If May is for mothers, June is the month we think of our fathers. Fathers who gave us life, and who later taught us to ride a two-wheeler and a stick-shift. Fathers who tested the mettle of boyfriends (and steered us clear of the unworthy ones). Fathers who cheered us from the sidelines at spelling bees and basketball games, and who braved our first culinary experiments. My own Dad survived for years on Army C-rations before his cast-iron constitution was tested to the limit with my Pork-chop/Applesauce/Curry Surprise.
Last spring I was asked to edit a book that examines the spiritual lives of men… in particular, why Catholic men hate going to church. Wanting a bit more background, I contacted Maurice Blumberg of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, and made arrangements to attend the sixth annual “Put Out into the Deep” Conference in downtown Detroit with my husband Craig.
At this conference I was reminded of the fact that, just as all women are called to express their “feminine genius” through motherhood — be it biological, adoptive or foster, or spiritual motherhood — men are called to a particular kind of fatherhood. Some, like my father, fulfill that calling with an extraordinary level of self-donation to a small group of people. Others, such as the priests who oversaw my spiritual formation when I was a new Catholic, give of themselves in a way that is broader… but no less extraordinary.
National Fellowship of Catholic Men: Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Faith
I’m delighted to report that the “faith of our fathers” is alive and well. More than 1600 men gathered to pray and sing, led by Paco Gavrilides, the Executive Director of Evangelism for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Speakers included NFL Hall of Fame cornerback Richard Lane (Qorban Ministries), Michael Timmis (Prison Fellowship Ministries), True Knights founder Ken Henderson, and actor and playwright Leonardo Defilippis. Long lines formed for reconciliation after a message by Father John Riccardo.
Fr. Riccardo spoke of a dream he’d had in which he walked with Jesus through a museum that contained vivid images of all the shameful and degrading moments of his life. One by one, the Lord stood beside each image, silently regarding it with a humiliated John before turning and saying, “It is precisely for this that I died.” Then the Lord washed each image clean with His blood.
“When we decide to follow Jesus as Lord,” observed Father Riccardo, “we need to make a break from our past. Many of us straddle the fence… I did that for years. When it was convenient for me, I had my faith. When it wasn’t convenient, I hid my faith under a basket. But real faith doesn’t work that way…. Come to Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation. Bring it all under the nozzle of that stream of grace.”
Husbands and Wives Together: The “Unity of Two”
For me, the highlight of the conference was meeting Donna Lane, co-founder with her husband Richard of Qorban Ministries. Donna Lane is a survivor. Her daughter was just 20 months old when Donna’s first husband and forty other soldiers went MIA during the Vietnam War when their plane fell into the Sea of Japan. Only two bodies were ever recovered. “I never had any part of him to bury,” Donna said sadly. And yet she never lost hope. “Everything that happened to me in that twenty-eight years [between her first husband's death and meeting Richard] was preparation for what was to come next.”
Donna became a licensed foster parent in the city of Detroit, and over time took eight children into her home. As the years passed, she began to long for adult companionship. Her prayers were answered one day when a charismatic young man walked into her RCIA class. “He had such a presence… but he was just a baby,” she smiles. Richard Lane fell in love with the Church… and married his teacher. Together they worked to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized within the St. Louis area.
As I listened to the various speakers lead participants to consider how they wanted to “push out into the deep” and devote themselves wholeheartedly to Christ and His Church, I was impressed by the practical juxtaposition of service and prayer — “Ora et labora,” as St. Benedict instructed his followers. Because God created us as body-soul composites, all of us need to feed both body and soul if we are to remain strong. This often comes more naturally to women than to men, which is why these kinds of retreat experiences for men are so important.
Many Catholic men give of themselves generously to their families and to the Church — both financially and in service, often through fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Columbus. The National Fellowship of Catholic Men contributes an important devotional component, to help our husbands and sons grow spiritually strong as they worship God together. For more information about the NFCM, go to www.catholicmensresources.org.
Heidi Hess Saxton is editor of Canticle magazine and author of Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert. Her husband Craig, who attended the conference, recently joined the Knights of Columbus.