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 our 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 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.

The Catholic Man Needs to “Do” More

That’s right!  If you are a Catholic man and you are reading this, you need do more as a Catholic to usher in the Kingdom of God plain and simple.  Okay, now that I lost half of my audience, let us continue.

Jesus said, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).

During this time of Lent, we do more than we usually do when it comes to prayer, fasting and almsgiving as prescribed by the Church.  I submit that we as Catholic men need to do more praying, fasting, almsgiving, ministering, witnessing, healing, reading Sacred Scripture, attending Holy Mass, going to confession and performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy than any other Christian.  Why? 

We as Catholic Christian men have more daily access to God’s grace than any other non-Catholic Christian on earth.  We do because we have the 7 sacraments of the Church.  As the old Baltimore Catechism would say, “a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to transmit grace.”   The sacramental life of the Church offers us almost unlimited access to God’s daily grace. 

And arguably the greatest reason we have more access than any other Christian is because of our Blessed Mother, “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast” (as cited from William Wordsworth’s poem “The Virgin”).   Mary is indeed the “spring through which all graces flow” as we sing in the old hymn.  St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Louis de Montfort assure us that Mary is a sure and perfect guide to holiness.  Mary’s sole mission is to lead us to her Son.  

We have no excuses but to be better men, husbands, fathers, and better witnesses to Christ in the world.  This should not be the case just during our Lenten journey, but every day and always. 

As Lent is coming to an end and we prepare to disengage from of our daily devotions which we committed to for 40 days or the sacrifices that we offered and successfully fulfilled, I propose that we continue in these practices.  We continue to bear witness to Christ in season and out. 

Now, I know you are saying that is a pious sentiment Mark and I really like your proposed zeal here, but the liturgical calendar is set up the way it is for a reason so thanks, but no thanks.  To you my brother I say, when is there ever a time to give up extra prayers and sacrifice for love of God and neighbor?  Christ would say these are the greatest of His commandments and the whole Christian life can be summed up in living out such.  So if prayer, fasting and almsgiving help you to do fulfill God’s greatest commandments then why would you want to give them up?  Or why would you want to limit this to just 40 days a year? 

As a Catholic Christian man, we will be held to a higher standard than your average Evangelical Christian. 
Again, to whom much is given, much will be expected.  We have been given so much as Catholic men; let us strive to live out our Catholic faith using all the tools and graces available to us.  Especially, let us avail ourselves to more daily grace and ask for Mary’s intercession as often as possible.  Apart from God and His grace, we can do nothing good on our own.  Giving up sweets or beer for 40 days is a great start, but  it is only a start.  Let us continue on from this Lenten journey as we have begun with more prayers, fasting, almsgiving and witnessing to the great gift that we have been given as Catholic men.

TKM Returns to Europe–Switzerland this time

On October 11th, The King’s Men dusted off our passport and traveled to Zurich for a week to give witness, participate and share in a genuine brotherhood that has crossed an ocean.for over a year now.  My host, Benjamin Aepli and lovely bride, Johanna, along with their 8 children, treated me like I was family.  I truly felt like a long lost uncle from America.  Despite our language barriers, Swiss German and English, me and the children communicated quite well.  Of course, Benjamin and his wife spoke very good English, but there was a genuine kindness and charity that was manifest in the Aepli home that transcended words and enabled me to comfortably adjust to the time zone change and easily assimilate to the new culture and surroundings.

Continue reading

Wing Bowl Ends – Is TKM to Thank?

On October 30th, The King’s Men, Inc. was not sure whether there was a bit of mischief in the news that the Wing Bowl was coming to an end.  We have heard the rumors before that the Wing Bowl was ending only to have the Philadelphia sports talk radio personalities foil such rumors.  But this time, it was no trick that was being played on us, but a tremendous treat that was as sweet as any candy this writer has ever had on Halloween.

Continue reading

TKM Statement on the Scandal, September 6, 2018

It has become evidently clear to us that our apostolate must join the many voices in the Catholic Church who are responding to the current crisis and recent clerical sex abuse scandal.   The concerns presented from those we serve through our weekly men’s groups, retreats and program offerings calls for a statement on the position of The King’s Men concerning these grave matters Continue reading

Church: It is Silence that Will Convict on Your Judgment!

Here we are dealing with another round of scandal in the Church and most of us are shocked and perplexed to STILL hear that there are more abuse reports coming from our Church here in the West. My wife just read the grand jury report for the Dioceses of Harrisburg, Scranton, Allentown, Erie and Greensburg and there is just an outcry among family members for justice, transparency and ousting these clearly homosexual and pedophile priests who are STILL alive and some STILL serving in active ministry.

Twenty-five years ago, I was silent about an abuse that happened to me and 4 boys got abused as a result.

Continue reading

On the Road with TKM!

After 15 years of doing men’s ministry work, TKM is still rolling and thanks be to God that we are!  So many men have come to conversion and transformation from their time with the apostolate.  One TKM brother recently wrote to me the following:

People love donating to good causes they believe in and yours is helping save marriages, families and men’s souls – there’s not a better reason to give than that.”

I have to remind myself, at times, that our work does make a difference in the lives of men and the Church.  It is easy to forget when the daily grind of sustaining a ministry and supporting a family distracts from all the good that comes from the sacrifice to be a missionary family in full-time ministry.

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing the power of God’s healing touch at the recent Into the Wild Retreat Weekend in Show Low, AZ.  Continue reading