Matthew James Christoff: Hello. My name is Matthew James Christoff. Welcome to the New Emangelization Project. The New Emangelization Project is a call to confront the Catholic man crisis and to respond with new ardor, expressions and methods to draw men into 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 am honored and blessed to be speaking with Gordy Demarais, founder and Executive Director of Saint Paul’s Outreach, an exuberant effort of the New Evangelization that actively invites college students to a life of Christian discipleship, in the fullness of the Catholic Church. Over the past 28 years, thousands of college students have been drawn into Jesus Christ and today thousands of those same Saint Paul’s Outreach alumni have moved out into active lives of faith, building parishes across the country.
Saint Paul’s Outreach has also founded Men on a Mission, a monthly breakfast that draws hundreds of men together for breakfast, prayer and to hear inspiring Catholic speakers. Gordy holds a Masters of Arts degree in theology from the Saint Paul’s Seminary and is an instructor in the Deaconate formation program in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. He is a leader and one of the co‑founders of the Community of Christ the Redeemer, an association of lay faithful in the archdiocese and is also a Board member of Net Ministries. To find more about Saint Paul’s Outreach, please see spoweb.org. Hello Gordy!
Gordy Demarais: Hello!
Matthew: Certainly Saint Paul’s Outreach has yielded great fruit over the almost three decades. Thousands of well formed alumni. But you also have your first alumni who has been ordained as a Bishop.
Gordy: Well, what a tremendous moment for the Saint Paul’s Outreach (SPO) and the Church! Certainly in SPO we are celebrating the ordination Bishop Andrew Cousins! I first met His Excellency when he was 20 years old. He had just finished his sophomore year at Benedictine College and came to live in an SPO household that summer. It is humbling for me to see a young man who has been impacted by our work to be called by God to serve the Church at this time as Bishop.
Matthew: And along the way, His Excellency has been very active in supporting the work of SPO after experiencing it.
Gordy: His Excellency tells the story of his experience living in that SPO household so many years ago. Prayer is central to our household life. The day begins with an hour set aside for prayer and devotion. The prayer involves singing some songs, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and a good amount of time for private meditation.
Bishop Cousins recalls that first experience of Morning Prayer. After ten minutes the he looked at his watch and says to himself, “What am I going to do for the next 45 minutes here?” And then, “Will I have to do this for the rest for the summer?” His Excellency says he learned how to pray that summer. He speaks also of being surrounded by other young men who were on fire for their faith, who love Jesus Christ, and we eager to give their lives for Him. The combination of seeing what it looks like to be a committed disciple of Jesus Christ and learning how to pray reawakened in him his vocational call, a call the Lord planted in him from birth. As the scriptures say, “I called you from the time you were knit together in my mother’s womb.” If you’ve met His Excellency’s parents, you’ll know that they’re instrumental in the unfolding of his vocational call. We were just glad that we had a role play along the way.
Later Bishop Cousins served as a missionary with SPO at the University of Saint Thomas before he entering the seminary. He has continued to be a strong presence in our organization through presiding at liturgies, teaching in our training programs, and serving on our board of directors. Recently the board elected him as our president. It is truly a blessing to have an alumnus who is now a bishop and serving as the chair of our board.
Matthew: He’s such a great blessing. As people are thinking about Saint Paul’s Outreach, it is very inspirational to have someone who has heard that call and then ultimately has become a bishop. That will draw hundreds of men to SPO, I would think, in the years to come.
Gordy: We’ve had many alumni who continue to serve the church in priesthood and religious life. Not surprisingly, in light of the crisis of vocations, I’m often asked, “What is your vocations program?” I say, “We didn’t set ourselves up as an organization whose primary aim is to promote priesthood and religious life.”
What we’ve done is foster an environment, a community, a context for facilitating deep life‑changing conversion. We teach young people how to pray and form them to become mature adult disciples of Jesus Christ, helping them grow in virtue. We speak often of the fundamental discipleship call “You must lose your life to find it.” The purpose of life is to imitate the Trinity by not living for ourselves but giving our lives away in worship of God and service of neighbor.
These are the ingredients for hearing God’s call, understanding what it means to live as a disciple in whatever call he has and providing the character formation to be able to respond with courage and generosity when the Lord calls.
When we focus on these things we create the seed bed for not just discerning priesthood and religious lives but for every vocational call – mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, lay people engaging the work place and becoming leaders in the Church and the culture. Our work is transforming individuals who are transforming the Church and the world.
Matthew: We almost need that reset given the way that so many of us have not been catechized as well as we need to be. Through the various New Evangelization initiatives in the Church, like Saint Paul’s Outreach, we’re hopefully building great momentum in catechizing many. Before we get in depth about Saint Paul’s Outreach, which should the focus of the conversation today, let’s start with the bigger picture of men’s evangelization.
Gordy, you’ve been at this since the early 80’s, starting yourself on a college campus. You’ve seen a lot of history, thinking deeply about these issues. We have a real challenge in the Church today because so many people are very casual about their faith, particularly Catholic men. How would you characterize the state of Catholic men in terms of their faith, in America, today?
Gordy: I think that the state of men in general, in our culture, is in crisis. That’s reflected and manifested, perhaps even magnified, within the Church. It’s a crisis.
Matthew: What are the things that tell you that? As you look at both the culture and the men in the Church, what’s the nature of the crisis, and how can you see it?
Gordy: God placed in men a desire for greatness, for impact, for significance, for a man’s life to really count for something. The way that that is manifested in Christ is by giving my life away in service of others. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to find his life must lose it.”
Pope John Paul II says, “Man finds his true self through realization through the gift of self.”
What’s typical of our culture, which John Paul II and Benedict had both identify as the culture of death is a perversion of the basic meaning of what a human person is. Rather than seeing my life as a gift to be given away in worship of God and service of my neighbor, it’s something that’s oriented towards me and my self‑fulfillment.
Men live their life and exercise their God‑given character and gift as a man for self‑serving purposes. That’s really what’s at the crux of the problem. Rather than living for greatness, I live for ‘me.’
Matthew: It’s a bit of the American idea to be your own man. Do your own thing. Historically, within America, there was this, the call to greatness in some way. Building something, moving out, doing something. Now, even that secular call to greatness, in a lot of ways, that’s not even important.
Gordy: That’s right. What’s important is my success, my pleasure, using other people for my advancement rather than me living my life in service of the greater society of the Church, of my family.
Men are not engaging their proper and God‑given role. The consequences of it are far‑reaching, most notably in the unraveling of family life. God intends that there be a mother and a father. The father has this significant role in the formation of his children, both his sons and his daughters, but in a particular way in the formation of his sons. If the father is not present and not engaged, we are producing passive, insecure, self‑indulgent, self‑centered men. That of course has ramifications in the Church and in the work place as well.
Matthew: Dr. Christian Smith has done a lot of research in this area published in his book, Souls in Transition. The number one thing that affects the faith of both young men and young women is the faith of the father. He has influence on both of them.
We’ve lamented a little bit about the void of really solid research on Catholic men before we started recording this, I looked into the Gallup Pol data, and if you dig in far enough, you can actually get breakouts for men versus women. What you find is that half of men don’t even believe it’s possible to have a personal relationship with God, which I found astounding.
More than half of the men don’t feel comfortable or even confident in any way of being able to articulate their faith to their children. Eight out of 10 men say, “How a person lives is much more important than being a Catholic.”
From a standpoint of what’s happened to youth, it has had a huge impact from that level of passion that young people have for the faith. If you look 20, 25 years ago, 60 percent of young people said they’d consider leaving the Catholic faith. Catholic youth would consider leaving the faith. Today, it’s 82 percent. More than eight out of 10 young Catholics in their 18 to 29 year old range say, “Yeah, of course, I might consider leaving the faith.”
This traces back to the role of fathers and faith, right?
Gordy: It certainly does. Some of the statistical evidence that I’ve found is that Catholic “Millennials”, those between the ages of 18 and 25, only 10 percent, are attending regular Sunday Mass. That is a crisis.
There is some good news, a small silver lining in that that 10 percent seems to be more committed and dedicated and faithful than, say in the past. But the sheer numbers of young men and young women who are leaving the Church is a crisis. It really is a crisis. The foundations of our Church and social life are crumbling and I fear this will be exposed in the near future.
I think committed Catholic people really do need to wake up. Just because we wander into suburban parish and find it full on a Sunday morning doesn’t mean that all is good. It’s good thing that church is full, but there are a lot more people not in the Church who should be at the Church. And of those attending Church only are small percentage are faithful, generous, committed, and serving.
To be a committed Catholic Christian in our culture today is going to cost something. It’s going to cost even more in the future. If that faith is not rooted in a deep profound conversion, if it’s not deeply founded in this encounter with and this relationship with Jesus Christ, if people aren’t help to become mature Christian personalities, if committed Catholic people are not binding themselves together with others in community, people are not going to stand against the ever increasing persecution, whatever form that takes.
Matthew: Have you read Philip Trower, Truth and Turmoil, he wrote this history…
Gordy: I haven’t but perhaps I should.
Matthew: It’s very interesting. His point is, it really looks in like 1968-69 and Vatican II caused this tsunami of lukewarmness and clergy revolt, and people are saying, “Oh, my gosh, it was 1968-69.” Trower says it goes back much farther than that. The foundation had been crumbling for a long time and had been patched together. Just because parishes were filled full, didn’t mean anything.
We’ve seen this erosion, I believe it’s a clarion call too. We have to think not just conceptually about a New Evangelization. We have got to be ready and willing to dig in at the grass roots level and start to do it.
We talk about the dark side, but I always go back to think about St. Paul, because what wouldn’t he have given to have buildings built all over a country and have all these people that have baptized and waiting to be reconverted. We need to think more boldly.
Gordy: Yes, we do. There has been a lot of press these days about Pope Francis. Popular media is proposing that he wants to take the Church in a new direction. Some contrast Pope Benedict with Pope Francis. They say that Pope Benedict envisioned a small more purified Church while Pope Francis calls us to be a radically missionary Church. We need to “get of the Church pews,” he says, and “go to the margins. We need to be on mission and cease being a sick self-referential reality as Church.
These in fact are not opposing visions of Church. They are two sides of the same coin. We need a committed, faithful, holy disciples living in community. But it can’t be an inward focusing community. It needs to be, in Francis’s words, “a missionary community of disciples”, a outward focusing community of disciples on mission that’s.
Matthew: This is Sherry Waddell, who you may have heard of intentional discipleship. She is saying the same things, echoing what our popes are saying. A lot of people get intimidated, because they think, “I got to go out on a street corner and drag some person that’s a militant atheist to Mass. I just can’t do that.”
The answer is, we have this community of people who are interested in the church. They have claim membership, but they’re not on fire. It’s almost like these circles of people. We start with our core, and draw some more people in, and we light them on fire, and we go from seven percent that are really super committed to 15. You’ve proved that with St. Paul Outreach. That idea works.
Gordy: We’ve just had this marvelous experiment in Kansas City, that I was discussing with you about beforehand. We are going outside the normal parameters of the Catholic circles, and relationally engaging students at a community college. Many of these students are atheists, agnostics, whose lives are manifesting serious sin and departure from basic Christian morality.
I think we need some courage. I don’t want to let anybody off the hook, and especially don’t want to let men off the hook. I think that the Lord is opening up opportunities for us to be able to share our faith in circumstances that we normally wouldn’t think about it. Often miss opportunities becasue lack the courage and the faith to be able to do that.
Matthew: I was talking to the more timid among us, who just need an impetus to do something as opposed to that.
That evangelization, out in the public square, of people that are not in the faith, is very powerful and so needed. You look at the erosion of the Church, and you look at the erosion of society in general. If what we believe is true, about both Natural Law and about what Christ reveals to us about the nature of humanity, that separation from Him is causing agony.
If we don’t go out and do that, we’re not living up to what Christ tells us. And there’s fertile ground.
Gordy: I think the call to the New Evangelization is a challenge for us to really think in new ways about how to address this crisis, and how to reach people. The newness of the evangelization is not the newness of the Gospel.
Matthew: Right. Same Gospel.
Gordy: Same gospel, but, as Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, from Second Vatican Council says is that “the Church is always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times” and asking the questions that are emerging from that generation, and to figure out how to respond with the never‑changing truth of the Gospel in a way that engages those particular questions, those circumstances, of that current age.
Cardinal Ratzinger gave and excellent address on the New Evangelization to a group of catechist in 2005. He said, “The New Evangelization is showing people the path to life, or the way to live.”
He said that the permanent evangelization of the Church is not reaching people today. The permanent evangelization of the Church is found in the celebration of the Eucharist which is the re‑presentation of the saving work of God in Jesus Christ on the cross, made present for us, and that we enter into in the liturgy.
I think we need an evangelistic approach and strategy that isn’t simply trying to get people back to Church. Because there’s a reason why people left the Church. I was working with one perish on an evangelization project. They sent people out door‑to‑door to knock on doors, and engage people in conversation about faith and the Church.
I asked, “What are we going to do after we talk to people?”
He replied, “Well we are going to invite them to come to Mass next Sunday.”
I said, “That’s a good thing, but if you invite them to come to Mass, and they walk into the Church, and they haven’t been for years, and they have no relationship or personal contact, they’re likely not going to come back again.”
This of course requires not just a ‘program’ but an investment of my life and my time in another. We need more than programs – we need person-to-person encounters. We need to extend ourselves in relationship to another person, and invite them into my life.
Certainly, if my life is being lived in Christ, and in the Church, then part of my life is the life of the Church, but there’s a lot of my life that isn’t taking place in the Church. It’s taking place at the dinner table, or it’s taking place the racquetball court, or the park.
This is a strategy that we’ve employed on college campuses. Most of these kids aren’t showing up at the campus ministry office, knocking on doors, saying, “Help me grow in my faith.”
Matthew: Step back and just give the summary of St. Paul’s Outreach, to give this context. Although we’re going to link in the information here, I think it would be good to hear from you, what it is, a little background on it, and exactly how it works, and then how you evangelize.
Gordy: I like to talk about what SPO has become in terms of my own experience. I’m not a young man anymore, but I was at one point. Grew up in a good, strong Catholic family and was oldest of seven kinds. I have had 16 years of Catholic education. However I lost my faith in high school.
I wandered far from God. I stopped going to church. I was not living out the 10 Commandments in my daily life. I had a plan for my life that didn’t include God at all in the picture except perhaps as an afterthought. I mean, if you pressed me, “Do you believe in God?” I would have said, “I probably believe in God.”
As we all eventually do in lives lived apart from God, I reached a kind of low point.
Matthew: This was high school, or college?
Gordy: I just had graduated from high school.
One of my classmates reached out to me and befriended me. In our friendship he began to share about his own faith in Jesus Christ, and I was hungry. . It was that relationship, and the truth being spoken and witnessed to in that relationship, that changed the whole of my life.
I went on to college, and had signed up to live in the party dorm because that’s were I was at at the time. But now I had this newly‑found faith. I thought, “Well, God’s sending me there on a mission.”
That first year was really a struggle. There were opportunities for me to share my faith, but there were also circumstances where I was being drawn back into my old life. I realized I needed support and formation.
I think those two experiences, the experience of somebody personally engaging me in a relationship, sharing with me about Jesus Christ, helping that faith come alive in my own life, and then trying to live that life in a college campus dorm, planted the seeds for our approach to mission as it developed in SPO a few years later.
SPO’s method and strategy is to build communities of faith in the midst of campus culture. Each year we train young people to be missionaries in the New Evangelization on college campuses. Some of these are full‑time missionaries who give a couple years of service after graduating college. Some our student missionaries who form a ‘core’ on campus and reach out to their peers. These missionaries form ‘communities of faith’ on college campuses. They live the Christian life together, recreating, and socializing, and partying, and studying. They’re outward focusing. They engage students in a relationship, and invite students into this life that they’re sharing.
We lead students through a four‑fold process. The first stage we call REACH. To reach them we need to go to them. Allot of this happens right at the beginning of the freshmen year. During Freshmen orientation we have what we call CRUSH, which is Catholic Rush Week, on some of the big, secular campuses where we serve.
Parties, and activities, and hog roasts, and corn hole tournaments, college activity fairs, these are all ways that we engage students.
Then we invite them to the next stage of our process, which is the CALL to Conversion. Many of them have been raised Catholic, but have never made that adult faith decision. That act of faith that my parents and godparents made when I was a baby, I need to make now, as an adult.
And this faith, not just in the sense of intellectual assent. The biblical understanding of the word “faith” has this notion of commitment, surrender, entrusting. It has a relational orientation. It has at its foundation entrusting myself to God in Jesus Christ. Students are called to conversion by hearing the basic gospel message and responding to it with genuine repentance and faith.
We see a model for this in the second chapter of acts. On the feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles. Peter stands up and preaches the gospel and people are cut to the heart. They say, “What should we do?” Peter replies, “Repent, and believe, and be baptized.” This is faith and repentance with involves turning away from those things that are incompatible with this new relationship in Christ, in repentance.
Then, of course, chapter ends by describing the building up of the believers into the Christian community. The next part of our process is FORMING them to maturity. Formation has, you mentioned it earlier, catechesis. It has a teaching or instructional element to it, but it’s more than that. Pope Paul VI says that, “The great challenge for the church is to overcome the separation that exists between faith and daily life.”
Faith has to do with intellectual understanding but it also has, largely, to do with how I live my daily life. How do I conduct myself as a student, or an employee. How do I treat my employees. How do I discern my vocation. How do I deal with my sexuality. How do I manage my time. How do I serve. How do I love my wife. This formation is both understanding the faith, and learning how to live that faith.
Our process then comes full circle. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical letter “On Evangelization in the Modern World,” states, “The process of evangelization is only complete when one is themselves an evangelizer.” That’s the fourth part of our process, with is SEND. Reach, Call, Form, and Send, all within the context of these communities of faith on campus.
Matthew: With that context, can you spend some time talking about, specifically, young men. What you’re seeing with young men on campus. The nature of the evangelization process with young men, how it might be different or the same for women. The challenges, and maybe the yield. How effective are you at reaching young men?
Gordy: Since we began, we have realized that men and women are different. Consequently how you reach men and how you reach women is different. In fact, you need a distinctive strategy for reaching men and for reaching women. You just can’t have a strategy for reaching college students.
If you simply put forward a spiritual program on a college campus without any deliberate intention about how you are going to reach men, you are going to end up with a program that’s going to have 75 percent women in it and the men typically who might be a part of that program are going to be not potential leaders.
If you’re not very deliberate about how you’re reaching men, you’re not going to be able to build a healthy, strong, effective program on a college campus.
Matthew: I think there’s a big lesson from that, just in terms of thinking about the Church. We have an undifferentiated strategy, by and large, within the Church, and that’s exactly what we see in the pews. The people that are the regular mass attenders, it’s 60/40, 60% women, 40% men. If you took away the young men who are being brought along, maybe without their full consent, it’s probably down at 25 percent.
Gordy: In the Catholic Church, understanding that, as a part of Revelation, in the person of Christ, only men can be priests, I think sometimes the Church has overcompensated for the male only priesthood by profiling of women often to the exclusion of lay men. A man walks into a church and he sees a priest, and he sees women involved on the altar, and in service.
Gordy: And this isn’t just in the liturgy, itself, but also in many of the programs that are run in the Church. It’s mostly women who are leading faith formation programs, religious education, and other activities in the Church. What does a man think? He thinks either, “I’m going to be a priest,” or, “there is no place for me in the Church.”
Matthew: You can find little glimmers of research here and there. Notre Dame did a study on this exact thing. 80 percent of women were basically doing the things in the parish. Very explicitly young men see that and go, “This is not something that men do.” Being active and involved in the Church is not something we do. 99 out of 100 young men, or maybe more, are saying, “I’m not going to be a priest, so I’m going to opt out. I’ll do my time, I’ll get through it.”
Gordy: I think there’s a wrong kind of notion of equality or egalitarianism, that wants to flattens out any distinction or differences between men and women, and I think the Church is affected by that.
Matthew: How much do you ‑ just to stray for a second ‑ how much of it do you think is just in reaction to the pervasive culture that it wants to be egalitarian, and specifically attacks the Church because we don’t have ordained women, and so the church compensates, to a certain degree, by saying, “Look, we’re going to soft‑pedal this man thing, because if we don’t soft‑pedal it, then we’re going to have more trouble?”
Gordy: I think that’s part of it. I think another part of it is we have lost any sense of the complementary of men and women within our culture. The result is weak men.
Gordy: Some of that goes back to the whole feminist movement, which had some legitimate concerns in its origin, but also went the direction of eradicating anything that would sniff of any differentiation between men and women.
Matthew: I think one of the things where you always go wrong is when you don’t have balance. Even in this New Emangelization idea, this is not in anyway saying we shouldn’t evangelize women, but we have to recognize, like you’re saying, that they’re distinct.
Tell me about how you reached the conclusion of the fact that they require a distinctive approach. What’s the insight that you had that told you that was true? Then, ultimately, we can get into how that’s distinctive. What’s distinctive for young men and women.
Gordy: How did we arrive at that? That’s a great question. I’m not sure I’ve thought about that. I was a guy’s guy. When I was a young man I was involved in sports and other competitive ‘manly’ things. The normal, natural, manly ambitions to leadership and aggressiveness were part of who I was, so when I started to build a team, I would attract these kinds of men. We would start to do things, like play football together, and we would find that when we played there was a certain kind of manly competitiveness, that was good and healthy, and other men were attracted to that. But when you introduced women into the game, it took on a different tone. It’s good to do some athletic things in mixed groups, but we should realize that competing and recreating in a mixed sex group is different than when just the men get together to play football or Ultimate Frisbee or go at it on a racquetball court.
What we found was that when you brought together good, strong, Godly men and put them into these normal, natural men’s environments, that that was attractive to other men. They didn’t come for the prayer meeting or the Mass because you invited them for the first time, they came because you invited them to play with some guys in a football game.
We also established a household program where students live together. They live together and have a pattern of prayer, and share meals together and have centers of hospitality. You’re not going to have men and women living together in a house.
Gordy: What we experienced was men living together and men experiencing, in this intentional community, a certain depth of relationships with one another as brothers. We began to see the good fruit that came out of that.
I think that it was some of this experience that caused us to begin to think more deliberately about our strategy for outreach. Also the fact that you’re trying to build a balanced group and you start to do things. If the only things that you’re doing are explicitly spiritual things that are in mixed groups, you end up with this imbalance that we talked about earlier.
Matthew: Men won’t, men don’t…They act very different, not only in a sporting event, but when you start talking about spiritual things, they act very different when they’re around women. They’re less likely to talk. They’re not going to share as much. Perhaps we’re insecure, or whatever, but we don’t want to look weak.
I’m curious about the physical aspect of the thing you’re talking about. I’ve had some fun talking to a bunch of different people, including a young man named Jared Zimmerer, who has built, I think his mission work is called Strength of the Kingdom. He’s down in Texas. It’s very focused on the physical aspect of men. The hypothesis is that men, by and large, have become sedentary. When they’re sedentary, and they aren’t using their physical body, in general, but then, specifically, in some way that somehow is related to faith, they’re less likely to be involved.
This physical aspect of the male, masculinity, is something that is core to drawing men to the Church. Does that sound right?
Gordy: Yes, I think that’s true. Obviously, men are physically different than women. Of course, there’s always the spectrum in generalities.
Gordy: I think this is all part of God’s plan, and God’s design for the complementary between men and women. I think there is this innate competitiveness and aggressiveness in a man as a part of the way that God made him. The problem is, though, that it can get misdirected.
I think the temptation is to look and say, “Well, this aggressiveness in men is an unhealthy thing and we need to get rid of it.” I don’t think that’s the Christian view. I don’t think that’s God’s purpose and design. I think what we need to do is engage that innate aggressiveness in men and teach them why God gave that to them, channel that aggressiveness to the glory of God and in service of others.
Matthew: We’re trying to do the exact opposite in our culture, right?
It’s tamped down, anything that looks like aggressiveness, unless you’re on the NFL or pro hockey. You’re ADHD, there’s just an overwhelming number of young men that are diagnosed with that and trying to suppress that natural thing, as opposed to direct it in the right direction.
Gordy: In our formation program we create men-specific environments across the board, from recreation and sports and competition to all of our faith sharing groups, our accountability groups, are single sex groups. Our households are single sex groups. We even do some of our formation teaching and addressing men and women in the separate context.
We talk to men about manly Christian character, what it means to be a man. We address things like aggressiveness and channeling that aggressiveness to fighting to keep a personal prayer time and resisting self‑indulgence and sloth and complacency.
Matthew: The whole way you’re communicating, then, is this idea of challenge or competitiveness, and it’s different than women, the terms of how you…
Gordy: Yes. Years ago we put together a men’s retreat and women’s retreat. The men’s decided on the theme of “Soldiers for Christ”. The women’s theme was “Blessed and Broken and Given”, or something like that. Here you see a difference expressed.
Matthew: This is a topic that is really interesting. In the discussions I’ve had so far, it hasn’t really come up. This whole idea of language and the way you’re positioning things, you started to talk a little bit about it. Can you say some more? When you’re communicating to men, these are the kinds of words you’re going to use, these are the kinds of themes that you use.
Gordy: Sure. I talked a bit about aggressiveness and tapping into the innate aggressiveness that’s in a man. You see that in a little boy, when they rip off dolls heads, shoot guns, and build castles.
Gordy: We need to teach men o channel that aggressiveness to overcoming sin and fighting lust, in pornography, and the whole sexual area. Responsibility is another fundamental character quality in a man. The strength that I’ve been given as a man, God’s given it to me that I might care well for others and take care of others and lead others.
There’s been a lot of conversation in the Church around the headship of a man in family. I generally don’t use that terminology. I would say that God has given a man a role in his family of leadership, along with his wife, in partnership and in a complementary way. It all comes back to this servant leadership, to lay down one’s life.
When someone comes to me and says, “What does it look like for a man in a marriage to be leading his family,” I think here’s where you start. First of all, you’re present.
Matthew: Right. Show up.
Gordy: Show up. [laughs]
Gordy: Second of all, when you show up, you’re engaged. If you can just keep men being present to their family, and when they’re present, taking initiative you go along ways in helping men taking a proper role of leadership in the family. If you come into my home, and there’s a beautiful complementary between my wife and I. I lead our dinner conversation. She sits at one side, I sit at the other side, but I take the initiative, because it gets me engaged with my children. When we have family devotions and prayer where I’m present, I lead those times. That’s not to say my wife can’t lead prayer. She leads a whole lot more prayer in the house when I’m not around than when I’m around them. But leading prayer when I am around serves my wife and engages me with my children.
Matthew: We have just the exact same experience in our family. It has nothing to do with the holiness of our wives, or my wife. She’s a very holy, loving person, but we are complementary. It plays off our natural gifts.
Someone recently mentioned to me this really interesting thing I hadn’t thought of. For men, there’s this three step process of maturation. It’s different than women. A young girl is bonded to her mother. She doesn’t have to go anywhere to figure out her identity. She’s with her mother and she takes on that feminine role. I don’t mean feminine in a soft and fluffy way, but just the natural feminine role.
A young man has to go out and he has to move away and separate some way from his mother. They have all these rites of passages that are inherent in all cultures, except our own, of course. Then you return after that testing or separation as a protector, as one who’s going to sacrifice for the family.
The idea of Christ actually doing that, the Trinity, He separates, He comes to earth. The first thing He does is go out in the desert after He’s baptized. He battles Satan. Then he comes back to bring His bride to Heaven. This idea of a very different kind of spiritual quest that a man’s got to go on. I think it’s…
Gordy: I was reminded as you were speaking of this memorable moment in our family history. We had some guinea pigs, and the kids were in charge of taking care of the guinea pigs. We were gone one day. It got cold and they were outside. We came back, and four of them had died because they hadn’t been fed for four days, or something like this.
The kids were probably, the oldest was probably 10 or 12 at that point. They’re all crying because the guinea pigs had died. To watch the way my wife and I responded to that situation, it was sort of a microcosm of this complementarity. I said, “Well, you know what? Your actions and your irresponsibility has consequence here. Peter, you go get the shovel, and you clean this up, and you take care of this.”
They’re crying and sobbing and I say. “We can just thank God that the consequences here are small and you’re learning something from this situation, because you’re going to be entrusted with responsibility of greater nature later on, and the consequences are going to be more significant when you’re negligent in that responsibility, so here’s a learning moment.”
My wife, on the other hand, was the mercy giver in that situation. She was comforting them and she was holding them. I thought, this is the way God designed it, in terms of the formation of our children, to respond correctly to this situation.
Matthew: I think about it and I go, I wish you would have been around coaching me when my kids were growing up. Although, they’ve all turned out fine. I’m being a little facetious. When you don’t have a man in the house, they’re getting more of that nurturing, and it’s no wonder that we have so many young men coming from broken families or single parent households that have been mothered, that are designed that way. They don’t get that other side of it, so of course, they have delayed adolescence, or extended adolescence. That’s interesting.
Gordy: I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but a boy, at a certain point, needs to leave his mother, separate from his mother and find his father and discover his distinctive masculine identity, and at a certain point, he needs to disengage from his father to discover himself as his own person. I’ve witnessed that process in our own family.
It’s really important. If that doesn’t happen, a man can struggle to discover his manhood. A man can struggle with his identity in a fundamental way. We are witnessing widespread problems of deeply rooted insecurity in young men these days, and an excessive fear that they operate under and this compulsion, or this drive to be seeking out approval, because it’s been lacking, in terms of their own formation.
These are the kinds of things that when we’re dealing with young men that we need to address and help them understand, and then help them grow out of that. Thank God that He is a Father. We all are lacking, in terms of our experience of our own fatherhood, because all of our fathers are imperfect.
Gordy: My dad died at the age of 43, when I was 15. During some very key years of my life, I did not have my father present. Thank God that our God is Father, and He’s a perfect Father and that as we get men engaged with their heavenly Father that whatever has been lacking in terms of their own formation as a man through the sin and the weakness or absence of their own father they can find in relationship with Him
Matthew: It’s a very deliberate choice by God to Incarnate as a male, as Jesus Christ. Obviously, everything is on purpose, but He could have gone any way He wanted, right? He chose to come as a man.
It’s that lack of a model, and you’ve talked about this number of times, that lack of a model, it’s so many men are missing, but the idea…I love the idea that’s saying, “Look, it’s never too late.” We are the perfect model in our Lord and to God as a father.
Maybe turn back to some more of the specifics, the kinds of competitive things you are doing with the young men on campus and the way that you challenge them…We talked about competitive responsibility, challenging them. Are there some other themes…?
Gordy: Courage, boldness. One key passage in working with young men is Paul’s address to Timothy. From II Timothy 1:6, “I remind you to fan in the flame the gift of the spirit that was given when my hands were laid upon you. God did not give us the spirit of timidity, but one of power and love and self‑control.”
We use that a lot with young men, because so many young men are timid. They’re timid in a natural way. This certainly impacts, if you don’t address it, their willingness to be bold in the proclamation of the gospel.
Matthew: When you say “timid in a natural way”, are you referring more to culture has made them timid or…Men aren’t naturally timid, are they?
Gordy: A lot of young men are timid, are fearful. They experience social fear, and an inordinate desire for approval and respect…Men strive to overcome that by trying to make a lot of money or advancing their career. Although, we are experiencing in an increasing degree, this maybe it was Christian Smith, is that who you referenced earlier?
Gordy: Speaks of this phenomenon of a delayed adolescence, where more and more young men are wandering into their late 20’s, really being indecisive about their lives and not taking charge of their life and not moving ahead in career or moving ahead in vocation, because they are sort of paralyzed in this fear.
Matthew: It’s competency too, right? We’re seeing men backing out of higher education, right? Shifting which I’m sure is affecting the work you do, but I love the idea of…One hook for young men is, there’s lot of things that you’ll never be confident in, or you might have to do a lot of things to be confident. Here’s one thing, very specifically, that you can grow in confidence and no matter what…
Gordy: We use the phrase when working with young men that “True manliness is Christ-likeness, but not the meek and mild and soft Jesus that often gets portrayed.
Matthew: Like a woman with a beard.
Gordy: A woman with a beard. It is true. We’re all different, we’ve all been given different gifts and talents. We all have different experiences. We have no control over that. What we do have control over is character. We need to help a man realize the call fundamentally to grow in virtue or to grow in character is something that we can all do and become the kind of man, each of us, that God can use.
I have often used the phrase that “God can use more significantly or powerfully a man of character than He can use a man of tremendous giftedness and small character.”
Matthew: Is there something specific you draw distinction between men and women when you’re having that during the formation period, or even at the call? It sounds to me the call is a bit different but maybe through the steps forming and then ultimately discipleship part, the distinctions that you have between men and women during those phases.
Gordy: A lot of the things that I’ve been talking about for the last 50 minutes, we wouldn’t talk about in a mixed session. We have separate sessions for some of our formation. These aren’t the issues that women are dealing with at least in the same kind of way. What young women deal with is this image that the culture proposes in terms of their external, physical beauty in all of that. That’s their struggle.
Matthew: All the content is pretty different. Ultimately…
Gordy: Not all of it. When it comes to things like manly Christian character, womanly Christian character, manly Christian identity, women identity, sexuality, these are the kinds of things that we teach and model largely separate.
Matthew: Can you talk a little bit about the sexuality with the young men today? Challenges?
Gordy: By the age of 20, the percentage of young men who’ve been exposed to hardcore pornography is virtually 100 percent. This is another crisis. Young men are in bondage. It’s interesting. Historically, we’ve dealt with the issue of purity in sexuality more on the formation side of things, but over the last couple of years, we’ve tried a different tact, and we’re actually going after sexuality on the front and evangelistic side of things.
As we’re engaging men in relationship initially, we invite them into a program that we’ve put together, a six‑week program. We ask them to make a six‑week commitment. The program is oriented towards addressing this whole area of the bondage, really, the slavery that men are in when it comes sin and particularly sexual sin.
They know it, and they want to be freed. They’re involved with pornography and other sorts of sexual immorality but they know that there’s something wrong. Even if they don’t have a relationship yet with Jesus Christ, even if faith isn’t yet important, they know, just on a human level, what’s going on here is damaging to me and unhealthy.
Matthew: I’ve said this several times. We always need to be looking at how Christ see this and how we can respond, but it’s almost like Satan has overplayed his hand with pornography, because greed and pride and envy and all these…”Maybe I’m a little of that, I’m a little of that.” Every man knows, when he’s looked at pornography and all the things like hiding it, shame about it, lack of confidence and control, all of negative things that go along with it. It’s very clear.
To date, although it’s more and more mainstream, it’s still stigmatized. Nobody wants to admit although they’ll admit it on surveys. Huge numbers of men are doing this all the time.
Gordy: Most men have been exposed to pornography at a pretty early age . Most young men today have very little formation at all when it comes to sexuality and how to relate to women. Even the idea of any kind of chastity before marriage is lost on young men today. This is a major area of conversion in young men’s life. In terms of helping them understand, first of all, the truth of God’s ways in the whole area of sexuality and then to help men embrace that truth in terms of pornography, in terms of their struggles with masturbation, in terms of their orientation towards dating/courtship. So part of our formation process is we dig significantly into that whole area.
We connect vocation, call, with sexuality, with pornography, with discernment of state in life with how we build a healthy environment of young men and women, so we do things separate. But when the men and women get together, we need to teach them to have an orientation other than, “This woman is a potential wife for me, that this is my sister in Christ. I need to treat her in that kind of way and not objectify her.”
Matthew: Right, and everything tells us to objectify everything. When you were saying that, I was just really struck by this, that recognition that they know something’s wrong when they’re doing this, right? They try to hide it and all that, but they all inside, the majority of men, even if they had a broken family, aspire to a family. They aspire to a woman that they can draw closer to and have a marriage at some point.
They may be thinking, “It’s when I’m in my late thirties,” but that idea of saying, look, ultimately if you wish to have that kind of life, this thing that’s broken in you has to get fixed.
Gordy: Part of the way it gets fixed is, and this goes back to because so many men don’t have a father, they haven’t actually learned how to relate to another man to get the kind of support, help, and counsel that they need.
So young men are inclined, not just in terms of trying to deal with their sexual desires and temptations towards sexual sin, but even in terms of the emotional relationships that they’re inclined to have with women. They need to be broken out of that orientation and taught how to relate to men for that set of needs in their life.
Matthew: So they’re more apt to turn to women for an emotional need that should be fulfilled with a man?
Gordy: Right. They’re inclined to turn to a woman when they’re hurting or they’re in crisis. What they end up getting is this emotional affirmation, comfort, and “Oh, it’s all right.” Then it gets really complicated sexually because we can’t separate these things. We’re men and women, and you can’t separate an emotional bond and a spiritual bond from a physical attraction and a physical bond.
So we have to teach men that there is a certain kind of discretion that’s appropriate in your relationships with women in terms of how you reveal your life or how you invite them to reveal your life. Some of those things are really only appropriate in the context of a courtship situation. I mean women can be my friends, and they should be my friends. But the way they’re my friends is different than the way my brothers are my friends. That’s clear when you get to be married, right?
Gordy: You think about the kinds of relationships with women that begin to compromise the integrity of your relationship with your wife. Right? It isn’t physical. It’s a certain kind of sharing, a certain kind of spending time together, a certain kind of intimacy. There’s a principle there that applies whether you’re married or not to a young man.
Matthew: They don’t know those boundaries.
Gordy: They don’t know those boundaries, so this is one of the things that we work with our young men and women on, also, is a process of their formation and try to build them into iron sharpens iron. It’s only a man who can teach a man how to be a man. To begin to open my life up to another man or a set of men in a men’s group is pretty significant in terms of this healing and health, growth, identity that we’re calling young men into in Christ.
Matthew: I came in here thinking there were some distinctions. They’re based on the fundamental idea and character of the differences between men and women. We’ve stepped back from the college campus then. Do you think these same issues are reflected in more mature men today?
Gordy: Oh, certainly. Absolutely, absolutely.
Matthew: They have the exact same kinds of issues?
Gordy: Yes. The fact that, I don’t even know what the percentage is right now, 60 percent of marriages end in divorce? Then how many of the rest of those other marriages are a peaceful coexistence or not so peaceful… [laughs]
Matthew: As opposed to strong, intimate partnerships?
Gordy: Yeah, so this crisis of manhood gets magnified if it’s not dealt with in the home or in those formative years between 18 and 29. Regularly we hear news of some kind of scandal associated with a man not having learned how to be a man, to control himself, and to live for others.
Matthew: Yeah. Well, before we close here are there any parting thoughts, things that we haven’t talked about that you think would be helpful to mention? Or perhaps if you think about the short list of principles that you would suggest to guide A New Emangelization? These are the kinds of things you’d better make sure that you include in your program, whatever that program might be?
Gordy: In anticipation of you coming, I was writing on a sheet of paper what I thought were the key things if you were thinking about a men’s evangelization and formation you want to keep in mind. The first thing I thought about was conversion. If there’s not a foundation of men being called to this personal encounter in relationship with Jesus Christ, it’s really hard to go much further from there.
Second is formation in character. This is a summary of things we’ve been talking about, but a man needs to embrace the call to character. That’s fundamental virtue and character, but also understanding distinctively a kind of manly expression to that fundamental virtue and character.
The third thing I would put on this list is that we need to help men in terms of their identity, understand who they are as a man in Christ, and what the meaning of their life is for, and not for myself, but it’s a gift to be lived in communion with God and with others.
The fourth thing I listed was fraternity, that if our evangelization project with men is going to be effective, we need to be building distinctive men’s environments. We need to be building men into the right kind of strong and committed relationships with other men, in small group situations and large group situations.
The next thing I listed was leadership, that men want to lead. They want a mission. Two women can focus on each other in their relationship. Men’s relationships are not face‑to‑face but side‑by‑side, embracing together some kind of common call, some kind of common mission.
We need to be providing places, not just for men to be fed, but for men to be called forth in leadership and in mission. If there’s not a place to lead, to exercise my God given call to responsibility, to care for others, if there’s not a mission that I’m called to give my life to, men are going to find that some other way, some other place, in the context of their life.
Those were the kind of key words that I thought of in terms of summarizing these points.
Matthew: That’s a terrific list. Boy, there is just so much that you have talked about today, that I need to chew on, and I think people that listen to this will get a lot of nourishment from.
Gordy: Well, I just want to complement you and encourage you in this important work. We need this kind of thing, and we need this kind of thing multiplied over, and over, and over again today. Keep up the good work. I can tell that God is with you, and that what you’re doing, you’re doing in response to His call for you in this mission.
Matthew: Well, that’s a blessing for you to say that. Of course, I think both of us would say that it’s God working in us. I listen to your story of conversion, and I have many similar, being off the path. God has a way of calling us back, so praise our Lord Jesus Christ!
Today, I’ve been speaking with Gordy Demarias, Founder and Executive Director of Saint Paul’s Outreach and Men on a Mission, to find out more about Saint Paul’s Outreach.
By the way, I’d like to just make sure I also give my strong endorsement for what Gordy does. My wife and I were both sponsors of missionaries for Saint Paul’s Outreach, as well as contributing to Saint Paul’s Outreach.
I would encourage any person and any man who’s concerned about the future of the Church and society, and want to see very effective and efficient use of resources to evangelize young people with long lasting impact, they should turn to Saint Paul’s Outreach and support this important mission financially.
Please do that by going to spoweb.org.
My name is Matthew James Christoff, and you can learn more about the New Emangelization Project at NewEmangelization.com.