Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one!’ C S Lewis
My interest in forming a Catholic men’s group arose when I joined a new parish as a young husband and father. Looking around the church at Mass on a Sunday morning, I could see very few men my age – in fact, hardly any men at all. It was an isolating experience. Little by little, one or two men began to appear over the weeks and months, and we would be on nodding terms, acknowledging each other’s presence but no more. Eventually, I introduced myself and suggested that it would be good to meet socially and get to know each other better.
Roll forward to today, and it seems a small miracle that our parish is now full of couples and families, young and old, husbands and wives, dads and mums. The men’s group is just one of many good initiatives that bring people together. The church hall is packed for teas and coffees after Sunday Mass. Children run around, husbands chat in groups together and the wives in their own groups (it’s obvious we still enjoy the company of our own gender, despite society’s daft ideas on the matter), and the conversations often revolve around shared experiences outside of the parish: the daily commute to London, local social events – or that our children are in the same schools, clubs or sports teams. Going to Mass and meeting afterwards is one part of our personal social lives – but the fact we come together at church on a regular basis cements our relationships and provides a shared foundation for what we experience during the week in our secular environments.
It is in this regard that Catholic Man UK recommends, as far as possible, that a men’s group is centred within the parish and made up of parishioners. Forming social and spiritual bonds are easier when you see each other regularly at Mass and at parish events. Indeed, the parish should be the natural habitat for the extension of our bonds and the establishment of a real community. In the way that a couple comes together in marriage and multiplies their cells to form a family, so families come together in the parish and multiply into the Catholic community. This only happens to its fullest when men feel drawn to this community and lead their families there. Much can be said about the need for men to wake up to their own spiritual responsibilities, but a lot of the hard work can be avoided if they already feel at home in the church. A good men’s group goes a long way in providing a familiar social unit.
At the same time, the parish will benefit from the regular and committed presence of a body of men calling it their own. On a practical level, lawns get mowed and walls get painted. More importantly, however, the men become a visible sign of faithfulness, constancy and resilience in a time when their attention is easily distracted elsewhere and being religious is viewed as a weakness.
For those of us who see our fellow men in the pews to the left and the right, in front and behind, there is a strong subconscious message that we are in this together, fighting our own battles maybe, but with our eyes on the One who draws all men to Himself.