I had the blessing of growing up in an incredible parish. Holy Cross bore many of the hallmarks of what we as a Church are beginning to recognize as the program for rejuvenating parishes. A perpetual adoration chapel. Beautiful liturgies. Dynamic preaching. Discipleship programs and evangelization retreats. A Catholic grade school that begins each day with Mass. Confessions every day. Stop and read that again; confessions every day. A classically “felt-banners and liturgical dance” parish for much of the 90s, Holy Cross was radically changed by the efforts and leadership of the pastor, Msgr. Daniel Deutsch. He came into a difficult situation and decided to do what all good priests perceive as the task at hand. He became a father to a community of thousands.
I’ve had the blessing of traveling quite a bit in the last few years and have attended daily Mass in dozens of parishes across the U.S. Now, in my experience, I would say that the demographic for daily Mass attendees is predominantly female. Now, there are plenty of sociological reasons for this phenomena. Those were reasons which I assumed would ensure that daily Mass attendance would continue to minister to a strongly female population.
However, as Holy Cross grew from a parish of about 2,000 families to the now 3,500 families and became increasingly devout, I noticed a trend in daily Mass attendance. Twelve years after Msgr. Deutsch arrived, my eyeball estimation puts the genders of the attendees at about 50-50. My favorites are the young, professional males that are seen in their same pew day in and day out.
I have been thrilled in my time at seminary to discover how many of my seminarian brothers have a real heart for men’s ministry. Many of them from personal experience are aware of the inability of felt-banner Catholicism to powerfully compel the heart of the man. Men desire truth, challenge, adventure. Men want a task to be accomplished. Not strictly in a “knight-in-shining-armor” kind of way, but in a “dude-in-suit-and-tie-who-has-encountered-Christ-in-a-powerful-way-and-has-felt-called-to-witness-to-authentic-manhood-in-the-world-following-the-examples-of-the-saints-martyrs-and-apostles” kind of way.
The “Msgr. Deutsch difference” has been in his approach to preaching. An obviously gifted public speaker, he also mixes in narration and doctrine in a marvelous exchange of real life experience and mystical reflection. His preaching comes from his heart and witnesses to the men in the congregation what it looks like to be a man set on fire by the love of Christ. Moreover, he models in his own pastor-ship the love of the Father.
It is that love that I want to reflect on for a second here, specifically in the manner in which it can be recognized and received by the masculine heart. It is my conviction that each man must begin to see himself as a son of the Father. Faith as a cognitive discipline is like my call-tag these days and the relationship of beloved sonship with the Father, built into our very fabric based on our role as creature and perfected in the ontological change of our Baptism, must become our modus operandi.
Many men, however, don’t necessarily want to be a son anymore. Becoming an adult man means learning to take care of others. Consistently inundated with the responsibilities of both work and family life, the role of beloved son can unfortunately start to seem to a man as somehow like a reversion to childhood or, worse, effeminate. Having “grown up,” the idea of becoming like a little child again in our relationship to God can be uncomfortable.
The sociological study of the role of the “son” in various cultures does plenty to dispel this notion, though. As a young child, the son is delighted in. He is a welcomed joy with great plans spoken over his life from a young age. Then follows the rites of passage. A task to be completed and on the other side the designation by the community as a man. From there, he is seen by his father as a sort of equal, worthy to join him in the family business or start his own endeavor.
I think that in order to recover an authentically masculine spirituality, we have to engage this identity of beloved sonship in the fullness of these three modes of standing in relationship to a father as a son. We must experience ourselves as being delighted in by our Father for who we are. We have to allow Him to take us through the rites of passage and eventually, to find ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with Christ, our brother, and looking out into the mission field, asking what needs to be done.
I read somewhere that a large percentage of men indicated in a survey that they would rather be respected than loved. When pushed on their answer, it became clear that many of them, in fact, answered this way because they equated respect with love. The way men receive love is by being respected. One might be tempted to read an element of egotism in there, but I’d rather see the heart of a son longing for the affirmation of a Father in who he is and what he’s about. The humility of a God who created the universe who chooses to walk through the process of manhood with each of His sons and find them worthy of respect as a man is mind-boggling.
I have personally been witness to the power that this message can have in the lives of men. It is this message that Msgr. Deutsch has been able to convey that has brought men flocking in droves to encounter Christ at the Heavenly Banquet each morning at Holy Cross: the Father loves you, and He also respects you.
Let’s discuss. What do you think are essential aspects of a masculine spirituality?