A full unabridged version of this article first appeared in Origins, the CNS Documentary Service of the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops in August 1999 (Volume 29; no.11)
The leaders present at the consultation were prime examples of responding to the call to serve Catholic men from within their own church.
The consultation was for listening and learning. It asked three questions:
1) What are the various realities giving rise to a new interest in men's spirituality?
2) What responses are being offered in the Catholic community?
3) What are the leadership issues for bishops and for the ministry leaders as they seek to promote an authentically Catholic men's movement?
Origins of a New Movement
The leaders of the movement are mature men formed in the church. Some of the 30 men’s ministry programmes have been in existence for more than ten years, while others are quite new. Their two most common features are the large conference or rally (held once a year) and a network of parish-based small groups that might meet as often as weekly. A good number of men being drawn to the new groups have roots in Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Marriage Encounter, Cursillo and similar renewal experiences. Others speak of having been influenced by Promise Keepers and of a desire to share with their Catholic brothers what they found in Promise Keepers, namely a simple, direct, caring approach that allows men to tell their stories and gives them clear directions about how to change their lives.
Which men are attracted and why?
This new spiritual hunger seems to be most deeply felt by a particular segment of men. These are married, suburban Catholic men of European descent who are arriving at midlife and its experiences of limitation and loss. For many of them, economic insecurity, driven by vast technological changes and the consequent need to retool for new employment, have shattered an older identification of masculinity with economic power. Challenges to gender roles brought on by the women's movement and other developments such as the growing number of women in the workplace, paternity leave and dual-career couples have brought some men to a deeper search for meaning and identity.
New Groups and Specific Needs
The leaders consistently emphasised two points as they described their attempts to develop a specifically Catholic Men’s ministry. First, they incorporate sacramental celebration such as Eucharist and reconciliation. Second, they urgently need resources and programme material particularly to use in small groups.
Linked with the need for resources was an urgent concern for local leadership training. Much of the power of men’s ministry lies in the regular meeting of parish-based accountability groups. Those groups need leaders who are prepared and formed and to carry out their role.
Developments and Trends
Among some of the men’s ministries we can observe certain maturing trends… in terms of men moving:
- beyond a charismatic-style spirituality to include a variety of spiritualities
- from issuing a call to conversion to offering a more developed catechesis
- from large-scale events to also supporting a network of small groups
- beyond present boundaries to reach out to more traditional men’s groups in the Church
- from a marginal movement to one more integrated into parish life
- beyond just a motivational appeal focused through Scripture to a sacrament-centred community experience
Not every men’s ministry group is moving in these directions and certainly not at the same speed. Nonetheless, the participants seemed to agree that the trends were desirable goals for all to attain.
Some challenges from the Bishops
Catholic men’s ministry is still young, diverse and growing. It continues to see clearer definition and a place within the life and mission of the Church. Bishops present at the consultation offered the lay leaders the following points for reflection and ultimately for their guidance and encouragement.
Inclusivity: This ministry mostly meets the needs of midlife, married, middle-class, suburban European-American Catholic men. There is an enormous need to minister to the needs of these men. However, energies must not be focused on one subgroup… but must address the needs of a broader spectrum of Catholic men, providing a spiritual home for an increasing, multicultural people of God.
Evolving roles of men and women: In society, church and family we are witnessing changes in the roles of men and women. Men’s ministries should do their part to promote an appreciation for the complimentarity and partnership that flow from the basic equality of women and men.
Distinctive and plural spiritual needs: These ministries can be seen emerging from internal dynamics within the laity. The leadership need to be continually aware of the many different spiritualities represented in the men. Leaders and participants need to keep their eyes and ears open to where the Spirit is leading them.
The consultation was a significant moment of listening and learning. There is a definite urgency about this work but, because it is still maturing, there is not yet a need to overly define and manage it. Informed and prayerful discernment by everyone is essential.