By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2017
COLLEGE PARK—Catholic men attending the 22nd annual Eucharistic Congress heard a call for action to live as “loving servants” of their wives, families and the church.
Said Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, “We make time for those things in life that are important to us and doing everything possible to cultivate and enrich our relationship with God should be first above all else.”
“A Christ-centered male spirituality fosters and nurtures growth in holiness, while strengthening and sustaining men in the constant struggle to live their faith every day.”
That’s the spirituality of Christian men promoted by Deacon Burke-Sivers, an author and commentator who lives and serves in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. He’s dubbed the “Dynamic Deacon.”
He was one of three speakers at the annual gathering of tens of thousands of Catholics in Atlanta on June 16 and June 17 who have authored male spirituality books.
“There is absolutely no excuse why a man—whether he is single, married or ordained—cannot commit to becoming a vibrant, active member of a men’s group at or near his parish,” Deacon Burke-Sivers said.
Speakers at the Atlanta gathering held up men of moral strength, following the leads of biblical figures, like King David and St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. They cast aside the stereotypical alpha male of muscular strength and fanaticism about all things sports.
Too many men are “friends of Jesus, not followers,” he said. Living as a follower demands more because as Jesus died, men too are “to die to yourself every day of your life.”
Live like it matters
A focus on male spirituality came to the fore in the 1990s as Protestant churches embraced the cause. The Promise Keepers movement hosted mass rallies at arenas and once drew hundreds of thousands of men to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
At the Eucharistic Congress, the Fishers of Men organization hosted a table to engage with participants. The group is scheduled to host a men’s morning of spirituality in Atlanta in March 2018.
While Catholic men’s participation in the church has remained stable at 46 percent, according to Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey, there is a yawning gap in how the faith is lived by men.
In a 2008 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, some 38 percent of men strongly agreed, “I am proud to be a Catholic.” Women’s response to the same statement was 64 percent positive.
Men in the church for decades have found common cause in fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus, who don plumed hats and swords for key church events. But men who have written about spirituality say the groups’ mission targets acts of charity, not the development of interior faith and spirituality.
“Diving into male spirituality will lead a man to act in service, but it doesn’t stop there. I think organizations like the Knights help bring to light one of the aspects of male spirituality, but they cannot be relied upon to be a man’s only source of spiritual development,” said Dom Quaglia Jr., author of “Man Enough: Lessons From St. Joseph on Becoming a Godly Man.” He is a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Deacon Burke-Sivers, who spoke in the English track at the congress, said he wrote his book, “Behold the Man: A Catholic Vision of Male Spirituality,” to spur men to “live that faith with greater passion and conviction” as they encounter Jesus. He said the book ties together a variety of men’s issues with a Catholic perspective.
“Many Catholic offerings in the past have been focused on topical issues such as fatherhood, priesthood, virtue, pornography, etc., but nothing that looked at the totality of a man’s life,” he said in an email.
“Be a Man!: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be,” written by Father Larry Richards, is a 195-page book with a powerful opening line.
“You are going to die,” he wrote.
While everyone knows it, Father Richards said that people need to live like it matters. When people die, loved ones are going to share memories about you, so when you know what you want people to remember about your life “figure that out and work backwards” to live a worthy life, he said.
Father Richards, who was a speaker in the English track, is pastor of St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie, Pennsylvania. He has been a priest since 1989. In addition to parish work, he founded the Divine Mercy Encounter Retreat Program for the Diocese of Erie and The Reason for Our Hope Foundation, a nonprofit focused on educating about the Catholic faith. He is also a host on the Eternal Word Television Network.
Father Richards, a former teacher, said he saw young people turn to celebrities and sports figures as models so he spotlighted the flawed biblical King David.
The Old Testament figure, he said, was called “beloved of God” even as a murderer and an adulterer. The lesson is, said Father Richards, “We can be flawed people, but God still loves us and calls us to follow him as we are.”
The church has not challenged men enough to live authentic lives. At times, the message from the church can be “wishy-washy” and not “challenge men to be the best.”
He is encouraged that a men’s movement is taking root in the Catholic community, where men are pushed to refocus their lives on prayer and service.
“To be a saint is very simple, you must pray every day. There’s no excuses.”
A man living out his call of service does not mean being walked on, he said. Father Richards said the point is to want the best for someone. “I will do anything to get someone to heaven.”
Authentic masculinity requires prayer and thinking of others. He said men with families should post a sign on the mirror, “I am third.”
“Keep it simple and then you can become a saint,” he said.
Faith through a new lens
Quaglia, emcee for the “Revive” young adult track, wrote his book for young men starting their faith life as adults. Speaking about growing up, Quaglia said his own father was “in the room, although not really present.” It is a situation he witnessed with men in the church, too, he said.
“We can be in the church, without being present to what God is doing,” he said. “A lot of men are breathing but not alive.”
He wrote a book to help men, especially those in their teens to early 20s, to see faith through a new lens. Quaglia believes men can learn from St. Joseph, who raised Jesus and was husband to Mary. His goal with the book is to “break that stereotype that to be holy is to be soft,” he said. That is also a pattern he thinks some in church ministry need to break. Church ministry can fall into the trap of seeing every man as a sports fan who can only handle a bit of church on the side, he said. That shortchanges many men with a desire for a deep spirituality, he said.
The culture throws up an image of men focused on money, sex and authority. But that’s a shallow understanding of living, he said. An authentic man wants a full life, filled with hard work, living for justice, caring for others, he said.
“Authentic masculinity in its very nature and its core is holy,” he said.
“(St Joseph) was always striving to do what was good and right. That seems to be his priority.”
Young people can relate to St. Joseph, who like young adults faced crossroads, he said. St. Joseph, when he faced decisions, chose to live an extraordinary life by listening to God, just like young adults can, he said.
“St. Joseph was a sinner. There is nothing he did that we couldn’t do. If he did it, we can do it.”