One of the most serious ills in the Church today is the disengagement of men. One in three baptized Catholic men have left the faith. Of the men that still consider themselves Catholic, only one in four men consider themselves “practicing Catholics” and attend Mass on a regular basis. Three out of four Catholic men don’t go to confession even once a year (a moral precept of the Church) and only one in fifty go to Confession regularly. Responding to a Gallup poll, almost 60% of Catholic men indicated that they would consider leaving the Church.
The ill fruit of the departure of men from Catholicism mirrors that of the society as a whole. Around the world, men are rejecting true manhood notably by rejecting God and their own calling to both spiritual and material fatherhood. Sexual assault rates have climbed, suicides have increased, and millions of children are living without their father.
A leading expert, Matthew James Christoff, spoke with SPES about the need to focus on evangelizing men through a New EMangelization. A convert to the faith, he has spent the past ten years delving deeper and deeper into his own faith especially in regards to bringing men to Christ. He has been instrumental in bringing about Catholic Man Night and the New EMangelization project.
Matthew spoke of a meeting he had early on with Bishop Lee Piché, the Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Along with a close group of men, Matthew posed the question, “Why are there so many casual Catholic men?” According to Matthew, Bishop Piché didn’t miss a beat and responded, “Because they don’t know Jesus Christ.” That sparked Catholic Man Night which is modeled on Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Starting as a small group of lay men and priests, it has drawn thousands of men into Eucharistic adoration and has now become “The Catholic Watchmen” initiative.
Some of the results of the New EMangelization project, launched three years ago, are “The Catholic Man-Crisis Fact Sheet” which details the depth of the crisis, over eighty interviews from leading evangelists in the United States who are reaching out to men, and a recent survey of 2000 men conducted by the New EMangelization Project looked in-depth at the role of priests in bringing men to Christ.
The longer he has been involved in men’s ministry, the more convinced Matthew has become that there is a profound Catholic man-crisis. In regards to the dangers men face, he said, “Ultimately, it is their eternal salvation that is at stake as well as their temporal joy and peace…In essence, what we see with Catholic men, we can see as part of a broader issue of a crisis of masculinity…You can look at the vocations of men and you can look at their virtues…Men are rejecting fatherhood; they are rejecting engagement in their religious duties; they are rejecting engagement in society. From a virtue standpoint, you see a catastrophic bottom dropping out of virtues in men.”
Matthew continued, “This idea of men disengaged from society and the feminization of men is at the core. Men have forgotten what it means to be a man and they are sold one of two false images. They are sold the whimpering, effeminate, beta male kind of profile that is subservient to women…at the other end of the spectrum, they are sold the super-hyper, macho, confused masculinity. Neither of those are accurate and neither are consistent with the perfect manhood of Christ.”
According to Matthew, men have lost the many traditional weapons that they have had to live courageous lives of virtue towards God. “We used to have strong fraternity,” said Matthew. “Iron sharpens iron. Even if you are secular, but you are around a bunch of men who have some understanding of virtue, you are going to grow in virtue…We have a male loneliness crisis and suicide rates among males are dramatically increasing…We used to have a strong spouse that would help keep us in line and help offset our weaknesses as well as temper our over exuberance…Catholic marriages have dropped by 40% in the last fifteen years…We’ve lost the culture that supports masculinity and it is now actually against masculinity. And at the same time, we are under a massive attack by Satan in the push for pluralistic, false mercy living…pornography is certainly one of the major battlefronts with Satan.”
Combating the loss of men is simple, but very few are addressing this urgent crisis. Referring to the results from the recent survey, Matthew said, ” The Catholic Man-crisis is both a crisis of laymen and also at all levels of the clergy. The research shows… only 15% Catholic priests are actively seen as seeking to evangelize men; the vast majority do not. They don’t draw men together; they don’t gather men; they don’t speak directly to men; they don’t challenge men; they don’t teach men the sacraments; they don’t teach men about the devotional life in the Church; they don’t encourage fraternity…. when men rate their priests as highly effective men pray more, they go to confession more, they engage in the sacraments more, they have stronger bounds of brotherhood, they are more committed to the faith, and they are more active in the parish. The priest is absolutely fundamental to the solution.”
Since the only interaction 85% of men have is the Mass, offering a reverent Liturgy is key. “Men that find a reverent Mass are more likely to attend it. This is not saying that every Mass has to be a traditional mass. It just means that if you are going to have a Novus Ordo Mass, stick to the rubrics,” said Matthew.
Teaching men about the Mass is one of the major next steps in Matthew’s ministry. “The theology of the Mass is inherently masculine,” said Matthew. “Pretty much every part of the Mass comes from Scripture and they tend to be very masculine, but these things are submerged. Men can’t see it and can’t relate to it because they haven’t been taught. So we are going to focus on teaching men the Mass.”
Above all, Matthew says it is not so much which way a parish evangelizes men, but that they do it. “At the core of this, it isn’t about a big program and it isn’t about a bunch of content”, said Matthew. “It comes down to a group of men and a priest agreeing, ‘We’re going to evangelize the men in our parish.’” He is working on developing men specific content, but there are lots of options already out there. For example, Catholic Watchmen, “That Man is You”, Holy League, and The King’s Men. It is as simple as providing men some fellowship, food and beer, and talking about the Catholic faith. “These are core practices that men aren’t doing and, frankly, any solid Catholic catechesis can be used. My sense is we have to get back to the basics,” said Matthew.
And getting men to practice the faith, will draw back in whole families since when a man converts, 93% of the time the whole family converts compared to only 17% of the time when women convert.
“We’re hearing a lot about the New Evangelization,” Matthew concluded. “It has faltered and to some degree it is failing. It has been around for forty years and the numbers are going the wrong way across every dimension. Other than the bulk number of so-called Catholics in the United States that has been driven primarily by immigration, it is failing. If you want to rebuild the Church, at the core of it there needs to be a New EMangelization where millions of Catholic men are called to be Catholic men and are drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Mother Church. A New EMangelization will lead to the New Evangelization being successful.”
All statistics were drawn from “A Call for a New Emangelization: The Catholic “Man-Crisis”, its Causes and How to Launch a New Emangelization”.