Anyone who is serious about evangelizing men needs to read Rob Marco’s article “Why Your Catholic Men’s Group Will Eventually Fold.” In the article, Mr. Marco does not so much question any particular approach to a men’s group but, rather, the idea of a men’s group in general. Mr. Marco correctly diagnoses why so many men’s groups either fail to launch or eventually run out of steam.
I think his most keen insight is that most men’s groups fail to reach the very men who need Catholic male fellowship the most: namely, men who are early-to-mid-career and leading young and growing families. As Mr. Marco explains, the demands of work and family for these men tend to push other priorities to the back burner. Eventually, most of these men conclude that work, family, and their local parish are enough. But are they?
I am willing to grant that there may have been a time and place when men’s groups would be superfluous. Sure, intentionally setting aside time to meet with other like-minded men would be a strange notion if we lived in neighborhoods filled with large Catholic families who shared our moral and religious convictions all within walking distance of a strong parish with a Catholic school.
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A man in this position would most likely work with other men from his parish or neighborhood; they would organize youth sports programs for their children together, tackle projects on the weekend, and even have a few beers on the front porch from time to time. In this scenario, a man would at least find support to live a decent Christian life locally even if the wider culture was hostile to his way of life. A man in this situation would have no need to schedule ad hoc meetings to discuss the spiritual life because these kinds of conversations would take place naturally. The problem? We don’t live in a culture like this.
As readers of Crisis are well aware, our culture is antithetical to all that we Catholics hold most dear. It would be a relief to live in a culture that largely ignored us; but we are surrounded by a government, media, and educational apparatus that is actively trying to destroy the very foundations of Western Civilization and the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Not only does the culture pose ever-mounting challenges to a Catholic way of life as it maneuvers its tentacles into every aspect of our day-to-day existence, but our local communities have also been eroded through advances in technology, suburbanization, and even architecture (goodbye front porch, hello back patio).
There is, also, the sad reality that the Church has largely failed to adequately prepare men to face these challenges and equip them to become the godly leaders God has called them to be. There is no doubt that the Catholic “Man Crisis” is real. What will a man in this situation who is content with work, family, and parish life hear at the particular judgment: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), or “Depart from me, you that work for iniquity” (Matthew 7:23)?
At this point, I don’t think men’s groups are a nice option, they are an absolute necessity. However, not just any type of men’s group can meet these challenges head on. This is why I think Mr. Marco has done a great service to the Church by writing his article. Not only does he offer a devastating critique of the status quo, but he also correctly identifies a way forward when he writes, “to the degree that men are not growing in virtue, or loving each other sincerely in fraternal charity, you may be better off not wasting your time.” Mr. Marco is spot on here. We don’t need to abandon the idea of a Catholic men’s group, but we do need to rethink their purpose and structure.
In book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle explains that the bond of friendship is forged by the love that persons have for one another. Since there are three kinds of things that are lovable, there are also three kinds of friendship. First, a friendship of utility is when a person pursues a friendship with another because he finds the other useful. This is the kind of friendship you have with your plumber, mechanic, or your colleagues at work. A men’s group that is established to accomplish corporal and spiritual works of mercy would be a good example of this type of friendship. Though these groups do a lot of good work, the group will inevitably fold because once the task is complete, the group has no further reason to meet.
A friendship of pleasure is built around persons or activities that a person finds pleasant. Men’s groups that are centered around pleasurable activities like sports, barbeques, or beer are also destined to fail. They do not fail because these activities are bad (I tend to like all three); rather, they fail because once the fun ends, there is no reason to continue to meet. As Aristotle explains, friendships of utility and pleasure “are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves; for if the one party is no longer pleasant or useful the other ceases to love him” (1156a20-22).
For Aristotle, the superior form of friendship is that which is based on the pursuit of virtue and excellence. Since the pursuit of virtue is none other than pursuing the good for oneself and one’s neighbor, these relationships stand the test of time because the good is infinite and eternal. A men’s group that is forged around the noble task of helping men devote themselves wholeheartedly to living lives of virtue and holiness will not only endure but is absolutely necessary to help men meet the challenges of our day.
Our culture is the enemy of Jesus Christ, and every man needs to ask himself whether he is content to stand by and do nothing. Are we members of the Church impotent or the Church Militant? I have hope that there is a “sleeping giant” in the Catholic Church that needs only to be awakened and filled with terrible resolve to serve Christ the King and the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Queen. Maybe our Lord is calling Catholic leaders to merely lift up their “eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (John 4:35).
Do we really think that God is unwilling to raise a generation of men to answer the challenges of our time just as He has done time and time again in the past? If Church leaders at the diocesan and parish level do not figure out a way to evangelize and make disciples of the men sitting in their pews, we have no hope of answering the surmounting challenges that our culture poses. As politically incorrect as it may be, God has ordained men to be the spiritual leaders of the Church universal and domestic. Until we start equipping men to fulfill this holy obligation, our communities, families, and parishes will continue to suffer. Do we really think that God is unwilling to raise a generation of men to answer the challenges of our time just as He has done time and time again in the past?Tweet This
What men really need is brotherhood and a rule of life. An isolated and undisciplined man cannot be the force for good that his family, community, or parish desperately needs. This type of man is not only ineffectual but unhappy. True, Jesus Christ invites each of us to an abundant life (John 10:10), but this life can only be had by following Him down the narrow path of discipleship (Matthew 7:13-14). For two millennia, the Church has formed her “soldiers for Christ” by establishing them in communities with a common rule. We need to establish a quasi-religious order of laymen in each parish that is committed to the noble task of training men in righteousness (1 Timothy 4:7), so that they may be equipped to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).
As Adolphe Tanquerey writes in The Spiritual Life,
Men of conviction among the laity need to let their “light shine before men” (Matthew 5:16). It is for such select souls to infuse into the more timid Christians the courage to fight the tyranny of human respect, of fashion and of legalized persecution. The best means of effecting this is to band together into societies those influential laymen who have the courage of their convictions, and who fear neither to speak nor to act accordingly. (114)
Mr. Marco is correct; a man would be better off not wasting his time with a group that deviates from this noble task. But if he wants to be a force for good in his family, community, and parish, he has no choice but to find a group of like-minded men who are committed to “Order All Things to Christ.”