some common virtues escaping men today and programs such as “Exodus 90” are a great help to provide a man with a very intentional focus. Of course, 12-step programs also might be in order for men who are struggling with the virtue of temperance in the areas of alcohol, drugs, sex and anger. The apostolate of “Courage” is an excellent resource for men who struggle with same sex attraction and gender identity confusion.
Many men need deep inner healing from traumas from their past and so programs such as “Rachel’s Vineyard” (post abortive men), “Grief to Grace” (sex abuse), and TKM’s Samson healing retreats are great for men dealing with traumas related to father wounds and a variety of abuses and addictions.
Finally, I will say that God wants all of His children (men) to thrive and live in the knowledge that they are beloved sons of the Most High God! The vocation that each man is called to, offers him an abundance of grace to become the man God has called him to be. Awareness of the daily graces that each man has available to him is vital to his overall integration emotionally, spiritually and physically as a man.
I cannot speak for the other programs specifically mentioned above, but I surmise they might concur with this sentiment as well. The goal of all The King’s Men programs is to help men realize their great gift of manhood, grow in their knowledge of divine sonship, live out their vocation to the best of their ability and ultimately bless those in their care and periphery.
In the end, all men’s ministry programs should lead a man to sanctity and holiness, but never at the detriment of his vocation or to the expense of his duties as husband, father, son or brother. Here’s a final word of encouragement:
Discern and put to use the great faith formation programs that Holy Mother Church offers. Learn what you can and put those lessons into practice daily with those whom God allows you to touch.
Bless you men!