Matthew James Christoff: Hello. My name is Matthew James Christoff. Welcome to the New Emangelization Project. Many have heard of the New Evangelization. It’s recognition within the Catholic Church that many have been baptized but not necessarily evangelized. As a result, many Catholics don’t have a close relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ and they’ve lost a living sense of the faith. This is a particular challenge with Catholic men, many of whom are casual in their faith, with growing numbers of men simply drifting away from the church.
There is a Catholic man crisis. The New Emangelization Project is a call to confront that Catholic man crisis and to respond with new ardor, expressions, and methods to create new men in our Lord Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church. If we wish to have a New Evangelization, there must be a New Emangelization, creating generations of Catholic men who are on fire for Jesus Christ.
Today I’m speaking with Father Michael Becker. He’s the rector of St. John Vianney Seminary on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Welcome Father.
Father Michael Becker: Thank you Matthew. It’s great to be with you today.
Matthew: Why don’t we start with telling us a little bit about St. John Vianney Seminary?
Father Becker: St. John Vianney Seminary is a college seminary on the University of St. Thomas. We are actually the largest college seminary in the United States.
We have 133 men studying at this time. They are generally in the ages of 18 to 22 old, though a few are a little bit older. They are studying philosophy and we are with the privilege of forming them. Half or a little less will become priests and we are very proud of them.
Matthew: Wow, that’s something. I read that there’ has been over 400 vocations that have come from St. John Vianney over the years.
Father Becker: Yes indeed. There are that many priests out there. 40% of the Archdiocese priests here in this locality are graduates of St. John Vianney.
Matthew: That’s quite a blessing. Why don’t we start with your general thoughts about the state of the evangelization of Catholic men in the Church?
Father Becker: I’ve, like you Matthew, found that Evangelicals at times are a little bit more arduous and skilled at it than we have been as Catholics. I am attracted to a number of movements in the area, including CatholicManNights and the Argument of the Month Club.
I personally have benefited from fraternal sharing groups and I have started a number of fraternal sharing groups both at my parish and then here at the seminary. Every man is in a group of men where they do face sharing, accountability, encouragement, pray for each other, etc.
I like what I see in the Knights of Columbus. There’s I think a renewal amongst the Knights in many different areas, but we are still wanting. We need creativity; we need plans and strategies to ignite the faith in men’s hearts throughout our Church.
Matthew: Over the last 20 or 30 years, despite the fact that we’re in this growing movement within the Church with the New Evangelization, we’ve continued to see men leave the Church. I’ve shared some statistics with you, there’s been a large number of men leave the Church, the men that remain a lot of times are really lacking in their faith.
In fact, are not even as fervent in their faith as they were maybe 20 years ago. What do you think is going on in the culture and within the Church that’s leaving men so lukewarm?
Father Becker: I think the first and greatest issue is actually the moral decay of the culture that has left men with addictions to pornography. Many have been unfaithful to their spouses and the divorce rate is sky high. With a lot of the sin comes shame, and knowing that I’m not living the authentic Christian life. People have drifted through the immoral life away from God.
On the college scene, 80 percent of college students who come to the university drift away from the regular practice of their faith. That’s across the country, across the world. They’re at a time of discerning their life during these four years, what’s their interests and their major, how their career is going to fall into place, over time who they’ll marry.
It’s a great opportunity for us to try and reach individuals at a prime moment when they are needing to be fed and needing direction and formation. Yet still, eight out of ten of the college students are drifting away.
I think we live also in a fatherless culture, so that fathers have neglected their families, their children, leaving often children with mothers alone. How can a young man grow up and be an evangelist of other men, a former of men, a true father, a true brother when he doesn’t know what that means?
There’s also a lot of distractions in culture. We’re distracted by the media, we’re distracted by what the Jones’s own down the block. It’s a busy, hurried life. We don’t know what silence means, we don’t know what it means to pray, our values are out of balance. Satan has distracted a lot of folks. Men are definitely victims of that.
Matthew: That’s a pretty comprehensive summary of the different challenges. One of the things we talked about before we went live here was the fact that you have a very unique position, where you are forming and leading large numbers of young men who are on fire for the faith.
At the same time, you’re on a campus where as you mentioned, 80 percent maybe are drifting away from the faith and not practicing their faith.
What’s the difference? What’s happened that leads some to feel that strong vigor and how do you contrast them to the others who are on campus?
Father Becker: Excellent question. First and foremost, individuals need to encounter God in a very real way, a personal way. When they hear the voice of Jesus Christ in prayer, when they meet him in and through other individuals who are on fire with love for God, and they see that radiation and are attracted to it. It’s contagious. They catch the fire, they catch the vision. The power of the Holy Spirit, coming to know Jesus Christ. First and foremost we can talk a lot about strategies, but if we’re not encountering God we’re missing the bulls eye.
The young men in the seminary here have a holy hour every day. They go to mass each day, and they are encountering Christ and so their lives are being changed by that.
There’s an old saying that says, “Rising tide raises all boats in the harbor.” The culture, the culture needs to be evangelistic, not just individuals, but how you live your life in community. If there is a whole community that is living a rule of life that is challenging, exciting with clear vision and encounter with God, that sets others afire who come in contact.
All the men here are encountering Jesus Christ in a personal way in prayer. They have models all around them. They are experiencing a unity in communion with the others that also helps them heal, helps them grow in virtue and gives them the impetus, the motive to go out and say “I want others to join us. I want others to experience this.” Discipleship, they go out and evangelize and disciple other students on campus as a result of what they receive here.
The young people, I think today there is actually a harvest season for young people. They don’t have the same baggage that can come from various Church activities and expressions. They have been drifting and are somewhat lost, but they’re actually open in a new way. Young people, I’m talking 25 to 30 and under, OK? The older people often have different Church baggage from experiences in the past, but the young people? No. If they have been away from the Church they’re just wide open. Teach me, form me, tell me, lead me. All it takes is a true relationship of love, an invitation that is enduring, and once they’re brought in they can also see the truth and to follow it in love and in joy.
Matthew: There’s been a lot of collateral damage in the breakup of families. I recall when Pope Benedict went to England, they suggested that he wouldn’t have much welcome. But the reason they suggested that he was so welcome was that people are broken, and they are hungry, and they are looking.
I guess we always as Pope Francis and as Pope Emeritus Benedict have told us, you need to have hope and we need to have hope in Christ, and never lose that faith.
Father Becker: Yeah, for many years I especially in the ’90s, I felt like I was trying to capture the hearts of adults who were drifting away. Don’t leave the Church, don’t leave your faith. You’ve set out on uncharted territory that will lead to pain like the Prodigal Son. It used to be the case that you either went to church every Sunday, or you had Christmas and Easter, or you didn’t go at all. In the 90’s came a new expression which was very foreign, which was “I can go to Mass twice a month. The other two times, well I sleep in or I have other things.” That was a whole new way of life that wasn’t previously known, but it was the beginning of a slide. I’m trying to help these people on the slide, “Don’t slide!”
Some of those on campus here at the Catholic University may be drifting into the party scene with their peers and we want them to come to Church and experience a living relationship with God. A lot of the others weren’t let’s say at this Catholic University, the slide has already come to its termination. We’re not trying to help people stop sliding as much as introduce them for the first time to Jesus Christ and church. Those are the people that we need to knock on their doors. It’s almost post‑Christian for a lot of those folks.
The sad state of our parochial and Catholic schools right now, last I heard about the stats was that 45 percent of Catholic school children go to church on Sunday. That’s our Catholic schools, that should be the core of our parishioners, of the body of Christ.
It’s just sad for me to here that the stat is that low and we need to turn that around by again, setting them on fire, the community setting them on fire with love for God with the adventure of Christianity.
In any case, there is a little bit of a post‑Christian, post‑modern state that we are in. And yet again with that, I find young people do not have the Church baggage that they could have, are open if we would go and meet them.
There is a group in Frogtown now that has they have 55 blocks that they’ve got parameters on. These are the 55 blocks that we are going to try to knock on every door. We’re going to get to know these individuals, we’re going to pray with them, ask them what we can pray for them, invite them back to Church.
This is happening in other church communities. The seminaries have been going over to the University of Minnesota talking to young people just in random evangelistic opportunities. Different parishes, say in Maple Lake, Saint Joes in West Saint Paul, parishioners knocking on doors inviting people back to Church who have been away.
We need to do this and it’s a challenging reality. Do we have that kind of motive and fire? Can the courage overcome the fear to say, “You know what, I can go and invite someone back.”
I did knock on some doors over in Frogtown the other day, and I met a number of families that were shaman, that were Hmong from Eastern Asia, and they were not negative towards us. They did not have a rejection of us, they didn’t have a prior conception of us.
They were wide open to hearing who we are and what we had to say, and so we speak with them and pray with them if they’d let us, and invite them to Church and they seemed glad for that.
Matthew: You know it’s at the heart at the New Evangelization is to be intentional disciples. I think we’ve just been maybe a little too casual, a little afraid, and many don’t know their faith.
I’m interested, you talked at the beginning of forming these small groups. I know when you were up at Saint Michaels, the men’s ministry there or the men’s group really flourished. What are some concrete steps that you took to draw men into the faith and into these small groups?
Father Becker: The first requirement was really just one‑to‑one contact conversation.
Matthew: Who did this?
Father Becker: Just putting an advertisement on the bulletin won’t do the trick. I had to shake hands with men as they’re leaving mass on Sunday and personally say to them, “Tom, I’m starting a bible study. I’d love for you to be in my bible study. Will you come to my bible study?” And Tom would say as he tripped down the stairs, “Sure, Father. I’ll come.”
Father Becker: Then the next week I’d say, “Hey, Bob. Bob, I’m starting a bible study. I’ve got Tim joining my bible study. Bob, would you like to be part of my bible study?” His wife would be standing next to him saying, “Yeah, Bob will be part of your bible study.”
Father Becker: One‑by‑one, personal invitation I asked 10 men to join a bible study and they came. Out of those 10, 7 stuck with it over time. Second year, I started a second bible study.
I began to challenge the men to say to them, “You know it’s real easy for us as men to talk about ideas, but difficult for us to talk about ourselves and how are we living the faith, or not living the faith.” We drew up some core questions, topics for discussions, and we challenged each other to go deep and in total confidential circumstance where we would be living in the light in a certain accountability and encouragement peripheral-ness for each other. With that, the brotherhood, the union grew very strong to the point where this was lifelong friendship in brotherhood.
Those groups multiplied, so when I left there was about six men’s groups. Now many others in the parish will not join those men’s groups. It’s easy to get women’s groups. They love to share deeply and personally.
As soon as I started the men’s group some of the wives were saying, “Well, what about us?” I’m like, “Well you can have your women’s group too”. There were six women’s group in the parish as well.
In any case the men I needed to get first, and the men needed to be formed by…There’s something that a man can teach a man that a woman can’t. She can do a lot for a man, but in the end a man has to teach another man how to be a husband and a father.
Those men gelled together in a strong fraternity. They knew that what was shared in the group didn’t leave the group, and they challenged each other with very difficult questions. For example, what’s your greatest fear? What’s your greatest moment of shame? What’s your greatest victory in life?
Fruition comes from bonds of love. Two people get married, they have a bond of love, fruition comes children. People join a religious community, they join the Jesuits. They grow in a certain union, in charity. Out of that union, out of those bonds of love comes fruition. Now they want to evangelize the world.
In the parish do people really know each other? Do they come to church and sit in a pew and they don’t know the person right at the other end? If they come to know each other in a true bond of love and friendship, fruition comes.
All the sudden these men that I brought into men’s groups started brainstorming. How can we get other men involved? They started a retreat in the parish called Christ Renews His Parish, which was also done out east. They bought in the idea. They were trying to bring other men into the living faith by a retreat in the parish, and we would have 20, 25 men go on it every year. The men who came on it came because they were personally invited. Not because of an advertisement in the bulletin. These men now in these fraternity groups wanted to go out and bring other men. They had an interior motive of charity, an evangelistic motive.
Then they started a monthly night of talks on a subject called…They called it Nota Bene, they’d bring in a speaker, it was something like The Argument of the Month, where they wanted to talk about ideas and talk about culture and how we need to impact culture with our voice and our efforts, our service bringing virtue to the workplace.
They started a Father‑Son Blue Knight Movement. They help started Adoration. Again, if you have a bond of love fruition comes, and those who are evangelist are in a bond of love somewhere. They are in love with God. They are in love with brothers and sisters. They have unity with them. Out of that is there is hunger. I want others to know this.
That love, I should say, is also the Divine Love, is the Holy Spirit. It is the power of the Holy Spirit in individuals who are given them impetus. The Apostles themselves were locked indoors before Pentecost in great fear, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. Jesus visited and breathed on them, and now, they broke down the doors and went out evangelizing. That bond of love in the Church is the Holy Spirit, who is the love between the Father and the Son.
We need to have man come into a true fraternity, not just talking about things beyond themselves, ideas and such, which is can be a very good thing. Even going to a class is very good thing, but if they truly know each other and come to a deeper brotherhood, then they will learn to evangelize to bring others into that.
At Saint Michael, only six men’s groups were started, but many, many other parishioners were blessed by them and knew what they were doing. Other parishioners, for example, would know these men are reading a book together. I like to read a book, too. I like to start reading my Bible and start reading Catholic book of the Catechism or some book by a saint or be a man by Father Larry Richards. Other men in the community…In fact, there were other groups that spontaneously came up, not by my initiative but for example, one group was a Cenacle, which was, they would meet and pray the rosary once a month. They would have brunch together after Mass. Families gathering and they’d pray a rosary together. Several different family units started doing this. I had nothing to do with it, but I think they were inspired by the men’s groups in the parish.
One thing I love about CatholicManNight, which I say about your movement, Matthew, is that at the end of the adoration and talk within that context of the Our Adoration, afterwards you have supper and you invite the men, the laymen, to stand up and to ask a question or to answer the questions, and in so doing, they are vocalizing their faith.
They are coming out of the tepidity of “I’m not sure I’m equipped to speak about my faith. How can I teach my children about my faith? I don’t know. I’m afraid to do that I need someone else to do that.”
At CatholicManNight, the laymen are standing up and answering the questions and talking about their faith. Then, it’s just one step towards their being articulate defenders of the Catholic faith and the public square. If they can share a little bit here at this men meeting, they can become, now, more confident to teach their children about their faith at home and to be added to the parish.
We do need men in very simple ways just to talk about their faith and just to open up the scripture and say, “Wow, I can actually find a passage, and I could even read it out loud. Then, maybe, next time, I could be a lector at Church.
One step at a time…In any case, you have two things I would say that from Saint Michael’s Catholic Church was I was pastors, the men’s groups, the fraternity, had aversion in effect of a living faith in other parishioners. Taking casual or apathetic churchgoers, who may come twice a month or may come Christmas and Easter, but reaching out and getting them included or more inspired to be participants.
If we have individuals who are on fire, who have a light within them, the light of God emanating is wonderful, but if all of those individual lights become alight together, there’s an exponential effect. They become a beacon, and the light radiates to a greater distance and a greater degree. I need men railing with men. We need them to come together and not to be individuals out there on a periphery but included in the core. If we can get men to gather together in true fraternity in the core, then again, that light is going to shine to a far greater distance than it would’ve with the man individually.
Matthew: You talked about a lot. I’d like to try to synthesize down some of the key things and make sure I understand what you’re saying. It sounds like with your leadership in making that personal connection. I know that sometimes, as priest, I’ve talked to a number of priests about this. Maybe the priest doesn’t realize the actual power that they have over men.
For example, Father, and probably, any priest could do this to me, but you give me a phone call and say, “Hey, I need you to show up.” I’m going to show up. Perhaps, some of our priests need to recognize that that’s both a great power that they have in drawing and starting to kindle that flame within men.
The second thing that you talked about was you started and you had some specific event‑based things that were focused on men. In the research that I’ve done and some of the reading, men are fundamentally different in terms of how they approach the faith life. In fact, they’re much less likely to be engaged if they’re in a setting with men and women. That’s what a number of people have said, and I witnessed it in my own experience. That idea of having some specific events that are men‑focused is probably one of the key things.
One of the challenges that we face is that our priests are called to do so much. They’re spread so thin, sometimes having multiple parishes. What advice would you give a priest regarding being able to carve out some time to focus on the evangelization of men. How do you help them figure out how to do that within all the other things they’ve got to do?
Father Becker: You hit the nail in the head. Priests are certainly very busy, boy, and with less priests and bigger parishes, more labor. We need to ask, what’s going to be the most effective? What’s going to transform the culture, environment, people, and their hearts and souls the most.
The priests are primarily ordained to celebrate the Sacrament, and that is and always should be the core activity of their life. That’s the greatest love set to celebrate the Eucharist, to celebrate Confession. These are the most powerful, intimate, beautiful things that our priests does.
After that, of course, there is the taking care of the parish, making sure that people are provided for, the school is going well, et cetera, but if we look back to the apostles and Jesus, what did He do and what was successful? He did miracles and He preached. He was itinerant as He did so.
One really key thing that he did was, he served with 12 men, and he individually called them. He didn’t just put on a text message or or put up a billboard, He actually personally called individual men and said, “Will you join me? I want to make you a fisher of men.” He trained them and taught them for three years. They walked with Him. His character entered into them, not just certain teaching, but they saw Him and they experienced Him.
The priest, he can get up and he can get a teaching, but if he can walk with a man in certain measure, that would be the beginning. When we look at the Acts of Apostles Chapter 2:42, it says that the early Church, they devoted themselves to prayer, to the apostolic teaching, to fellowship, and the Breaking of the Bread, those four things. To prayer, to the apostolic teaching, to fellowship, and the Breaking of the Bread.
What do we have in today’s church of those four elements? We have the Breaking of the Bread, we have the Eucharist. It’s wonderful today that wave so many Adoration chapels around here. People should be praying at home and throughout the day, on the way to work or in the grocery, stopping at Adoration chapel once a week, do a holy hour.
We have apostolic teaching, these plain documents that individuals can read. You can read them online, you can go to a Catholic bookstore and pick them up. A lot of people aren’t doing that, but one thing that I notice was really lacking was the fellowship. I said, “Do people really know each other in the parish?”
Now, I have to say, this was not a vision that I just dreamt up, I was formed in it. I received it as a baton that was passed down to me. I’ve been a member of priest fraternal group for 20 years. That group has inspired me to want to be a saint. They have protected me from errors of stupidity.
Father Becker: They have encouraged me in ways to overcome sins and weaknesses, to choose the higher road. If we want to be a Saint, we should hang around with Saints or those who want to be saints.
Fellowship is what’s lacking. People in pews, not knowing each other, really. They come to church, on the way home, they’re already in the parking lot. They’re not acting like Christians. I said, “We need to develop this.”
We’re going to start men’s fraternal groups. Jesus Christ, he chose 12 men. He also had 72 that were members of disciples, were part of the movement, but he had an inner core. Priests absolutely have to carve up time where they can garner core men in a parish, who they may say are future leaders. “I’m going to choose these men, and I’m going to start with these 12.” In time, that will multiply. Other men will be drawn in. That’s has to happen. It has to happen for the renewal.
I see that happening with certain Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus, I’m happy with what’s going on. A lot of them got into simply a regimen of we take care of business, we have some snacks, we go home.
We’ve gotten some money that we brought in from bingo or from pull tabs cards down at the local tavern. We’re going to decide which youthful men or parish movement is going to get some of the proceeds of this. Then we go home, and I thought, “You know what, we need to have more than that. We need to have spiritual activities in there.”
You guys, how about praying together? How about Adoration? How about Mass together? The brotherhood here needs to go deeper, needs a greater ties, not just we talk about business, but do you really know each other?
You’re really struggling at home, your wife thinks you got anger issues. Who knows that besides your wife? How are you going to overcome those anger issues? You’re struggling, you have fear that you might lose your job or maybe, you’re unemployed at this moment, and you’re not feeling strong and your masculinity. You feel like, “I’m not providing for my family.” Who knows that? The men here are supposed to be your true brothers to help woo you, to lift you up by their prayers encouragement.
Certain Knights of Columbus I see are now gaining a vision for a deeper and true fraternity. Out of that, there’s a multiplication in the parish, and I think that’s one group that we could really invest in and could go in that direction.
In any case, I had to personally invite men, that’s point number one. Any priest out there or laymen who wants to do it, personally invite men. A general announcement’s not going to happen.
Secondly, we need to have a vision of taking these men to a place of a certain depth. If they just come and they talk about ideas, it’s good. It’s good, but it’s not going to be great. To be great, they have to go deep. They have to be able to open up and examine their own lives, their own addiction to pornography. What’s going on in them? How can they act differently outside of Church and inside of church? How is their wife really experiencing them? Are they there for their children?
All sorts of things that are somewhat natural to us to want to provide, to want to protect, to want to lead, all those things God has given us naturally, but sin has affected us and we’re not carrying on those roles effectively. So we have to overcome sin. To overcome sin, of course, we need the Sacraments, but other men who are praying for us, who are challenging us, what a tremendous gift.
The priests or the laymen started up, one by one, call on that. Have a vision that these men have to go deep. I know they need to do this in time. I’m not going to force them to do it on day one. Over time, I’m going to take them to a greater depth of fraternity, love for each other.
Out of that, I know and trust that there’s going to be a fruition, a fruition above and beyond what I or these individuals could do by ourselves.
The Holy Spirit is needed, the power of the Holy Spirit and a personal relationship with Jesus. That is foreign. A lot of Protestants, Evangelicals, they speak about it all the time. We can take some notes from that. We have the power of the spirit, Jesus Christ in the center of the church. We are the body of Christ, to challenge men to come to know him and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. That’s what really changed the apostles in the end. They were formed by Christ for three years, but the Holy Spirit, the One who came into their hearts, into their minds at the end. That’s what gave them the courage and all the virtues they needed to be martyrs.
As we are discipling men, forming men, how are we also empowering them with the Holy Spirit? How are we bringing them in? That’s why I would support even prayer team ministry. I think men and women need it both. A certain baptism of the Holy Spirit, a certain experience of the Holy Spirit, that suddenly the spiritual world comes alive.
Now, people can come to that by a day-by-day personal prayer life, if they are sincere and praying with the heart, not just repetitious prayers. I’ve got memorized prayer. I rattle them off with my tongue but prayers that I have from the heart, where I spontaneously talk to God in an earnest manner, sincerity. If I do that while I’m at work, on my way to work, on the way home, Lord, help me with this project I have at work. Help me relate it to my boss or govern those who are under me. Lord, give me the wisdom to help my wife and I make decisions about our children.
If the prayer is sincere and earnest, from the heart, a man can grow in a personal relationship through that. That’s what God desires. Come to know Jesus Christ. Then when He comes to the Sacraments, it won’t be those things that are up there, done by the priest, and I come here and go through the motions, but I’m engaged. This is not just something I wish was done so I can go home and watch football.
Father Becker: I’m sad that there’s…I’m angry that there’s actually a third verse to this final song. I’ve got to get out of here. No. It becomes a living, dynamic reality, where the power and the presence…God does not reveal himself to one, typically, without their sincere hunger and approach.
“If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord”, Jeremiah 29, “if you seek me with all your heart”. There is something of requisite for us, of a kind of motive of yeah, Lord, I desire. I’m pursuing you. When the prodigal son starts to come back, the father runs to him.
We need to raise up the curiosity and the hunger amongst the people and get them out of this apathetic, casual Catholicism you speak about. I wonder if we’re not already post casual. There is already a swath of men who have been lost, and their sons and their children are out there, and they haven’t been to church. We’re going after people who are even post casual or post cafeteria Catholics.
In any case, the personal relationship by a sincere prayer life opens up the spiritual realm. The other approach is we develop a way of praying with people in these fraternal groups, if you will, or on other occasions. Prayer ministry once a month on Sunday up at St. Michael’s or St. Paul’s and they’re our prayer training ministry, and people after Sunday morning mass can go, and they get prayers. They’re prayed over, and they have experiences with God, experience with the Holy Spirit.
The power of the Holy Spirit is necessary in any evangelical movement, whether it’s an emangelization or a womangelization…however you say it. [laughs] You say it, Matthew. We need the Holy Spirit to be the power behind it.
Matthew: You’ve talked a couple times today about the scourge of pornography. The statistics are pretty…they’re almost overwhelming if you look at the number of men that are active in looking at pornography on a monthly basis as well as even I’ve heard some anecdotal evidence about how it has affected both priests and deacons and people of the seminary.
Combined with that statistic, the statistic of the amount of people coming to Reconciliation, and I’m wondering ‑‑ this is a hypothesis I have ‑‑ is that men, for whatever reason, because of a lack of engagement in their faith, a lack of catechesis, don’t really know where they stand.
They make rationalizations about the things they’re doing, and while there are some things, like greed, pride, gluttony, sloth, you can kind of say you’re squishy about those. But a man either does look at pornography and despite what one of our Justices of the Supreme Court said, is “I don’t how to describe it, but I know it when I see it”, every man knows when he’s done that. He attempts to hide it. He’s nervous about it. He’s embarrassed. He’s ashamed. He’s lost control.
You put those two things together, that fact that we have large swaths of men that are engaged in this, and very few men coming to confession, and I think there might be some way of bluntly laying out some stuff. You say look, there are three zones you can be in. The first zone is you’re going to hell. I’m on the way to hell zone. I’m in the black zone. The second zone, which is hopefully much bigger…or is bigger, but…I mean, sorry, is smaller, is the I’m headed towards Purgatory right now. Then there’s that wafer thin I’m a saint, right?
Matthew: It’s almost like where does a man stand? We’re not here to judge you. We’re not here to…because we’re all sinners, but just plot yourself on this little chart. Are you looking at pornography, and have you been to confession?
Really, the big challenge is just get yourself into the Purgatory zone for a few days, if nothing else, and then come back. Talk about Reconciliation as maybe a leverage point with men.
I think it’s different for women. I’ll just say one more thing here. I just saw a study that was done by a 95‑year‑old Jesuit priest about the Confession, differences between men and women. Of course, this is highly disguised data and everything, but the top three for women were, I believe it was, pride, anger, and envy. The top three for men, hands down, lust, number one, gluttony, number two, and sloth number, three, fundamentally different. Does that…
Father Becker: Yeah, I think over 50 percent of men in our culture today are looking at and addicted to pornography. When confronted in conscience by it, of course there’s some shame and guilt, but it’s hidden in secret. As long as it stays in secret, Satan can continue to pummel us and to tempt us, to harm us. We have here at the Seminary, when the guys walk down the hall, there’s five floors, and they come down the hallway to the chapel in the morning to pray, 133 men.
At the bottom level on the wall, just before the final steps, there’s a big poster up that says “Pray like Champions.” They come down, and it’s the last words they see before they head into the chapel, pray like champions.
Two floors up, there’s another poster, and the poster says “Live in the Light”. Live in the light. Every man here is in a fraternal group. They are instructed to live in a confidential group, to share, to go to a certain depth. It’s called “Intentional Community”. It’s something they choose to do, even with men they wouldn’t necessarily have first chosen on the street as their best friends. They enter into these groups. They do so trustingly over time.
Matthew: How do they form? How do the groups form? Are they assigned to these groups?
Father Becker: They are when they come. They’re assigned to the group, but there is an older seminarian who’s also assigned to lead them for the first semester. He guides them in certain topics on the rules. We need to cover these, share about these. Over time, the men then are left with their own facilitator to moderate their own group as the older seminarian steps out. To live in the light. A lot of these men, just like out in society, are addicted to pornography, looking at pornography.
But I have to say I’m so proud of my seminarians. Many of them are overcoming, and they’re doing it because they’re living in the light. Yes, they are going to Confession. Confession is a regular part of what’s necessary.
There’s also chastity groups. We also have special groups if a man wants to enter…In addition to their fraternal group, which would be a chastity group, which is run something like Alcoholics Anonymous. Where if you are able to go four weeks without the impurity of looking at pornography, you get a certificate or a coin that you carry around in your pocket, if it’s six weeks you get another coin or certificate. They each have one accountability partner that they check in with every day for five minutes and so on. That’s also helping.
There are seven things a man needs to overcome pornography. Seven things every Catholic should be doing. The first is daily prayer. If the light is not plugged into the outlet, you’ve got no light. There’s no power. It’s not going to shine at all, daily prayer, absolutely necessary.
Number two the Sacraments, and as you said it, Confession. We need to get people going to confession regularly. I remember when I started at Saint Michael, I had confessions on Saturday afternoon one hour before Mass, and I would get maybe two to seven people every Saturday. I kept thinking, “OK, this is a sad state. People are not taking advantage of the incredible gift here.”
If you’re setting off on a journey from America to Rome or Jerusalem and you’re walking, and as you’re going along every time you sin you have to pick up a stone, and you put it in your backpack. The whole journey gets to be super heavy. Doesn’t it? But if every so often along the way you’re able to dump that backpack off, you can start over light. I think it’s much more helpful to get to Jerusalem in the end.
Matthew: Before you go on to the seven things, and we’ll get back to them, but first question is do you think a man can continue to be engaged in pornography if he is at the same level or without…When he goes to Confession on a regular basis? So if you’re going to confession every week, is that going to be a thing that is going to help men just by itself?
Father Becker: Absolutely, oh absolutely. If you want to be an excellent athlete you’ve got to practice. If you’re going to be a football player you’ve got to practice football. If you want to be an excellent pianist you’ve got to practice it. If you want to be a virtuous man you have to practice virtue.
Part of virtue is humbly recognizing my sinfulness, lowering myself before the Lord, confessing it truly with courage. And receiving the Grace. Every time we receive the Grace from the sacrament it’s like the person lifting weights. There’s a strengthening of a muscle.
If we’re going to confession regularly facing ourselves, over time we will actually grow to hate the sin more and more, and to love the freedom more and more. The Grace that comes through the sacrament is something like an inoculation that beings to grow over time. The inoculation is growing and growing and our aversion to the sin is growing with it.
If I can live in the light…I said first people go to Confession, they go to one Church and they go behind the screen because they don’t want the priest to see them. Then it’s several months later that they might go again and maybe it’s to a different priest behind a different screen, because they don’t want the first priest to even know by the sound of their voice who they are.
It’s multiple priests behind screens and then finally there’s a day when a person says, “You know what? I’m going face‑to‑face and I’m going to own it. I’m going face‑to‑face and I’m going to the same priest and he’s going to see me and I’m owning this sin.” All right, that’s already a sign that the person is starting to hate the sin more than they love it, and that is necessary.
Now they’re going to this regular confessor and they’re confessing their sins and over time, and this confessor because it’s a sanctuary of love and mercy is encouraging them and is somewhat of a source of accountability, but the grace and the power of that sacrament is starting to liberate them from the chain.
The other things are necessary, too. I said daily prayer. You must have daily prayer. The light must be plugged in. Then the Confession, the sacraments, the Eucharist.
Thirdly, reading the scripture because the battle is in the mind. We have to have a good word that is going to do battle. The scripture is the two edged sword. It’s in the mind doing battle for us clearing up thoughts.
Fourthly, a man must live in the light also not with just in Confession, but somebody else has to know my struggles. Confession is awesome. It’s a bullseye. But is there some other man? Is there some other man? This is where the men’s groups come in perfect, but is there some other man who really knows? Maybe it’s a best friend, maybe it’s a brother in my family, maybe it’s even a co‑worker, somebody. A fraternal group of men would be optimal.
Then fifthly, I need to do some mortification. I need to fast and deny myself in other ways. The virtue of temperance transcends sexuality, and food, and sleep, and anything that is pleasurable, especially to the touch. That is what the virtue of temperance assists.
Matthew: It’s really, really interesting. When you look at those top three sins for men, they’re all dealt with issues of temperance and you know mortification.
Father Becker: Physicality and touch, absolutely. A person needs to do some mortification. If they can deny themselves their favorite food or desert, it will help them to deny themselves the sexual temptation. We can’t do it without Grace. We can’t do it on our own. We are totally dependent on God but we must cooperate with grace and sometimes we must say no to ourselves.
Some men do the heroic minute. As soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, bam, they jump out of bed, they kneel beside it and they give their day to God. They are not going to lounge in bed. That is a little act of self-mortification.
Sixthly, pray to the rosary. Sixthly, pray to the Rosary. You can’t look at the Blessed Virgin Mary in lust. She is so pure and affects with us such an impression. She assists us in every man in the pursuit of purity. I tell men here in the seminary, “Pray to the Rosary once a day.” Concentrate your lives to Mary.
The seventh thing is something that some men will need which is that some men will need counseling, because the pornography and acting out is also tied with other wounds that came in their youth.
For example, their mother was not attentive to them at all and they’re longing for certain affecting from the feminine. They need to go to counseling and learn about this. That’s is also where the Blessed Virgin Mary can help. Maybe there’s another disorder that comes through, a certain brokenness in their masculinity, they need counseling to help understand themselves and overcome. A seventh thing is some people need counseling.
But all in all, a grave sin in today’s culture for men is pornography. It’s harming marriages. It’s harming their freedom. A man who thinks he has license to do whatever he wants is not free. He’s enslaved. A license is not freedom, its slavery.
A man who is free is a man who has the power to do what is right. That’s a life of virtue. We need other men to help inculcate it. If a man pursues these seven things, over time he’s going to be free. He has to stay in the game. I tell people here, college students, my own seminaries, go to confession weekly, absolutely.
By the time I was finished at Saint Michaels, I was so happy and proud of the people. Not only did we go from confession of two to seven people on Saturday afternoon, but there were two priests hearing confession for an hour and a half before Saturday evening Mass, plus Tuesday evenings there was confessions by two priests. The people will come…
Matthew: How did that happen?
Father Becker: People need to their conscience needs to be open up in preaching of course. They need to see other witnesses. We can’t diminish the power of good example.
If they’re looking at men around them who are striving and then who may even talk to them on occasion about what’s going on and confess, “You know I’m working on this, I’m going to counsel with my wife, we’re trying to work on our relationship,” or “I need to know that work has been my whole life and I’ve got to pay more attention to my children.”
Or “You know what? I’ve struggled with this, I’ve struggled with alcohol abuse and pornography, and I’m really working on it.” Another man hears that, and he says, “You know what? It strikes me.” He says, “You know what? I’ve got my issues, too. I’m not alone. I’m not alone.”
The force of good example, good preaching, those…a Catholic culture, a number of things that are in the mix, but a priest should be in the confessional. Saint John Vianney was in the confessional 16 hours a day. The whole village of Ars was converted. Priests need to be in the confessional.
Matthew: Yeah, if you look at the average number of people in a parish and you look at the number of hours in many parishes that the Confession is open, there’s a supply…demand has met supply. [laughs] If you’re only going to be there for an hour, how many confessions can you hear?
Of course, this is also in the whole context of all the demands and challenges that priests face. One of the things, and Father, you’ve been quite gracious with your time with our movement called CatholicManNight here in the Twin Cities, which in essence, starts with an hour of adoration around a topic of Jesus Christ, time for Confession. Then there’s meal and discussion and engaging about something about our Lord’s life, be it one of his great virtues or some aspect. We’re coming to the Advent Season, so we’re talking about the divine child, Jesus Christ.
One of the wonderful things about that is the fact that you get between 60 and 100 men, let’s say, sitting down in Adoration together. During that time of adoration, men are lining up to go to Confession. When a man comes and sees 50 or 60 men in line for a Confession, it is absolutely…it’s had a remarkable effect on a number of people. We need to find more ways to gather men together just in that kind of group Confession, because it’s powerful, and it…
Father Becker: That’s an excellent idea. Can a father bring a son to confession? I had a marriage this past year where the son was coming alive in his faith, marrying this young lady, and he went to the in‑laws and the parents, his own parents and in‑laws, and said let’s all go to Confession together as they were approaching their wedding. I was like “Wow, that is so awesome.” The son was coming alive in his faith and was evangelizing parents, and the in‑laws, and saying, and they all did it. They all did it before the wedding, all together.
Matthew: I spoke with Curtis Martin recently, and he was talking about FOCUS, the Fellowship of Christian University Students and his vision. It’s not just about university students, because his…I can’t remember the number exactly, but he was saying 5, 10 years from now, or by 2020, there’s going to be 15,000 ‑‑ and I might have the number wrong ‑‑ of these people that have graduated and are now evangelizing within parishes and evangelizing their families. This is one of the great opportunities for young men in particular.
Father Becker: Yeah, it’s a movement I think we need to have men with a mission. They can come and receive, which is a typical feminine posture. It’s so important to receive before you give, but at the same time, I think having men with a mission, so Curtis Martin is sending men out to evangelize.
They’re having to raise money to do so, make a sacrificial commitment for two years on a campus. He’s got 275 missionaries right now around campuses around the United States. They’re all going to be in parishes soon, yes, but already they’re having such a great impact.
Men need to have some mission, and if there can be a physical element with it, because women bond with deep sharing, and men do, too. You can just play a softball game with men or put up a wall of a house, and you’ve bonded. There’s something very physical about men.
If we can have a mission, maybe even taking the kids out and sons out in the woods and teach him how to be a man, be part of it, we’re helping to raise funds for this youth group by doing this project. We’re doing service on a weekend by helping a man build a house who’s in a wheelchair, whatever it is. Some kind of physical element, some kind of mission, captured with our vision of the true unity of the bonds of fraternity and charity and the power of the spirit and the fruition that comes from that.
I love CatholicManNight. I salute it. The focus on Jesus Christ is awesome. Every month, there’s a focus on Jesus and some virtue or some attribute of his life. It’s kind of mystical. Each of them are growing in their relationship or knowledge of Jesus Christ. There is a leader in the Church who speaks, a bishop or a priest. The men come together. They have a meal together, which is awesome. We do love food.
Father Becker: Men usually have three feelings. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I’m angry, and we need to have more. We need to have more emotions, because we’ve got them. But the meal together is grand, and then having the men actually speak about it, ask questions and answer the questions.
I love that about CatholicManNight. I absolutely love it. You’re right. Seeing other men go to Confession, the force of good example, is powerful, is powerful. They line up in the dozens. It’s not just like one or two go. We have 50 folks going at CatholicManNight to Confession, and it’s growing. It’s an excellent movement. Outstanding.
Matthew: Father, you’ve been really generous with your time. Are there any parting thoughts before we wrap up here?
Father Becker: I’m grateful to you, Matthew. We need to have more documents, strategies, creativity on the evangelization, emangelization of men. You cited a number of examples that are doing well. I think priests and parishes would be really, greatly helped by some kind of document with practicals all put together, even kind of simple 50 pages or less. Here’s how to transform your parish by raising up holy men, so I’m looking forward to it.
Matthew: Amen. I’ve been speaking with Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, about how to draw men into the new evangelization. To learn more about the New Emangelization project, go to NewEmangelization.com.