As long as we live in the world our life is a constant struggle between love for Christ or giving into lukewarmness, to our passions, or to comfort-seeking, which destroys love. Faithfulness to Christ is forged each day by struggling against what separates us from him, and by an effort to make progress in virtue. Then they will be faithful both when times are good and when they are difficult, when it seems few remain by Our Lord’s side.—Francis Fernandez
I recall a conversation with a Catholic friend over lunch some time ago about the obstacles between men and Christ. After the usual story swapping and a discussion about bad cultural influences, my friend left the table saying, “I need to get back to the office. Next time we get together we should brainstorm a handy checklist for Catholic men so we won’t forget what we are supposed to be doing!” The conversation stuck with me and the checklist idea eventually became this post.
As I pondered the obstacles keeping me from Christ, and those shared by other Catholic men I have encountered over the years since my conversion into the Church, it was very convicting and challenging as I was reminded of where I continually fall short. Yet, reflecting on this list has also inspired me and I try to reflect on how to overcome these obstacles during my daily prayer time. I have a long way to go, but I believe that greater awareness of these obstacles and a determined focus on overcoming them will bring me closer to Christ and my desire to attain heaven.
Before I share some of the common obstacles between us and Christ, let’s consider what we know for certain. We have a goal (to get to heaven and to avoid hell), a road map (Scripture and Tradition), examples to follow (the saints, particularly St. Joseph), leadership (the pope, bishops, priests, and deacons), clear teaching authority (the magisterium of the Church), help along the way (the sacraments) and divine guidance (the Holy Spirit). It is clear that we are well-equipped and have the tools and resources we need, but are we willing to make the necessary changes?
Obstacles between Catholic Men and Christ . . . and Actions to Overcome Them
- Pride—We have to surrender on an ongoing basis to Christ for His will to be done in our lives. He is not looking for a copilot. He is the pilot. Guys, we simply have to recognize that we are not in charge—as much as we want to be! The next chapter deals with pride and surrender in greater detail.
- We don’t fully appreciate the Eucharist—All of us have an opportunity every single day to have the most personal relationship possible with Christ by partaking of the Eucharist during Mass, yet we may not truly understand or appreciate this great gift He has given us. Many parishes offer Eucharistic Adoration, which provides an opportunity to kneel and pray before the True Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We will never know Him if we don’t spend time with Him.
- Lack of a prayer life—We can’t have a relationship with Jesus if we never talk to Him. Work on developing a daily prayer routine with the goal of at least an hour a day devoted to prayer. Sound difficult? Think about how much TV we watch a day. Consider how much time we spend in our cars each day and how much time we devote to exercise. We have more than enough time for prayer if we plan for it, schedule it, and commit to it. Pray the Morning Offering or other prayers before you leave home (ten minutes), five decades of the Rosary in your car or while exercising (twenty minutes), the Daily Jesuit Examen (fifteen minutes), Grace with all meals (five minutes), and with your children and spouse (ten minutes). Add it up, and we just did an hour of prayer. (See chapter four on Prayer and appendix three for Resources.)
- Misunderstanding our true vocation—For those of us blessed to be married and have children, we must recognize that helping our families get to heaven and being good husbands and fathers (and not our business careers) is our real vocation. It is so easy to allow our family to serve our work (my issue many years ago) instead of having our work serve our family, and, in turn, our family to serve the Lord.
- Lack of courage—If we don’t acknowledge Christ, defend Him in public, and tell others about Him, we will find it challenging to be close to Him. Christians are meant to stand out, not blend in. We live in difficult, trying times. Families are under attack, our children are at risk, many people are blind to the need to respect and value all life, and atheists are one of the fastest growing groups in the world. We have an opportunity to be beacons of light and good examples of Christ’s redeeming love. We will be judged one day on the fruits of our apostolate, and hope one day to hear Jesus say the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
- Lack of detachment—Guys, let’s ask ourselves if we need “it,” whatever “it” is. Does “my team” losing a game ruin my day? Do I treat playing golf, going to the gym, detailing my car as though they were more important than my family or my relationship with God who loves and created me and who is my ultimate end? If I already have a 50-inch flat screen TV, do I really need a 60-inch? If I already have a $40,000 car, do I really need a $50,000 car? Am I “majoring in the miners”? Let go of the things that are in the way of our prayer lives, Mass attendance, charitable giving, volunteering, time with our families, and certainly our relationships with Christ. “An effective detachment from everything we have and are is necessary if we are to follow Jesus, if we are to open our hearts to our Lord, who is passing by and calls out to us. On the other hand, attachment to earthly things closes our doors to Christ and closes the doors to love and to any possibility of understanding what is most essential in our lives” (Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, 7-volume set, Scepter Pubs, 1993). Healthy detachment includes letting go of the opinions of others and doing what we know to be right in the face of criticism and judgment from our peers.
- Pornography—Men have to guard against the increasing danger and addictive allure of pornography. What may start out as the “lust of the eyes” may turn to more dangerous forms of this epidemic. This sinful and harmful addiction is increasingly separating our men from the love of Christ. “Deep within yourself, listen to your conscience which calls you to be pure . . . a home is not warmed by the fire of pleasure which burns quickly like a pile of withered grass. Passing encounters are only a caricature of love; they injure hearts and mock God’s plan” (Pope St. John Paul II).
- Lukewarmness—“As long as we live in the world our life is a constant struggle between love for Christ or giving into lukewarmness, to our passions, or to comfort-seeking, which destroys love. Faithfulness to Christ is forged each day by struggling against what separates us from Him, and by an effort to make progress in virtue. Then they will be faithful both when times are good and when they are difficult, when it seems few remain by Our Lord’s side” (Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 2, 418).
- Diminished manhood—The feminization of our culture is emasculating our manhood. Women play a very special role in the world, but so do men—and we are forgetting what God has made us to be. The surrounding culture has been lying to us about our roles for decades and we are increasingly afraid to be spiritual leaders in our own homes. We are not like women and women are not like us. Men are made in the image of God the Father and only we can emulate Him in this regard and live out our calling.
What are the Fruits of a Life in Christ?
“Let your door stand open to receive Him, unlock your soul to Him, offer Him a welcome in your mind, and then you will see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the joy of grace. Throw wide the gate of your heart, stand before the sun of the everlasting light.”—St. Ambrose
Isn’t it tough to go it alone? Seriously, how effective are we if we only rely on ourselves for the answers? I don’t know about you, but I tried that way for over twenty years and it was very difficult. Having experienced a life where Christ is in charge, I have seen the other side and pray that I never have to fly solo again! Please consider your answers (as I have many times) to these important questions:
Do I want to be a better husband to my wife?
Do I want to be a better father to my children?
Do I desire a stronger faith journey in the Catholic Church?
Do I want to be a better son to my parents?
Do I want to be a better friend?
Can I be more involved in the community and helping others?
Do I want to be a better leader at work?
As we ponder the questions above, it is probably safe to assume we said “yes ” to each one. Now, think about surrendering yourself to Jesus and asking Him for help. We know what it is like to go it alone and if we are honest with ourselves, the results are not that great.
Giving ourselves to Him, letting our old selves go and placing Him first will change everything. We will receive His grace, guidance, and love, which in turn will positively affect our relationships with our wives, children, friends, and co-workers. We will see our faith journeys catch fire as we begin to appreciate the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. Our appreciation of the Mass will grow exponentially as we more fully understand the gift of receiving the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and we are joined in intimate union with Him. We will be perceived differently as people begin to see Christ at work in us. Or we can continue to stubbornly go it alone.
Jesus Christ died on the Cross for us. He redeemed our sins. He loves us unconditionally. The only way to heaven is through Him. What does He want in return? He simply asks for ALL of us—mind, body, and soul. He wants us to place Him first in our lives, before family, friends, work—everything. Think about the list of questions above and place “Christ inspired” in front of father, husband, son, friend, and leader. How can this not be desirable?
A few years ago I was blessed to be a speaker at the Rocky Mountain Catholic Men’s Conference in Boulder, Colorado. One of the other speakers who made a great impression on me was Chris Stefanick. Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput has called Chris Stefanick “one of the most engaging young defenders of the Christian faith on the scene today.” Chris speaks to over fifty thousand teens, young adults, and parents every year and has become a regular in Catholic media, appearing frequently on Relevant Radio and his videos featured on EWTN and Salt & Light (Catholic TV).
This fourteen-year youth ministry veteran served at a parish in the East Los Angeles area, as director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Lacrosse, and as director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. He is currently founder and president of Real Life Catholic—a nonprofit organization dedicated to reengaging a generation.
One of the things I appreciate most about Chris is how proud he is to be a husband and father to six beautiful children. I was eager to get his thoughts on the obstacles between men and Christ.
Chris, I know you have been involved in Catholic young adult and Catholic men’s ministries for several years. From your perspective, what are the obstacles between Catholic men and a deeper relationship with Christ?
“To come to God deeply and authentically you have to come as you are. Openly. Honestly. Wholeheartedly. But if men don’t know who they are, how can they come to God this way?
“I think there’s a cultural crisis in masculine identity. What does it mean to be a man?
“The identity gap is being filled with lies from a culture that encourages men to define themselves in all the wrong ways (money, sexual prowess, power), or that sees them as dumb oxen because they’re men and happen to have twenty times more testosterone in their bodies than women.
“What’s the solution? Men need other men.
“Women can affirm our masculinity, but as a very wise man once told me, only other men can confer it on us. We need brotherhood. Deep, authentic, and honest to the point of being raw. If we have that I think we can rediscover what it means to be a man, and I think we can learn, gradually, to come to God as we are.
“I have brothers in Christ in my life like this, and it’s one of the greatest blessings of my life. I don’t spend enough time with them, but sharing my thoughts with you reminds me that I need to.”
Having heard you speak at the Colorado Springs Catholic Men’s Conference a few years ago, I remember your wakeup call to Catholic men everywhere to “man up” and accept our responsibilities. What are the important responsibilities of Catholic men? Do you think the men you encounter are aware of them?
“The popes have written extensively to women in recent times. Perhaps they’re compensating for the fact that women can’t become priests, so it’s important for the Church amidst accusations of sexism to highlight the inherent beauty of what St. Pope John Paul II called ‘the feminine genius.’ And that’s wonderful. But I think they’re forgetting that 99.9 percent (more or less) of us Catholic men aren’t priests either. Which leaves me with the question, where’s our apostolic letter?
“Men have been endowed by God with a special way of imaging Him to the world. Married or not, parent or not, we’re all fathers at heart. We image God the Father in a way women cannot.
“I think we have refrained from reflecting on that for fear of sounding chauvinistic. Enough is enough. The sexual revolution is over. Women have the right to work and to use their gifts in any profession they want. They have the right to be bosses at any company they want. They have a place in the Church’s mission and ministry (and at any given parish it’s often a very important place) and I’d defend those rights. But now that that’s been established, it’s time to look, without fear, timidity, or apology, at the special charisms and calling we have as men!
“We are created to be spiritual leaders, providers, and protectors in a way that women are not. It seems that in the average family we have surrendered those roles to women to the point where we’re MIA. Women outnumber men in the Catholic Church every Sunday by 25 percent.
“Men have to take the reins and call their families to prayer. We need to be protectors and to reflect on the spiritual trajectory of our families, of each of our children, of our spouses, and we need to shepherd them in the right direction. I’m not sure we can expect to enter the kingdom if any of our children are left behind and we didn’t do anything about it, or even stop to notice what was happening as they wandered quietly into the kingdom of darkness.
“We need to be involved in the parish, in schools, in the community. And I’m not just speaking to married men, but all men, who are all called to spiritual fatherhood in their own way.
“Women are the glue of community life, and that’s beautiful, if it flows from their particular gifts and charisms. But I think more often than not it also flows from the fact that men are absent from all but their jobs and the NFL.”
When a Catholic man fails to address the issues you have identified, what is the impact on his marriage (or future marriage if currently single)?
“When a man doesn’t know who he is, he doesn’t know what he’s called to bring into a marriage. He approaches marriage as a ‘taker’ instead. He doesn’t approach it as a man, but as a baby, looking for a new source of milk to suckle. That’s not what you find in marriage, and it’s clearly not what the Lord calls us to in Ephesians 5: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.
“A brother in Christ once told me that if you approached marriage seeing your wife as a balm for your wounds, which she is in some ways, you’ll be shocked to see that God has planned for her also to serve as the finger of the doctor poking at and diagnosing your wounds. When you come in with a broken arm the first thing the doc does is poke your arm, ‘Does this hurt?’ ‘Ouch! Yes!’ ‘Good, now we both know where you’re broken and we can start to work on that.’”
If you had one chance to address an audience of Catholic men of all ages genuinely seeking to grow in their faith and accept their God-given responsibilities, what would be your message to them?
“You have twenty times more testosterone than women. That doesn’t make you fallen. It’s one of the many things that makes you a man. There’s a reason why every nation on earth was founded by a man: testosterone! It’s also why most prison inmates are probably men.
“You’re more ‘in the mood’ than women. You’re often more prone to anger than women, too. Men often think of themselves as inherently spiritually inferior to women because of those tendencies. Being a Christian man isn’t about crushing all that, but guiding it. There’s a team of horses inside of you. A life of virtue is just about making sure they pull your life in a mighty and positive direction rather than off a cliff somewhere. It’s not about killing those horses.
“Purity and patience aren’t about never feeling aroused or angry. God wants to encourage you to rise up and become the son, brother, and father He made you to be in His image.
“I’m just pointing out two particular issues, but the real issue is that when God looks at you, He doesn’t see something weak and broken or dirty. He sees His son. And when He calls you, He’s not calling you to become less of a man so that you can be redeemed. He’s calling you to be the man He created you to be. He desires to nurture the best out of you.”
As you ponder the lessons in this blog post, what are the barriers between you and Christ today? Do you recognize the obstacles and, most importantly, are you prepared to overcome them? The obstacles given and the actions to overcome them may seem daunting and a lot of hard work, but the real challenge is to practice these actions not as a bunch of items on a “to-do list,” but as part of a broader, unifying approach to living that places Christ first in every area of our lives.
*Adapted with permission from Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men