MAN-issues MAN-talk MAN-faith

| October 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

Across the archdiocese and the U.S., men are breaking from the ‘strong, silent’ mold to be men of prayer, willing to talk with one another about their spirituality, and outwardly practicing their Catholic faith

Clockwise from top left: Rich Preston of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, engages in small group discussion at a Regular Joes meeting at St. Joseph Oct. 13. The group, which includes parishioners, non-parishioners and non-Catholics, meets every Tuesday morning for prayer, spiritual content, discussion and fellowship.

Rich Preston of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, engages in small group discussion at a Regular Joes meeting at St. Joseph Oct. 13. The group, which includes parishioners, non-parishioners and non-Catholics, meets every Tuesday morning for prayer, spiritual content, discussion and fellowship.

Jeremy Gibbs, a 37-year-old construction manager, needed something more in his faith life than what he had been finding at the parishes he and his family had belonged to in the past.

Activities for men at those parishes tended to be limited to ushering or cooking for the pancake breakfast, and all the ushers and workers were in their 70s. Gibbs sought something that involved men of a variety of ages.

Now a parishioner of Divine Mercy in Faribault, Gibbs tried going to a Bible study group, but that really wasn’t what he was looking for.

“I needed something bigger,” he said. Although he researched several spiritual programs aimed at men, he didn’t find one that fit what he had in mind.

Divine Mercy’s staff was on the same page and this summer helped to launch a new initiative: Men of Mercy.

“Our wish or desire was to have something for all men to come to any time and not feel like they missed the first three meetings,” Gibbs said.

He hoped to attract men of various ages who would feel comfortable dropping in whenever they could. They meet monthly at the Knights of Columbus Hall, a place where guys are used to going, Gibbs said.

“We’ll have brats and beans — simple man food — and we’ve been having priests or deacons as guest speakers talk about a man issue,” said Gibbs, a father of five.

Fatherhood and being a good husband are examples of “man issues,” Gibbs said, then corrected himself, adding that the evenings include “Christian issues in a man-delivery.”

“It’s masculine spirituality,” he explained.

Men of Mercy hopes to attract whom Gibbs described as the “ordinary guy” — someone who might not be interested in Bible study, a guy who maybe wants to hear something that will help him with whatever he’s dealing with in life. He might be the guy who wants to sit on the fringe of the group and not feel like he has to say anything, and everybody is OK with that.

The first few Men of Mercy evenings have drawn 35 to 40 men. “We’re getting new people and repeats, so that’s good,” Gibbs said. “We’ll just keep the doors open, and hopefully the word of mouth is good.”

The monthly gatherings last about two hours, and some have included question-and-answer time, but that’s not really programmed into the night, Gibbs said.

“We don’t even tell the speakers what topics to address,” Gibbs said. “We just ask them to speak on what’s on their heart.”

2. Jeff Lentsch of St. Joseph leads small group discussion.

Jeff Lentsch of St. Joseph leads small group discussion.

Nationwide interest

Drawing men closer to Jesus Christ and to the Catholic Church is an effort that’s been recently garnering more and more attention in the U.S.

Earlier this month in Arizona, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted called for Catholic men to get off the sidelines and reclaim and live the virtue of Christian masculinity.

In a pastoral letter addressed to men titled “Into the Breach,” the bishop cited statistics about their decreasing involvement in parish life and participation in the sacraments.

Among the things he stressed was the importance of men finding a “band of brothers” to join in Christian fraternity.

That’s the aim of Men of Mercy, as well as several other groups in parishes across the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

One of those homegrown programs, Catholic Man Night, is making national headway.

It started in 2009 when a group of 25 men discussed why so many men were not active in their Catholic faith. Its program of eucharistic adoration, prayer, a brief talk, an opportunity for confession and conversation calls men to move from being a “casual Catholic” to a “committed Catholic,” as explained on its website, CatholicManNight.com.


 

See the Q&A with Matthew Christoff, one of the co-founders of the movement


David Leung, a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Winona, attends Regular Joes weekly. He and his fiancée, Michelle Pothen, plan to marry at St. Joseph Nov. 21.

David Leung, a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Winona, attends Regular Joes weekly. He and his fiancée, Michelle Pothen, plan to marry at St. Joseph Nov. 21.

The movement continues to spread to parishes throughout the archdiocese with several parishes now hosting Catholic Man Night events. Father Bill Baer gave the talk at a Catholic Man Night earlier this month at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul.

The pastor of Transfiguration in Oakdale, Father Baer challenged the 35-40 men attending to sacrifice five minutes a day to pray.

“As men, don’t be ashamed to say, ‘I love those five minutes, but I will give them over for Jesus Christ, because I love Jesus Christ,’” he said.

He called men to go to confession “to receive mercy and pardon” and go to Mass “and tell your children to go to Mass.”

“Tell them, ‘I go because I’m a man, a Catholic man, and I’m going to give honor to God and in gratitude for all he’s done for me, whether I want to or not,’ ” Father Baer said.

Mike Pickett, a Nativity parishioner who works in marketing, called Catholic Man Night “pretty cool.”

He appreciated Father Baer’s message that “there is still a lot of opportunity to influence young men through our families and parishes.”

He added that the non-stop discussion in the final portion of the program showed men are concerned about the faith of men in today’s culture.

“There was no hesitation,” Pickett said. “They had to wait their turn to talk.”

Bill Dombrow, 55, who works in the corporate travel industry and was one of the organizers of Nativity’s program, found the first half of the evening with adoration, the talk and confession as valuable as the second half, when men opened up to talk about their faith.

He said he’s fond of confession and the graces it offers, and the energy and enthusiasm he felt from the conversation at Nativity showed the program “filled a spiritual void.”

“For all of us, deep down, there’s a need to share our faith, to talk about the deep things in life,” Dombrow said.

Catholic Man Night, he said, “is an event that allows you, gives you permission, to do that.”

Prayer is a focus of the Tuesday morning gathering.

Prayer is a focus of the Tuesday morning gathering.

‘Uniquely for men’

At St. John the Baptist in Savage, 25-30 men have been taking part in the most recent sessions of “That Man is You!,” a packaged program of videos and questions to be discussed in small groups. St. Joseph in West St. Paul also offers the series as part of its men’s group, Regular Joes.

St. John’s pastor, Father Mike Tix, learned of the program from a couple whose wedding he officiated at a few years ago. The new husband, Brett Mieras, gave him some materials about it.

“He shared with me how it had been life changing for him,” Father Tix said. “He experienced the program in Nebraska, and had strong words of support for it about how it had led him to RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and what it meant to grow as a man of faith.

“It really was Brett’s experience that made me stop to think about this program as something uniquely for men in our parish,” Father Tix added.

He said he was impressed that That Man is You! not only offered support to live as a man of faith but also challenged men to grow in a love that is shared with wife and family.

“I think that we need more men to put faith into action in their lives, and that’s really why we started this program, with the hope that it might be a help to other men to live their faith and be good role models both at home and work,” Father Tix said.

That Man is You! seemed like the right fit when George Heim, a 52-year-old “computer guy,” gathered “six to eight guys” to start a men’s ministry at St. John. The need came to him years before, he recalled, when he took a class to become a certified Christian life counselor.

“I was the only guy in a class full of women,” Heim said. “I realized we need a ministry just for men. As guys, we don’t share our faith. We don’t talk about what’s in our hearts.

“I wanted to create an atmosphere where they could not be judged or laughed at if they did that,” he said.

When Father Tix learned about That Man is You!, Heim said he immediately liked it for two reasons: “One, it was devoted to men, and two, it was Catholic oriented.”

The first year concentrated on leadership — “not only in life but more specifically in family, in church, and ultimately in our nation,” Heim said. “It really opened my eyes.”

He appreciates that the video topics address real-world issues.

“Last night’s lesson was that we do things we know are wrong but we do them anyway,” Heim said. “A lot of people were on the edge of their chairs.”

Following the video, small group discussions tend to be “not so much debate, but where people open up,” Heim said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”

From left, Hugh O’Kane of St. Joseph and Mark Josephs talk at the end of the event. Josephs is a non-Catholic and regular attendee.

From left, Hugh O’Kane of St. Joseph and Mark Josephs talk at the end of the event. Josephs is a non-Catholic and regular attendee.

Men as spiritual leaders

Three years ago, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood also started a guy-only event, Men’s Night Out. A core group of men have kept it going, including parishioners Rick Bidwell, a private building and remodeling contractor, and Mike Braun, who works in design engineering.

“The intent is to evangelize to the men in our parish,” Braun explained, “to strengthen the faith of the men in our parish, and to get men passionately involved in the Church again.”

The Men’s Night Out always includes  confession and adoration in the church, and talks on spiritual growth by priests and lay people.

“We have also provided personal testimonies from men in our own parish,” Braun added.

Braun was among several men The Catholic Spirit interviewed who made reference to “what seems to be a feminization of religion,” as he put it.

“We are trying to bring men back to God, back as spiritual leaders,” Braun said. “We are trying to get men to realize that it is OK to pray.”


Photos by Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

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