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Now Reading: Fishers of Men: 7 Ways Priests Can Help Men Grow in Faith

Fishers of Men: 7 Ways Priests Can Help Men Grow in Faith

priestThough the New Evangelization has been a major effort in the Catholic Church for over forty years, it has failed to stem the disastrous losses of the faithful in the U.S. The New Evangelization is faltering: since 2000, 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education participation of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, baptisms of infants has dropped by 28%, baptism of adults has dropped by 31% and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%.[1] Something is desperately wrong with the Church’s approach to the New Evangelization.

The New Emangelization Project has documented that a key driver of the collapse of Catholicism in the U. S. is a serious and growing Catholic “man-crisis”.[2] One third of baptized Catholic men have left the faith and the majority of those who remain “Catholic” neither know nor practice the faith and are not committed to pass the faith along to their children. Recent research shows that large numbers of young Catholic men are leaving the faith to become “Nones”, men who have no religious affiliation.[3] The growing losses of young Catholic men will have a devastating impact on the U.S. Catholic Church in the coming decades, as older Catholic men pass away and young men fail to remain and marry in the Church, accelerating the devastating losses that have already occurred.

While there are massive cultural forces outside of the Church (e.g. secularism, pluralism, anti-Christian bias, radical feminism, pornography, media saturation, etc.) and missteps within the Church (e.g. failure to make men a priority, sex abuse scandals, homosexuality in the priesthood, etc.) that have contributed to the Catholic “man-crisis”, the New Emangelization Project has conducted dozens of interviews with top Catholic men’s evangelists[4] that suggest that a core reason for the “man-crisis” is that bishops and priests have not yet made the evangelization and catechesis of men a clear priority. Men are being ignored by the Church.

To gain deeper insight into the critical role that priests play in the evangelization and catechesis of men, the New Emangelization Project fielded the Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men Survey in the Fall of 2014. Over 1400 practicing Catholic men from the United States from over 1000 parishes participated in the survey, including solid responses from age groups and zip codes.

The survey suggests with a robust commitment to evangelize men by bishops and priests, real progress can be made to address the Catholic “man-crisis”. Priests who make it a priority to evangelize men have a significant impact on men’s faith lives: highly effective “emangelizing” priests lead their men to pray more, attend Mass and Confession more frequently and have more and deeper friendships with other faithful Catholic men. Men are ready and willing to follow the majority of today’s priests. Men want to be challenged to aspire to Catholic manhood, to learn and practice the basics of the faith and to be drawn into Catholic fraternity with other men. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 5 priests (i.e. 20%) have made it a priority to evangelize men and the majority of practicing Catholic men feel neglected by their bishops and priests. Given the real impact that priests can have on Catholic men and the willingness of Catholic men to follow the majority of priests, the survey results suggest that with a new commitment by bishops and priests to evangelize and catechize Catholic men, great progress can be made in addressing the Catholic “man-crisis.

Seven themes stand out from the survey:

1) Few priests actively evangelize men and men are very dissatisfied – The survey results show that only about 2 out of 10 priests are seen by men as committed to actively evangelize men. The large majority of priests does not personally evangelize and catechize men in a systematic way, rarely (or never) gather men together, fail to call, teach and lead men to evangelize other men or even speak to men in homilies. Men feel neglected by their priests and bishops with almost 9 out of 10 of the respondents voicing dissatisfaction with the men’s evangelization efforts of their bishops/dioceses.

2) Men must be challenged to aspire to Catholic Manhood – In the post-modern culture, men are being emasculated, confused about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a Catholic; this is at the core of the Catholic “man-crisis.” Men want to know what a Catholic man is called to do and how to be better sons, husbands, fathers and friends. Men are hungry for priests to challenge them with the fullness of Catholic truth and to call them to the nobility and blessing of being committed Catholic men. Unfortunately, the survey suggests that many priests are more comfortable with softish urgings for mercy while neglecting to call and challenge men to the hard truths of the faith. Men are motivated by truth; when truth is not preached, men wander into sin and away from the Church.

3) Men need to be taught the basics of the Catholic faith – The New Emangelization Project research demonstrates that large numbers of men do not understand the basics of the Catholic faith. Men who do not understand the Catholic faith are not motivated to practice the faith and are unable to pass the faith along to their children. Unfortunately, the survey suggests that the majority of priests are failing to catechize men; priests are not specifically helping men to draw closer to Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph, to better understand the meaning and power of the Mass, to be challenged about Sin and the need for Reconciliation, to learn to pray and to provide basic apologetics so men can understand how to defend the Catholic faith. The survey also suggests that priests who are personally willing to engage men, teaching them the basics of the faith, can have strong impact.

4) The lack of Catholic fraternity hurts men’s faith lives – There is a serious lack of fraternity among practicing Catholic men, with only 1 in 6 practicing Catholic men saying they have strong bonds of brotherhood in their parishes. The survey shows that the lack of fraternity contributes to a less vibrant faith life in men; Catholic men with a lack of fraternity pray less, attend Mass less frequently, go to Confession less frequently and are less engaged in the life of the parish. The lack of Catholic fraternity is perhaps one of the most significant drivers of the exodus of men from the Church.

5) Men hunger for a more reverent Mass – The majority of respondents think their priests are not offering the Mass in a way that is sufficiently reverent and that draws men into a deeper awe of and communion with Jesus Christ. Many of the practicing Catholic men who participated in the survey believe that the Mass has become de-sacralized and feminized, distracted by seeking to build community instead of a reverent worship of Christ, over-emphasizing “mercy” while avoiding clear “truth”, and desecrated with sub-par irreverent music. Men hunger for priests to lead them who have an obvious sense of awe for the Real Presence of Christ and who offer the Mass with the holy dignity that Christ’s Sacrifice demands. Given that 8 out of 10 men rarely or never participate in any parish activities other than attend Mass, the survey suggests the de-sacralization of the Mass is a major contributing factor to the exodus of Catholic men from the Church since Vatican II.

6) Priests who focus on men have great impact – Priests who are rated highly effective in evangelizing men have a strong impact on their men; men attend Mass more frequently, read scripture more, go to Confession more, participate in men’s events, volunteer more and have more and deeper friendships and bonds of brotherhood with men in their parishes. Highly effectively “emangelizing” priests get personally involved, showing up for men’s events, personally teaching and encouraging fraternity among Catholic men. These are not “super priests”, but priests who simply make the commitment to “show up” for men. Priests who are committed to personally evangelize men make committed Catholic men.

7) Men will follow priests who lead – Survey respondents repeatedly voiced the desire for their current priest to begin actively leading the men of the parish; sadly, the majority of priests have not yet made the commitment to lead men. Some men lamented that their priest was effeminate and needed to be more manly, but the large majority of men had respect for their priests and believed their current priest had the inherent personal characteristics to successfully lead men. Catholic men are ready to follow priests who will lead; what’s needed now is for priests to make the commitment to lead men.

The survey suggests that real progress can be made in addressing the Catholic “man-crisis” by bishops and priests who make a personal commitment to make men’s evangelization a priority. Rather than significant investments in staff and programs, bishops and priests can have great impact by returning to the early Church’s approach in which the apostles personally gathered men together for prayer, sacraments, catechesis and fellowship:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

The New Emangelization Project has cataloged a number of grass roots parish-based approaches that draw on the model of Acts 2:42 and are working to draw men together on a regular basis (e.g. CatholicManNight, That Man Is You, The Holy League, Fathers of St. Joseph, Men of St. Joseph, Fraternus, Crossing the Goal, etc.); other approaches that gather men together using the Acts 2:42 model can also work. The survey makes it clear that Catholic men long for, and will follow, bishops and priests who are committed to lead men to Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.

Passionate Catholic men have always been central to periods of renewal and growth in the Church; without engaged Catholic men, husbands and fathers, the Church declines. The Church, for too long, has failed to take up the hard work of systematically and consistently evangelizing and catechizing men and this is a perhaps the central reason why the New Evangelization is faltering. Simply put: there can be no New Evangelization without a New Emangelization, creating generations of Catholic men who are on fire for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. What’s needed now is for bishops, priests and deacons to make a fervent commitment to make the evangelization and catechesis of men a top priority.

Download the Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men Survey here: New Emangelization Project – Helping Priests Become More Effective In Evangelizing Men – August 2015

[1] Center for Applied Research into the Apostolate, http://cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/requestedchurchstats.html.

[2] Catholic “Man-Crisis” Factsheet; http://www.newemangelization.com/man-crisis/the-catholic-man-crisis-factsheet/.

[3] Alan Cooperman, et al, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (May 2015), http://www.pewforum.org/files/2015/05/RLS-05-08-full-report.pdf.

[4] The New Emangelization Project, http://www.newemangelization.com/interviews-3/.

Matthew James Christoff is a Catholic convert. He is the founder of The New Emangelization (http://newemangelization.com) Project which is committed to confront the Catholic “man-crisis” and to develop new ardor, methods and expressions for the re-evangelization of Catholic men. Matthew is also a co-founder of CatholicManNight, a parish-based men’s evangelization effort that has drawn thousands of Catholic men into Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, fellowship and lively discussion. Matthew lives in Minnesota with his beautiful bride (and childhood sweetheart); they have 4 adult children, 3 “in-law” children and two grandchildren.

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7 People Replies to “Fishers of Men: 7 Ways Priests Can Help Men Grow in Faith”

  1. Peter Jensen

    I’m going on the retreat “Into the Wild” with The King’s Men this coming weekend. My wife got me to go. I’m looking forward to that, along with our 25-year old son. Our pastor, who just left us for another parish, is an ex-Marine, who is about as far away as one can get from some of the sissified priests who get assigned to our parish. I’d say that he has been the most beloved pastor that we’ve had. He has worked hard to return things to the way that they should, over the objections of the feministas, who profess to really know what Vatican II was all about. He was not afraid so stand up to their dictatorial ways, e.g. when we got to the parish 17 years ago, they had convinced people that kneeling during Mass was something that was introduced during the Middle Ages when knights would kneel before their lords. They totally ignored the many references to kneeling in Scripture. Anyway, our recently transferred pastor took them on in a loving way, and he started leading us back to a more authentic Catholic experience. Let’s see what the new pastor will do.

  2. they need to be seen as real men as well.

    Recently I was listening to an episode of Catholic Answers on this very topic when a caller called in and suggested that it’d be a good thing to invite the priest to a manly activity, something like a ball game. The priest being interviewed immediately discouraged it, as he was “too busy”.

    Wrong answer Father. You are not too busy to evangelize the Catholic men where they are. You are one, and they’re out there.

    They’re out there hunting and fishing (and our local priest and our Bishop does that). They’re out there going to the high school football games. They’re at the history reenactment event. They’re out there at the brandings, etc. You should be too.

    Men, I feel, in large part have to be touched where they internally live. And that’s pretty much were we always have been. Out in guy land.

    Older priests, and some newer ones, seem to get that, or at least they’re in guy land too. But the focus really needs to be there. We’re a lot more likely to keep Catholic men in the pews by the Priest saying “hey Bob, do you know any good fishing spots around here?” than we are to say “Hey Bob, I know your job as an accountant is busy, but can you attend the Men’s Prayer Group on Wednesday night?” Or, just showing up to watch that Catholic high school senior play football, and be seen in the stands, is more likely to spark young and middle aged male thought than asking that same busy senior to be part of the singing group for next Saturday night’s Mass.

  3. Okay, to start with number 1, if we look at the photo of the stern looking priest above, we can tell he’s pretty darned manly.

    But is that true of the priests we were training back in the 60s and 70s.

    Now, surely many of those guys were manly, to be sure. But we also can’t deny that in that era the Church began to be “feminized” if you will, to a disturbing degree.

    Guys who work as ranch hands, farmers, who have served in the military, etc., aren’t going to be hugely impressed by guys who seem squishy, nor by a church that’s emphasizing a squishy social message. Many women aren’t going to be either.

    Now, I’m not saying that all Catholic Churches were like that by any means, nor am I saying that they all are today by any means. But you can find some that are quite warm and squishy, and guys aren’t going to like that.

    Indeed, well over a decade ago when I was much younger, maybe it’s two decades, I recall the annual appeals from the bishop being all sort of new media type, and that was very off turning.

    All of this, I feel, is turning around, however, a there are more real guys now there as priests, but. . . .

    1. WSquared

      Guys who work as ranch hands, farmers, who have served in the military, etc., aren’t going to be hugely impressed by guys who seem squishy, nor by a church that’s emphasizing a squishy social message. Many women aren’t going to be either.

      Yeah. THIS woman, for one. Because even the supposedly “squishy” saints like St. Therese of Lisieux were salty, battle-hardy warriors when it came to spiritual warfare, and not the least bit squishy when the chips were down. By contrast, both the namby-pamby boys and men and the catty, silly-goose girls and women that our culture encourages us to be are absolute weaklings and cowards when it comes to spiritual warfare, and as a consequence, we’re getting mowed down. And when such of us become parents ourselves one day, if I’m going to use a warfare analogy again when it comes to spiritual combat, we end up being the kinds of commanding officers who will get our troops killed.

      As a woman, “squishy” doesn’t impress me one bit, because anyone who has ever fallen afoul of a clique knows darn well that “squishy” is often the avenue that passive-aggressive bullies of all kinds take to do whatever they please with impunity, and squishiness lays us wide open by overdosing us with false guilt. Apparently, the new “unforgivable sin” is “not being nice!!!!” Women do hurt other women through squishiness, so it doesn’t just hurt the men. It’s about time we realized that, so as to make it easier to realize that squishiness helps no-one, and hurts everyone.

      I don’t think that “feminized” is quite the right word. “Sentimentalized” is far more accurate, and unfortunately, our culture associates being sentimental as appropriate feminine behavior, both rightly and wrongly– both when it’s duly and rightly criticized, and also when we think it’s “okay/excusable for women to do it,” just for being women. Much like gossip.

  4. Ah crud, my super long reply here timed out. I’ll see if I can bust it up into more manageable chunks and post it again.

    The gist of it is that, I really agree with this, but I think here’s a couple of things we need to consider. Which are:

    1. Poor seminary performance seems to have reduced the number of manly men who were Priest for awhile, but that seem to be getting corrected and has been for some time.

    2. Guys do guy things, and the Priest need to as well. That’s part of their evangelizing mission, and the “too busy” excuse doesn’t change that.

  5. So, speaking as the Grand Knight of my local Knights of Columbus Council… Fraternity is GOOD, it does foster a Catholic identity of wroks and prayer. (And no, it has not caused any sort of PC rift in our parishes. We have our ‘boys club’ and yet the ladies of the parishes are represented by their own groups with equal, if not greater numbers.) Yet the one group of men I never seem to see around are our clergy. It is difficult enough to get one of our local priests to come to an event and spend some time with the men, the comon excuse being “too busy” (and yes, I do understand the crushing workload many parish priests live under.) It has been years since I saw a Council or Assembly Chaplain attend an actual meeting. And I can only help but think that if they could collectively make some time, share the load as it were, we would see more members participating, and new members brought in.


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