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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  • Gwen

    Wonderful initiative! Very happy to hear about it!

  • Stephen Lowe

    What? No reference to The Holy League? Things that make you go hm….

  • barnabus

    “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.”

    On the surface this sounds like a great idea, but this is not Catholicism, it’s just more Protestant error. Dr. Jay Boyd, writing in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, does an excellent job warning of the dangers of this “personal relationship with Jesus” movement now sweeping through the Catholic newChurch (many behind this movement are, not surprisingly, Protestant converts)

    • Have you ever listened to Matthew James Christoff speak? Are you aware of the things he has done and continues to do for men’s evangelization? Have you met him? What about bishop Cozzens? I’d encourage you to do so before you make such bold statements and accusations.

      • barnabus

        The question is, to what are they evangelizing Catholics?

        • Why don’t you find out for yourself instead of making assumptions.

          • barnabus

            The question was a rhetorical one. You happen to disagree, which is fine but you haven’t made a very good case for why you disagree. Are you familiar with the book “Soul of the Apostolate” by Dom Chautard? In it he explains that the most important ingredient for the rebirth of zeal in a time when Catholics have fallen away and the Church is being persecuted, is the preaching of the fundamentals of the Faith by people imbued with the interior life. It can take a lifetime for even the most devout of clergy or layperson to develop such an interior life, it is not to be undertaken lightly. It’s an indispensable read. I just have not been impressed with these “men” movements and “personal relationship with Jesus” movements, most are rooted in the errors of the Modernism and can actually do more harm. Read Dr. Jay Boyd’s article I linked to above.

          • I’ve added the book to my read list, I appreciate the recommendation. I’ll get to it after I finish up Mystical City of God (probably not the whole thing, but I can’t put it down right now). I’m not always impressed with with Catholic evangelists either, but there are many that have proven very effective. I define effective evangelization by it’s correlation to an increase in sacramental and Eucharistic participation: Mass attendance, confession, adoration as well as the elimination of mortal sins such as contraception, pornography, and the like. There are many programs and individuals who have done this well. I have reasonable hope that this specific program will be effective given my knowledge of Matthew James Christoff. I would encourage you to check him out on YouTube, read his articles instead of assuming he’s another Matthew Kelly.

          • barnabus

            I don’t know what you mean by theological flawed, she’s certainly not saying we shouldn’t know Jesus, that would be ridiculous. It’s the approach we are talking about here. She argues for solid, orthodox Catechesis and a return to proper worship in the traditional liturgy. Not meeting them “where they’re at”, and continually giving them the same watered- down gruel. That hasn’t worked for 50 years. Anyway, I will check out Christoff’s videos and perhaps you are correct and he is the exception. I hope so. Patrick Archbold also recently wrote on this topic:

          • I liked this line the best, “It begs the question, where do they think that un-catechized, fallen away, and lukewarm Catholics come from? “. I used to be the lukewarm catholic. I must admit that the first catholic book I read on my faith journey was four signs of a dynamic catholic, it helped me see the need for and establish a daily prayer routine. Prior to that it was mass on sunday and that’s it. But, I didn’t stop at that book. I kept going, and I’m continuing that journey even today. My only goal is eternal salvation for me and my family. In my experience (which is limited to my own reversion) proper catechesis from someone you trust, respect, and admire is the only thing that works. Even proper catechisis better be supported with a great deal of prayer and sacrifice by the catechiser (not sure if that’s a word). My brother opened my eyes to the genius of Catholicism. He only succeeded because I respected him as a strong catholic man and knew he had my eternal salvation in mind. So, how does this relate to our conversation here? I think a great deal of time is spent arguing about what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to see more time spent doing, especially with the interior life. If more Catholics lived a faithful and devout life without sin (more realistically, minimal sin) we wouldn’t be in this mess. Is the latin mass awesome? Sure. Is Fr. Larry Richards a more powerful speaker than Matthew Kelly? probably. But, none of that matters if I’m surrounded by hypocrites all pretending to be catholic. I can’t hear over the hypocrisy. What this diocese is doing is excellent because they are meeting men where they are(requires equal parts mercy and justice), calling them to action, and caring enough about their salvation to stay engaged and push them.

          • I read the article you recommended. It’s theologically flawed. I understand and agreed that the protestant definition of “a personal relationship with Jesus” is flawed, but we are called to know Him. Pope Benedict XVI did a great job of illuminating that path for us in his series “Jesus of Nazareth”. Do I understand you correctly that you argument here is that modern Catholic evangelists (you mentioned Matthew Kelly as an example) mislead the faithful to a protestant-like “relationship with Jesus” and the assumption is that this program mentioned in the article is just another example?

          • Barnabus, I took your advice and started reading “Soul of the Apostolate”. WOW. THank you for the recommendation. What a valuable resource for any catholic looking to grow in holiness.

    • brian miller

      So what is your suggestion to address the obvious problem? I am not an advocate of this program or any other at this time but I don’t see any other widespread concerted efforts within the Catholic Church aside from individual parish programs and perhaps the KofC. I try not to shoot down others ideas without making some attempt at addressing the problem myself. Further, my observation has been that often times, the most patriotic among us are those who didn’t inherit the faith but immigrated there from elsewhere, often in spite of adversity along the way.

      • barnabus

        Brian you are correct, converts are often the most faithful and learned of Catholics. However, there are many converts that were catechized in the post-conciliar newChurch that still promote Protestant error, perhaps through no fault of their own. The solution to the problem is what it has always been: strong, orthodox Catechisis and a return to the proper liturgical worship of our Lord that has been handed down to us for centuries. Everything flows from the Mass, the greatest prayer in the Catholic faith. The Mass is first and foremost about sacrifice, not gathering around the table for a communial meal. This is horizontal worship and is at the heart of Modernism. These men’s groups need to be about studying the saints and doctors of the Church, learning the faith properly and promoting the Tradional Latin Mass….and getting together to socialize over beer is fine too!

    • guest

      All Christians need a personal relationship to Jesus, and that includes Catholics! Let us not be so quick to put down our Protestant brothers and sisters and forget the very foundation of faith in the process. These people are not our enemies. They use what God gives them to build up the body of Christ just as Catholics do. We need to work along side them for the glory of God.

      • barnabus

        Jesus desires a convenant with us, not a “personal relationship” which can mean anything depending on the person (see Dr. Boyd’s article I linked to above). A covenant means we obey his Commandments and teachings, and the fullness of that Truth can only be found in the Catholic Church. I am not putting anyone down, but Protestantism is a heresy, that has done much to damage the Body of Christ. It lead to the French Revolution which we still suffer from to this day. We need to tell our Protestant brethren the TRUTH, not give them false ecumenism that only leads to their damnation…and perhaps our own as well if we cooperate in this evil. Always in charity of course.

  • Jeanine

    If you have to teach adult men how to be adult men, maybe they are not grown up and never will be.

  • rodlarocque1931

    its a good idea. I hope it catches on.

  • niknac

    Men can lead after they have contributed. Spend the time. Be a friend. Pay the bills. Don’t yell. Don’t hit.

  • Anthony Scarpantonio

    Are you aware of this organization “Watchman Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement”, they are not “catholic” as their name implies, and could cause confusion into what you are trying to do.

    • Ifeanyi Orji Winner

      Don’t be deceived, WCCRM is a movement whose calling and mandaate is of God. Her sole aim is to prepare the church for the rapture and warn the adamant of the damnation to come

  • Rod
  • Jen

    I feel like the idea of separate men’s and women’s spirituality groups is dated. My husband and I like to work on our spiritual growth as a team. We also both work full time and the little bit of time we have together on evenings and weekends we look for things we can do together. I think this is one reason the ACCW and KoC have rapidly aging membership and have trouble attracting young members.
    I also know my husband was turned off by the one Archdiocesan men’s event he attended in the past because it relied on stereotypes about men. For example, one he attended used almost exclusively sports metaphors in the program, and he doesn’t follow sports at all. Not all women are into drinking wine and shopping. Not all men are into sports.

    • Dominic Deus

      Dominic Deus here. Lots of discussion here–that’s good. Lots of convoluted claptrap, that’s bad. The Catholic Watchmen idea is ridiculously dated, sexist and provincial. It’s modeled after Promise Keepers and other superficial pseudo-evanglesims that the Church admires because they draw big crowds. The reality is that the Church actively drives faithful Catholics away by ignoring their spiritual needs, marginalizing women and others including gays and lesbians, teaches fatally flawed truths like the “evil of contraception” and just generally refuses to even dialogue with Catholics. No amount of evangelization for men or people in general can overcome that. One more FYI: men don’t decide their family participation in parish life and Mass attendance. That is almost exclusively the jurisdiction of women. Catholic Watchmen, Promise Keepers, Covenant Marriages and things like them, are all mostly chest bumping.

      • Charles C.

        I’m having a little trouble with your post. The statements seem to be broad, not always relevant, self-contradictory at times, and unsupported in some cases. Allow me to explain what I mean.

        In your first two sentences, you point out that an activity geared towards men is “sexist.” By extension, you should believe an activity geared towards women is equally sexist and bad. Therefore, to avoid sexism, the Church should only have activities which appeal equally to men and women? Sorry, men and women aren’t identical and they have different interests and attitudes (broadly speaking). All Faithful need to be fed and encouraged where they are, and women and men are in different “places” in their views of religion and the world.

        You are concerned that the approach is “dated.” Does that mean anything not new is therefore bad? And while I’m sure you knew what you meant when you called the program “provincial,” I don’t.

        With all of these condemnations, I would expect you to say “Therefore, these programs won’t work.” But you also say that these programs draw big crowds. ??? Are the men going to these events because they are being forced to go? Or, more likely, they’re going because there is something available at that type of event that they want. You have a perfect right to tell them that they shouldn’t want that kind of spiritual activity, but really, aren’t they better judges of what they want than you are?

        You believe the Church drives people away by ignoring their spiritual needs, but you also claim that by meeting the spiritual needs of men She is doing something wrong?

        Marginalizing women drives people away? It doesn’t seem to be driving women away according to all of the statistics on the subject. Even you point out that women drive family participation in parish life. And I can’t see evidence of the Church broadly refusing to talk to Catholics.

        Now I read “Fatally flawed truths” and a terrible suspicion comes to mind. For “marginalizing women,” read “no women priests.” For “fatally flawed truths,” read opposition to contraception and abortion. For “marginalizing gays and lesbians,” read not approving homosexual activity. “For “refusing to talk to Catholics,” read maintaining certain established principles. For “chest bumping,” read expressions of masculinity, which you seem to oppose and which the Church needs.

        Please correct me, in some detail, if I am wrong, but you seem to misunderstand the program, it’s aims, and the “man crisis” facing the Church in the US.

        The Catholic Church is one religion which will not, I pray, bend to the cultural winds storming across the world. Winds which are attempting to change it into a religion proclaiming the current cultural majority opinion instead of the truth it has declared and defended over the millennia.

  • Justin Stroh

    @BishopCozzens will lead men to a new mission: Catholic Watchmen- Feb. 27.

  • raymarshall

    If you read the seven items that Catholic men are being asked to do, I don’t see anything “protestant” about them. It’s what we should have been doing already:

    “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”

    And when I think about “evangelization”, I need it more than anyone else first.