Why the Church needs a ministry to men
In the first three articles in this series on men in South Africa, the focus has been on the phenomenon of mens violence.
We went through, as it were, the first two stages of the pastoral cycle: exposure/immersion and social analysis. These stages are meant to take us as close as possible to experiencing the situation or event under review, and in the process discover the root causes or deeper reasons for it.
In the second article I hinted that we might need a special ministry to men. The last article on the Marikana tragedy goes a step further. It describes some of the elements that such a ministry would need to contain.
In this article I intend to link this up with what the recently ended Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation considered to be the sign of our time, namely, the dire need for the entire Church to take up anew the Mission entrusted to it by Jesus Christ. I am suggesting that ministry to men should be a special part of our mission in Southern Africa.
What is that mission? It is to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you to do.
While one of the major concerns addressed by the synod was how the Church should respond to the drastic worldwide falling away from belief in and practice of the Christian Faith, I believe we can apply the same approach to our concern. That means submitting to the same process of personal conversion, accompanied by a serious re-commitment to live, teach and pass on our Faith with New Ardour, New Methods and New Expressions.
The synod frequently called on every Catholic to get back to basics, so we will begin by examining the Scriptures and the Social Teaching of the Church to find out what they say needs to be done about the extreme intolerance behind the unacceptably high rate of violence.
Our starting point will be Gods intention for us right from the beginning as revealed in the book of Genesis and in the gospel of John, both of which tell us what happened in the beginning.
Both Genesis and Johns gospel underline that it is the vocation of every man and every woman, who were created to be Gods image and likeness, to replicate the life of the Trinity by their own life in community. It is this life in community that is the reason why on the sixth day, when God looked on his newly completed creation, which included man and woman, he could say: It is very good.
Johns gospel, on the other hand, underlines the absolute need for us to open up our lives to the Word in order to return to that state of goodness willed by God. This became possible when The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… From him we have received grace and truth… He has made him (the Father) known.
From these two foundational Scripture passages we have a number of basic moral principles upon which to base our efforts to be what God meant us to be.
The most important is that because God created us in his image and likeness, every person has an inherent and inviolable dignity. It is this image and likeness of God that gives us our value, our meaning and our worth.
The next principle is that every human person must live in a way that shows forth Gods image in him or her. That way is indicated by Gods judgement: It is not good for man to be alone. He needs a helpmate, that is, someone with whom he can have a truly human relationship.
The importance of this trinitarian relationship between men and women is brought out further by Adams words as he welcomes Eve into his life: Here at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. We must remember always that with these words, uttered in the state of original innocence, Adam is interpreting for us how God intended us to live together. We can safely affirm that this is what added to God judging his creation to be very good rather than simply good as he had done up to then.
In other words, no human being is truly what God intended him to be, unless he is prepared and able to form and remain in relationships that show forth the truth of Gods image in both him and the other.
If Gods image in every person is the basis for our communal nature and vocation then we have to consider what has gone wrong with us that the main characteristic of our national life in South Africa is anti-social intolerance and violence.
Since this is most evident among men we have to ask whether the main problem is not that too many men have had to grow up without the fathers they need to show them what it means to be a man. The absence of good male role models has meant that they have had to look elsewhere.
Obviously what they have found has been totally inadequate, hence the phenomenon of male violence.
A second problem is that with modern man opting out of his leadership role in the family, he has also abdicated his duty and responsibility of engendering, nurturing and protecting the children God has given him the privilege of bringing into this life with his wife.
This is particularly evident when it comes to the question of abortion. No child comes into this world without a father. And the fathers first duty is to nurture, care for and protect both his wife and their child.
So until and unless we deal with this issue through a structured ministry to men, I do not believe we in the Church will be evangelising this important sector of human society adequately.
In next months article we can look more closely at what this ministry to men will demand of the Church, in particular its bishops, priests and deacons, let alone the many fathers of families.
Let us pray for our menfolk as they take up this serious challenge.