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 to 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 Jason Craig, Director of Training and Program Development at Fraternus, a parish-based Catholic movement to help mentor boys to become virtuous Catholic men. Hello, Jason Craig.
Jason Craig: Hello Matthew.
Matthew: We were talking before we went live here about probably the 80 degree differential, between where you are and where I am. You’re in Florida, and I’m in Minnesota for some reason.
Jason: Yes, I live down in Dixie Land, and I just can’t quite figure out why people live so far up north; it’s warm down here!
Matthew: It is warm. Well in January I think I’m going to be spending a little time down in Florida. Maybe we can meet up face to face at some point.
Matthew: Jason, I’d like to start with your background, a little bit on who you are and where you’ve been. Ultimately we’re going to get into Fraternus which is this great evangelization effort that you and many are leading across the country. Why don’t we start with your background?
Jason: I think I’m probably a product of the man-crisis, in some ways, that we’re talking about. I grew up in what now is pretty typical, a divorced home. I don’t recall my parents ever being together. I went back and forth between my parents, through those stepdads, and stepmoms, and the confusion that goes with that for a boy.
I think I took a very typical route probably starting a little earlier in middle school. I had a dangerous amount of freedom as a young man, and I used that freedom wrongly. I didn’t know what to love, what to pursue, and I don’t have to go on, but basically the typical pitfalls that young men are drawn into at a young age in a very wild way.
I became a Christian, a Protestant evangelical Christian in high school through the mentorship of a man who was bold enough to just walk into my school and stick his hand out and introduce himself. I thought he was the goofiest, ugliest man I had ever seen. A few years later he was in my wedding when I was getting married.
Part of that story, in between becoming Christian and getting married, I became a Catholic. That’s a whole other story, maybe another interview. My wife and I both became Catholic. We were involved with Protestant youth ministry heavily, both of us, through a ministry called Young Life.
We became Catholic. Obviously I’m skipping over a ton of things I did, but that’s how I found my way now working in different Catholic apostolates. It had a lot to do with where I came from as a Protestant and entering the Church and learning how to think as a Catholic with the Church.
I changed a lot of my views about ministry, but it’s also kept me excited from that first encounter, the first knowledge that I would not be here as a Christian, as a Catholic, unless there was a man who had told me about Jesus. That has a lot to do with why you and I are talking and why I’m involved with Fraternus.
Matthew: I too am a convert. I heard Dr. Peter Kreeft talking about this division between Catholics and Protestants. His view is that God is working in a very deliberate way in both areas. Within the Catholic Church one of the things that our last three popes have been talking about an awful lot is the need to have a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, our Protestant brothers and sisters, especially those that are part of the evangelical movement, have that in spades. They focus on that. It’s such a passion and fire. We’re getting so many of our wonderful evangelical efforts within the Catholic Church through people that have been raised up in the evangelical church.
Jeff Cavins comes to mind, Dr. Scott Hahn, you, there are many. Peter Kreeft’s thought is that here, within the Catholic Church, we have Jesus Christ, the full Body, Blood and Divinity in the Eucharist, but so often we are lacking that personal relationship with Jesus. Our evangelical brothers and sisters have that deep personal relationship, but they’re missing the most important thing, which is the union with Our Lord Jesus Christ through the Eucharist.
Ultimately God will connect us up in a way that’s profound and beautiful. Praise God that you’re here and helping build up the Church. I’m so delighted to be talking to you.
Jason: Yeah, I’m very excited about your project too, The New Emangelization. I definitely believe in your efforts there, the design, the whole thing.
Matthew: Now that we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way and a great foundation, why don’t we start with men’s evangelization in general within the Catholic Church, the state of men in the Catholic Church. I strongly have stated that I think there is a man-crisis, and before we got on the air here you were agreeing with that. What is the nature of the Catholic man-crisis in your opinion?
Jason: I think it’s a very difficult question to answer, but it’s also, I think, one of the fundamental questions. The nature of it, first of all, you just mentioned a second ago. They [the Evangelical Protestants] have this personal relationship, but we have the Eucharist.
The problem that we have is just opening our eyes. The Eucharist, you can’t get more personal than to become completely united in substance with God. There is nothing more personal than receiving the Eucharist. You want to have a personal relationship with Jesus. You’re already having it. You just have to open your eyes to this reality.
It would be like being married your whole life to the love of your life who is wonderful and everything you ever dreamed of and just not realizing that you’re married, just sitting on the couch. I think the man-crisis, the first step to understand the nature of it is to understand the reality of it, that this is a real problem. It’s not a few people who are maybe hypersensitive to a particular people or people who are acting out of some problem that they have personally.
It’s an actual, real problem that has to be dealt with. We could go into specifics and research, and those things have value, but I think anyone who walks into a Catholic parish, an average Catholic parish in the USA, walk into a church and looks around, there’s the problem. You’ll see it. The men that are there are disengaged, but what’s more profound is the men that are not there. It’s just a reality we have to start talking about.
Matthew: It is so obvious when you simply observe. When you think of it that way you wonder, “Where’s the ground swell of doing something about the Catholic man-crisis?” I know we’re seeing it all over the place. This New Evangelization is having a profound impact across the Church, and we’re seeing it in the kinds of initiatives like Fraternus, but there hasn’t been a centralized movement yet despite the fact that the Catholic man-crisis is obvious.
One of the startling statistics I’ve found is that roughly half of Catholics don’t believe it’s possible to have a personal relationship with God. I find that stunning given the nature of the Eucharist. I think it’s like your point. They don’t even see the reality of what they’re doing. They haven’t been taught that it actually is the Body and Blood of Christ we are consuming.
Jason: Absolutely. I think that gets into the heart of the issue. A lot of what Fraternus is proposing is that…I’m just going to limit this to just speaking about men. If a man does not believe that something is possible, or that something is likely, or that something is doable, or workable, it’s because he has not seen it.
Think about a boy who is playing. A boy always plays in imitation. He becomes a fireman. He becomes a priest. Sometimes my son becomes a father, and the things that he says are embarrassing to me. He’s imitating something. He sees that it’s possible to be this thing, so he imagines himself as that thing, which is part of the maturing process, to imagine yourself in that state.
Even entering the priesthood, imagining yourself as a priest and asking God, “When I picture this, is that me? Is that who you’ve called me to be?” On this very simple level, if we have a generation of men, a generation of boys as well, who say it is not possible to have a personal relationship with Jesus, they don’t know what that looks like.
They can’t even imagine it. They don’t believe this can happen, that means they’ve never seen it. A man believes very often what he’s seen. That does not mean he cannot be a man of faith, but it very much means that he needs to see a man who is living his faith. If he hasn’t, he’s not going to believe it.
Matthew: Men are concrete in that way. We talked a little about this before we went on, Catholic Man Night, which is really about that introduction to Jesus in a very concrete way. What I find, and I’d love to hear if this is what you’re hearing too, but men, when you ask them about Jesus, especially men who are lukewarm, they can talk about him in vague generalities.
If you really challenge them and go, “OK, tell me about your wife, or tell me about your best friend, or tell me about your mom, or your dad, or your brother,” people can go and have a fairly robust discussion about those people. They can’t often do that with Jesus, because He’s too conceptual or too abstract.
They’ve been stunted at the level where there’s this huge gap and that personal relationship and that personal knowledge of Jesus, both through the intellect and through prayer and the movement of the will, hasn’t happened. Is that what you see too, especially coming to the Church from the evangelical heritage that you have?
Jason: Absolutely. I’ve found that 100 percent. The wonderful thing about Christianity is that there are parts of it that are very hard to believe, that God became man. That usually does not come from that He can’t do that, but why would He do that. There are certain things, these are profound mysteries that we can meditate upon.
The wonderful thing is that there is a Person that we’re proposing that you can speak with. We’re talking about an encounter with an actual person, not a dead person, but a living person, a resurrected person, Jesus Christ. If you try to explain the ultimate spiritual height of a Hindu, it’s to realize that actually what you see as something is actually nothing and to achieve Heaven is to achieve when you become nothing and become absorbed into God and become nothing with Him.
That gets into another theological, philosophical discussion. It’s interesting. In our case, no, it’s not. It’s an encounter with something. As far as the masculine mind and the masculine heart, it almost seems as if we are clearly oriented towards that something, that’s something that the world is created through this something, and that it’s pointing towards that something.
The evangelical heritage that I carry with me is a confidence of Jesus Christ as a person that you can encounter. The evangelical says, “Hey, this is what He’s done for you. Now go and speak with Him and see that it’s true.”
He speaks. It’s not the same as you and I are speaking here, but go over there and pray. Be by yourself, open your heart to Him, and see what happens. There’s this very, almost reckless, confidence in the power of Christ, which, obviously, results in many conversions.
We can talk about how some of those can dwindle later without the mentoring and discipleship that must come after that fact, but in the Catholic Church we just have to absolutely recover the fact that we’re not talking about an abstraction. We’re not talking about something that cannot be known, because you cannot love what you do not know. You can know Jesus Christ, and that’s how you’ll love Him.
If you try to tell a man, “You need to love Jesus more. You need to love God more,” there are two questions he’s going to ask. He’s going to ask how and how. You need to know about him, and then you need to love Him with your will and your actions in your life. The first thing is you can love Him because you can know Him. We’re speaking about Him right now, and you can go speak to Him right now.
Matthew: There’s a dramatic difference in that practice of prayer. There are lots of different ways to think about prayer. Less than 50 percent of Catholic men pray on a regular basis. This compares to 75 plus percent Evangelical men who pray on a regular basis.
That whole prayer aspect, that personal relationship, is just something we’ve got to draw men into. That’s going to be one of the core steps of this New Emangelization. Can you talk a little bit about the differences between men and women?
You’ve started to do that with this idea of men…my words, I think, were “concrete”. You talked about seeing a reality and the very practical steps of how you do things. You’ve thought a lot about this. Just some more contrast between men and women, because part of what we’ve got to convince people of, and priests of, and I think within parishes, is that men really are different.
We probably know they’re different, but here’s the ways they are different. Here’s why they require a different approach than women do. Talk a little bit more about that, those differences as you see them.
Jason: I can definitely speak more about the ways to go about this with men. The woman is a beautiful mystery that I’m still working on.
Matthew: [laughs] Every man that I talk to about this, they’re all savvy. They say the same thing. They don’t want to get in trouble with their wives.
Jason: Right. Luckily I know that most of the things I’m going to say on this, my wife would say too. She would affirm this in jumping up and down saying yes. One, I think that the current parish environment, and this is from someone who has been actively engaged in all my parishes. Until I moved out here to this farm where I live now, I’ve been able to go to daily mass since I converted to the Church.
I’ve been around the parish. I’ve also worked at parishes. I work now with Fraternus that works with parishes to establish a program. I think the thing we need to realize is that the average parish is not a friendly place for a masculine mind, a masculine heart.
What’s interesting to me is I hear the media constantly talking about the patriarchal, male dominated church. While this is understandable, their perception, in some ways, the average parish is not operating in a way that appeals to men at all. For example, if a man approaches his parish and wants to get involved, do not, for God’s sake and his sake, put him on a committee, that’s not what he needs.
If he’s ready to go into battle, send him in another way. I’m going to stay a little bit broad here. We need to have more conversations with men. I mean the average Joe, the way we think of as an average Joe, men that live and work in a masculine world with other men, with male friends. Why is it so difficult for them to transition into parish life? Why is it almost repulsive for them in some of the things they encounter, where they run away?
I hear this from men all the time. I just had a conversation with a man I really admire the other day. He said, “The more I get involved with my parish, I’m sickened to my stomach.” He’s running away. He’s not going to get involved anymore.
Matthew: Talk more about specifically what you see or what this man is reacting to. What is the turn off? What is the thing that says, “I’m backing off here?”
Jason: I think we’re going to have to talk about different men. If we’re talking about a man who recently, for example, had a conversion, he’s convinced of that last topic we talked about. He’s having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Grace is active in his life, and he’s getting involved in the church.
One of the things he’s first going to get involved with is, if he’s had a conversion, he’s gone through some serious pain and suffering already. He’s realized that Christianity is hard. The faith is hard, and that it’s good, and it’s worth dying for, as the martyrs teach us.
He believes this. He’s beginning to believe this more and more. He walks into a parish and wants this truth that you see to be displayed around him. When he encounters, and God bless our priests, but when he encounters homilies in sermons that are fluffy, that are not prepared, that are not giving him any meat to chew on…maybe he’s heard 1000 homilies but now he’s listening.
Then he listens and he realizes, “Maybe I should go back to not listening.” He needs to hear what a good friend of mine, who is also a convert, said. “He just needs that red meat of truth to chew on.” That’s what he’s looking for. He needs to hear it.
A lot of times people hear that and think machismo, or they think mean, or somehow gruff. No, it doesn’t mean that. It means clear, truth. We’re talking orthodoxy here. Practical, go out and do this. You, man, pray your rosary every day.
Our Lady Fatima, the directions that come out of that, often appeal to men because it’s very simple. Pray your rosary every day. Meditate on these truths or you’ll go to hell. There’s this very black and white, clear direction.
They go to the parish, and I think the preaching is one thing. I think the folks that are planning a lot of the liturgies, a lot of the music, it’s just not a masculine environment. I don’t want to harp on it to sound complaining of it, but I think it’s something that’s not considered enough.
The faith cannot appear fluffy and easy to a man who has just converted to Jesus, because he has already learned that that’s not true. He needs to have a faith that’s challenging him. That is reverent. He needs to kneel. He needs to feel as if he needs to kneel before the presence that is in front of him.
If there’s a parish where, for example, he has come to a profound belief in the Eucharist and the parish, in general, is not reverent in its celebration of the Eucharist, he is going to be immensely turned off from that.
Matthew: You are describing me.
Matthew: I had a conversion experience. I entered RCIA in a parish. It was not very full of truth. It was more touchy‑feely. I came into the Church, and then I started attending this parish. There were some doctrinal things that were really off the track at this particular parish.
It was a crisis. I had lived my whole life searching, and I believe God has called me here. Now I’m looking at this and going, “This isn’t right. Is this what the…?” Luckily, and I think many men maybe who come into the Church don’t have this beautiful thing, but I had a number of friends through a Catholic school that I had met.
I went to them, and they reinforced things. They said, “Here’s the truth. You probably want to change parishes,” and that’s what I did.
Jason: Right, which is the right thing to do.
Matthew: That concrete truth and clear direction, that’s a theme, by the way, that keeps coming up. Men want clarity. They want, “Here are the three things” or “Here are the five things that you should think about.”
I think a lot of times there’s a lack of challenge. When men perceive a lack of challenge, they go, “It’s not worth my time. If there’s no challenge and I’m not being challenged, I have other things that will challenge me and draw me.”
Jason: In Fraternus, we actually end every night ends with, “Here is your challenge for this week.” Sometimes they’re harder. Sometimes they’re easier, but this is, “OK, you’ve discussed it. That’s not good enough. Here, go and do it” and the appreciation behind that.
In fact, if there’s a Fraternus chapter that stops taking the challenge seriously, they’ve in essence stopped taking the whole idea seriously. It’s a sign of apathy or atrophy in some cases. The challenge, the practical “go and do this,” I think, if you’re a priest out there and you have a man who’s coming to confession and wanting spiritual direction, give him the rule of Saint Benedict to live by.
There’s a reason that this masterpiece of the Rule of Saint Benedict is what it’s called. It’s a book of rules, and it’s beautiful. It’s freeing. It’s liberating. There’s nothing restraining about it, which is why men have voluntarily, both religious and lay, have given themselves over to the study of the Rule of Saint Benedict. It’s so practical, but it puts you in touch with, in a sense, the impracticality of love.
You fall in love to be practical. You don’t just fall into rigor. Actually, we’re not just coming up with different ideals, or we’re not coming up with different methods to live a life. We’re coming out with different ways to love God so that if that love is truly kindled, we’re not going to fall into rigidity, into a distorted, pharisaical, disorder. We’re going to fall in love with God. We need those steps. We need those analogies of ladders, of walking one step in front of the other.
Matthew: Gosh, you said a lot there. It reminds me of the huge, deep, richness within the Church. Men like connection to history. They like connection to that tradition. Men, I think, a lot of times crave that. That’s why they follow sports teams and have these connections that go back in time within their lives of buddies from the old days, et cetera.
Within the Church we have this amazing richness and history that we can be a part of, especially in the postmodern environment where nobody is connected to anything and you’re just floating around. You have this really solid ground of the Church. You talked about truth.
You talked about challenge. You’ve talked about tradition. You talked about clarity with a game plan almost with the Rule of Saint Benedict. What’s stopping men? All that stuff is there. It’s just they’re not grabbing onto it.
Is it that personal invite you talked about at the front end where the man invited you to know Jesus? Why are Catholic men are stuck? They’re just floating and not giving themselves?
Jason: You are probably learning this with your interviews and the different research you’ve done. There is always a connection. The Catholic Church is a patrimony. We have forefathers that come before us, and this is true from Adam, to Noah, to Moses, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. It’s this sense of fatherhood, this connection with the past.
It’s interesting, when you study the Old Testament as a concrete whole, and I know you had Jeff Cavins on here, so he can speak much more knowledgably about that, I would definitely recommend his book on the topic. When you understand the narrative of scripture, there’s this thread throughout the whole thing which is the connection of one generation to the next from generation to generation. Whenever there’s a verse in the Bible…for example, the book of Judges, it says, “The children of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”
The children did what was evil. Usually the preceding versus is, “and a generation arose that forgot the rules,” or who basically disconnected from their forefathers.
Matthew: Every man did what he thought was right.
Jason: Every man did what he thought was right in his own eyes. It wasn’t about this tradition that was handed on to him. We get tradition confused with concepts that are passed along or convention. Tradition is the wisdom of your forefathers handed on to you, that it’s now your turn to live and then to pass on.
It’s a bucket of water, and you better not drop it, because the next generation is just as thirsty as you are. Every interview you’ve probably had, every story, your own story, you talked about going to friends, if there’s not a connection with a brotherhood and if there’s not a connection with tradition and if you’re scared of that word “tradition”, if that conjures up some pain because of the difficulties we’ve had in the last half century in the Church, you’ve got to reconnect with that tradition.
I think it’s a fundamental problem that we cut off the men from those who have come before them. We separate things, we divide. The word “diabolical” means “to divide”. We’ve divided the men from their forefathers and from each other. We have to plug them into the tradition of the Church, and they will come alive by that and also in brotherhood.
Joseph Ratzinger has a great book called “On Christian Brotherhood.” He says the essence of being a Christian is being a brother. Anyone who studies the New Testament, “Love the brotherhood” is the command.
Resist temptation, because the brotherhood throughout the world is suffering the same thing. A boy from Fraternus recently told his father about a huge temptation he had while he was out at a party. He was the only one that was fighting this temptation. He said, “The only thing that kept me from giving in was that I knew that my brothers in Fraternus around the country were going through the same thing.”
There’s a power in brotherhood. If we don’t get men connected with their forefathers and we don’t get them connected with their brothers in the Church, it’s not going to work. Whatever you’re doing is not going to work.
You can’t hand a man, you can’t hand a boy a pamphlet and say, “Go read this and do this.” What we were saying earlier about the need to give them guides, do that, but give them mentors or they’re going to drown.
Matthew: You used the word “diabolical” to describe the divisions among men. This is clearly of the devil, this separation of men from women, boys from their fathers, men from the Church. This “divide and conquer” thing that’s happening within the Church, or within society and in the world, is absolutely rooted in Satan, and I think that’s one of those truth things.
You went to, at least in the evangelical tradition, Satan isn’t considered a concept, or a representation of bad things, he’s a real, evil being. Oftentimes we’re seeing in society… I’m off on a tangent here…You see all these satanic movies and hauntings, and all this stuff, and people almost get lulled into thinking, “Well, that’s just all fiction.” Especially our young people, “That’s just all phony baloney Hollywood stuff,” as opposed to, “There really is something behind this, and it’s…”
Matthew: Well this is a good…
Jason: Yeah, and as a father, I can say that when you awaken father of the household up to a certain reality that your home is under attack, whether you defend it or not, there is a fact that there is demonic activity in the world, that lets just accept as fact, or we have to essentially reject the warnings of Christ in the New Testament that 2000 years experience of the Church, the catechism…let’s not psychologize away the demons. There’s genuine psychological things, but this is another issue.
That’s one reality, then there’s demons. You don’t need to be thinking about them all the time, but when you pray your St. Michael prayer every day, there’s one tangible thing, say your St. Michael prayer every day. Pray it after mass, what a great tradition that was. Pray the St. Michael prayer, the same as in battle. We’re actually in battle, and that reality, and it’s helpful for him to know this reality, because he is doing battle with him. If he doesn’t know the enemy, if he has no idea that the enemy is there, he’s going to get conquered.
We need to awaken in him the reality that he is in a battle, and this is the catechism. The Christian life is essentially, meaning in essence, a battle.
Matthew: Well, I think as we take that to think about fathers, how do you reignite men in a parish? There are different groups of men, and maybe a targeted strategy within men even makes some sense, but one thing about defending your children. When you have children, you’re much more likely to be concerned about these kinds of things, so saying, “Look, if you want to be a good dad, you’ve got to recognize both the Savior and Satan, and you’ve got to organize your life, and your family life around that basic reality, and to challenge men.”
That gets back to one of your points is this idea of challenge, are you defending your children? Are you defending your wife?
Jason: Absolutely. I think the way you just phrased that question is probably the answer itself is to ask the question. Men really appreciate a question were actually they can say yes or no to, or if they don’t appreciate it, it’s because it challenges this. There’s nothing that can awaken a man better than to look him in the eye if he has his family and say, “Are you protecting your family or not? Are you doing battle? Yes or no?”
What a grace it is to say no, because you can guarantee they’re going to change that. In fact, it’s better if you can get a man who’s struggling spiritually to say, “No, I’m not,” because he’s likely to have a conversion. The man who says, “Sure, yes,” without thinking, even myself, yourself. I hope our answer would be, “No, I’m not doing enough. When I get off this phone call, I’m going to pray some more.”
That’s the humility of faith. But I think just asking the question…but that’s one of those red meat, direct things that would be just great to hear from the pulpit. I think a priest could have a conversion in the parish tomorrow if he just asked that question.
Matthew: Yeah, yeah, one last point before we get into Fraternus, it may morph into two points, or three, I don’t know. At the core of this battle, this temptation, I think is the absolute pervasiveness of pornography, especially for men. This is a major issue, and it’s something like there’s two statistics that I always think about and talk about, which lights an absolute fire under me.
One is that 70 percent of men are looking at pornography at least on a monthly basis. The other statistic is that 70 percent of Catholics go to confession less than once a year, or never. When you put those two statistics together you got to go, “There are huge numbers of people who are…” and men, “…who are in danger of hellfire.”
Jason: Hmm, and who are also receiving the Sacraments unworthily, committing the sin of sacrilege on top of the sins of lust.
Matthew: Right, right. [laughs] They don’t realize it. You’re talking about priests preaching the truth. We have several priests that are associated with a cluster parishes, and they all are very adamant about preaching the truth, and one of the things, and I’m going off on a tangent, we’ll have to come back to this pornography issue in a second, but one of the things that I’ve noticed. There’s been two or three times in the last six months where these priests have preached on the Mass.
There have been points in those homilies where you can hear a pin drop. One of those points, and it’s happened twice now in the last six months, and it’s just struck me, is talking about what happens when you approach the Eucharist in an impure fashion, when you’re not sacramentally prepared. I think that lots of people just don’t understand that.
Jason: Right. Yeah, we’re getting into a couple of issues. One is the specific issue of pornography itself, and in the other one is the nonchalance of approaching the Eucharist. We’re a far cry from being Jansenist heretics, or something, or Puritans, when we say that. It seems pretty obvious that we have a problem with people being prepared to receive Holy Communion, and what that does to the soul is extremely dangerous.
There was actually during the French Revolution, I think it was Voltaire himself, but somebody wrote him a letter and said, “I can’t get rid of my faith. I keep believing and it’s annoying. I want to join the revolution. I want to be a part of this secular movement, but my faith is prevailing, and it’s annoying to me.” The recommendation back to him was, “Receive communion in the state of moral sin.”
Jason: It’s the simplest and fastest way to rid yourself of this problem of faith. If we talk about what are the hearts of the problem, one is that men are introduced into this world of pornography, which is just devastating, and I know that there are statistics about how many men, et cetera, et cetera. But just in my own experience, I’ve never been a part of a small group, I’ve never had really any friends, or people I work with for Fraternus, or the boys in Fraternus, every single one of them, every single one of them, who have not said, “I struggle with this issue of pornography.”
Statistics in my life so far are 100 percent of men are struggling with this issue. We have this amazing power in the Eucharist to just…you know, constant state of impurity. Now there is a long discussion there about the state of someone’s soul, their culpability for the sin, from what we know, and I don’t want to presume to know when every soul is in the state of mortal sin or something, it’s not that simple. However, it is that simple in the sense that this is a sin, it’s destroying many men, and it’s causing them to approach the Eucharist unworthily.
I think another piece of that is at Mass the Eucharist is distributed with not enough reverence. This is something that I’m not bold in saying. Pope Benedict instituted at St. Peter’s receiving communion on the tongue, a tradition that Pope Francis has continued, that to recall what’s happening, to kneel, to receive on the tongue, is just a gesture that he used to try to remind people about what’s happened.
I think a lot of that has to do with the preaching, and in the way we act. The way we act shows what we believe. We celebrate the Magi kneeling before the Christ child, and that that kneeling shows us something about what they believed. The way we look to the Eucharist, and the way we treat it at Mass, and distribute Holy Communion has a lot to say about what we believe about the Eucharist .
Matthew: Yeah, and I think getting back to one of your earliest points about truth and clarity, we need men…they need the basic things that they should be understanding about the liturgy. “What is this Mass, and why is it the most amazing miracle that’s ever been, that happens at every Mass?” Then also the huge need for Confession. Confession is so limited in so many parishes especially given just the temptations that men are facing in particular.
Well, maybe this is a good point to turn to Fraternus. Why don’t you maybe just start with the genesis, how did Fraternus start? What does the name mean? Then we can get into how it works.
Jason: Sure, we can begin the name. Fraternus means brotherhood, or brotherly, in Latin. As I said, that book I just read from now Pope Emeritus Benedict, the central identity of a Christian is a brother. One, he is a brother with Christ, and it’s only through Christ that he approaches the Father. If you’re not a co‑heir with Christ, if you are not united with Him, then you will not approach heaven.
Jesus Christ is truly your brother, your co‑heir with the kingdom of God. If He’s not, then you’re not an heir to the kingdom of God at all. There is no other way in. Secondly, this identity with each other, that we are under Him because we are all…if we’re a Christian, and a brother of Christ, we’re now brothers as a Body of Christ with each other. Fraternus wants to really rekindle that brotherhood, that identity.
Part of it is not just amongst one group, adults, or elderly, but broadly reconnecting the generations right here and right now. Going back to the diabolical, to the dividing, there’s just so much division, but especially with boys and men. I think actually there’s probably more faithful men, and we’re not overflowing with faithful man, but there are faithful men out there in the parishes. We have always simply knew that they were there, and brave enough to make eye contact at some point before or after Mass, so they would be reminded that they are the man who believes in God.
I can imagine myself being like him. The genesis of Fraternus was just that fact that a lot of men have a conversion, and they realize that these things are essential to being a man, rites of passage, mentoring, virtue. Learning these things is not optional, but how can they be learned often in our modern setting? If a boy necessarily needs a man to learn to virtue…Virtue is something that’s a beautiful concept to discuss, but it’s essentially right action, right living.
The image of justice, and prudence, and fortitude, and temperance, looked different in the 1700s than it does now. I cannot read a book by a saint on how to use the Internet properly. For that I need a man right now who’s mentoring me. Virtue is something that’s eternal, if it is a truth. It was something that we learned where we lived and when we live right now, so Fraternus wants to bring those generations back to simply mentor boys into virtuous Catholic men.
The way we do that is connecting boys with virtuous Catholic men. We just build a framework for this mentoring to happen, and if you think of the place where there’s a heavy influence of one man to a group of boys, it’s in the sports world, the coaching world. God bless those coaches that are virtuous examples, and to those coaches that aren’t, be warned, your judgment is coming. [laughs]
Jason: Jesus did not have kind words to say about those who led children away. But Fraternus is providing that spiritual coaching that these boys need, the mentoring. I think our whole conversation has really touched on this. I think the brotherhood, the necessity of being connected with your tradition, with your patrimony, the necessity of seeing examples, and images of manliness.
We have to find ways for those to happen, because many boys often are, and I’m sorry, but, religious education classes are often taught by women in their schools, most of their teachers are women. Their fathers are aloof, and gone, they’re not around. We have to ask ourselves, “When do they encounter a man of virtue that they can imitate him? When does that happen?”
In Fraternus, probably close to eight years ago, Justin Biance, the founder just asked, “When can we see this happen?” The answer is, “We don’t, so therefore we must make this happen.” That was the reason, the genesis of Fraternus.
Matthew: What is Fraternus today? Maybe give an overview of the organization, and how you’re expanding, and then let’s get into what happens in a parish. The structure of what happens, and how it develops.
Jason: Well, like a mini‑apocalypse, we’re trying to learn exactly, “What is this thing that God’s asking us to do?” If it’s not Him asking us, and we just have a grand idea, then let’s just stop and quit forcing ourselves upon people. We were asking ourselves, “What is the way that Fraternus can really serve the Church?” We started with many different models and ideas, with this central idea in mind.
The thing we found is that there is a power in every Catholic parish. This powerhouse just sitting in the pews, or sometimes sitting at home, and it’s the men. When we can activate them, when we can successfully plug them in to this life of brotherhood, and then plug them into being a mentor especially. When you think about it, anyone who’s had to teach anything, or give a presentation, that’s the best way to have to learn it.
Challenging men not only to be holy, to be virtuous, but to pass that on, I think that’s actually a big piece that’s missing from a lot of the men’s movement, is effectively training them to pass it on. Because if we’re disconnected from our patrimony and our tradition, physically and actually, then we can presume that this has been misunderstood, or not learned the truth of the faith. We haven’t learned how to pass those virtues and traditions on.
In Fraternus, we want get the man activated. Just activate this powerhouse that’s sitting in these parishes all over the place, and then plug them into mentoring the boys. Most men, when I say, “Tell me about Fraternus, your experience,” what is amazing is that they begin with, “It’s changed my marriage. It’s changed my prayer life. It’s changed the way I go to Mass.”
When people hear about Fraternus, they hear about a program for boys, but in reality it’s really for the men. Once those men are activated, our main apostolate goal is to train the men and equip them to become mentors.
Matthew: Well, this is really interesting, because it touches on intentional discipleship, and the aspiration to be a saint, and an example, right? To be a mentor, you’ve got to be an example. This is a very…I can hear and just feel, as somebody who’s learning about this, something very powerful.
That whole idea of aspiring to Sainthood, I think is something that has been muted. We’re all either going to be Saints, or we’re going to the other place.
Matthew: We’re on our path. Somehow, if we’re going to be saved, and Christ is going to draw us to Him, we’ll be saints at that point. We’re on that path, and we just lose track of that, or we haven’t been told, “You should think about the aspiration of being a Saint,” because that is what we are called to. This other thing of a lack of the rites of passage.
In all cultures you see this rite of passage that happens with young men, and we’ve lost that largely, and it sounds like this is something that you’re actually building into Fraternus as part of that growing up through virtue.
Jason: Yeah, a lot of programs…they begin with, “Hey, we’re all knights, and were fighting, and were battling,” and all that stuff. That’s pretty presumptuous when we look at historical knighthood; being a knights was something you prepared for many, many years. Fraternus is really a long preparation to knighthood. The rite of passage is a beautiful tradition, and it’s difficult to create that commitment, but actually that’s becoming one of the most profound realities of Fraternus.
You begin Fraternus as a boy in sixth grade, about 11 years old, and you’re in preparation essentially for knighthood, where you get knighted at the end, and you’re really prepared. Traditionally, historically, knights, there is a beautiful devotion that they defended the weak, and they upheld justice. In preparation, they would spend all night in adoration before the day they were knighted. Just these really beautiful images.
Obviously there can be perversions of anything, but Fraternus has ranks throughout the process. You’re growing, you’re getting ranks, you’re getting “insignia”. You’re having different titles, different roles. These are universally male things, from military reality to every culture has a rite of passage for its boys.
You’re right. Ask yourself, “What is the rite of passage that our boys are going through that is meaningful?” We might say, “Well, Confirmation.” It should be, but is it? We don’t want to kid ourselves here. Is Confirmation a rite of passage for boys? That’s a very sacramental thing.
What about the men of the community saying to a boy, “You are now a man,” that rite of passage where they know it’s happened? Because that doesn’t happen…boys that are in the body of adults…I don’t want to get on any political tangent here, but I was listening to a politician who now happens to be the President, [laughs] and he was talking about his insurance plan.
He was speaking to a group of young adults, and they were in their 20s. He said, “Under this plan, you will be able to stay on your parents’ insurance until you’re 26.” The entire audience broke out in cheers. I remember laughing and thinking, “You are now allowed to be children until you’re 26.”
Somebody could be getting married and having their career and having a family and perhaps having their own insurance policy with their own name on it and writing their own checks from their own desk.
Matthew: It’s like a neutering in a way. As we’re recording this, there’s been this big hubbub about “Pajama Boy”. I don’t know if you’ve seen that, but it’s basically an ad promoting the new healthcare law. I think it’s a misguided ad.
In essence it shows a 20 something man-child in a onesie pajama suit with feet cuddling with warm cocoa and saying, “Have a discussion about insurance over the holiday.” I’m just thinking to myself, my dad would have thrown me out of the house. He would have thrown me out of the house. He did throw me out of the house. He’s like, “You’re on your own, buddy. Get going!”
I think there’s this whole coddling. Men are not separating from their mother’s, because they haven’t had a father to kick them out of the nest maybe, and to show them, “This is how you become a man.”
What’s the basic structure within a parish of Fraternus? How does it get started? What’s the typical structure look like? What’s the programmatic thing that’s happening within a parish?
Jason: If you’re starting a Chapter, we go to the priest, or whoever is spearheading the project to get it started. We say, “Give us 10 names of men that are basically virtuous Catholic men.” You could take a boy, and say, “Look at him,” and do what he does.
Sometimes that’s like pulling teeth. I have had priests look me in the eye and say, “There are no men who are that man.” That actually does happen. For those out there who are starting men’s programs, a lot of times what we say then, “If you can’t name any, then you’ve got a huge problem. You need to start a men’s group tomorrow. Call us in two years.”
We’re a mentoring program. The father is the priest. You got to get it together and start to fight for these men, so that they can have Fraternus. When we’re done, we say, “Give us some names.” We call those names and we say very directly, “Father said, that you have what it takes to mentor boys into virtuous Catholic men.”
Often, they’re humbled by that reality. It is a momentus call. They thought, “Oh, my goodness! Someone had said this about me,” and they want to live up to it even more. We say, “I’d like you to come to an info meeting to learn about Fraternus. Do you have three or four names of men that you think should be there too?”
If you make these direct phone calls, and if you know that this is already very different from the way a lot of programs start, put a bulletin add in have a pulpit announcement. That doesn’t work for me. When you say,” Anybody is welcome,” that means “Nobody is welcome.” You need to learn names, and call a man up on the telephone. Use his name, and invite him personally. That’s how you get men in the room, and that’s how we start Fraternus.
Matthew: This is really fascinating, because this is what we keep hearing through these discussions. The idea of actually even a priest saying, “Look. I’m going to invite men. I’m going to start a core of men, a Men’s Evangelical Council for example. I’m going to invite them. I’m going to pick them out. I’m going to invite them very specifically, and strategically.”
I have a hard time believing in any parish that there aren’t virtuous men. I just don’t believe that. Maybe the priest doesn’t know them.
Jason: That’s usually the case.
Matthew: I defer to my priest and to priests. They’re called in a way that I’m not. I look to them, and I put great faith in what God’s doing in the Church. At the same time, we need our priests to be willing to step‑up. They can’t do everything. They’re stretched so thin, but they do have to take a leadership role to get things initiated, and to put structures in place.
Jason: Possibly. We began this call with, “This is a huge problem. The effects are going to ripple out to where you’re actually going to see the death of this parish,” if there’s no fathers and there’s no boys. It takes two to tango, and keep this thing going.
If that’s a real problem, and if you are too busy, cancel something. This is important enough to focus on. If someone is not willing to focus on it, is not willing to invest time and money into this reality, then we’re going right back to the beginning, “Do you not see that there’s a problem?” If you don’t, let’s talk about that some more. You’re going to have to take some initiative, and it’s going to involve that disciplining word out.
One of the most effective parishes are those where the priest has their disciples, their 12 disciples, who they disciple directly, and out from there they have a huge impact on the parish. It’s a simple and the first‑step is to pick up the phone. Really, we need to stop telling ourselves we’re so busy.
The “b” word can be rather annoying, and something we hide behind. We’re not that busy. We’re just not using our time well. We’ve all got the same amount of time.
Matthew: Jesus was busy too, and Saint Paul was busy, and Saint Peter was busy. Can you start a Fraternus without the priest being engaged? Does that happen?
Jason: It does happen, sadly. I think that’s because priests are busy, and some of them are not seeing the problem. Some of them don’t see that there is a problem, but some of their men do. Often, they might know them well enough to trust their efforts, but the priests must sign off and support these.
In these rites of passage, these ceremonies, the priest is the father. When you are initiated into Fraternus, you kneel before the priest as the Father of the parish, and enter into this brotherhood in front of him. Without his support, without his fatherly guidance, we’re a brotherhood under God the Father, but often the images he deflects is the Father the parish priest. He plays a very important role. The Chapters, clearly they thrive when the priest shows up.
Matthew: It’s so interesting. I think anybody that approaches this if they’re not informed, they’re thinking, “Well, this is about boys.” Really, it’s about men, and the mentorship and development of holy and saintly men, who can then be mentors. It also has something about the conversion of priests too, doesn’t it?
Jason: Right. It’s what it goes back to. That’s a heavy weight for a priest to realize. You say, “Hey, Father, we’ve got a problem with the men. We’ve need to do something.” The priest responds, “Well, we’ll get there one day.”
When I hear Priests say that, I say, “Father, I need you to guide me.” When my children say, “Hey, we’re hungry.” I say, “Well, we’ll get some food sometime.”
You say, “Father. We’ve got a problem. We’re not going to get there without your leadership, your guidance, and your action.” We at least have to have a conversation about this. They’re not used to dealing with us. Anyone who’s worked in a parish knows that’s not the sort of conversations that go.
We’ve got to get our Priests, “Father, we’re hungry, You’ve got to help.” If I’m a father of my children and they say, “Pop, I’m hungry.” “Well, here’s a banana.”
Matthew: Can you spend just a little bit more time on when you get that reluctance with a priest about being busy, the three or four things you tell him that are convincing to him? Probably not all priests are going to be convinced. You’ve influenced and presented this in a lot of places. I know a lot of men would love to just hear the two or three arguments that you use that are effective.
Jason: A lot of times we’re working with a man who wants to convince his priest. We have some videos that we use and those can be inspiring. They can seem daunting. Here’s one more thing, one more program. You talk about uniting the family, uniting the parish. Here’s just another thing we’re going to get started. It’s just going to divide us more. It’s just another night out for the family.
You’ve got to understand where they’re coming from. It’s an understandable position. Obviously I work with this process and I believe in it, but we want to put them in touch with average Joes who have had a Fraternus and say, “This has been our experience, Father, and we think we need this.” But again, I think it’s actually what we’ve been saying, “Father, is there a problem with men or not in our parish?” If he says no, there’s not a problem, you know to stop there.
There are some priests that just say, “Go do whatever you want. It’s fine, here.” “I’ll write a check for whatever the conscription or the books, whatever. Here you go.” Then there’s priests that put up a roadblock, because they perceive it as some sort of machismo thing, or a bunch of men getting together and beating their chest, and it’s just not his thing, perhaps. I think appealing to him and saying, “Father we’re hungry and we need some framework to get together.”
Maybe he says, “OK, we don’t need this or that and we’ll do something together.” Hey, that’s great, God bless him. Then, “Father, we need to do something about our boys and this is going to help.” I think the men saying, “Look, I know that it’s my responsibility to pass on the faith to the next generation. I know that I play a role in that. It’s not all about me, but a lot of it falls on me, and I need help, and this is going to help. Unless you’re going to help me, I’m going to need this help.”
Obviously, the priest and Fraternus are working together to help the men. It’s not an either/or. I think appealing to him and saying in humility, not, “Father, I’m going to start this whether you like it or not,” but, “Father, I need this, and will you please get behind this with me and join me?” You really need to have the priest join you in the effort. He’s first got to see the problem, accept the problem, and accept that this is what we’re going to do to help.
Matthew: The next step. Then you have this meeting of the minds, and what happens?
Jason: We like to make sure that a clear vision gets presented. We provide videos for them that they can watch, give an introduction. Basically what you and I have been talking about today. Then they manage to say, “Yeah, this is great, let’s do this.” Then the next step is to watch training videos. We love to connect one chapter with another chapter if we can.
The best way for Fraternus to spread is to your neighbor because then one parish can come over and they have that mentoring relationship to show how Fraternus happened. That’s the best way for that to happen. The videos accompany direction for training, for discussions.
From there, after everyone’s trained, we divide up the roles within the group. The Fraternus commander, the Fraternus officers, the Fraternus captains. It all sounds very complex but it actually simplifies the many things that have to be done to have something like this and it brings the men together under an order and under leadership.
From there, the program is turned to…we’re always trying to iron out the kinks and make it simpler and make it easier but, essentially, we try to design it for men that do work, that are busy, men that are out there in the world working that have a family. The program is designed for them. You’re not going to be writing lesson plans, you’re not going to be coming up with anything.
What you need to do is show up and love these boys. Love the hell out of the boys, as we say. Show up, be men, build a friendship with them, and then mentor them. All of the training revolves around what we call true mentorship and that’s our secret weapon. I’m going to reveal it now on your national syndicated broadcast here.
The Fraternus secret is, step one, seek holiness, be holy. That’s what you’re called to do. If you’re anything less than that you’re less than who you’re called to be, period. Two, build friendships with these boys. Do not presume that just because we’ve started Fraternus, we’ve got a cool logo waving around, we’ve all got matching shirts, that somehow now, magically, all the boys are going to be convinced that we’ll really be mentors.
It’s going to take a lot of work to build the trust and the friendship necessary to mentor. Thomas Aquinas defines love with one word. Friendship. Friendship is the key to showing and experiencing love,so build a friendship with the boys. Then third step is just to mentor with excellence.
This framework that we provide through Fraternus, do it and do it well. The boys deserve a decent camping trip, the boys deserve a well‑executed night, they deserve that you become organized and that your remarks to them are not just haphazard and without prayer, reflection, or thought, just vomited forth as if everything that comes out is worth listening to. It’s not. You need to prepare and be excellent.
You’re going to do that first by praying, step one. Second, by loving them through genuine and real friendship. Then it’s going to be worth the third step. You’re going to realize how important it is that you mentor with them.
Matthew: How many men do you start within a core of a parish?
Jason: You absolutely have to have about six, give or take. The average parish has about 10 or 11. You really know Fraternus is growing when your captain base is growing. Captains are the baseline volunteers. When those men are coming in because they’re developing a brotherhood amongst themselves, when that grows, the boys naturally grow and they follow. I would say a dozen is ideal but you’re going to need about six to get started.
Matthew: We have the Knights of Columbus, for example, and some parishes have men’s groups. Is this ever folded into something like the Knights of Columbus or do you keep it pretty separate?
Jason: I’m sorry, do we have…could you ask that one more time? Do we have a connection?
Matthew: I’m just thinking about expanding. You go, “OK, well where do I find a group of six to 12 guys?” A lot of times the ones that are most active are the guys that maybe are in the Knights of Columbus already or there’s an existing men’s group, for example. Do you use that, or do you just say, “OK, whatever the priest tells us in terms of the guys, that’s where we go”?
Jason: It’s definitely both of those. Obviously it depends on the council when it comes to Knights of Columbus. Is this council spiritually serious or not? Fraternus, we’re going to thrive much more when men’s groups to thrive much more. For example, if we can come on the heels of That Man is You then OK, you’ve done the hard part of activating these men, now we’re going to be the piece that helps transition it to the next generation.
Really, we’ve been talking about this lately, that we need to have good relations out there, other men to talk with. We would like to partner with them to let them do what they do as far as awakening men. I think a lot of those groups, if you follow them for five or six years there’s a certain stagnation that happens in those groups, a certain, “OK, how many times are we going to do this?” I think a lot of that comes with their needing the training and the model for an outlet for what they’re learning and what they’re doing.
Matthew: Yeah, they need a mission.
Jason: Yes. This provides them with that next step. That’s the best way for this to work. In fact, often if we get to a parish and it’s very obvious that we’ve got a major problem…actually, this year there was a parish in Florida that was thinking about starting and we made the decision, “No, you’re going to need a men’s group for at least one year before you can get started.”
You ever watch those videos when you get on the airplane and they say, “Before you try to put the oxygen mask on the kid next to you, put your own on first.” You need to be healthy if you want to be able to help him. This New Evangelization really targets the Church, the un‑activated Church out there, the wash of baptized pagans that breach the west. We need to just simply react and remind them to put the oxygen mask on them so that we can invite people to our parish.
It doesn’t really good if you have an evangelization program if the parish you invite them to is dead. The same thing with boys, you have to activate the boys. Yes, we do. If there’s a group in that parish we need to connect with them first and we need them to blaze the trail ahead of us. Perhaps we could be discussing that more with them.
Matthew: Once you’ve got the captains and the commander set and core and they’re praying, how do you activate and start to draw more men in and the young men? What happens? Is there an annual cycle? How does it work?
Jason: That’s exactly right. There’s an annual cycle of training, recruitment, and then you’re smooth sailing through the year, as smooth as it can be. First you train, you equip the captains, then you have the recruitment period with the boys. There’s that direct, masculine way of inviting. It seems so simple but I’m going to reveal all our secrets here.
We tell the men, “Your goal is very simple. You’re going to personally invite every boy in your parish to Fraternus.” That might seem daunting but it’s actually not that hard. You have some announcements at the pulpit, you put some announcements in the bulletin, do those things, but let’s not pretend that teenage boys are reading those or listening.
What you do next is you post one of those men at every door, and a boy does not get out of that parish without a handshake, an introduction, and an invitation. We train them to make firm commitments, to look at a boy and say, “Hey, I want to invite you to Fraternus.” He says, “Oh well yeah, maybe, that sounds great, yeah.” What he’s saying is no, so go ahead and push him a little bit and get him to say no or say yes. Say, “I’m going to be there and I’d like to know will you be there or not? Will you come?”
We do this as close to the first night as possible. “Will you be there tomorrow night?” A lot of times he’ll say, “OK, yes,” because he’s getting asked directly. These kids get invited to stuff all the time. “Sure yeah, maybe I’ll be there. I’ll see if I can come,” these little vague, non‑committal responses.
The goal is a handshake with every boy, an invitation, and a yes or a no. You’d be amazed at how many boys you can get to show up when you just treat people like people. Don’t just put a poster up on the wall and expect people to read it and show up here. Go out and get them. Have a little bit of zeal, a little sense of a mission there.
Matthew: That’s absolutely consistent with getting men, too, that personal thing. I know in my own work and the work that we’ve done within Catholic Man Night, it’s that personal invitation that really makes the difference. It’s so easy to get the wishy‑washy answer as opposed to, “Is that a yes? Did I get that right? You said yes, right, or did you say no?”
You invite them and then there’s a kick‑off, let’s say. What happens at the kick‑off? I’m assuming you have a range of young men when you’re starting this? Do you focus on a specific age group or how does it work?
Jason: Everyone says that we’re doing it wrong, youth ministry doesn’t work that way, blah, blah, blah, but yes, we have a range from 11 to 18. Actually, 11 and up if you count the captains and the old guys and everybody shows up. We jump right in. What we do is we provide a curriculum for discussion, and everything revolves around virtue.
The lesson is basically there’s a movie clip, there’s a very brief, we don’t want anyone on soap boxes here, a very brief explanation of that movie clip and the virtue we’re talking about. This is all after some good old‑fashioned recreation, some playing together.
Matthew: What does that look like? What specific kinds of things? Just give me the night.
Jason: You know the answer. There’s only one answer here, and it’s dodgeball. The answer is dodgeball.
Matthew: Got you, dodgeball.
Jason: [laughs] No, there’s many other games that they play. There’s a profound question I think strikes at a lot of our hearts as men and it’s, “Dad, will you come and play with me?” That goes back to a childhood experience. That can be good, or it can be devastating for a man, “Dad, will you come and play with me?”
We train these men. This is something we all have to be reminded of. If you’re at Fraternus, we call them Frat Nights. If you’re at Frat Night, and you look to your left and your right and there’s an adult, and not a young person, you’re doing it wrong. It’s very simple. We’re going to play some games, you get out there and play with them. That’s the first step for building that friendship.
It’s not sitting in a small group and trying to be voices to lead programs and profound discussions about conversion. It’s not going to work that way. The first thing you need to do is to play, have some fun, loosen up. Be boys, be men, and play some fun games. Play soccer, play dodgeball. There’s a game that’s played all over the country in Fraternus, there’s different names for it, bosco ball.
The thing that Jimmy Mitchell made famous in Nashville. I think they call it a gaga pit. It’s just a game, an every man for himself, a dodgeball game that’s played in a small arena. We just play a game. After that they watch a movie clips, brief explanation, they’re go to have a discussion called…
Matthew: The movie clip, is that from a famous movie or something?
Jason: Yeah. A lot of them are pop culture. There are also classics. We’re coming into the Christmas season. There are clips from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but there’s also clips from “Iron Man,” classic Superman movies. “Lord of the Rings” is just a treasure trove of great clips.
“We’re going to talk about courage and here’s an image of that or we’re going to talk about love or sacrifice in this clip.” Something they’re familiar with. I don’t want to exaggerate that for them. I think we rely too heavily on the influence of media. Obviously, it’s played a part in their lives before so we use that to our advantage.
The meat of the night is the discussion. Each man, each captain, is assigned a group of boys and that’s his boys. If he doesn’t show up, those boys don’t have a captain. They mentor that squad to have a discussion. We provide a book that goes along with that movie clip and it also goes along with the mass that’s coming up next Sunday. There’s a connection with popular culture but, more importantly, there’s a connection with the liturgy.
They have a discussion about that book, too. There are quotes, there are scripture passages, catechisms, passages. They have a discussion, they challenge each other, really genuine conversations. It’s not small group curriculum where they’re drudging their way through, but genuine discussions.
At the end you get a challenge, the next week come back, you talk about how that challenge went. You have the next discussion, get a new challenge, you come back. This is going week after week throughout the year.
Matthew: How many weeks a year do you do it?
Jason: It typically goes along with the school year, but we find that many of the boys don’t want to stop, they just continue to get together in the summer. We do provide programming for the summer but, for reasons that I don’t understand, the entire world stops programming during the summer, which is really when the boys need mentoring the most. We do encourage that.
In the summertime we have a Fraternus ranch where we invite boys from around the country to basically have a summer experience together. We bring priests from the parishes and other priests and the captains come. It’s one of the best…I look forward to it every year. It’s such a blessing.
Matthew: After they have become involved in this then, you were talking about ranks. How does that work for the boys?
Jason: Those challenges that I was discussing, the captain keeps track of those and at the end of the year when the boy has to choose, when he’s basically fulfilled those challenges, completed those challenges, he moves on in rank. If he doesn’t fulfill them there’s serious conversations that happen. This is a great moment of mentoring.
The captain is free to provide other ways he can make up for missed challenges or he can ask him, “Are you committed or not? Yes or no to this things that we’re doing throughout the Church?” They begin as Rangers in sixth grade, and they become Warriors in seventh grade, and then they become Disciples in eighth grade. Once they get into high school they start moving towards adulthood. This myth of adolescence is really tough.
Adolescence is not a thing in and of itself. This period is a period of transition from boyhood to manhood so we begin immediately looking to becoming men, not perpetuating the adolescence further. We begin calling the boys in high school, they become a Brother, they become a Co‑Captain with the Captain. Once you’ve been in Fraternus for a while there comes a point where, “OK, you’ve been receiving, and now it’s time to give.”
They start leading this alongside the Captain. It’s all pointing towards at the end they become Knights. All this revolves around those challenges they do every night. Obviously, just to promote some faithfulness to what we’re doing as a brotherhood.
Matthew: Can you give an example of the kind of challenge? There would be a number of them during the school year. What are they, exactly?
Jason: I can definitely say that most of the challenges are challenges of prayer, “Go somewhere quietly, read this passage, ask these questions.” Also, we want to teach them Catholic devotion, praying the rosary for particular intention, praying through particular mysteries, or life challenges. Plus, a lot of them are tangible. Here’s one. It’s to make your bed every morning.
That little bit of discipline to learn an order. Romano Guardini has great book about virtue, there’s a chapter on order. You don’t want to become obsessive and compulsive, but without order in your life it’s very difficult to grow in virtue, so here’s one small step, teaching a boy to make his bed every day.
Yes, there’s some boys out there that already make their bed, and they can do something else. That’s one challenge. Or a challenge to simplify your life, to fill a trash bag with something you don’t need and give it to the poor. Or a challenged charity, to give of yourself, for example to do a chore within your household that’s not yours normally, and don’t brag about it, and don’t tell anyone about it, just do it, just do this chore.
On feasts around Our Lady, we have challenges like making breakfast, or a meal for your mother. There’s some challenges where you call a grandparent. We’re trying to connect them with the generations. They’re very broad. Most of them are prayer but then many, many of them are tangible things like I just said.
Matthew: Oh, this is fantastic. [laughs]
Jason: I’m glad you think so.
Matthew: I ought to get the book and start working through some of those challenges myself, maybe.
Jason: How about I send you a book? That would be a…
Matthew: Yeah, [laughs] Merry Christmas.
Matthew: I’m starting to understand the power of what you’re talking about. If we don’t fill our sons’ lives with positive things, not only actions that help them think about charity and love and discipline and prayer, it gets filled with something else. Just having a routine and a discipline where they’re actually taking some portion of their week with this programmatic challenges, it’s great. It’s just fantastic.
If you look across the country now, I know you have some goals for the out years in terms of what you’re hoping to accomplish, but how many chapters do you have today? How many kids and men are in a typical chapter? What’s your vision?
Jason: Sure. Our vision is to have more chapters. Right now we’ve got about a dozen chapters around the country and each chapter there’s really a pretty broad range. We actually work pretty well in small, rural chapters out in the country. They have 20 boys but, really, that’s as many boys as they have. These other parishes that are closer to like 60 boys, those are a bigger beast. They might be in a city, or an urban setting of some sort, or one of those multi‑parish conglomerates you guys have up north.
It’s time to grow. We’ve really been in a state of building Fraternus for quite a while. The very clear description of everything that I’ve given you today…as you know, building anything, it’s taken on quite a bit of time. We’ve arrived at a point where it’s duplicatable and it’s growing. We never wanted to be a flashy, “Look at us, we’re the answer for everything.” Really just, “If this works in your parish we’re here to serve you in this way.”
Along with that, we definitely feel a push from God that it’s time for us to grow. I think things like this interview will be really helpful at just getting the word out and really encouraging our men to grow the chapters out from their neighboring parishes, to have that mentoring relationship. Our goals right now are pretty simple.
One of our limiting factors is that ranch program I told you about. We rent other camps to run that ranch and the problem with that is it becomes very difficult to rent these camps because they don’t want to give up the summer, they have their own programs. We have to find a new camp every year and it’s really hindering.
We’re getting up into the hundreds of boys going to this thing. One, we can’t rent camps, and we can’t do it in one week. Right now we’re working pretty actively in trying to purchase our own property, our own camp, and we don’t want it to be just a camp. We want it to be a ranch, basically a working farm. A place of peace and work, work and prayer, that Benedictine spirit, where men and boys can come and just live a little bit of a real life in a world of substantive reality.
That’s a journey right now that we’re working on. God is really opening up a lot of doors for that. Especially since recent decisions with the boy scouts and these recent issues, people like yourself bring an issue up, we getting more and more calls coming in, and that’s really exciting.
Our goal right now, actually, we’re in the midst of a campaign. We’re trying to have 10,000 knights in 10 years. I won’t break down all the math of that but it’s not that hard. We need more knights coming out of Fraternus that will change the world so that’s our goal, 10,000 knights in 10 years.
Matthew: What are the economics of this, if you want to start this within a parish? How much does it cost?
Jason: Currently, there’s a parish subscription fee. Fraternus, again, when we just had a couple of chapters it was extremely expensive, prohibitively, because we’re trying to stay sustainable, what it takes to produce the materials and to produce the program. Every year we’ve basically cut it in half and we’re down to a $2,000 annual subscription that the parish pays.
For the priests and the parish administrators that understand the man problem, they’re looking at that number and say, “Oh my goodness, that’s all I have to pay to have 60 men and boys in a room every night growing in virtue and changing my whole parish? $2,000 a year? Are you kidding me?”
Matthew: It’s very inexpensive.
Jason: Yeah. Obviously some people look at that and say, “That’s money I’m not going to spend.” I think we’re back to the, “Is this a problem or not, Father?” After that, there are materials. The boys buy the books, they buy the jerseys, which are the ceremonial rugby jersey they get, and they buy the materials.
After that, after you pay the subscription, all of the training, and the resources, the website, all of that stuff…it basically opens you up to all of that, and that constant flow of encouragement. We’re always there on the phone to talk them through. We really believe in the principle of subsidiary, that things should be handled on the lowest level possible.
It really is your job to mentor these boys. We’re here to help you, but we’re not going to do it for you. Let us know how we can help, but it’s your job, big guy.
Matthew: You absolutely have to get that, and that’s not the easiest thing to get sometimes. If you don’t have the clarity about who’s doing what, “what” usually doesn’t happen. [laughs]
Jason: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve learned that in a very hard way.
Matthew: This has been a very rich and very helpful conversation, not only for understanding what’s making Fraternus work, but just general principles about how we engage men and give them a mission. Are there some other things that we didn’t cover that you want to maybe end with here?
Jason: It’s been a good conversation for me, as well. I think it’s important, whoever’s out there listening, that we’ve got to put our time and our resources to these projects. We’ve got to start doing something. Start really simple. Call up a buddy, and drink a beer with him, and ask him how his prayer is going.
If you think that sounds like being soft or something, that means you don’t know anything about prayer. Just get together. For goodness sakes, I would love if men would just get together and talk, smoke some cigars, drink some bourbon, get in some arguments, and just be together. I think we’d have a lot of renewal in Church with just some simple masculine culture.
Confess your sins, be free from the sins of pornography, hang out with your brothers, go to mass, receive the sacraments. I think we already know what we need to do, it’s just time to do it.
Matthew: Yeah, absolutely. Today I’ve been speaking with Jason Craig, Director of Training and Program Development at Fraternus, a parish-based Catholic movement to help mentor boys into becoming virtuous Catholic men, and I might add, to mentor Catholic men into becoming virtuous Catholic men.
You can find out more about the great work at Fraternus by going to fraternus.net. I think you can find Jason Craig’s contact information there too, and reach out for Jason if you’re prepared and ready to man up and start mentoring boys in your parish.
My name is Matthew James Christoff and you can learn more about the New Emangelization project at NewEmangelization.com.
Transcription by CastingWords