by Fr Richard Heilman | January 11, 2020 10:08 AM
This is an outstanding article (below) by Rob Marco. I wholeheartedly agree with Rob, and the fast-growing number of people, who are realizing that the Church abandoned men and, therefore, abandoned the family. If we hope to make any substantial steps at evangelization, it begins by restoring “the faith” to what it once was for centuries, appealing to both men and women … not just women.
Article by Rob Marco
I was always a Seinfeld and The Simpsons fan. I thought both shows had a knack for observational humor that people could relate to. They are really the only two shows I can think of that I can find a reference to for almost any situation in life (“This is like the time when George/Kramer/Moe/Barney/etc…”).
One episode of The Simpsons I remember from childhood was “Homer the Heretic” when Homer one day decides not to accompany his family to church. He dances in his underwear, makes his famous waffle recipe, wins a radio trivia contest, watches an action-packed football game, and finds a penny. Basically it is the best day ever “and I owe it all,” he says, “to skipping church.” Meanwhile Marge and the kids venture out in a snowstorm, endure a rambling sermon by Rev. Lovejoy while shivering (heater in church broke), and come back to a car that won’t start (Worst day ever). When they get back, Homer declares he is never going to church again.
I think a lot about why people don’t go to church, and more specifically, why men don’t go to church. Turns out I’m not the only one. I am not a regular reader of ‘The Art of Manliness’ blog (I appreciate what they are trying to do, but I always thought it was weird that men should learn how to be men by reading a blog on the internet, let alone reading a blog about what kind of scotch is the most manly, or what the correct way to sharpen a hunting knife is, or whatever other cliche things ‘make a man’), but I did appreciate one of their articles recently unapologetically titled, “The Feminization of Christianity.”
Now keep in mind this was written by a tag-team husband and wife, not a husband alone. It isn’t a vent-off but rather a studied commentary traces this phenomenon through history (back to the 13th century) on the reasons how men perceive Christianity or religion as “something for women” and as a result, aren’t completely on board with the idea.
I don’t know how, but I recently got roped into teaching 5th grade Faith Formation (CCD) at our church. I attended the introductory meeting for catechists last week and, wouldn’t you know it, I was the only male teacher there. To be honest, aside from the big commitment (every week for seven months), this was my big hesitation in not wanting to teach in the first place–I just seemed out of place. Objectively, I can do it–I have the theological training, and have taught middle school aged kids before when I lived in Philly. But personally, faith formation just seems like it’s not set up as my territory as a man teaching it. On the other hand, maybe it is a good opportunity; two thirds of the kids on my class roster are boys, so maybe I can have a formative influence for them that they might not get otherwise.
I think about the decline of church attendance a lot because it has direct implications not only personally for me but also because it is indicative of the direction we are heading collectively in terms of losing our spiritual and moral bearings as a society. There was an obscure Swedish study done that was referenced in an excellent but obscure essay buried in the internet I came across a few years ago about religious practice and how it is handed down generation to generation.
It’s findings? I won’t bore you with the statistics, but the overwhelming conclusion based on the data was telling: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.
If this is true, than we have been missing the forest for the trees in our attempts to bring people back to the fold. No wonder why we are withering on the vine!
While I can sympathize with men who, like Homer, see church as irrelevant and off-putting, I don’t think it’s too late to reframe the narrative. I appreciated this comment from a reviewer on Amazon for Professor Leon Podle’s book The Church Impotent that resonated with me:
“Jesus Christ was the epitome of this masculine template. He left his family, underwent supernatural battle in the desert, defeated the devil, and brought back a great boon of enlightenment to his people. Then, he was tortured and killed for their sake, but conquered death itself with his Resurrection, bringing salvation to humanity. Men instinctively relate to this heroic, glorious an masculine aspect of Jesus. He was, and is, everything we want to be as men. Yet, the feminine church has replaced him with Jesus meek and mild, a woman with a beard in popular iconography, a nurturing bridegroom who walks and talks with me and tells me I’m his own, a mother who kisses my boo-boos and provides a shoulder to cry on. To be sure, men need comforting too sometimes, but a religion that focuses on our weakness rather than our strength will not keep our interest long. And when the search for masculinity is divorced from the spirit, it manifests itself in the faux transcendence of modern America; sports, sex, and violence.”
So, what, if anything, is to be done?
If you are a man:
1) Pray. Prayer is not reserved for old church ladies fingering their rosary beads. If you are a man, pray as a man and don’t feel you need to adapt your prayer life to that of a woman’s. Pray as a knight going into battle. Pray for more troops, for reinforcement in the ranks. God made you a man. Start acting like one.
2) Go. To church. (Even if you don’t like it). Do it as a matter of duty, if nothing else. Do it for the sake of the sacraments. If two thirds of attendees at church are women, it is no wonder that pastors adapt to their audience? The more men who fill the pews–even if it’s in spite of the music and hand holding–the more pressure there is not to discount their presence with feminized services.
3) Lead your family. Assume your rightful place as spiritual head of household. If you’re wife has assumed the responsibility because you haven’t, talk about it, repent, and step up. Far from being resentful, I your wife will appreciate that she’s no longer shouldering this responsibility alone.
4) Seek out other men. This may take some work. You need to be in solidarity with your brothers in the faith. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!” (Ps 133:1) Be accountable, and have a partner to be accountable to.
5) Serve. Be a servant leader–in your work, in your family, in your community. Defend the defenseless–the poor, the outcasts, the unborn. There is strength there, and witness.
6) Mentor boys and young men, especially those who do not have fathers or male influence in their lives. Take them places, teach them things, be there for them in ways others cannot. The effect is powerful!
7) Live with integrity. Put the porn and video games away. Steward your household. Treat your wife well. Be consistent. What you are learning and teaching is not found in textbooks. It is how you live that matters, and what other boys see.
What kind of scotch you drink, your deer-skinning skills, if you can tie a bowtie…this is the veneer of being a man. It is not old-fashioned or misogynistic for men to have their own narrative and for that narrative to sometimes be scripted, specially, by other men: to give our lives in service, to protect the vulnerable, to be dutiful in our responsibilities, to love our wives and protect and provide for our families, to do things we don’t always want to do for their sake, to compete and take care of ourselves physically. We can’t afford–for the sake of our boys and our girls–to leave manhood for dead and absent from the pews. Our future as a church depends on it.
Rob Marco is a happily married father of three living in southeastern Pennsylvania. After a few years in high school exploring Buddhism and Hare Krishna, he had a profound conversion experience of encountering Christ and converted to Catholicism in 1998, his freshman year of college. In 2002 he moved to the inner-city to help run a Catholic Worker house of hospitality for homeless men with drug and alcohol addictions and to minister to the poor. He spent ten years discerning a vocation to monastic life, and at one point sold everything he had and bought a school bus, which he renovated to live in as an urban hermit on the streets of Philadelphia. Rob is active in the work of the New Evangelization, starting a Catholic street evangelization apostolate in his area to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and regularly visits men incarcerated in prison. He holds a B.A. in Geography from Penn State University, and a M.A. in Theology from Villanova University. He writes about faith, family, chastity, and Catholic manhood. Many of Rob’s articles can be found Catholic Stand.
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