This Father's Day, Kevin Lynch might pause to recall his sales and marketing job at Proctor & Gamble. He'll think back to the early-morning meetings, the long hours and the constant pressure to perform.
But he'll only linger in those memories for a moment. For today, the 63-year-old retiree is leading other men in a different direction. Not only on Father's Day, but every day.
Twenty years ago, he and three other men began gathering on Saturday mornings for prayer and support. It led to a dramatic upset in his list of priorities as work sunk to the bottom and Jesus Christ rose to the top. His spiritual life was transformed — and so was his family life.
“I ran scared for 20 years with the sense that, if I didn't perform, I could be out of a job,” says Lynch, who resides in Cincinnati. “[Careerism] wreaks havoc on the spiritual life because by the time you start thinking about it, you fall back in bed exhausted. Now I start my day thinking of what matters most — my faith.”
Today 70,000 men are part of an organization Lynch co-founded called Catholic Men's Fellowship. The group has a national office and runs the Web site of the National Resource Center for Catholic Men, which offers support materials for starting an affiliate. The Greater Cincinnati Catholic Men's Fellowship has about 185 groups throughout the region that meet in local parishes. Catholic Men's Fellowship has spread to 22 other states from New York to California.
Marianist Father Ken Sommer, one of the co-founders of Cincinnati's Catholic Men's Fellowship and its spiritual director, challenges the men to adopt a four-part approach to enriching their spiritual lives: pray one hour a day, fast regularly, seek spiritual direction and prayerfully share personal concerns with other brothers in the Lord.
Catholic Men's Fellowship is part of a wider phenomenon of men's spirituality groups that are rising up across the nation. Like St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers and similar groups, Catholic Men's Fellowship is helping men “recognize the need to get their priorities straight,” according to Lynch, in order to have greater impact on their families, their parishes and society.
“Men recognize that there is more to life than what they're experiencing and they need to grow in order to survive in today's society,” says Maurice Blumberg, executive director of the National Catholic Men's Fellowship in Gaithersburg, Md. “They look around and see the breakdown in our cultural values and they see a lot of evil arising, and I think it scares them.”
The Family Man
It is common for men to feel isolated and unable to do anything about the wider culture, Blumberg adds, so the idea of male fraternity and fellowship emboldens them. Male fraternity groups, like the 800-year-old Holy Name Society, are also showing signs of new growth. All of these groups have a sacramental element that Catholic men missed in evangelical-Protestant movements such as Promise Keepers, which helped rejuvenate the men's movement. Catholic Men's Fellowship has an annual conference that attracts as many as 9,000 men from all over the country who come for Mass, talks and the sacrament of reconciliation. More than 100 clergy from the Cincinnati Diocese as well as the archbishop and bishops come to hear confessions.
Lynch says participants are experiencing great healing and reconciliation. The movement is bringing Jesus into their lives in a more meaningful way and, when that happens, he points out, the Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation become more meaningful.
Chris Knueven of Madeira, Ohio, joined a group eight years ago at the prompting of his wife, Julie. More than anything, he says the group has helped him build relationships with other men that he never would have met otherwise and to more fully appreciate the sacraments. Confession is now a regular part of his life, after 13 years of nonparticipation. He also attends daily Mass whenever he can.
“I felt [the group] would be a bunch of guys sitting around hugging and talking about spirituality and I wouldn't have any connection to that,” Knueven says. “It really was about a bunch of men facing the same doubts, challenges and frustrations that I was, and putting that in relation to the Bible.”
A common topic that brings out more emotion, says Lynch, is a man's relationship with his father. Father Phillip Merdinger, founder of The Brotherhood of Hope, a Boston-based religious community of brothers and priests believes that issue, which he calls “the father wound” is at the heart of the movement.
“As men, our fundamental vocation is to reveal God the Father as revealed to us in the life of Jesus,” says Father Merdinger. “One of the most important pieces of revelation that [Jesus] came to give was that he was the son. And one of the reasons men find God the Father so distant often has to do with their relationship with their own father. If this issue is reconciled or healed, then you can open [men] up to a greater imitation of Jesus.”
“It's a gateway issue,” he adds. “The Catholic Men's Fellowship addresses the issue and raises people's consciousness, which is always a prelude to social change.”
Icons of Discipleship
As a member of the Bishop's Committee on the Family, Bishop Carl Moeddel of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has studied the men's movement for the past five years and says it is growing nationally in unexpected ways through the Holy Spirit.
“This ought to be something that the Church hierarchy should not try to control because it was given birth as a lay movement,” says Bishop Moeddel. “We should be supportive of it and monitor it to make sure it stays under the umbrella of Roman Catholicism and beyond that, to let the Holy Spirit grow it.”
Dr. David Pence, a radiologist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, has a different take on the men's movement. He is a member of the Holy Name Society at his parish in Lakeville, Minn. Holy Name is a fraternity of Catholic laymen started by a Dominican friar in the 1200s. It started to die out in the 1950s but is showing signs of rebirth.
“The Holy Name Society was a very large part of the immigrant Catholic culture,” says Pence. “And it wasn't built on the idea of small faith-sharing groups but that there is a faith and we need large groups to proclaim it. The idea of large groups has broken down in recent decades as psychological ideologies have replaced the theological.
Pence recently published a book on the subject of fraternity and manhood, called Apostles, Knights & Founding Fathers (for more info, e-mail email@example.com). Its premise is that men learn how to be men from other men in male groups.
“What we're trying to create with men is a big group that can do the work that has to be done and worship God,” explains Pence. “This is why we form big groups to get big projects done. The Church is built on a male group, on the apostles, and the bishop and his priests are an icon of Christ and his apostles. We as a male fraternity are also an icon of this, and this is the missing icon of our age. As laymen, our job is to go out into the culture, politics and the workplace — and the priests are to go back into the priesthood — and rejuvenate it.”
Sounds like a Father's Day gift from fathers.
Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.