Friday, December 18, 2009

Because Catholic Men Are Just That

Posted by Webster 
As the only male in a household of women, I can say honestly that I did not become a Catholic to meet any more of them. I treasure my Catholic women friends, but as I review comments on recent posts—from fellow Catholic men—I realize that there’s a Catholic faith experience that is uniquely male. And I want more of that. 

It’s why I joined and remain active in our Saturday morning men’s group (left), even while recognizing that we are a deeply flawed bunch. It’s why Ferde and I attend a monthly men’s group at a nearby Carmelite chapel (more broken specimens). It’s probably why I went on a retreat recently at a Trappist monastery in the company of two men friends from the parish.

First point about all this, from the credit where credit is due department: If Frank had not joined up here a few weeks back, these thoughts would not be central to me right now. There’s an energy that comes from sharing this space with another guy that is invigorating.

Second point, same department: “EPG,” an American Anglican and eloquent man, has triggered a continuing dialog following my recent post about the Carmelite men’s group. Which in turn triggered this new post.

Third point, before bleeding to death from a self-administered shot in the foot—Frank and I love, I mean we love our women readers. So keep those cards and cookies coming. . . . 

Now, here is EPG’s comment on the Carmelite men’s group post:

Webster, you have hit on a profound issue, and one worth many, many more posts. Many (perhaps most) men go about their lives without substantive friendships. There may be common interests in sports, etc., but few avenues for addressing serious issues, including matters of faith, with other men.

In many respects, our brothers in the Evangelical churches seem to do a much better job of it, or at least attempting to wrestle with the issue. I have a colleague who is a committed Evangelical, and his congregation works very hard at men's ministries, including accountability groups, quarterly retreats, and much more.

Since I am not a Catholic, I can't speak to how well most Catholic parishes do. On the Anglican side, however, (at least as practiced in North America), there really is not much -- or I haven't seen much in the parishes and dioceses where I have been.

In some traditionalist Anglican circles, there is concern about the "feminization" of Christianity. I don't know whether any such trend is a symptom of the problem of failing to address men's relationship to the church and God, or a cause of the problem.

I sent this comment by e-mail to some of my men friends in the parish. I want to share some of their responses here, with questions they provoke. Then you can go to the original post here and read other published comments. Then come back here (click, click) and chime in.

Question: Why are men afraid of talking about intimate or faith-related issues with one another? A friend writes graphically and humorously:

Women can talk about their most intimate secrets without blushing. Nothing is taboo, their periods, their bodies and their bodily functions. You have a wife and daughters, so you know what I mean. Guys, on the other hand, would never talk about bodily fluids or clots coming out of their bodies. Ever. Men talk about sports. The only fluid we talk about is beer, and that's inbound.

Question: Has an open discussion of homosexuality made it easier or more difficult for heterosexual men to talk intimately? Here’s a provocative statement on the matter:

I think the whole gay discussion has been a huge detriment to men (not bashing homosexual men, just noticing how it affects everyone). A couple decades ago, nobody cared, but now we have to almost prove we're not gay. We can't even say homosexual, we have to say gay. Why? [Next comment] Look at the picture in the chapel. Are any two men sitting next to each other? They're all spaced as far apart as possible.

Question: What percentage of Catholic men have faith experiences worth talking about in the first place? The same guy writes:

Most Catholic men are baptized and then wander off into the wilderness, never to be seen again. The attraction to beer, baseball, sex and entertainment is greater than the attraction of the Church.

Question: To what extent does it all boil down to a crisis of fatherhood? Consider this:

As men, we are called to be the head of the family. Most men do not live up to that responsibility. Even saying it feels like we're "disrespecting" our wives, so we willingly relinquish the task to them. More than anything, we are called to be the spiritual leaders of our family. Are we? Most (good) wives would be overjoyed if we accepted more responsibility and took more interest in the formation of our children. . . . Someone has to be the head of the family, and that is the husband / father. But boy, did we let that one go. And now we can't even talk about it anymore.

Question: How important an issue is EPG’s “feminization”? One of my parish friends thinks it’s critical:

My thoughts are that feminization of the church (and quite frankly, the world in general) is a direct result of several things. One of them is that civilization and humanity have lost site of the "proper roles" of both men and women and the inherent God given differences between both genders. That's not to say that women should be confined to the home and men need to be dominant, but in today's world there is nearly complete disregard for these roles and more importantly how they naturally tie back to the creator and what each has been 'given'. This begins to lead to women beginning to act like men and men becoming spineless and lazy.   I also would submit that today's man has become entirely complacent with regards to matters of the faith. And with that, men have lost the balls to speak passionately about their faith (and so go the opportunities for deep male friendships as there aren't many males left who are passionate about important matters like faith).

Question: And finally what can we do about it? Late last night, I got an e-mail from a friend who has also discovered the Carmelite group. Maybe it contains some clues.

I returned to the Church twenty some odd years ago after a long, dark absence, and it’s been quite a journey—primarily solo. For me that’s ok. I'm not antisocial, quite the contrary, but for me the Faith is like my marriage and as such deeply personal. . . . 

The first thing that came to mind in response to the question posed was the men’s group at the Carmelite Chapel which I see you've discovered.  I went to a meeting this past spring fully expecting to find a dozen or so well meaning but dottering old timers looking for a night away from their wives.  What a great surprise. It was so heartening to walk in and find 30-40 guys ranging from 17 to 70 years of age and from such apparently diverse backgrounds. The Carmelites and that chapel have played a tremendous role in my Spiritual life, and I think that like the Franciscans’ Arch Street Chapel in Boston, they are missionary in nature as well as a spiritual oasis in the midst of the marketplace.  A sanctuary and refuge for all to avail themselves of in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is where I regularly go to confession as I first did in returning to the Church.  So I'm glad you've found this group. Since I could not attend regularly I did not commit but it's comforting to know that if I've a free third Tuesday of the month, I can spend a night of prayer,meditation and benediction with real men of the Church.  

Also, since that one meeting, I've taken more notice of the men with their families and without at Sunday mass and find great encouragement there also with some fine powers of example.
 * * *
I began this post before 4 am, and I can think of no better way of closing it than with a short poem by William Carlos Williams, Danse Russe:

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,—

if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely 
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,—

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?