When teachers and administrators at Loyola’s Summer Institute for Catholic Educational Leadership compared notes on the topic of “male spirituality,” they discovered that many Catholic men tended to use the same formula when asked to lead a group of their fellow men in prayer: hether they were on retreat, at a faculty meeting or in the classroom, the male prayer leaders would almost always begin by asking for intentions and conclude with a quick Hail Mary or Our Father.
In other words, rarely did the male leaders – other than priests or deacons – pray extemporaneously.
The observation sparked an interesting question: If grown men have a tough time allowing their vulnerability to show at prayer time, what does that teach boys and young men?
“We have to be examples,” said Jeremy Remiger, who witnesses prayer-related male nervousness firsthand as director of campus ministry at the all-boys St. John Vianney High in St. Louis. “We as guys have to be comfortable with praying in front of young men so they know how to do it.”
Be more mindful of language
To become the spiritual leaders they are called to be, men must swim against a powerful tide of cultural norms, including the very language they hear and speak. Comments such as “that’s so gay,” “don’t be a girl” and “toughen up” have become standard fare on athletic fields and in school hallways, said Kevin Calkins, associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
“That kind of language, some would say, is not a big deal, but I think it’s part of a bigger problem that blocks vulnerability, that blocks men from being authentic with their prayer life and (in) who they are and who they’re called to be,” Calkins said. “Language is one thing that I think men could do a better job at, whether it’s being a better role model to young men, or holding young men accountable (for their language),” he added.
So how can parishes and schools rise above the cultural morass and become better fosterers of male spirituality?
The educators suggested one way might be to make “fatherhood formation” part of the mission of a parish’s male-focused ministries. For example, men’s clubs could be more than organizations that oversee fish fries and perform manual labor; they also could be places where men come together to pray and reflect on their faith and vocation. As an outgrowth of this, parishes and schools could coordinate periodic father-son Masses and set up a Scripture study program for fathers, such as the one sponsored by Jesuit High’s alumni association.
Those probing the topic of men’s spirituality also urged catechetical leaders to go where they guys are, which often is the playing field.
“Athletics is such an opportunity for the formation of young men,” said Calkins, noting that coaches should be given more opportunities for their own spiritual formation, and that Catholic schools must work harder to ensure that their mission is never eclipsed by the need to win athletic matches.
Calkins mentioned two nationally recognized programs that help men become more confident spiritual leaders: “That Man is You!” and “Play Like a Champion Today.”
Jon Malax, a Spanish teacher at Jesuit High, cautioned against the gender-related “mixed messages” parents sometime send their children about religious observance, including those to which he was exposed as a boy growing up in Spain.
“It would be my mom who would always go to church, and it would be my dad who would stay on the couch at home, watching TV, smoking a cigarette and holding the newspaper,” Malax said. “(Faith formation) has to be a shared responsibility with the parents.”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.