Matthew James Christoff has highlighted a crisis of faith for men within the Catholic Church. He makes several significant points. Somewhere between 11 and 15 million men who were raised Catholic have left the church. Only about one third of Catholic men attend Mass weekly. Four out of ten Catholic men do not believe that the Catholic Church contains any more truth than any other religion.
Christoff also notes that 60 percent of Catholic men are what he calls “casual Catholics.” In other words, they don’t really know their faith and don’t practice it appropriately. Only 10 percent of Catholic men are what he calls “committed Catholics.” These are Catholics who are regular communicants, go to confession frequently, and are active participants in various Catholic groups and activities.
Perhaps most telling, according to Christoff, only 18 percent of current 18- to 29-year-old Catholics say they are sure they will remain Catholic in the future. Clearly Christoff has put his finger on a serious challenge for the church today. His suggestion for correcting the problem, however, is problematic.
Christoff points to men from Evangelical churches that are more passionate about their faith, which would suggest that something is missing from our Catholic faith. Yet Christoff’s answer appears to be only too familiar. If we simply explained our faith better, and encouraged men to frequent the sacraments and pray more we could solve this problem. Such a return to the Catholicism of the 1940s and 50s seems only to perpetuate the causes of lukewarm male response to the faith.
Maybe we need to look at why there is so much passion among evangelicals today and consider how we can capture some of that. In one of his earlier lectures, speaking about Evangelical Christianity, Fr. Raymond Brown commented that he had spoken to many Catholics who had converted to evangelicalism. These former Catholics would make such telling statements as, “I found Jesus, and I love him.”
Perhaps we need to encourage a more personal relationship with Jesus. We need to encounter Jesus not just in the sacraments, but in the Scriptures, in each other, and in the world around us. It could be precisely the emphasis on performing certain tasks, rituals, or devotions that often seem routine and repetitive that fails to reach many men emotionally.
If only 10 percent of Catholic men are finding what they need for spiritual growth in Catholicism, the idea of doubling down and doing more of the same doesn’t seem to be sufficient. We need to explore the riches of the Christian tradition, not just Catholicism, and find new ways for bringing men as well as women into a deeper faith and a stronger commitment to the Lord Jesus, the Christ.