Every year there are many apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, dystopian movies that make the big screen — and a whole lot more that make Netflix, Amazon Prime, and all the other outlets for cinematic entertainment. These are just a few I thought of over the last several years: “The Hunger Games,” “The Matrix,” “Serenity,” “Blade Runner,” “The Book of Eli,” “Children of Men,” “Divergent,” “Maze Runner,” “The Postman,” “Terminator” — and you will note several of these were series of multiple movies.
These movies ask us to consider what happens if all the infrastructure we know and depend on fail, or technology goes terribly wrong with experimental viruses released or artificial intelligence taking over, or all manner of horrible things — and suddenly our world is filled with lawless hordes sweeping through the neighborhood bringing death, doom, fire, flood, famine, pestilence, plague, and worse to fill our lives. How will people arise from such devastation, despair, and damage to restore civilization and the goodness of the world? If you are a survivalist or “prepper” perhaps you are nodding your head and thinking, “I don’t know about the restoration, but I am ready to outwait the dark days.”
Well, perhaps we should consider the end of the 5th century when the Roman Empire — or what was left of it — fell apart in the face of the barbarian hordes (remember the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and other “hordes” you could never quite keep straight in history class?). One of the great “survivalists” of the day was St. Benedict. He went to the area south of Rome and established self-sufficient communities of men. These communities were strongholds of survival and civilization. The communities he founded became the seed bed for the establishment of whole new Christian communities — and within those communities a new model of what a Christian man was called to be; the virtues and nobility one was to process because of their fellowship with the Lord. St. Benedict offered a new vision of the “nobleman” called to walk the threefold way: work, prayer, and study.
In the last 10 years there has been an increase in Catholic men’s groups. Certainly, the traditional Knights of Columbus continues to serve the church, as do our local Knights. But there’s been a rise in a number of men’s national groups/conferences with somewhat militant-sounding brand names or offerings. I ran across one “Unleashing the Warrior Within.” To be fair, I know nothing about it, but the name does not, for me, carry the sense of the underlying threefold way of Benedict upon which Christian life and society was rebuilt. Another group offers a muscular version of Catholicism with a tagline of entering the gridiron of battle for the soul of a nation. There is a group called “The King’s Men,” a national Catholic apostolic mission to men with a motto of “Leader. Protector. Provider.” Again, I know little about this apostolate, but their motto seems closer to the threefold way of Benedict, perhaps just expressed in roles of the husband/father within the family.
Some notes I have kept in my “file of ideas” (borrowed from a writer’s whose name I did not record) pointed out that St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Ignatius and other religious order founders tapped into a few key elements that makes men what they are. It connects with a man’s need to join a gang, a team, a regiment, a fraternity, or a club. It also connects with a man’s need to be on a mission from God. They need a calling, a vocation, and the Catholic men’s ancient and modern movement builds on that instinct in a positive way.
Men also need support from other men and mentors. Catholic conferences, retreats, seminars, and parish groups provide a supportive and prayerful context for the emotional and spiritual support men need, but usually won’t ask for on a personal level. And so, groups of ordinary men of all ages, from every social and ethnic group, who simply want more out of their Catholic faith, are coming together to make it happen. The encouraging thing about the Catholic men’s movement in America is that it is a perfect expression of some of the goals of the Second Vatican Council. With its emphasis on the universal call to holiness and its call for the laity to be involved and engaged, the Catholic men’s movement is a grassroots phenomenon.
What about here at Sacred Heart? Two years ago, a grassroots ministry started to offer Christian fellowship to the men of Sacred Heart. The group incorporates the call to holiness, prayer, study, and offers service opportunities to the poor and marginalized. Interested? Join our Men’s Prayer Group for a morning of Christian fellowship. They meet next Friday, Aug. 17, at Sacred Heart’s North Campus (3515 N. Florida Ave.) in the Convent Chapel at 7:30 a.m. (and there is plenty of parking). For more information, contact Jim Rossman at firstname.lastname@example.org.