The Making of Better Men
While the evangelist Angus Buchan fills stadia with his gatherings for men, Catholic groups perform the men’s ministry on a smaller, more personal scale, FR KEVIN REYNOLDS explains.
In recent years, South Africans have grown accustomed to the farmer with his iconic hat, evangelist Angus Buchan, filling stadia with men who are challenged to improve their lives in the light of their Christian faith.
One of his largest gatherings will take place at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on November 19. This venue is the largest of its kind in the country.
These mass meetings certainly achieve much good in our society. The principal thrust of Mr Buchan’s message is to improve generally the quality of marital and family life. For Mr Buchan, the bottom line of his campaign is that to be a true man means treating one’s wife and children as God wants.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban is known for his promotion of ministering to men, as can be seen from articles in The Southern Cross over the years. Under his influence and beyond it, gatherings of Catholic men have also taken place in recent times.
These gatherings usually happen when a small group has been inspired to organise a weekend to bring together like-minded men to discuss, reflect and pray about the basic values of their Catholic lives.
One such group, Men in Christ, was initiated at the Maria Regina parish in Centurion, in the archdiocese of Pretoria, by Albert de Nobrega and Carlos Camara.
While members of this now multi-parish group meet occasionally during the year, its principal activity is to organise an annual gathering of men, usually at a retreat or conference centre in the Gauteng area.
The greatest challenge for Men in Christ is to invite as many men as possible to its “retreat”. This is not an easy task because, as one participant at a recent gathering told me: “I came here resisting the whole idea of spending a weekend away from my wife and kids.”
There is, however, a pay-off. The same participant added: “I’m now going home with renewed determination to be a better husband and father.”
The Men in Christ group casts its net as far and wide as it can. This was indicated by its recent gathering at the Padre Pio Spirituality Centre in Centurion which attracted more than 70 participants from Potchefstroom in the west to Nelspruit in the east, and from Vanderbijlpark in the south to Lydenburg in the north-east.
Given the background of its founders, Men in Christ comprises mostly Portuguese men. Similarly, its gatherings always include a good number from this cultural group. Without a doubt, marriage and family life — thank God! — continue to be strongly upheld in the Portuguese community.
The Catholic form of gathering men together is based essentially on our Catholic sacramental way of living which is similar to the style of Christ’s own ministry.While the gospels record Christ’s attracting large crowds to hear and respond to his preaching, they also highlight his personal, one-on-one interacting with people. This was particularly evident in his works of healing individual people.
Fortunately, the Catholic Church continues this style of ministry, despite the dearth in vocations to the priesthood and religious life and the modern world’s emphasis on mass communication and its attendant depersonalising methods of providing services — but not necessarily fulfilling the inner needs of people.
Sacraments are personal
It is interesting to note that our Church’s celebration of the sacraments is designed to be done in a personal, truly human, individual way. This is why, for instance, one cannot celebrate the sacrament of penance by telephoning a priest or bishop or rely only on a communal absolution of sin.
Similarly, it is noteworthy that Christ time and again went to a lonely place or got up early in the morning to commune with his heavenly Father. In his humanity Jesus also had a need to interact prayerfully with God in a personal, individual way.
Going apart from the family for a weekend’s retreat is grounded in our Catholic tradition that is based on biblical values. This means that sacrificing a weekend away from home is not totally foreign to us. It is, in fact, an investment in participants’ lives and those of their families.
While silence is not necessarily imposed at retreats, the men — as on every retreat — are encouraged to reflect on various aspects of their Catholic faith and lives.
This is achieved by talks presented by priests and laymen followed by informal chats among the participants and periods for personal and liturgical prayer.
Naturally the focal liturgical point on Saturday and Sunday is the celebration of Mass.
Saturday afternoon is always devoted to a practical preparation for making a good confession.
This usually includes a down-to-earth talk about the sacrament of penance by the likes of Fr Joseph Wilson MSC, followed by approaching one of several priests present to individually celebrate this sacrament.
From my hearing confessions at several such retreats in recent years, I can confirm — obviously without breaking the seal of the sacrament — that they are inspiringly impressive. Because of their sincere preparation, the men’s confessions are not what happens when some people somewhat frivolously “pop in and pop out” of the confessional without serious regard for what they are doing.
I am confident that when the men return home on the Sunday, they are committed to improving their Catholic lives as husbands and fathers, very much owing to their effective celebration of the sacrament of penance and their reflection on the true meaning of their sacrament of matrimony.
This brings home to the participants that they and their wives are the very ministers of the latter; that married couples — not the solemnising deacon, priest or bishop — give to each other the sacrament of marriage every day of their shared lives.
It would be wonderful if this kind of retreat became more widespread throughout South Africa. This would certainly supplement Angus Buchan’s campaigns of filling stadia with men.
I am sure many Catholics will pray for the men gathering in Johannesburg this month and for the ongoing efforts of groups akin to Pretoria archdiocese’s Men in Christ.
Fr Kevin Reynolds is a priest of the archdiocese of Pretoria. For more information on Men in Christ, contact Albert de Nobrega at Albony@gmail.com