The Abba Challenge

In the strikingly beautiful Utah canyon country, a man hikes alone in the Blue John Canyon.  He descends into a slot canyon, where a boulder breaks loose and falls, pinning his hand against the canyon wall.  He is trapped there five days when he sees his future son and is inspired to free himself.  He amputates his arm and hikes out of the canyon to find help.  This is the true story of Aron Ralston who inspired the movie 127 hours.  Aron is not a perfect man, but his future fatherhood inspires him to act heroically.  Even if we may not be called to cut off an arm, we are all called to be ordinary heroes.

At the Diocesan Rekindle The Fire Men’s conference in February, The Abba Challenge video was premiered to inspire men to live heroic lives as spiritual fathers.  The Abba Challenge walks a man through The Abba Prayer for Men in 33 days with text reminders and challenges.

Over 500 men signed up to take the Abba Challenge!  The prayer is part of a larger response to our culture’s confusion about men—something is wrong when Facebook touts 51 to 71 different genders!  The prayer summarizes a Catholic vision of masculinity with two basic foci:  being loved/identity, and being challenged to live as spiritual fathers.  The video, the prayer, and the challenge are available at  At the conference Jesse Romero, a fiery lay Catholic Evangelist, in a video endorsement of The Abba Prayer for Men said that, “This prayer … ROCKS! …  It has EVERYTHING that a Catholic man should know. … This is Catholicism with TESTOSTERONE.”

Our identity as baptized Catholics is always rooted and grounded in two households—the spiritual and the physical.  In the spiritual household, the Church, we are always sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers.  In the physical household some of us might have “double duty” as physical brothers, husbands, and fathers, and we are always sons.

If we have trouble loving as physical or spiritual husbands or fathers, it is always because fear and sin are turning us in towards ourselves.  Love always moves us out towards others for their good.  Fear opposes love.  If we have fear, we need more love and must return to being beloved sons. Scripture says, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).   And this love must be, as St. John Paul II says, revealed to us, experienced, encountered, participated in deeply, and made our own.  God is pleased with us as sons not because of our behavior, but because we breathe and bear his image. Love is the foundation of our identity. We must receive it as little children so we can face our fears, faults, and sins, and then put away childish things.  We only love “because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19)—loving others is never a do-it-yourself project!

Men like challenge, and God’s love always challenges us to action!  This is the second part of the prayer—a “demanding love.”  The summit of being a man is spiritual fatherhood lived out in chivalry as priest, prophet, and king.  Through chivalry, spiritual fathers take care of the vulnerable, the least, the widow, and the orphan.

There are two basic distortions of masculinity, both caused by physical and/or emotional fatherlessness: brutality (domination) and passivity.  For society and the family to function, it must help young men focus and direct their aggression and sexuality, or violence and sexual crimes will escalate.  Let me illustrate.

South African park rangers thinned out a herd of elephants, killing all adult males.  A decade later 39 rare white rhinos were found killed by a gang of fatherless juvenile delinquent male elephants.  Excessive testosterone had led to earlier sexual activity and abnormal aggression.  So a large bull was introduced.  This “spiritual father” curbed their sexuality and aggression, reforming all but one elephant.

The virtue of chivalry is the antidote to the two distortions.  Chivalry has three components: meekness, valor, and sacrifice.  Meekness checks aggression and sexuality.  Meekness is having the power to fight, but not using it off the “battlefield.”  Many men make their families the enemy, but the battlefield is the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Meekness creates a place where women are not treated as sexual objects, and children or women do not have to fear anger.  At the first blow to his body, Jesus chose not to annihilate us all.  That’s meekness, not weakness.

On the literal battlefield you want valor or courage, not meekness!  Valor directs aggression properly. So spiritual fathers oppose injustice perpetrated against the vulnerable.  And in sports or business valor and competition can direct aggression productively.  Sacrifice unites meekness and valor—both require it.

Chances are, you won’t have to amputate your arm, but our Abba calls us to be ordinary heroes—to be spiritual fathers, imitating his son in chivalry as priest, prophet, and king.  Our fatherless world needs men who know who they are and act on it.  Take the Abba Challenge!  Let’s move The Abba Prayer for Men from our heads to our hearts by praying a part of the prayer daily.  Take the Abba Challenge to help form this habit with 33 days of text reminders and challenges!  You can still join us in progress! Send the text message “Abba” to 99000, or sign up at Let our Abba form us through his love and challenge!


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Dave McClow, M.Div., LSCW, LMFT, is a pastoral counselor, writer, and speaker. He works with Dr. Greg Popcak at the Pastoral Solutions Institute as a Clinical Pastoral Counseling Associate and provides tele-counseling services to Catholics internationally (check us out at, or call to schedule an appointment:  740-266-6461).  For over 30 years he has served in many capacities in the mental health and addictions fields.  He is the founder of four text ministries for men: “Faith on The Phone,” “Fasting on the Phone,” “Pure Hearts” and The Abba Challenge  for Rekindle the Fire’s men’s group and is active on its central core team. He and his wife converted to the Catholic Church in 1996.  He was a catechist for 15 years in his diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.  He is currently developing a comprehensive Catholic vision of masculinity that he believes is an integral and leveraged component of the New Evangelization.  It is summarized in The Abba Prayer for Men found at with more at The Ultimate Challenge: Men & Faith.

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