Men are struggling with their spirituality. Can the Catholic Church help?

men spirituality

On a bright morning in Melbourne last December, Patricia Faulkner, A.O., chair of the board of Jesuit Social Services (JSS) in Australia, stood before a room filled with press and members of the community and shared a simple message: “Men and boys need help.”

Since 1977, J.S.S. has been working for social change in Australia through a combination of delivering services to marginalized groups, like refugees and prisoners, and in-depth research and advocacy on their behalf.

As part of the agency’s 40th anniversary, Julie Edwards, the group’s chief executive officer, asked the organization to “sniff the wind,” as she put it, to reflect on what they were seeing on the ground and consider what new efforts might be needed today.

“And what people kept coming back to,” says Michael Livingstone, executive director of The Men’s Project, which came out of that year of discernment, “was that the issues of boys and men persist.

They’re overwhelmingly the people we see in our criminal justice programs and the perpetrators of family violence; they’re also a higher percentage for other issues around mental health, risk-taking and drinking.”

As former deputy commissioner of a state commission looking into family violence, Ms. Faulkner was intimately familiar with these problems and also the broader human web within which they exist.

“It’s not just a matter of an individual,” she told the group. “Society has to change.”

The problem of Christian masculinity

The Catholic Church in the United States has long promoted notions of Catholic masculinity and offered groups and movements for men.

Recent decades have also seen the rise of an entire industry of Christian men’s self-help books, with titles like Act Like Men: 40 Days to Biblical Manhood, Manual to Manhood and Catholic Manhood Today. Many are bestsellers. John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart (2001) remains No. 1 on Amazon’s list of titles about Christian men’s issues 17 years after its publication.

From the #MeToo movement to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, from remembering the kindness of the children’s television pioneer Mr. Rogers to examining the leadership of Pope Francis, the last year has witnessed the rise of an extraordinary international conversation around gender and power even as it has inspired an at-times vituperative pushback from some.

In this watershed moment, when it is so clear that thinking about men and masculinity is evolving, where is the church?

And how can it help? Continue reading

 

 

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