New initiative aims to make Catholic men ‘watchmen’

| Jonathan Liedl | January 15, 2016 | 27 Comments

Prayer is a focus of the Tuesday morning gathering.

For years, Chad Crow has attended the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ annual conference for men. And the father of four, who is a parishioner at Transfiguration in Oakdale, said that he and other men who attend the conference typically get a lot out of it.

The difficulty, he said, is that they didn’t find a lot of support for men’s spirituality once they left the conference center and returned to their homes, jobs and parishes.

“It’s like we were all dressed up but had nowhere to go,” he said, noting that while there were many programs that effectively catered to women’s spiritual needs, it was difficult to find suitable equivalents for men.

ProtectiveManBut Crow and other Catholic men in the archdiocese can expect that to change in the near future as the archdiocese prepares to launch a bold new approach to ministry for adult men.

It’s called the Catholic Watchmen movement, and it aims to equip men to live their faith deeply, lead their families and carry out the new evangelization in an increasingly secular world.

The movement is backed by Bishop Andrew Cozzens. He sees it as a response to Pope Francis’ call to men to be protectors, providers and leaders of their family. Fulfilling this call to authentic manhood, he said, can only be achieved through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the initiative’s model of heroic manhood.

“The Catholic Watchmen initiative offers the bishops a chance to invite Catholic men to join together and fully live their calling to holiness, encouraging them to take a stand in our culture in favor of Gospel values,” said Bishop Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He will be inviting all men in the archdiocese to become Catholic Watchmen, beginning with a special event at the 2016 Archdiocesan Men’s Conference Feb. 27 at the University of St. Thomas’ Anderson Fieldhouse.

Men will be initiated into the Watchmen by the bishop and receive a pin if they can commit to a set of seven spiritual practices, including leading the family in daily prayer, faithfully attending Sunday Mass and going to confession monthly.

Matthew James Christoff, the founder of the New Emangelization Project, has worked with Jeff Cavins, the archdiocese’s director of evangelization and catechesis, to develop the Catholic Watchmen initiative. Christoff makes it clear they’re not aiming small.

“Our goal is incredibly aggressive,” said Christoff, who began writing the “Catholic Watchmen” column for The Catholic Spirit in November. “The vision is that every single man [in the archdiocese] who calls himself a Catholic will have received a personal appeal to join the Catholic Watchmen.”

Addressing a crisis

If the vision of the initiative isn’t modest, it’s because the challenge it seeks to address isn’t either.

“There is a catastrophic lack of faith among Catholic men,” said Christoff, who combed studies from the Pew Research Center, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, and other researchers to identify trends in Catholic men’s spirituality. He found that 1 in 3 men who were baptized as Catholics have left the faith, making this demographic the largest contributor to the “nones,” or those who identify as belonging to no particular faith.

The majority of those who do remain don’t know or practice their faith, Christoff said. They are typically disengaged from parish life, don’t believe the sacraments are essential to their faith, and are not committed to passing the faith along to their children.

As The Catholic Spirit has previously reported, Christoff and Cavins refer to this trend as the Catholic “man crisis.” Its contributing factors include broader societal forces, such as the sexual revolution, the stigmatization of traditional masculinity and widespread use of pornography.

CatholicWatchmenBut Cavins and Christoff also suggest that the Church needs to do a better job of conveying the faith to men in ways that are more understandable and approachable. While there has been considerable effort to reach out to women more explicitly, such as St. John Paul II’s teaching on the feminine genius, men haven’t received the same kind of attention. As a result, Cavins and Christoff say that many Catholic men today find their faith to be unengaging and unappealing.

Bishop Cozzens agrees that there needs to be a greater focus on male spirituality and outreach, but this should not be viewed as an effort to diminish the important role of women in the Church.

“It’s rather to begin where the need is greatest,” he said.

The leaders of the Catholic Watchmen movement argue that not only is the crisis of faith among men more dire than it is among women, but it also could have a deeper impact on future generations of Catholics. Christoff and Cavins point to a Swiss study that found that the best indicator of whether children will practice the
faith is if their father practiced it and modeled it for them.

“If you get the men, you get the women and children,” Christoff said, underscoring why he believes male-targeted ministry is so important.

It’s a topic other U.S. Catholic leaders are taking seriously, too. In October, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix published “Into the Breach,” a letter to men in his diocese urging them to “engage the battle” for their families and homes. Christoff contributed to its writing and appears in a related video released on YouTube in January titled “Society’s Crisis in Masculinity.”

The verse from the Book of Ezekiel that inspired the title “Into the Breach” is also one motivating the Catholic Watchmen movement: “Thus I have searched among them for someone who would build a wall or stand in the breach before me to keep me from destroying the land, but I found no one.”

The Catholic Watchmen vision

Calling men to be protectors, providers and leaders

According to organizers, “The Catholic Watchmen are Catholic priests, deacons and laymen who have made a real commitment to know Jesus by practicing the faith, to become spiritual leaders and vigilant protectors of their families and to be the vanguard of a new evangelization of men in their parishes. Catholic Watchmen take a vow to strive to live the heroic life of a real Catholic man by practicing the faith.”

Its leaders are encouraging Catholic men to commit to the following seven regular faith practices:

Daily practices

1. Personal prayer and leading the family in prayer

2. Examine conscience at the day’s end

3. Encounter Christ in sacred Scripture

Weekly practices

4. Faithfully attend Sunday Mass

5. Look for opportunities to serve and be a witness both in family and community

Monthly practices

6. Go to confession

7. Actively build Catholic fraternity and evangelize men through monthly parish gatherings

Building on nature

Cavins said the Catholic Watchmen movement is informed by the theological understanding that grace builds on nature.

“It’s a powerful paradigm and a powerful idea for evangelization,” he said.

In fact, many adult faith formation programs are already organized around this principle. The problem, according to Cavins and Christoff, is that these programs consist of things that appeal to women’s nature, such as group sharing and an emphasis on relational language.

“These are roadblocks to men unless they’ve already been initiated into the faith in a deep way,” Cavins said.

The strength of the Catholic Watchmen movement, he said, is that it reaches out to men where they are by tapping into things that naturally appeal to them, such as fraternity, ritual and an emphasis on mission.

For example, established Catholic Man Nights — part of Christoff’s New Emangelization efforts — will give men an opportunity to learn more about their faith and gather with the bishop, but also to drink beer and spend time with other Catholic guys.

Another aspect of the movement that its proponents believe will allow it to catch on is its reliance on personal appeals, and men holding other men accountable.

“There is no substitute for one man inviting another,” said Christoff, who also noted that men typically respond well to challenges from respected leaders, such as their pastors.

Cavins and Christoff also believe that the Catholic Watchmen movement can thrive because it provides men  seeking masculine models with an identity rooted in Christ.

“Men are absolutely hungry for something like this,” Christoff said. “And frankly, we need something distinct and different that can break through.”

The first step

The Catholic Watchmen movement will launch in the archdiocese with the men’s conference in February, but an important part of the initiative will take place at the parish level in subsequent months.

About 12 “hub parishes” will hold monthly Catholic Watchmen events. In addition to the Catholic Man Nights already underway in parishes throughout the archdiocese, organizers plan to introduce a variety of other “micro-initiatives” to help men become protectors, providers and leaders of their families, such as a program that encourages fathers to read Scripture to their children and an effort to have men “own” the late-night hours at the adoration chapel.

Although the initiative might not roll out in every parish initially, Bishop Cozzens believes the Catholic Watchmen movement “is the first step” in something much larger.

“My hope is that someday every parish will have small men’s groups,” he said, “where men find support and encouragement to be authentic disciples, and therefore can become the fathers and leaders of the faith in their families that God intended them to be.”

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