Friday, 07 February 2014 11:00

Forming Men for Mission

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20140207 marricville-library
Marrickville Library

Around 3 years ago in my parish there were rumblings in two distinct voices with regard to reaching out to men. One voice was the parish priest. He had been the member of a men’s social club in Melbourne for many years. The other voice was a De La Salle brother who was interested in what has broadly become known as the Men’s Movement. I had been interested in reaching out to the men of the parish for some time so these two voices caught my attention. Eventually the Men Alive team were invited to the parish and a group of men participated in a weekend retreat-workshop. My strongest memory of the weekend was witnessing reconciliation between a father and his adult son. It appears that years of misunderstanding between them had been a source of pain and that the Men Alive event served as a catalyst for healing to begin.

Following the Men Alive event the two different voices kept speaking and there arose two parallel groups to further explore men’s ministry in the parish. What was interesting was that most of the men who attended meetings for one group also attended meetings of the other group.

It did not take that long to come to the conclusion that conducting two men’s groups was unsustainable. In the midst of a common gathering it was agreed that a Men’s Club would be formed and that it would operate as a combination of an opportunity for reflection and discussion and as a social context in which to have a few beers, share some food and watch the Friday night football together. One of the voices in the discussion was calling for immediate action with the idea that there were projects to be done, including supporting some of the boarding houses in the parish.

As men perhaps our natural inclination was to move straight to action. However we checked ourselves and concentrated on meeting once a month to spend some time discussing issues that broadly fit under the umbrella of Men’s Spirituality and to gather socially; sharing food and drink.

There have been many fruits born of this regular gathering of men. The first is the development of new support network of friendship. Secondly, as a result of its reflection on issues of life and faith the Men’s Club has begun to conceive of itself as a club for the parish rather than a club in the parish. Indicative of this shift is that the idea of men gathering together to watch the State of Origin Rugby League matches transformed into the Men’s Club organising parish family events around State of Origin matches with lots of pizza and soft drink for the kids.

A recent development, and the reason for this blog, is that during Lent this year the St Brigid’s Men’s Club is to conduct a parish Lenten reflection program based on the DVD documentary series Catholicism, written and presented by Fr Robert Barron. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXz7CiIovJ8 for a trailer)

The Lenten program is to be presented over four weeks with the same session conducted once in the morning and once in the evening. The promotion, facilitation and hospitality are all organised by the Men’s Club.

Many parishes have clubs for men and many parishes have Lenten programs so there is nothing particularly remarkable about what is happening in Marrickville. The point of this blog however, in the manner of a parable told by Jesus, is something that happened in the last planning meeting of the committee to organise the program.

A component of the planning was to view episodes of the series to develop appropriate processes to accompany this beautifully produced documentary. In amongst the spectacular scenes from various locations around the world Fr Barron makes particular mention the Catholic Worker Movement and its founders Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. It was in this context that the parish priest reported that the local Library, situated across the road from the Church had sent him a letter inquiring if St Brigid’s could in some way respond to what was seen as a growing concern with regard to the number of apparently homeless people sleeping rough in the Library precinct. I am not sure what will come of all this but as I listened to the men in the committee talk about the request for assistance I was reminded of the call to action that was heard but not heeded some years earlier when the club was beginning to form. At that time issue of accommodation for the poor was just one of many ideas quickly suggested and then forgotten. The cry of the poor now, however, was very real, very local and breaking into the collective horizon of the Men’s Club.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from reflecting on this brief history it is perhaps that an authentic call to action may not be an immediate response to a vaguely indicated need. In Matthew’s Gospel we read of the instruction from Jesus to “set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.” (Mt 6:33)

The connection between prayer, reflection, personal growth and the desire to respond to a recognised need is not accidental. Serving the poor is not a Christian duty, it is a response to a gift of a felt desire to reach out to the suffering other. Service done as a duty is experienced by the recipient as “cold as charity”. At best it is begrudgingly accepted. Service born of a God-given desire is experienced by the recipient as the actions of a friend.

If I am correctly reading and understanding the consistent message of Pope Francis he is telling all of us that if we truly seek the Kingdom of God what we will given is a desire to respond to the cry of the poor.

“The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor, Blessed be the Lord”1


[1] The Cry of the Poor: John Foley,SJ and New Dawn Music.

 

John Collins

John has worked for over twenty years in Church agencies. His roles have included pastoral work in a Catholic hospital, primary, secondary and tertiary teaching in Catholic institutions, adult faith education, diocesan renewal, and co-ordination of RCIA.

John joined the National Office for Evangelisation – Catholic Enquiry Centre in 2007  after 14 years at Centacare Sydney where he worked in a variety of roles including marriage education, research and the development of social policy.

John recently graduated completing his PhD in Method and practical theology at Australian Catholic University. John has Bachelor of Theology, a Master of Theology, a Graduate Diploma in Education and a Master of Education in Pastoral Guidance. He is an active member of the Australian Catholic Theological Association and currently vice president of the Association for Practical Theology in Oceania.  He is also passionate Sydney Swans supporter.

Originally from Melbourne he now lives in Sydney’s Inner West with his wife Dr Sandra Carroll and they have two young adult sons, Paul and Bede.