What is going on in our world today?

Many in the United States and around the world have recently grown in their love of neighbor and appreciation of the many things in life we take for granted. Some might say that this is one of the positive elements of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have recognized, many of us, the importance of family, friends and the human connection. We have experienced the absence of our communities of faith and again, for many of us, as Catholics, who have been denied the source through which our life finds its true meaning–the Holy Eucharist–we have grown in our reverence for and dependence on the Blessed Sacrament.

That said, as we emerge from our homes and enter the world again, we find it a very scary place. We recognize that what we learned about one another is only as lasting as our latest behavior towards each other.

I am a white male who grew up in a middle class home and often had some exposure to even upper middle class things. I grew up with many privileges and opportunities. I came even to expect such given how commonplace it was in my worldview. Overall, I grew up free from racial injustices, but only read and periodically pondered how such could be.

I witnessed from my grandparents an attitude about African American citizens that was very biased and was likely inherited and ingrained from their own parents. Generationally speaking, I recognized in my grandparents, in particular my grandfather, who fought in World War II, an invincible ignorance on these matters. Some might say a lack of education or just his own cultural upbringing, which seemed a near impossibility to shake out of his system. It was as if it was inbred in him, although I know that it was a learned pattern of behavior and attitude.

My dad changed these views and demonstrated a different attitude. He had a “pure heart” when it came to race in my humble opinion. I say this because recently I heard NBA Hall of Famer and outspoken sports commentator Charles Barkley say, and I am paraphrasing him now, “its hard to talk about race, because most people don’t have a ‘pure heart’ when it comes to these issues.” Our personal biases influence indeed our views. My dad observed no doubt his father’s prejudice and he made a decision to be different.

My dad was accused once of keeping black men and women down because he hired many of these wonderful human beings for his janitorial business, which he started to support his family in 1978. My dad would later be assaulted and nearly killed by the same man who accused him of keeping his fellow African Americans down.

Dad had a unique perspective though. The man who saved his life from the assault was an employee and his right hand man. His name was Lonnie Smith and he literally intervened and stopped the attack on my father. Lonnie was a black man, my dad’s friend and his employee.

Once, while dad was in Alabama in the early 1980s purchasing a a unique vehicle for his janitorial service–a litter truck–he found himself desperate. My father had diabetes since the age of three and he was in daily need of insulin. A kind soul, and a black man, drove my dad around to many pharmacies to get the insulin he needed. Dad desired to return the favor, and extend a kindness to this man by offering to buy him a drink and a meal. My father invited the man to join him at a particular restaurant to which the man said he was not welcomed in such an establishment. My dad couldn’t believe this and said you are with me and bought the man a meal. Dad did not know he was in a cess pool of hate and discrimination that extended far beyond his years.

Sadly, the world does not seem to have changed much. Sure, we have black athletes today making millions upon millions of dollars, but they are the rare few. Most of us white privileged males cannot appreciate the cultural divide, which our black brethren inherit and experience.

As I said to my son, in an effort to help him understand my father’s attitude and why we need to look at people with a ‘pure heart’: “Son, my father believed and we need to reclaim the understanding that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.” George Floyd was made in the image and likeness of God and so is Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is rightfully charged with his murder. Each one of us is a child of God.

The altruistic lessons and spiritual fruits many of us have offered, as positive results of this COVID-19 shutdown, have seemed to all vanish or at least it appears to this writer. We haven’t learned anything as a country in my opinion. I realize that the majority of our citizens are not committing these current acts of terror and violence, however, our perspectives likely all need a major overhaul.

Whether you are a black or white person, our country needs to stop treating people like they are any less human and Christ-like than they are. Black people are of infinite value and obviously entitled to the same respect any white person is given. I know we are long way from that happening and the walls of injustice and racial prejudice are deep and rooted in our society, which does not want to deal with this reality on the whole.

All people, Christians, and Catholics alike, need to pray and fast earnestly and fervently for a change of heart not once or during this current crisis, but each and every day. Do you do this? I know I don’t.

We need to ask God to soften our collective stoney hearts and grant us each a new one. A heart more like His. A heart, which loves all His children and wants the best for all the members of His family. The late George Floyd’s family members, Derek Chauvin, the peaceful protestors, the hate filled and selfishly motivated rioters, ANTIFA, Black Lives Matter supporters, President Trump and all who call themselves Americans, need to recognize their part in ushering forth peace.

I simply offer the following to accomplish these ends. Everyone of us needs to begin with one prayer. Everyone of us needs to extend one act of kindness to our neighbor. Everyone of us needs to assume the best of each person or stranger we meet whether in the rural or in an urban community. All healing begins with a prayer, an action of love and forgiveness.

Of course, I know we must be situationally aware of the environment we find ourselves, but even too much of that thinking may frustrate the process of healing and hope. Christ did not minister in safe places nor are we called to avoid all risk for the good of our safety. All must come together now to help heal these long divisions of hate and prejudice. How?

I only offer myself as a victim like my father did for the kind black man who offered his support to an ignorant American brother in need. I will buy a meal for a stranger. I will extend a welcoming hand or handshake to someone whom I don’t know. I will offer a smile to someone who is marginalized in society. I will encourage my children to do the same. I will offer my example to them. I will share stories to encourage and inspire them and I challenge all who read this to do the same.

This is how we will change our country. It will take divine love and forgiveness to change this current situation. We must begin with ourselves and extend our love to those first in our care and periphery. You want to change our country? Look around you and become Christ to those you see. May God grant us the courage to have a pure heart like His.

Restore the Bread of Life Prayer Vigil May 17th

Where: Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, 18th & Race Streets, Center City Philadelphia

When: Sunday, May 17, 2020

Time: 10:00-11:00 AM

5 Solid Reasons Why:

1.) Public Appeal & Encouragement to Archbishop Nelson Perez and archdiocesan leadership;

2.) Encourage restoration of Mass in a limited & voluntary manner;

3.) The USCCB has provided effective guidelines for such restoration;

4.) Overwhelming medical evidence that there is little to no threat to non-vulnerable people for public Mass gatherings if proper guidelines are followed;

5.) Restoration is permissible under the current civic authorities directives.

Please join us!

Abortion, the Mass & COVID-19 Response

As I write this blog, I am still in great disbelief over how the overwhelming majority of the lay faithful are still without access to their Blessed Lord in Holy Communion. Yes, many churches and parishes have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, but very few dioceses in the United States (three as of this writing), have allowed the faithful to once again receive the Most Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Commonwealth of PA, where the headquarters of The King’s Men is maintained, Governor Tom Wolf has allowed religious institutions, like the Catholic Church, to continue its ministry with full exemption. In fact, TKM, Inc. is enabled as well. Yet with the social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, TKM has not been able to do much ministry outside of blogging, emailing, letter writing, phone banking, zoom meetings and teleconferencing.

However, the church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is fully able to offer their services to the people locally. Again, many churches are offering confession, adoration and web streaming of live masses. The faithful are grateful for these offerings, but the glaring element missing with these activities is the most important function of the Catholic Church–the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and reception of the Holy Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith as declared in the Vatican II documents. The Eucharist is the spiritual nourishment of God’s people and is needed to avoid venial and mortal sin, exercise virtue and discipline in the midst of this crisis and extend the kindness that all are being asked to provide to our neighbors during this pandemic. If people are struggling with such requests, then is it possibly because the people are not being given the strength they need to be obedient and compliant with such regulations? I wonder.

With our fallen human natures, our Lord knew that we would need His grace to assist us in our pursuit of holiness, fight temptation and our many disordered inclinations. In short, the Eucharist, is indeed the life line that all Catholics need to sustain themselves spiritually and live virtuous and altruistic lives. Without the Eucharist, the faithful are spiritually sick and their soul’s are in serious jeopardy. These are not my thoughts by the way, but those of many saints throughout the history of the Church, including the Council Fathers of Trent, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher just to name a select few.

Without the Eucharist, the world is lost. While many Catholics are perplexed like me over this reality, I frustratingly observe and wonder how abortion on demand is still unabated by this pandemic with apparently very little oversight and restrictions from Governor Wolf. Why? Its precisely because abortion is deemed essential for the common good. Abortion has been qualified as an “essential service”, yet gathering for Holy Mass is not. How is this justifiably possible? Babies are dying everyday during this pandemic and commensurately souls without access to the sacrament of Holy Communion. Yet, there has been relative silence on the primordial issue of abortion and the inconsistency of the government as far as their directives to its citizens from the Catholic Church.

The questions still for us remain:

Why are the risks worth taking for abortion service providers while the risk is not the same for Holy Mass?

Isn’t our spiritual well being just as important as our physical and emotional well being?

If it is just as important, then what can the lay faithful do to encourage their bishops and priests to provide them that which is vital for their earthly journeys?

Many lay Catholic people throughout the world have offered responses to encourage a return of the Mass. The country of Austria issued a great response recently. Catholics in the city of Dallas offered their voice too in a great procession around their Cathedral. I believe these efforts are admirable and should be mirrored in other dioceses across the globe. I encourage Catholics, specifically men, to pray about this outrage and their own response. Not only should Catholics be raising awareness to their local and statewide elected officials, but to their local bishop and diocesan wide pro-life efforts. TKM will continue to encourage, challenge and invite others to engage in noble battles like this one.

May God grant us each an extra portion of courage to fulfill our duties to lead, protect and provide for the most innocent and vulnerable–the pre-born child.

Manly Lessons from Coronavirus

So we find ourselves with really no end in sight for this pandemic, and still, life and responsibilities continue. Men are still called during pandemics, plagues and pestilences, to Lead, Protect and Provide. We are still called as men, husbands and fathers to sacrifice for the benefit of our families and the common good. Many men are finding new and creative ways to continue in the fulfillment of their natural vocations. However, I daresay, many are also floundering and struggling with great temptations during this time of isolation.

This blog today is meant for those who are struggling. Take courage my brothers! God has already won the victory over sin and death. St. Augustine wrote in the 5th Century and his words, like so often with this great saint, seem timeless for us today:

“‘The times are troubled! The times are bad!’ This is what we humans say. But we are our times. If only we would live properly, our times would be good. Such as we are, such are our times.” Sermon 80, 8

Brothers, we need to live each day like we have been called to live from our Lord.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Mt. 22:37-40).

The manly thing to do is to carry on in the manner which we should have been doing pre-coronavirus outbreak. Now here is where the rubber hits the road:

Were you living in such ways prior to this pandemic?

That is a question and perhaps the greatest lesson we could get from this global crisis. Life is a gift and many of us have taken it completely for granted. If there is any good to come from this plague right now, its that, people are recognizing the fragility of life and that death does, in fact, come like a “thief in the night” and so we must live as Jesus instructed (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom the master has put in charge of the servants in the household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns (Matthew 24:42-46 with emphasis).

We need to live a life good and pleasing to the Lord. Many need to take a spiritual inventory at this point in time. Even the church goers need to evaluate ourselves and our so-called pious devotions and practices. Us as Catholics, need to seriously reflect on our sinfulness and attitude towards God’s heavenly gifts to us.

The Eucharist has become very pedestrian among God’s people. Now that we are being deprived this great sacrament, some of us, this writer especially, is coming to know how dependent we are and should be on this great life source. The Eucharist is the nourishment of our souls. It is the life giving food that sustains us for our earthly journeys and enables us to fulfill our duties as the good servant does in Matthew 24 whom the Master finds doing the work he has tasked him to do.

So the manly questions for us all are these:

Are we doing the work the Lord has asked us to do?

Is God truly at the center of our lives?

Does our daily decisions revolve around God or me?

Don’t be foolish, the Lord has spelled out everything for us in the Scriptures. Read your bible brothers and be ready. There are no major secrets here. God has revealed how he will be coming one day (Read all of Matthew 24). Pay attention to the signs of the times.

Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famine and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

…Because of the increase of the wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved’…” (Matthew 24:4-8, 12-13).

I invite you to read all of these powerful words that speak to our present times and circumstances. Scripture is God’s word breathed and we must rely on it for times such as these. But the Lord comforts us when he says, “see to it that you are not alarmed.” Stay focused on Christ and the work he has called you to as a man, husband, father and leader, protector and provider. I believe if we do that, there is nothing we have to fear, not even death.

Yours in Christ,

Mark Houck

COVID-19 & The Great Commission

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

Did Jesus add to his clear instructions about making disciples of all nations some clause surrounding pandemics or plagues? He must have said “…unless there is a pandemic, then quarantine yourself until there is no possibility of catching the virus?” Wasn’t leprosy a rampant sickness in his day? Surely, He told them to make disciples of those who weren’t lepers. No, he didn’t. So how are we to respond to the great commission in light of the times we live?

This is a very good question and, one, which I have been pondering these past few days of quarantine myself. I am in full-time ministry and, yet, I sit at home, obediently following the instructions of the CDC, WHO and my President. Prior to ending another day of social distance, I read of the 6 Italian priests who died ministering to those with COVID-19 in Italy this past week. I whispered to my wife, as I closed my eyes for the night, “Those priests will one day be recognized as saints in our Church you know.” They gave their lives for those suffering from the coronavirus. They ministered to the end. They loved their flock enough to sacrifice their own lives so that those who were under their care spiritually would not be without the sacraments and it cost them their lives. They fulfilled their vocation and have earned an eternal reward in heaven.

Doesn’t that inspire you? It does for me. Still, I am not an ordained Catholic priest or deacon. It is not my job to minister the sacraments like it is for a priest or deacon. I am a husband, father of 7 children and a lay Catholic evangelist who is sitting in absolute amazement of the world’s confusion and local hysteria at the grocery store.

God has given me gifts and one of those is prudence–right reason in action. This tricky cardinal virtue of prudence. It is a virtue that all must call upon as we discern our next steps professionally, socially, and, yes, even spiritually.

So what is the prudent thing to do for us as we seek to fulfill God’s holy will in our lives and at the same time be obedient to the Kingdom work that He has summoned each of us towards with His great commission?

Well, first, obedience is a virtue that we must consider in these times. Many of us struggle with obedience to authority. I know I do at times. Perhaps it not Almighty God’s authority, but earthly authority we resent. Perhaps we struggle with our bosses direction and, now, we wrestle with the freedom restrictions that are being put on us. “Do I really have to do that?”, we might say to ourselves with the latest admonition from our elected government leaders. There would be great graces won by exercising the obedience that our President and health officials are asking of us.

Secondly, we need to exercise sacrificial love for others by not submitting to our own selfish desires. That may mean not traveling for spring break or getting together with friends during this downtime or canceling an important trip or event for our ministry.

Thirdly, we must exercise great trust in the Lord’s provision for His people. The Lord is allowing this to take place in our world for a reason and it is not up to us know the “why” behind the “what”. We may question and further reflect on how a good God would allow such, but we need only look to the past to see that this is not the first time such things have befallen our earthly dwelling place.

Okay, so at last to the great commission question. We must be open to the creative ways in which God is allowing us to be his instruments for discipleship. For instance, I was just invited to do a virtual men’s conference due to the fact that many men’s conferences are being cancelled around the country. That is one way to fulfill the commission in these times. We might also consider taking up pen and paper and writing letters again to those we love and those, more importantly, we have forgotten to show love during this time.

Have we forgotten that it is still the Lenten season? What other sacrifices will this quarantined state of existence afford us? Seriously, think and pray on it.

As a ministry leader, I am left to discern how our apostolic mission at TKM, Inc. can be a catalyst for hope, healing and further virtue development. Blogging is one means by which I hope to fulfill my call this day. I wonder what the Lord will have for me and my family this evening? Family rosary has become a standardized practice for me and my children this year. We are beefing up the prayers for the world and those who are fearful of lost income and filled with anxiety. Perhaps consider a phone call, text or email to those whom we know are most anxious at this time.

Finally, hold onto sacred scripture for much consolation in these times. I have been grasping at 1 John 4:18 particularly these days. Perfect love will indeed cast out all fear. So have no fear what the Lord is asking of you and allow Jesus’s perfect love to fill you with great confidence and courage in these times.

Especially, work on your struggles with obedience. Take your calling to prayer and ask God to grant you wisdom and clarity as to your next move both in the home as you serve your family and fulfill your professional duties.

Be safe. Be cautiously courageous. And trust that the Lord will provide you what you need both today, tomorrow and in the future.

Your discerning brother in Christ,

Mark Houck

Super Bowl Embraces “Year of the Woman”… Seriously?

Year of the Woman–what does that mean? In 1992, this label got some traction during an election year which saw 5 women from the Democratic Party take seats in the US Senate.

Fast forward to 2020. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira are given the same moniker with their half-time performance at the latest Super Bowl. Reviews were great and many viewers were singing the praises of the Latino vocalist’s performance on the world’s biggest stage. Okay, I get it. Professional football is primarily a man’s interest, and the Latin women dominating the half-time show draws the natural comparison, but in truth, are women really in need of such a label today? And is it good for them to have such?

Perhaps a tacit review of the last two decades of female so-called achievements might be helpful here. In 2016, we nearly elected the first woman as President with Hilary Clinton’s bid for the White House. For the 2nd time in the last 15 years, Nancy Pelosi holds the third highest political position as Speaker of the House. A record number of women ran for public office in 2018. Three of the last eight US Secretaries of State have been women. 32 Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Three out of nine justices on the Supreme Court are women. 15 of 146 world leaders are women. There are more women in the workforce today than men. More women are enrolled in college than men today. 85% of church groups are led by women. Perhaps a “Decade of the Woman” would be a better label. But alas, women will say that there is still much more to be accomplished and the glass ceiling has yet to truly be broken for women in the workplace and on the world’s stage.

Okay, is that true? Is that truly what is best anyway? Is there, perhaps, a plan for women that is different than the culturally normalized offering? Is there a plan that is both authentically feminine and yet fully divine? I submit that there is and I offer my assessment of the situation and how detrimental much of this past and current rhetoric is and will continue to be. I don’t expect to win any popularity contests for this blog.

As men, we should be edifying the women in our lives every single day. Our mothers, we should be respecting, protecting emotionally and providing for much of their needs, especially as they grow into their elder years.

Our wives, we should revere for all they do each and every day. We should show them our greatest respect for the love and care they provide to our lives as husbands and the children which they have born for us. We should serve them each day with a grateful heart for their wonderful gift of complementarity to us as men.

I often say the greatest gift I can give to my children is the gift of their mother at home. I believe my wife feels similarly. Studies from years long past revealed that if a husband were to pay for all the services he and his family receives from his stay-at-home wife, he would need to shell out at least $235,000 per annum. That has probably increased much since that study was done! Thank you my dear wife for all you do each day for me and our 7 children.

Coincidently, that same wife said this to me today after I expressed briefly that I was writing this blog:

Women have given up their freedom by choosing to compete with a male dominated workforce. They have sacrificed their bodies and gifting as women in the name of choice. Look at me, I am truly free as a woman, wife and mother.”

Okay, I guess my wife won’t be winning any popularity contests either.

So what is God’s plan for woman? Clearly, from the Garden of Eden we see that God desired woman to be man’s help mate, which does not mean subservient or less than, but in fact partner (Genesis 2:18).

A man has certain gifts by nature and so does a woman. We see this played out in Adam’s role as he categorizes and names the animals and birds of the air for God (Genesis 2:20). It is apparent, right from the beginning, that Adam has a gift in problem solving and exploring in the Garden. From the creation story, we know that man comes from the dirt (Genesis 2:7), and so it is quite natural for man to feel most at home in nature and the wilderness where he was created. Whereas Eve comes from Adam’s rib/side, she has the gifting in human relationships. Eve is created out of relationship not dirt.

So, from a very simplistic, but very natural view point, we see that woman is gifted on the emotional and nurturing side of things. This is her great compliment to man. She offers him a greater ability to interpersonally connect with others and she teaches him how to properly nurture and care for children.

At TKM, Inc., we have long qualified and championed man’s calling as leader, protector and provider. For woman, we have often said that her complimentary roles to these are trust, surrender and receptivity. We see the leader, protector and provider fulfilled in the role of St. Joseph and the trust, surrender and receptivity roles perfectly manifest in the life of our Blessed Mother. The greatest and most powerful woman ever created was our Lady. This is the true model for women still today. Joseph is a great model for men, but in truth, Christ, offers even more for men to emulate in the aforementioned tri-fold roles. His bold, yet compassionate and courageous life coupled with his sacrificial heart is exactly what men need to witness for the world today.

I submit because the women of today reject their true natures and their Marian call to trust, surrender and receive, we see as my wife boldly proclaimed, a complete denial of the true freedom that God offers them with their true feminine gifts and genius. Dare I say, we see enslavement? Slavery to power and prestige? Through the pursuit of false feminist movement agenda which espouses equality in gender roles and encourages women to reject their own motherhood and pursue non-life giving alternatives, I see bondage. Bondage to an ideal that is not one iota linked to the true, good, beautiful and divine plan for woman.

The Super Bowl embraces the year of the woman? I don’t think so. In my house, ever day is the year of the woman. I am blessed with a great wife who understands her own gifting, her true inner and outer beauty and her own nature as both nurturer and mother. It is my privilege to serve her and provide for her everyday needs both physically, and as best I can emotionally (again not my gifting). It is my honor to protect her and our children. It is my joy to also lead her in our spiritual journey as husband and wife. I need her and continually affirm her as my help mate and partner in life and love. I need her feminine strength to carry on in my mission as a man. My accomplishments are truly hers. Her achievements as a mother raising 7 wonderful gifts from God are also mine. Together, using our collective gifts from God, we can do so much for each other and the world.

These truths are to be celebrated daily and the so called “woman of year” culture would one day be wise to think and reflect on the benefits of God’s plan for woman, which this blog barely does any justice towards.

May God be praised!

Masculinity is Not a Program…Or is it?

Brothers,

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!

Real brotherhood is more than Monday night football

by Justin Harper

Every week during football season, you and the guys get together at the local pub to watch your favorite team. Nothing gets in the way of this. Your wives have come to accept it, and manage the home while you are out. This is your time with the guys; an almost sacred gathering. You have been doing this for years.

You can quote stats, remember those obscure plays, even slide in a bit of humorous banter. You feel a connection with them; you are one of them! There is a pride and honor to be part of this group. All week you look forward to these few hours to relax, get into the game, and have a few beers. It’s game time!

This group is likely the extent of your social circle. Let’s be real, it is hard to connect with guys unless there is a shared interest, and sports is an almost universal given.

You get home, the kids are down, and your wife asks you how it went. “How is John’s wife doing?” or “Did Claire make it on that soccer team she was trying out for?”. Umm, what? You certainly didn’t think to ask. The thought runs through your mind, “Should I have? I mean, they didn’t ask me about my family. Nah, that’s not how the guys talk.” And so you uneasily mumble an “I don’t know” and move on to other topics.

This dynamic is all too common. It is a woman thing, to ask these questions, right? It’s got to be; you don’t hear guys talk that way. Why should they?

When God created Adam, he did so in isolation. Adam was created knowing only God, and his creation. He did not know Eve. What we do know is that Adam and God conversed with each other. But about what? Interests, hobbies, entertainment? Possibly; it’s hard to really know. We do know however that their conversations must have been deep, if God gave Adam the task of naming all of creation. To name something meant to take ownership of it, and to also take on a role of leadership and protection. This does not happen in some trivial conversation! Rather, it goes to the heart of identity.

Eve was created into community. When she began to exist, she already had Adam at her side. She came from his side!

When we look at men and women today, what do we see? We see men living in isolation, and we see women living in community with others. And the two couldn’t understand each other less!

God created Eve for Adam, and declared that it was good! What does this mean for us? Men to a certain degree are called into isolation. It is here that they enter deeply into their relationship with God. They are also called into community! God said “it is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18) It is important to note that God never makes mistakes; his statement that “it is not good” does not indicate an error previously made, but rather speaks to the permanence of the reality. ‘It is not good that the man should be alone [forever]”. (emphasis added)

As men, we must at times enter into isolation, in order to experience the living God. But we also must be in community with others. If the relationship between Adam and the Father shows us anything, it is that it was deep and revealing. God shared of himself with Adam, and Adam with God.

So what about football at the pub with the guys? Is that wrong? Certainly not! It’s just not enough. It is easy to confuse this with real community. But if we think about it, does this dynamic allow for men to really know about the others, and to support and encourage them through the trials of life? “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) Yes, most certainly.

Men don’t easily see the value of this type of relationship, but having a true brother to stand by you through difficulties is of the greatest value and support. “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Deep conversations are not just a woman thing, although women inherently excel at it. God calls men to depth, and calls them into brotherhood with each other.

So next time the game is on, invite the men to go a little early. Ask them about their families, about work, about their interests outside of football. Start the momentum; be real, and share of yourself. And soon enough, you are likely to find that you value your brothers even more than the sport, and football gives you a good excuse to see them again.

Andrew Luck Should Be Praised Not Booed!

As a former aspiring NFL football player and college football All-American, I can tell you my reaction to Andrew Luck’s early retirement was one of great admiration, both for his courage and humility in stepping away from the game he loves.  His insight into the last 6 years of his life as a professional quarterback resonated very deeply with me.  

After 15 years of playing competitive organized football, enduring one serious and one mild concussion, a series of low to high grade ankle sprains, knee sprains and a shattered wrist, I must say, I tremendously appreciate Andrew Luck’s decision and I believe it is one that young people need to hear today.  In my adult life, at the ripe age of 45, I currently question the long-term benefit of the game, which triggered boos from the Indianapolis Colts fan base as Andrew Luck departed Lucas Oil Stadium last week. 

I, like Andrew Luck, feel daily the toll that my body has taken from those many years on the gridiron. I did not have “the honor” as he said in his press conference of becoming an NFL football player despite being scouted by the New England Patriots as a senior at Catholic University in 1996.   However, despite my own personal disappointment in not making it at the highest level of play, I recognize now, having watched many former NFL players claim how the game has affected their own quality of life post their playing days and seeing the fallout of the many years of injuries and concussions on these players, that perhaps God was gifting and preserving me from far worse struggles and pain.  As I like to say, God had a better plan for my life!

Beyond my own story, I would like to comment on Andrew Luck’s decision and why it is worthy of praise and not boos.  The witness that he gave is not something that we often see today in sports.  In an age when professional players greedily seem to hold out for more money or refuse to honor contracts that they made in an effort to make the most of their opportunities in the professional sports arena, a man, at the peak of his career, decides to walk away from something that would likely generate greater personal wealth, public adulation and honors which ultimately might have concluded with hallowing his name in the NFL Hall of Fame.  With all this as a potentiality for this young man, he still confidently said with “great clarity” that he is walking away from the game he loves because he no longer had “joy” playing it.  This is something for our young people of today to take serious note of.  

There are far more important things than money, fame and athletic legacy.  There is more to life than football and sports, yet the boos from the fan base in Indianapolis would indicate otherwise, still, Andrew Luck stands as a great departure from what is culturally accepted and demanded when it comes to our professional athletes.   Yes, there are far greater things than sports such as a wife, family, children, physical and mental health, joy and peace of mind.  All these things Andrew Luck pointed to or alluded to in his retirement address.  

Beyond these above listed things, I see in Andrew Luck’s story, an even greater witness than his love and devotion to his family and future health and happiness.  There is something quite virtuous in Andrew Luck’s decision.  Some might say wisdom, but I say the virtues of courage, humility and justice are what is most admirable.  He recognized that he needed to give to others what they are due first and he recognized in his own physical limitations, that he would not be able to give to the fans of Indianapolis, the ownership of the team and his fellow teammates what they are due, which is his very best.  He recognized in all humility that he was suffering and his team would do the same if he continued.  He also recognized that his decision would not be a very popular one, but one, which he needed to make.   So the public display of courage is worth so much as this is not seen very often and is very devalued in this day and age.  

At the press conference, he admitted that he was “hurt” by the boos from the Indianapolis fans.  Did you hear that Indianapolis?  You hurt the man who allowed himself to be continually hurt for your enjoyment and entertainment.  Shame on you Indianapolis Colts fan base!  You don’t deserve to have such a good man.  Yet, in his great humility, the former All-Pro quarterback still thanks you.  Even as he departs your over indulged fantasy football world, he thanks you for allowing him the privilege to lead your team.  This humble witness sounds quite familiar to us as Christians.

Well done Andrew Luck! Enjoy your retirement and the next chapter in your young life.  Thank you for your honest and integrity filled witness!

Your brother in Christ,

Mark Houck

“Daddy, why aren’t more people talking about this?”

It was a simple enough question that any reasonable person might ask, let alone my 10 year old son.  It was June 6th, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and my son was curious why many in my local area or even family are not talking about the courage and bravery of the many who gave their lives for the noble cause of freedom in Normandy, France not so long ago.  My answer was simply, “Well Mark, many from our generation have lost touch with this legacy and many of these heroes are not around to share their stories anymore.”  “Yeah, but dad, these are the greatest generation of Americans,” he said in reply. “I know Mark. It’s sad that there are so few who see what you see and believe what you believe.”

                Meanwhile, in Normandy, France, there was a commemorative event taking place, which brought many of the surviving D-Day veterans from Canada, Britain, France and the United States, including President Donald Trump and the First Lady.  Yes, internationally there was a great gathering and commemoration of the men who sacrificed so much.  I saw 1-2 great articles posted about D-Day and the faith of General Dwight Eisenhower.  Our nation did pay tribute, but the spirit of my son’s question, was not that the world didn’t recognize these pivotal events which took place three quarters of a century ago, but that every day people did not seem aware of these important events. 

                My son, like many boys, is enamored by the stories of our American History, especially battles that took place which helped to secure the freedoms we enjoy as a nation.  My son, although plays and has much interest in sports, is more interested in learning about our nation’s history and people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the Battle of the Alamo.  He has a thirst for knowledge of the heroic.  We just reviewed, with the help of Wikipedia, the data from the largest naval defeat in the history of the world, the Battle of LePanto.  He wants to know about these real stories and the real men who fought courageously and bravely for something greater than themselves and he wonders simply enough why others don’t find this as important as he does.

                I guess our lives as adults just doesn’t have the wonder of a boy discovering a whole other reality to the life which he is exploring as he evolves into a young man.  Perhaps many of us adults have researched all we care to know about these histories, or for many, really have found no interest in learning anything about them.  Many adults would rather study and review the current standings in the Major Leagues than learn about the Battle of Anzio.  Or some men would just prefer to prep themselves for their upcoming drafts so as to check out from their families and live in their own 6 month fantasy world of football.  Ouch, I hope that wasn’t too harsh!

Perhaps, this generation’s only link to the past was a grandfather or great grandfather whom they either took no time to know or ask about the significant role they played in our history.  It is also possible that Tom Brokaw’s referred “Greatest Generation of Americans” really didn’t want to talk about their experiences from WWII because it was either too painful or they were just too humble.  Of the articles I am reading about the War and the men who served, there was a great degree of humility shrouding this group of Americans.  If but for this reason alone, this group should be remembered. 

I learned recently that the story of George Washington has been largely ignored in school systems across the country.  His portrait has disappeared from classroom walls, and history books now have as little as 10 percent of the coverage of Washington that they possessed just 40 years ago.  How sad!  Our nation was formed on the character of one man and our kids today know little to nothing about him.  I gather in 100 years, the youth of America will know little to nothing about the D-Day invasion.  My son, in his own youthful wisdom, knows the importance of these events and will do his best to preserve the legacy when he builds his Lego forts, educates his peers and passes this knowledge onto his own children one day. My job as his father is to encourage him to do so, keep inspiring him to learn more about his country’s history and to keep on reflecting and pondering the heroic.  One day, I pray my son’s life will also be a reflection of all he perceives as worthy to be remembered and emulated.