Men: Rediscover Your Sonship With God in this Year of St. Joseph
The organizer of the International Meeting of Catholic Men in Rome says ‘the biggest crisis for today’s men is lack of identity in Christ.’
VATICAN CITY — Catholic men desire to deepen their faith because of the need to recover their Christian identity as men, and they can do this partly by spending more time with the Lord in Adoration and prayer, says Andrzej Lewek, the Polish organizer of an International Meeting of Catholic Men taking place in Rome this week.
Speaking to the Register in Rome Oct. 12, Lewek said it is important for Catholic men to live as sons of God the Father, discovering the good things He has created for them rather than focusing on what they can do for God.
In particular, during this year dedicated to St. Joseph, Lewek urged men to look to St. Joseph as a perfect witness and example in serving as leader, protector and provider within the family and society.
Held under the auspices of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences and organized by Men of St. Joseph International, an official Catholic lay association of men committed to Jesus Christ, the Oct. 13-17 “Men’s Siege of Rome” conference will feature talks, Masses and daily adoration, and tours of the Eternal City.
Could you tell us what your conference is about? What are your goals?
This is the second conference, the first was 2018 when the topic was holiness. It took place just after the publication of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) in which he talked about holiness. The main idea [of the conference] is to create a space and share experience within a men’s group and in different parts of world. Our [Polish] group has had 10 years’ experience during which time we have discovered similar experiences in other part of the Church, and discovered other similar groups in the Netherlands, Latvia, Slovenia, U.K. — different groups with similar experiences.
What were those experiences?
Those of men’s groups, that God had gathered men together and put a desire in our heart for holiness but also being leaders, prophets, kings — standing as men for what God has prepared for us.
This was something unusual because when we started our work 10 years ago this year, I didn’t know of any other men’s group doing what we were doing. So my first experience was God showing me that others were having a similar experience in Poland, doing similar things, having similar desires, experiences, all of which started independently. I then tried to find groups in different parts of the world.
I contacted Phillip Chavez (The Men’s Academy) and Bill Moyer and we started the National Fellowship of Catholic Men in the U.S. and now they’ve started the Catholic Men’s Leadership Alliance. The idea was to share the experience of strengthening each other through each other’s witness.
We have the Knights of Columbus and different kinds of men’s groups in the Church but not of coming together for formation and spiritual growth. Ten years ago, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz came to our meeting in Krakow. He said, “You only have men at this meeting. Where are your wives?” We said, “At home,” and his natural question was, “Do you feel well?” I was looking at a man who was secretary to John Paul II for 27 years, knows the entire Church experience, and he was surprised at our meeting. This made me realize that our experience should definitely be brought to the Church.
Is it therefore becoming better known?
It’s still unusual and my personal impression is that it’s really hard to influence the hierarchical part of the Church. In 2018 there was synod about youth. Archbishop Zbigniew Stankiewicz of Riga, Latvia (who was supposed to be with us this year but can’t because he has COVID), was one of the bishops involved in that synod. He tried to explain the role of manhood in the formation of youth, especially the role of fathers in formation of children. He said it was really impossible to put it into the synod documents because no one was interested in it. For me it showed we really needed to “bomb” the Church with this idea. That’s why we decided to hold this conference in Rome, and repeat it here, because this is the heart of the Church.
What do men who come to your group need most? What are they looking for that your group offers?
From my perspective, we need to deepen our faith because we have somehow lost our Christian identity as men. When you look at the regular Church, there are many more women than men. I think this is because we have stepped back somehow and my experience is such that when I step back from something in my family, my wife is excellent at filling the gap. We see the same in the Church: men stepping back, women coming to the front.
Why do you think that happened?
This is a good question. I don’t know, but the result is such that the priest is preaching to those who he’s looking at, so he’s looking at women in the first rows of the Church. So he’s preaching in a woman’s style and in this way men are pushed back because the style of communication is different between a man and woman. This is my experience. When I was at secondary school, a lady decided she would evangelize me. I was not-so church-mad then, and I’ve never met her [personally], but she sent many letters to me about Jesus, holiness and the Church. It was so sweet, but I wasn’t able to receive this message because if Church communications are too sweet, they’re not touching men at all.
By sweet do you mean sentimental?
Yes, sentimental, focused on feelings, devotion. I’m thankful to this lady because for sure she was praying for me [because] this is how God found me, I think through her prayer, but her communication was not successful at all. So, we need to communicate in a manly way.
To what extent do you think the liturgy has an effect on men? Often traditional liturgies, for example, tend to be more balanced between men and women with more young men particularly.
I don’t want to get into the liturgy regarding this but maybe our culture is different [and] if I don’t feel the liturgy is working for me, I step back. Also, COVID doesn’t help at all because it shows we can’t survive without the liturgy. So I think we need to deepen our belief in the Holy Spirit, rediscover the Holy Spirit in the Church, rediscover kerygma [proclamation of the Gospel] as a foundation of our faith. Without our experience of personal encounter with Jesus in the Holy Spirit, we don’t know our Christian identity. As I’ve said before, the biggest crisis for today’s men is lack of identity in Christ. If we know who we are and discover ourselves as sons of Almighty God, it changes a lot, but it requires a deep, deep experience of God in the Holy Spirit.
Would you also say the witnesses of the saints, particularly St. Joseph, are a major help in realizing this?
We don’t read too much about St. Joseph in the Bible. He didn’t say anything, but the Gospel of Matthew, I think, is written from Joseph’s point of view. It shows us precisely how Joseph was a God-minded man, so focused on fulfilling God’s will that when God shows him something, he doesn’t think about it too much. He knows God has shown him he has to do this. This is a brilliant example of manhood, but manhood rooted in the Bible and hearing God’s will.
I wish to hear God’s will this way. It’s not easy, because when God was talking to St. Joseph, he was certain God was talking to him, and he was obedient. He was doing exactly what God showed him and told him. This is the example we need to follow. We need to turn our ear to hearing God’s will and we need to turn our will to fulfilling what we’ve heard. This is St. Joseph.
Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, is excellent and shows this. The Pope said St. Joseph had “creative courage” and looking at St Joseph, God entrusted his only begotten Son and Holy Mother — two of his greatest treasures — to St Joseph. And St. Joseph didn’t fail in his job as protector, provider, and warrior to protect them. Reading Patris Corde, we see God has entrusted our wives, our children, our families to us men, and God has entrusted to me such excellent gifts that I cannot fail. I have to protect and provide this treasure that was entrusted to me by God.
A lot of talk in the West is of men not being the men they should be. Do you deal with this in your conference, and what sort of solutions do you offer to those men who perhaps find it difficult in our culture to be the men they feel called to be?
We will have Dominican Father Ezra Sullivan, who will talk about this. I don’t know what talk he will give but my answer is found in the letter St. Paul’s second letter to the Ephesians 2:10. Paul wrote that we are God’s creation, created for good things, good deeds, he has created for us, and from my perspective the only way not to fail is to start discovering these good things God has created for me. Too frequently we think about “what I can do for God,” but this is too focused on me, what I can do for him. But in fact, looking at this passage, God has already created these good things and what I need to do is just discover this.
What do you say to those who argue it’s very difficult to listen to the Holy Spirit because of the culture, too many distractions, etc.?
We can’t be too focused on noise; we need to time to spend with God, to be one to one with God, in Adoration, listening to him. This is crucial for us. We need to learn how to do this, or we lose something.
God can also speak to us in different situations. I like to listen to God when I’m doing something. For example, twice a year I change my car tires, this is two hours work when I can do something physically, and in the last two years God showed me something during that time.
Jesus also had a solution for [distractions]. In the morning when everyone was sleeping, he went outside and listened to God the Father and I think he was asking God, “What are we doing today?” Then he knew. We’re the same. We have to ask God, “What good have you created for me today,” and then just join God’s work. But this is change in mentality, it’s not about me doing something but God inviting me to join this work.
In a spirit of sonship?
Yes, we need to behave as sons. We are servants and slaves to God, but first of all we are sons. And this has to be first. If we change the stress, then we can lose something, and end up asking God, “I have been serving you so long, why haven’t you given me what you gave to the second [prodigal] son?” But it requires us to just obtain the knowledge of the Father’s heart and become a son. We come back to identity. This is root of manhood — sonship, and the identity of sonship.
What final words would you like to share?
An invitation to men — if you have a men group in your parish, join one, and if you don’t have one, it’s high time to create one. We can help you if you wish. Try to find someone to help you or contact us or me. I’m part of the Men of St. Joseph International and all the basic information is there.