Learn by Topic: Interview
Here are the audio files of my recent interview with Father Michael Becker, Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota. St. John Vianney Seminary is one of the largest college seminaries in the United States and has yielded over 400 vocations to the priesthood. Father Becker was ordained in 1999 and is a member of the Companions of Christ, a fraternity of diocesan priests.
In our wide-ranging discussion, Father Becker offers deep insights into the formation of young men, but also the need for a broad New Emangelization in our parishes. Father Becker describes his 7-Steps to freedom from pornography.
Here is the audio and the transcription.
I’ve recently had the chance to sit down and discuss the New Emangelizaiton with Dale Ahlquist.
For background, Dale Ahlquist is of the most respected Chesterton scholars in the world. He is President of the American Chesterton Society, creator and host of the EWTN series “G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense,” and Publisher of Gilbert Magazine. He is the author of three books on Chesterton, including The Complete Thinker. Here is some more background on Dale.
And here is the discussion with Dale:
Matthew Christoff: Hello. My name is Matthew Christoff and today we’re going to be speaking about the evangelization of Catholic men. Many have heard of the New Evangelization, it’s a recognition within the Catholic Church that there are large numbers of the baptized who haven’t necessarily been evangelized.
They lack that living sense of the faith. They lack a passion for our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is particularly true within Catholic men. Many men are very lukewarm in their faith. Perhaps maybe we have a crisis within the church regarding the evangelism of Catholic men, so maybe what’s needed is a new emangelization. It’s a specific **recognition that we need new ardor, methods, and expressions in the evangelization of Catholic men.
Today, I am here with Dale Ahlquist. Hello, Dale.
Dale Ahlquist. Hello, Matthew.
Matthew: Many of you have probably heard of Dale or seen him on television. I’ll give you a brief introduction. Dale is one of the leading experts and thinkers on G.K. Chesterton. Since picking up his first Chesterton book 20 something years ago, Dale has been a leading advocate for spreading the wit and wisdom of Chesterton, in particular how he thought about the Catholic Church, and how he thinks about men.
Dale is the author of numerous books. He’s produced a series of television shows for EWTN on Chesterton. He speaks all over the world. We’re just delighted that you could spend some time with us, Dale.
Dale: My pleasure, Matthew.
Matthew: We had a little discussion before we went live about the status of Catholic men within the church, and the state of evangelization of Catholic men.
Dale: I think we’re in agreement going into this that the present state is not good. We need more involvement on the part of men in the Catholic Church and in evangelization. To ask if there is a crisis? The answer is yes.
Matthew: How do you see that, when you look around?
Dale: I think we see it in the lukewarm numbers, in the involvement of Catholic men in their parishes, which reflects in many ways the involvement of men in society right now. The Catholic Church, of course, is no different than the rest of society. Men have taken a nice comfortable place in the easy chair.
Matthew: [laughs] Right, right.
Dale: Men are just not actively involved right now in transforming society. Certainly not in a role that befits them. There are many causes for that. Part of it really is, and I’m speaking from experience here, men are lazy. They’re passive. They look for ways to get out of things. If there’s an easy way to do it, and if there’s a way not to do it, to get someone else to do it, that’s usually what they’re looking for.
They’ve done this now with just about every aspect of their lives. If you allow me to quote G.K. Chesterton.
Matthew: Oh, absolutely.
Dale: He says, “It’s really a sign of decadence when men will pay others to work for them, pay others to fight for them, pay others to dance for them, and pay others to think for them.” We just don’t do anything ourselves any more. We’re not self-sufficient, and it is a reflection of our general sloth.
Matthew: It’s interesting. I saw a recent study on the seven deadly sins, and how men are different than women. Of course, the confessional is something that you don’t really hear much about statistics. But there’s an old Jesuit I guess he’s 95 years old, in Rome who did a study of this. The three top ones for men were lust, sloth and gluttony. In women, I think it was envy, jealousy, and anger [correction: pride, envy, anger].
Matthew: Completely different.
Dale: They are completely different, but you know which one was left out of both of those? The main one, the sin that afflicts us the most, which is pride.
Dale: It’s just general selfishness. Every sin somehow comes back to pride. Just putting ourselves before God, that’s why we have the problems we do.
Matthew: Yes. Returning to you point about the culture, as we think about the solution for this crisis within the church, we have to start with this recognition of the general sociological challenges that we face.
I think it was Putnam who wrote a book called “Bowling Alone.” Which basically talked about the disengagement of men and women from society in general, in volunteering and everything else. That’s an interesting challenge.
Dale: Plus, just the whole problem with becoming passive. The more we rely on technology, we become passive. The more we rely on electronic means to entertain us, but also to get our information from, we become passive. We just keep waiting for someone else to tell us what to do and what to think. That’s a real problem.
We’re also waiting for the solution to come from someone else. That’s really what it comes down to, is we have this entitlement mentality in our society. We think “This has to be done for me. Why hasn’t someone done this yet?”
Matthew: It’s interesting because that’s clearly a big thing that’s happening in society. Then when you start to look at some numbers about specific faith practices of different types of men, you start to see some differences emerge.
In general, if you look at men that are Evangelicals, our Protestant brothers and sisters, who are obviously very passionate about our Lord, Jesus Christ. If you look at men, apples to apples, Evangelical men are much more passionate about the faith, pray more outside of church, more likely to read the scripture.
What is it about what’s happening within the church? You’re someone who had a conversion experience being a Baptist, I believe. They’re doing something different there.
Dale: Yeah, amen, they are. It’s interesting, Evangelicals, as you mentioned, are not considered mainline Protestants in America, even though they probably form more than half of what is considered Protestants in America.
The mainline Protestants fall into that same passive category. There’s something about that Evangelical fervor that’s different. Because Evangelicals have always felt themselves to be a minority that hasn’t fit in, always having to establish themselves, always having to prove themselves.
They have a different drive. They’re motivation is not to fit in, but to actually make a difference. Whereas, Catholics in America, in general have tried to stay under the radar, because they are living in a nonCatholic country. We just want to fit in and not draw too much attention to ourselves, and not make too much trouble for anybody else, so that nobody will make trouble for us.
There’s a different mentality of our role in society. I think that has played a big difference. Catholics, even though they really are the largest single denomination within Christianity, in America, they still look at themselves as outsiders. As a group that shouldn’t cause too much trouble.
Matthew: It’s bad when you think about it that the more you come aligned within a society the less passionate you get about Jesus Christ. There’s something very true about that.
Philip Trower wrote a book, “Truth and Turmoil,” about this whole experience of Catholics and how strong we were before we became enculturated. That’s really a problem.
I have a hunch that at the core of turning the tide is to get back to our Lord, Jesus Christ, the intimate and personal relationship with Jesus.
This is something that all of our most recent popes have talked about. Pope Francis is very emphatic about this. Pope Benedict has written three books about Jesus. John Paul did 85 catechetical sessions on Christology, explicitly focused on helping people meet and know Jesus.
Obviously it’s got to be a core part of the New Emangelization, but how do you react to that? Do men know Jesus within the Catholic church, do you think?
Dale: Obviously, if you look at the overall numbers, the answer, unfortunately, is, generally not. The weakness of Catholics in America right now, their failure to have made a difference in society, really transform the society, is a result of the Catholic laity, who should be led by the Catholic lay men, to really get out and make a difference.
If men would be better Catholics, they’d be better men and they’d be better citizens. They’re, right now, an insignificant factor in our whole nation right now. They’re just not making an impact on our nation, so the answer, unfortunately, is no. Catholic men aren’t living up really to what their calling is as Catholic men. First as Catholic, and then as men.
Matthew: Within in the Church, as we think about we’re, what, 40 something years into a New Evangelization now starting with Vatican II, what signs do you see of things that, maybe as an institutional church, we’re doing well? We can get into the opportunities in a second.
Dale: Sure. I think we are seeing certain lay movements that just didn’t exist before, and anytime you see that, that’s a good sign. Completely initiated by lay people, led and organized by lay people with the blessing of the Church and in conjunction with the Church, but not leaving it up to the institutional church to run it, not leaving it up to the clergy to take care of it.
I remember growing up just, obviously, it was right at the very beginning of Vatican II, but there was still this mentality among CatholicsI was an outsider, remember, I was an EvangelicalI saw Catholics being…We used to make fun of how they didn’t do anything, they just let the priest do everything.
They’d show up on Sunday, and then that was the end of their practice of the Catholic faith, and it seemed like it was the priest doing all the work. I think that what Vatican II was trying to do was give lay people the spark to do things because they saw that the laity would be playing a bigger role in the evangelization and in really bringing the faith to the modern world. We’re seeing the beginning of it. We’ve seen some really neat movements all across the country with lay initiatives.
Matthew: Yeah. How would you characterize the difference in how men and women approach the faith. Are they distinct? Are they different?
Dale: I think they absolutely are different. There are certain things that apply to all Catholics, but right away you have to understand, as our man Chesterton said, “There really is a difference between men and women. I know this shocks the world.”
Dale: A shocking idea, but they’re completely wired differently and they think about different things, and thus, in creating an evangelization, we have to think about what men think about and how they’re wired and use those strengths so that they can evangelize better. It’s great, men are much more sensitive than women, for instance. There’s your first paradox, Matthew.
Matthew: That is a paradox.
Dale: Women are generally…The image is that women are the softies that will give in right away, and everything. No. Women are absolutely heartless.
Matthew: [laughing] This isn’t from experience, right?
Dale: [Laughter]. Of course it’s from experience, but it’s also from these are the grand truths that have come down from the top of the mountain here. Of course, but men, even though they are very sensitive, they don’t want to admit it, so they have to hide that with a false exterior that is completely this phony front that they put on and meanwhile they’re getting chewed up inside.
They have to understand that they have these real passions that have to be channeled to the glory of God. The two passions are love and fighting. Those are the two things. It goes back to all the great romance novels of all time.
Chesterton says there are three characters in every novel. There’s the thing that is hated, which is the dragon, and must be fought. There’s the thing that is loved, which is the princess. Then there’s the thing that fights and loves, which is St. George.
Matthew: It’s a classic in every…It’s not unlike the faith. There certainly is a dragon.
Dale: Right. There’s a dragon that has to be fought. There’s a real, genuine evil that has to be fought. When I say that the evil has to be hated, it’s really we, Chesterton says, we fight, the soldier fights not because he hates what’s in front of him, but because he loves what’s behind him. The man has to take the role of defender, but he fights with passion because he’s defending something he loves. We have to really attack the things that are destroying what we love, and that’s what men are not doing.
Matthew: Yes. That is a very interesting insight because one of the things that we know is a great plague for men is pornography.
Matthew: There’s something like 65 or 70 percent of men engage in pornography on and off the bases. It’s a stunning statistic. I’ve heard anecdotally that this is also true within deacons and priests. I doubt if the numbers are as severe, but at the heart of that, you’ve given your passion to something and basically fed yourself in such a way that it’s hard to have a passion about things.
Going back to your idea that men are disengaged and they’re passive, and part of what I think that needs to happen is, maybe, a recognition of a motivator regarding mortal sin. We’ve lost a sense of what that is.
I think the sacraments, somehow, as we think about this evangelization of men, particularly with this idea of pornography, I actually have this hypothesis that maybe Satan has overplayed his hand a bit.
Because things like pride can be squishy, things like greed can be squishy, but every man knows, if they’re in their office, or they’re downstairs looking at pornography, they know they’ve done something wrong. That’s something you can say, “Look, if you’re doing this, then your soul’s in danger.”
Dale: We have to fight the things that are destroying what we love, that are attacking what we love. We see our society crumbling. We’re in a state of decadence, and obviously what’s coming through our computers is what’s contributing to that decadence.
If we’re passionate soldiers, that really defend what we love, we need to get out there and create a movement to destroy Internet pornography. It can be done. It absolutely can be done, if we want it to be done, but we have been too afraid of looking like fools.
Saying, “We’re interfering with some sort of sacred rights of free speech,” which absolutely is a false idea, because there’s nothing about pornography that has anything to do with free speech. Chesterton says “It’s not something to be debated about with one’s mind, but stamped out with one’s heel.”
Matthew: Was he speaking about pornography?
Dale: He said that very thing about pornography. He says there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about it. You are trying to inflame a passion that’s already there, that doesn’t need to be inflamed, right?
Dale: That’s what you’re doing. Anyone who allows it, or promotes it is evil. It’s that simple. There’s nothing good about it.
Here’s this basically raw sewage that’s coming out through our Internet and we’re doing nothing to stop it. Men should be stopping that. Men should be creating the barricade to protect their towns.
Matthew: I think that’s interesting. I think this idea of creating the recognition of an urgency is perhaps the first step. Thinking of inciting men to heroism, are there other things that you can think of, or that Chesterton might talk about?
Dale: Part of it, of course, again, as Catholics in this nonCatholic society we’re afraid to transform the society into a Catholic society. The Emangellization is, yes, we have to be Catholic men. But we’re out there trying to make more Catholics.
That’s what we’re trying to do, and really create a Catholic society, which we don’t live in right now. If we lived in a Catholic society, the roles of men and women would be better defined.
We’d have a lot less confusion and chaos. There would not be abortion. There would not be same sex marriage. There would not be women serving in the military, certainly not in combat. men would never allow that, real men would never allow any of those things.
Because they’ve been passive, because they’ve been lazy, all those things have happened.
Matthew: Right, there’s just a general lack of chivalry, a lack of understanding of chivalry.
Dale: Chivalry of course is one of the great catholic virtues that arose during the high middle ages. It was something that rose in conjunction with the cult of the Virgin Mary.
Chivalry teaches you how to treat a woman the right way. It starts with the way we treat the blessed Virgin Mary.
Matthew: Isn’t it a convoluted world where we have this division, everybody wants this independence and nobody’s really happy. We’ve lost that sense of what true love is, what true romance is, giving oneself to the Virgin Mary, giving ourselves to Christ.
I think exactly what Satan would just love to see. He’s moving towards his end game. We know that Christ has already won the battle.
Dale: There have been dark ages before, where Satan looks like he’s had the upper hand and things have turned around before. I think every Christian should think that they’re living in the last ages, so that they have a sense of urgency.
It should never be that this is all going to be inevitable, there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s always, “No, we’re going to fight. We’re going to die fighting and see if we can turn things around.” It’s a matter of living out a life of goodness and purity, and turning things around that transforms a society.
Matthew: If we start to try to think about some of the principals that might guide a new Emangellization, a series of four to five things, seven, eight, whatever the number is that need to be built into this way of thinking, what are your thoughts? Do you have some ideas?
Dale: Obviously we believe that there are differences between men and women, but we start with the things that are the same. That is we’re all souls that need the redeeming love of Christ. That’s why we all need the sacraments.
Admitting that at the beginning, then we go to the distinctions. Yeah, the sacraments actually play different roles for men and women. Obviously there are the sacraments that only apply to men with the religious work, the priestly orders.
Even within the sacrament of marriage, the husband has a different role than the wife. Chesterton says the problem with the sexes is that each sex is trying to be both sexes at once.
Dale: He said that a hundred years ago, Matthew. He saw it coming.
That means that the husband, as leader of the house, has to be the model that everyone looks up to. It’s the paradox that the first will be last. He has to make himself the servant of everyone. That’s what will win him the respect from everyone, so that his position of authority is recognized.
If he’s working hard, sacrificing himself for his wife and family, that’s what gains their respect and makes them realize that he is the leader and the authority. By being lazy, they don’t respect him.
Matthew: The first step is kind of calling men back to their role as servant leader within the house and reasserting that. I had a chance to talk with an influential Catholic leader recently who that was his core thought, that men, somehow we need to encourage them to retake that role as leader within their households.
Dale: I totally agree with that. I think that is one of the key elements in making this happen. I think there’s also just learning about their faith, understanding their faith.
We talked about confession. There was something I was going to say about that. [laughs] It was really good, and I forgot.
I think when men go to confession, just their very presence there is a model. Men need to be seen at confession.
Matthew: That’s interesting, as you know we’ve launched something in the Twin Cities called “Catholic Man Night.” Which is, in essence emphasizes on ***parish level basis drawing men to Jesus Christ.
You start with an hour of adoration. You have a priest come and talk about a specific topic. During that hour of adoration, there’s confession. You see 60, 70, 80 men lined up for confession, that’s powerful. It influences the men that are there.
Perhaps kind of a re-emphasis on the need for confession. You know the confession numbers, if you look at statistics, they’re dismal. About 70 percent of people do not make it confession even once per year.
Dale: It is interesting. There’s different ways you can gauge the health of a Catholic parish. One of them is, do they have regularly scheduled confession that they really call out, so you know confession is available this time? Or is it just confession is 15 minutes before mass, or by appointment?
If they don’t have a regularly scheduled confession, that indicates that they’re not emphasizing that sacrament enough and obviously people aren’t taking advantage of it then. It’s one of those sacraments, like all of the sacraments. It’s there for you to take advantage of, because it’s going to deepen your walk with Christ.
Matthew: We were talking about the issue of men and pornography. Based on what kind of sin you’re doing and how frequent you’re getting to confession, there’s kind of three zones you’re in.
One zone is, you’re in danger of Hell if you get hit by a bus today. There’s the, I’m in the Purgatory zone. Or there’s that really, wafer thin, you’re a saint, right? You’re going right to Heaven.
Matthew: I think what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to get guys to say, “Hey, all I want to do is just get in the Purgatory zone for just a couple days. Then I’ll go back.” If we can get men into that habit, I think a lot of these problems will…
Dale: It’s true, if you do confession frequently, you sin less frequently. It’s just one of those weird formulas. you may have less and less to confess if you go more frequently, but that’s because you’ll be thinking about that confessional more when you’re out of it than if you go there less frequently.
Matthew: I think there’s a deterrent factor. It’s like, “I don’t want to go back and say that one again.” There’s another thing that may be a hook in this new Emangellization, is emphasizing the role of fathers in the faith lives of their children. There are lots of statistics out there.
A lot of statistics out there that suggest that the single biggest indicator on what happens to your children in their faith life is the faith of the father. There’s also statistics that kind of show men are less passionate about passing on the Catholic faith, and they don’t feel very competent to do it.
Dale: They haven’t learned the faith well enough to express it. They’ve let it be a womanly thing that the woman will teach the faith. By not taking that responsibility, yeah, their entire family suffers as a result of it.
When the family suffers, then the whole society suffers. That’s the key element here. If we build a strong family, we can build a strong society.
Matthew: Are there other things, other principals that you think would be important in this new Emangellization?
Dale: I think right along with teaching our faith to our own families better, we should start building vocations too. We should start realizing that, “Yeah, there could be someone from my family who may have a calling to the priesthood,” or a woman to the religious life. To actually nurture that idea within our family.
Chesterton says that when the monasteries return, when the monks return, then marriages will return. That’s a wonderful paradox there. We’ve lost that emphasis on the religious life and it’s funny how the family has suffered as a result of it.
Matthew: It’s like one of those non-obvious things.
Dale: Yes, it’s completely not obvious. If you think about the model of Europe was a strong monastery, then had a whole community form around it. That became the center of the social life, the center of education, the center of commerce and everything was connected to what was going on in that monastery.
That was considered a mark of great achievement, was to become a member of the religious community. The majority who tried to get in probably didn’t make it, because they didn’t pass the test.
It’s a different mentality now. If we realize that serving Christ with a life of total devotion is the highest calling you can have, and there’s this other calling that is parallel to that. Serving Christ with utter devotion, but serving your spouse, as well, and your family. If those two things are running parallel to each other, that’s how you create a great civilization.
Matthew: It’s a return to what manliness is, traditional, virtuous manliness. It’s the love and service to the King, Jesus Christ, and the protection of the weak.
We have just a couple, two quick other questions. One is, you’ve launched Chesterton Academy, and you’re drawing both young women and young men. Is there anything in particular that you’re doing with the young men there that might be a model to talk about?
Dale: We just hit the critical factor of having enough students in one class where we can split the genders for certain courses. Which is what our goal was when we started the school.
Matthew: Why is that?
Dale: Because men and women actually learn differently too. We teach pretty much the same material to both the boys, and the girls, but teaching it to the boys just in their own classroom with no women around, they actually concentrate more. They’re less distracted more. They have a different sense of camaraderie that’s forming with the other men in the class.
It’s just a different learning experience. Same thing with the women being taught in a separate class. There’s a lot less pressure on them that’s coming across the room, from the others. [laughs]
Matthew: This gender thing is real?
Dale: Yeah, it is. It’s absolutely real. You can see the results almost instantaneously. They all admit it’s better that way.
They have their time for social interaction. There are other classes that are taught in a coeducational setting, like music and drama, things like that. But teaching philosophy and teaching literature, they can talk about things much more openly about these issues without the embarrassment of having a member of the opposite gender sitting there.
Matthew: You know that is true for men too. The research that we’ve done regarding how men engage the faith, men tend to be more active and more open when they’re separated from women and do discussions about the faith.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a coming together and sharing, and there can’t be meaningful and important dialog. But you’ve got to carve out some space, right?
Dale: Exactly, that’s exactly right. Why not totally take advantage of these opportunities to develop each person to their fullest, in the right kind of setting? Because the system isn’t working right now. That’s why we started Chesterton Academy.
One of the other great downfalls…If you don’t want to get me started on this, just stop me.
Matthew: [laughs] No, I want you to get started.
Dale: Men need to absolutely be in total control of their children’s education. If they send them to the public school, they better know what they’re being taught. They better make sure that the teachers and the administration is answerable to them about what’s being taught. If they’re not, they have a duty to remove their children from the public school.
Education is supposed to be truth in the state of transmission. it’s passing truth form one generation to the next. As soon as we put someone in charge of conveying that truth who doesn’t know the truth, or cannot teach the truth…
Matthew: Or does not want to teach the truth.
Dale: Or does not want to teach the truth, you’re basically messing with the souls of your children at that point.
Matthew: This is the state of the world, right? Pluralism and Relativism, there is no truth.
Dale: As Catholics, we need to get control of the public schools, and failing that we need to get out of the public schools and watch them fail. Because they are absolutely destroying the souls of our children, but they’re also completely destroying the society.
They’re undermining everything, every bit of tradition that we’re trying to pass on to our children. Of course you cannot teach a cohesive philosophy without Christ at the center of it. It’s simply just fragments of facts that are not held together by anything.
Matthew: One last topic. I know you’ve been active at the Argument of the Month Club. You’ve spoken there a number of times. Do you want to just take a minute or two and talk about the Argument of the Month Club? In particular, what happens there, and how it draws men?
Dale: It’s a very fun atmosphere and I think that’s one of the things that draws men to it. They know they’re going to have a good time there. It’s not only fun, but it’s faith filled.
You’re going to be with men of the faith, and eating man food and having arguments. Because that’s what men like to do. They like to have arguments.
There is the joy of seeing a good argument, but there’s really the great joy of participating in a good argument. That’s the sort of thing we need to nurture more among men, is to get together and have some table pounding time together.
It starts at kind of a local level. The Argument of the Month Club started with just some guys at a restaurant, having these arguments. But they were so enjoyable that it kept inviting more and more people. Now there are 400 people that most of them have to watch.
Matthew: In your travels, have you seen that number of men get together?
Dale: I’ve never seen anything like that around the rest of the country. The Argument of the month Club, I think it’s unique to the Twin Cities.
When I tell people about it, they drool with envy. They think it’s a great idea.
Matthew: It’s combat, right? It’s fighting against injustice, or some attack on the church.
Dale: I think the other thing is there’s going to be the true debates between right and wrong, but then there’s going to be the more nuance debates. Those are the ones that can be very worthwhile, you hope, among Catholics.
Chesterton says: “Catholics are people who agree on two or three things, and they argue about everything else.” I think it’s some of those more nuance things that are very good arguments and very edifying. Because we can achieve unity on these things if we hash them out.
Matthew: I’m so grateful that you’d spend some time to enlighten me and others about G.K. Chesterton. We’re very grateful for your thoughts on the New Emangellization. Thanks a lot.
Dale: You’re very welcome, and as soon as we get into these things you’re just scratching the surface, but I’ll tell you, the truth is a deep well. We can keep drawing from it, and drink to our satisfaction if we keep seeking it out.
Matthew: Keep digging!
Dale: All right, God bless.
Matthew: Thank you very much.
Dale: Thank you.