Some memories are so vivid that you can almost taste them. My memories of my maternal grandfather are like that for me: the sight of him standing at the bandsaw in his woodshop with the statue of St. Joseph in a niche nearby, the smell of freshly cut wood or lighter fluid on the charcoal grill in the back yard.
I can still see “Grampy” getting into the Buick in his blue, pinstriped suit on Saturday afternoon, backing out of the garage, and driving to the Vigil Mass at St. Mary. We sat in the last pew so that he could organize the ushers and help with the collection.
I would sit between him and my grandmother. Kneeling next to him, I would often look up at his face; oftentimes his eyes would be gently closed as he listened to Father Bath pray the words of consecration, or as he prayed after Communion. My grandfather exuded simple faith; his guidance was gentle but sure. He was no theologian, but he lived the words of St. Peter with simplicity and charity; he was always “ready to give an explanation to anyone who [asked him] for a reason for [his] hope” (1 Pt 3:15).
My memories of my dad are similar: the time he so often spent with me when I was a child playing “Johnny West” or “Ringolevio” or “Kick the Can” with the kids in the neighborhood, his teaching me how to ride a bike or to play basketball, his quietly getting up much earlier than he needed to so that he would have time to pray before he went to work.
No fanfare or fireworks, just simplicity, selflessness, patience, and love.
More than any other influences in my life, my grandfather and my dad taught me what it means to be a man, and a man of faith. It is a lesson I learned as much by watching as by listening, as much from their example as from their words.
I don’t know if my grandfather or my father read Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi in 1975, but I do know that they lived it.
The pope wrote, “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. All Christians are called to this witness, and in this way they can be real evangelizers.” (#21). My dad and my grandfather proclaimed the Gospel by the witness of their lives, and they were always ready to give a reason for the hope they had in Christ.
One of the most pressing questions in the Church today is how to keep our children Catholic. Recent studies have shown that the single most significant factor in keeping kids Catholic is the religious practice of their father. A Swiss study suggests that the chances of children practicing their faith as adults rises from two percent to as much as 75 percent if the father faithfully practices his faith, regardless of whether their mother attends church.
The problem is that according to a 2008 Pew survey, only about 36 percent of Catholic men go to church on a weekly basis, and most don’t have a regular prayer life (50 percent said that they pray only “occasionally or sometimes” or “seldom or never”).
This is not to minimize the importance of women in the family or the role they play in passing on the faith. (My mom will be pleased to know that I do remember her reading to me out of the “Baltimore Catechism.”) But there is a crisis in the Church, and it is a crisis of men. Men have caused it and only men, with God’s grace, can fix it.
The good news is that the remedy for this crisis isn’t complicated; and it isn’t a program. The key to keeping kids Catholic is for Catholic men to simply live the Gospel.
Catholic men who have encountered Jesus Christ need to share Him with those who have not encountered Him. They need to give witness to their love of Christ with honesty and simplicity, charity and truth, like “Grampy” did for me when I was growing up, and like my dad still does for me today.
In order to keep kids Catholic, Catholic men need to meet other men where they are at, in the same way our Lord met the Samaritan woman. Jesus met her in the midst of her faults and failures but He didn’t leave her there; He called her to more! He called her to the fullness of life and love and joy she could have in Him.
Catholic men can and must do the same with the men they know who have fallen away from the faith, or who aren’t living their vocations as husbands and fathers to the fullest. Catholic men need to witness to the hope and the joy they have in Christ through His Church. They need to invite other men to see and to seize their role as the spiritual leaders in their homes, for the sake of their own spiritual welfare and that of their wives and children.
The solution to the “man crisis” in the Church is for one Catholic man to help one other man to encounter, know, and love Jesus Christ, and find strength through the Eucharist and Confession so that he can be the true servant leader of his family.
One man at a time. One day at a time. And repeat.
Just like “Grampy” and my dad did for me.
Deacon Paul is the Director of Adult and Child Discipleship for the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization.