“My wife does that stuff.” How disheartening it is to hear those words from a man when the question is whether or not he practices his Catholic Faith or imparts its dogma and morals to his children. Given the necessity of dying in the state of grace, and the general rule that the tree tends to lie where it falls, this leads to the conclusion that, to these gents at least, Heaven is for ladies while hell is for men.
No, we do not rule out deathbed conversions or prodigious interventions of grace. These things happen, but we are also enjoined by the best Catholic tradition of moral exhortation not to presume upon them; therefore the saints warn us that we will die as we lived and therefore must strive to live well, which is to say, in the grace of God.
In the case of a husband and father, the decision to neglect the duties of Religion (and, consequently, to forfeit the prospects of salvation) are not merely personal, for he is the head of that smallest of societies ordained by God, the family. His role as head, as much as it has been attacked, denied, mocked, and derided, remains of great importance in this matter above all. It is said that priests do not go to Heaven or hell alone. The same applies to the man whose vocation it is to lead his family spiritually: the father. (No, gentlemen, the priest is not the spiritual head of your family; you are — for good or for ill. This is very scriptural.) A father’s virtues and vices, his morals and fidelity to the Church (or lack thereof) will all influence his children profoundly — guaranteed.
If the father’s influence is so certain — and it is — then there are some truly alarming signs before us. Tucker Carlson has summarized the man crisis very briefly in a Fox News presentation, from which a few excerpts here follow:
- The average American man will die five years before the average American woman. One of the reasons for this is addiction. Men are more than twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. They’re also twice as likely to die of a drug OD. In New Hampshire, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis, 73 percent of overdose deaths were men.
- Seventy-seven percent of all suicides are committed by men. The overall rate is increasing at a dramatic pace. Between 1997 and 2014, there was a 43 percent rise in suicide deaths among middle aged American men. The rates are highest among American Indian and white men, who kill themselves at about ten times the rate of Hispanic and black women.
- You often hear of America’s incarceration crisis. That’s almost exclusively a male problem too. Over 90 percent of inmates are male.
- Relative to girls, boys are failing in school. More girls than boys graduate high school. Considerably more go to and graduate from college. Boys account for the overwhelming majority of school discipline cases. One study found that fully one in five high school boys had been diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, compared with just one in 11 girls. Many were medicated for it. The long term health effects of those medications aren’t fully understood, but they appear to include depression in later life.
- Women decisively outnumber men in graduate school. They earn the majority of doctoral degrees. They are now the majority of new enrollees in both law and medical schools.
- Between 1979-2010, working age men with only high school degrees saw their real hourly wages drop about 20 percent. Over the same period, high school educated women saw their wages rise. The decline of the industrial economy disproportionately hurt men.
- There are now seven million working age American men who are no longer in the labor force. They’ve dropped out. Nearly half of them take pain medication on any given day. That’s the highest rate in the world.
- Far fewer young men get married than did just a few decades ago, and fewer stay married. About one in five American children live with only their mothers. That’s double the rate in 1970. Millions more boys are growing up without fathers. Young adult men are now more likely to live with a parent than with a spouse or partner. That is not the case for young women. Single women buy their own homes at more than twice the rate of single men. More women than men now have drivers licenses.
Those statistics, alarming as they are, prescind from religious considerations entirely. But the real crisis is spiritual. Here are a handful of Catholic statistics which help to make sense of the depth of the spiritual catastrophe:
Since AD 2000, 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, infant baptism has dropped by 28%, adult baptism has dropped by 31%, and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%. [Source: Center for Applied Research into the Apostolate. Frequently Requested Church Statistics, 2014 as quoted by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Into the Breach.]
True, the above is not specific to men, but statistics that are specific to men help to explain the larger problem, for the general Catholic crisis is largely a crisis in masculine spirituality. Consider these alarming facts about Catholic men in the U.S.:
- 8 out of 10 men agree that “how one lives is more important than being a Catholic.”
- 4 in 10 men believe that Catholicism does not have a “greater share of truths than other religions.”
- Only 38% of Catholic men strongly agree that they are “proud to be Catholic.”
- Only 26% of Catholic men consider themselves to be “practicing Catholics.”
- Only 34% of Catholic men strongly agree that Catholicism is “among the most important parts of life.” [Source: The Catholic “Man-Crisis” Factsheet, which catalogues much more grim data of the Catholic man crisis.]
Another article produces the alarming claim that “Only 1 in 50 Catholic men have a monthly practice of Confession.”
The reason the Catholic “man crisis” is a crisis for all of us is simple. Fathers are the heads of families. As families are the natural building blocks of human society, it follows as night does the day that human society is naturally patriarchal. However much feminists might rail against this truth, it is so much a part of our nature that any attempt to alter it will only succeed in doing violence to humanity. In fact, one might argue that relentless and denaturing attacks against patriarchy have done just that, and their terrible success helps to explain our current situation.
As for the supernatural institution of the Church, it is most certainly patriarchal, with the hierarchical title “patriarch” being one of the most venerated in the Churches of the East and West. The only higher office is that of the “pope,” which also comes from a word for father.
If the foregoing is true, we must conclude that when the patriarchs are in crisis, society is in crisis.
Regarding the passing on of religion to children, a Swiss government study conducted in 1994 but published in 2000 confirms what we might have known by common sense regarding the father’s pivotal role. In the words of The Christian Post’s S. Michael Craven,
The study reports:
1. If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.
2. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.
3. If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!
What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Amazingly, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and up to 44 percent with the non-practicing. This suggests that loyalty to the father’s commitment grows in response to the mother’s laxity or indifference to religion.
In short, if a father does not go to church-no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions-only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). One of the reasons suggested for this distinction is that children tend to take their cues about domestic life from Mom while their conceptions of the world outside come from Dad. If Dad takes faith in God seriously then the message to their children is that God should be taken seriously.
So, what to do?
Fathers — and potential fathers — need to review their priorities in light of their sacred duties, which they should learn and take much to heart.
Apostolates seeking to stem the mass exodus of Catholics from the Church need to direct much of their energy towards forming (and reforming) men. This is not to neglect women; not at all. It is men that have been all too ignored in recent years. And if the “man problem” is properly addressed, the remaining problems will be less acute, for reasons already explained.
Catholic men need to help and support each other as spiritual brothers and faithful friends.
Lastly, the practice of the Religion by our clergy needs to become more masculine. One of the reasons, I am convinced, that many men say, “my wife does that stuff,” is because “that stuff” looks all too womanish to many a man. This has to do with what Father Richard Cipolla has aptly called the “The Devirilization of the Liturgy,” and what Father James McLucas calls the “Emasculation of the Priesthood.”
Coming down to the particular, the individual, a healthy dose of “Montfortian Masculinity” will help us all.
Saint Joseph, great Patriarch of Nazareth and Head of the Holy Family, pray for us!