Shortly after attending a Theology on Tap lecture featuring Christopher West, some friends were so inspired to start living true masculine spirituality and the theology of the body that they began praying together before the Blessed Sacrament and frequenting the sacraments.
First they formed a new group called Real Men, then they met with Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Joseph McFadden to discuss a way to share their own fruitful quest for masculine spirituality with others.
The bishop put them in touch with Father Phillip Chavez of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. That was when two of them, Mark Houck and Damian Wargo, both 32 years old, formed a new apostolate called The King’s Men. Their mission: to unite and build up other men in their universal role of leader, protector and provider through education, formation and action. And invite men to build “true masculine spirituality” together.
The vision caught fire. By word of mouth alone, their first conference in July, 2006, in Malvern, Pa., drew 90 men from seven states. It was a preview to the official start of The King’s Men (thekingsmen.us) on St. Augustine’s feast, Aug. 28.
“What makes us stand apart from other apostolates,” says Wargo, a teacher at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia, “is that we’re moving toward helping men grow in their natural vocation as men, which is to be a leader, provider and protector, as well as a mentor to other men.” The aim, he adds, is to grow both as “natural men” and as “spiritual men.”
To hit the mark, The King’s Men program has four facets: education, formation, action and healing.
For action, one major goal is to start putting an end to pornography, beginning in Pennsylvania.
“We wanted to have a concrete goal not only for ourselves but for our community and culture,” says Houck, who devotes full-time hours to The King’s Men and also gives chastity talks.
That translates into their monthly No More Porn tour in the greater five-county Philadelphia area, one of the initiatives that came out of discussion among 10 of the members in “the war room.” On the tour, several members display anti-porn signs in front of “adult” businesses and tell patrons to take courage because they deserve better as men.
“We get to see the fruits of our labor in a concrete way,” Houck says. At every stop, usually four to six men turn away from the business. The parking lot empties and the porn or strip-club business is hurt that day.
The King’s Men member Terrance Rebello explains why he joined the tour. “I feel like I’m doing something to fight against evil,” he says. “I can plant a seed, or more.”
Another plus is that feedback from women is tremendous. “It’s not uncommon,” says Wargo, “that women will stop and say, ‘You’re doing the right thing here; can you talk to my husband, my boss, my ex-boyfriend? Our relationship ended because of his addiction.’”
But action isn’t the top priority of The King’s Men. Formation is. In fact, up to 100 men so far come to the weekly formation meetings held in three locations, including St. John the Evangelist Church in Philadelphia. The quarterly conferences, like a recent one headlined by Father Chavez in Malvern, Pa., called “The Quest for Masculine Spirituality,” are an equally important means for educating men in how to grow in their natural vocation as leader, protector and provider and in their spiritual life.
Members applaud the overall approach.
“It’s nice to have a group of men to keep yourself accountable,” says member Rebello. “The weekly meetings give me a sense of direction and support. Guys need a sense of community and bonding. With The King’s Men, there’s a genuine sense of wanting to help you as a guy.”
Co-founder Houck details how that mutual help works in the formation element.
“Each week men will make a commitment to growing in holiness for the week,” he says. “That can mean trying to develop virtues to combat a root sin. It may be as simple as getting more organized in life, or not forgetting morning prayer.”
The sacraments are the source and summit of this apostolate, Houck continues. Confession is always available at the conferences, and often at meetings. Conferences end with the Holy Mass.
Father Chavez sees how the men’s experience of confession differs from that at normal weekly parish confessions.
“They’re facing Christ in a masculine way,” he says. “They see Christ as a true divine fatherly mentor — not just one who assesses their sins.”
Same for the Mass, where men bond in the Eucharist, according to Father Chavez. “It gives them a closer identity to the Church. They can bond as men under the seal of Jesus Christ,” explains the priest. “They’re experiencing something powerful to begin with, and all the more so when they’re at the Mass with Jesus Christ, their true mentor.”
Because these fruits are generating interest in The King’s Men in the greater Philadelphia area, the co-founders are putting together a manual for men wanting to start groups elsewhere. These fruits can then multiply.
“It’s all part of what will become a big vision for the Church when men finally stand up in society,” says Father Chavez. “If we’re going to be effective against the evils of abortion, pornography and homosexuality, men are going to have to learn how to band together and be united in their efforts.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.