Where Did All the Men Go?

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Have you ever noticed the relative proportion of men to women in most Catholic church congregations, societies, and apostolic movements? Men are not only outnumbered by women, but their relative absence is quite remarkable. There are any number of reasons suggested by social scientists, and Catholic thinkers for this fact. But the one that speaks to the real differences between men and women is that so much of what is available on the Catholic menu is a smorgasbord of pious sentimentality and liturgical creativity, vaguely known as mystical experience, contemplative ecstasy, with so little of it being missionary, evangelical and directly involved in Catholic action.

Not that anything negative is to be assumed of the great contemplative-charismatic tradition of the Church. After all scripture, tradition, and the patrimony of the saints rightly affirm the primacy of prayer over action, and of “being” (holiness) over “doing” (work, apostolic activity). The great saints of the Franciscan tradition, for example, starting with St. Francis himself and including recent saints like St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, teach that the progress of an individual’s spiritual life and their effectiveness as an apostle, is entirely dependent on one’s union with God and thereby, one’s relationship with Our Lady. Progress towards this goal is a matter, above all else of prayer, asceticism and the sacramental life. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to mark, both the absence of the contemplative tradition among Protestants, especially Evangelicals, and the greater balance in the proportion of men to women active in evangelical and pentecostal congregations.

The problem, of course, is not that the contemplative life holds pride of place in the Catholic tradition, but that the relationship between prayer and action is so often misunderstood, and the real differences between men and women have been so minimized and disparaged. Feminists have repudiated gender differences, and by that very fact have capitulated to a world that is dominated by the masculine. The Church remains the last tenuous refuge of femininity, by affirming the preeminence of Our Lady’s holiness, and the uniqueness of the feminine genius. Radical feminists expect men not to be patriarchs, not to be authority figures, and not to assume that women, children and families need to be protected. In a large and unfortunate way, men have meekly complied. The resultant dereliction of duty has spread the epidemic of fatherlessness throughout the whole of culture.

This analysis can be applied equally to the family, society and the Church, but perhaps in the Church this narrowing of understanding is most insidious, because the relationship between contemplation and activity is explicit and critical. The primacy of prayer remains the correct Catholic intuition, but men have largely found no way in which to express that intuition, except by imitating or following the lead of women. Most men will have nothing to do with it. They check out of the spiritual life and involve themselves in purely secular politics or philanthropy.


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