Iron sharpens iron

Become a sharper man with some of Denver's men's ministries

Aaron Lambert

Courage. Strength. Leadership. These are but a few of the qualities men were created to exude; staples of masculinity that draw each man closer to God.

Scripture has a lot to say about how men ought to be. God created Adam to be king and overseer of all he had created, and he was called to be a leader to his wife, Eve. Man was also created to be a father to his children, to raise them to know and serve the Lord, and teach them his commandments. While the culture perpetuates several different stereotypes about what a true man is, only God can truly give a man his name and reveal to him who he was created to be. This can be an intimidating endeavor, but the good news is men don’t have to – nor were they created to – do it alone.

Men need other men to stay sharp. God designed it this way. Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” and this foundational principle is at the heart of the many men’s ministries that exist in Denver and beyond. It’s never too late for a man to seek Christ, and doing so with other men makes the journey even more fruitful. If you’re man in need of a good sharpening, consider one of these men’s ministries.

Marked Men For Christ

Marked Men For Christ was co-founded in the early 2000s by Steve Spicer and Father John Lager, who currently serves as the national chaplain for Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Father Lager has resided in Denver for the past 33 years, and has given many retreats over the years. He recalled that in 1995, it became clear to him that many men’s retreats get “no further than down past the neck.”

“A lot of it was heady and not much was seeking into the heart,” Father Lager said.

He and his friend Steve Spicer began to pray about beginning a men’s ministry of their own. Led by the Holy Spirit, they named the ministry Marked Men For Christ and conceptualized what it would entail.

The reason why Marked Men survives and exists is to build stronger men for Jesus Christ. We just want to build men up. This is one tool of many that help men grow in the reality that grace builds on nature.”

The ministry revolves around a “44-hour experience of intense, experiential opportunities for men to look at their own woundedness and seek God’s healing,” Father Lager said of the weekend retreat, which they refer to as Phase One. The wounds the retreat focuses on are common wounds of man – fear, sadness, anger, loss and shame – and are meant to mirror the five wounds of Christ.

The first weekend retreat was in November 2002; now, 15 years later, over 260 retreats have been done and over 8,500 men have earned the title “marked man for Christ.” What’s more, Marked Men For Christ has reached far beyond the borders of the U.S., having held weekends in countries such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and even Rwanda and Uganda.

After going through Phase One, men are invited to Phase Two, which allows them to unpack the things God revealed to them during the Phase One weekend, and from there, they have the option to go onto Phase Three, which is an accountability and prayer group that meets regularly.

“The reason why Marked Men survives and exists is to build stronger men for Jesus Christ. We just want to build men up,” Father Lager explained. “This is one tool of many that help men grow in the reality that grace builds on nature.”

If you’re interested in attending a Marked Men For Christ Phase One weekend, visit markedmenforchrist.org.

Patriarch

So you want to start a men’s group, but don’t have any clue where to start because let’s face it: Starting a men’s group can be really intimidating.

That’s where Patriarch comes in.

Started by Father John Ignatius in 2006, what began as a small gathering of men has grown to eleven different groups of men nationwide and an annual fall retreat of about 50 men. Patriarch equips men with the resources and curriculum they need to start a group of their own.

According to the ministry’s website, Patriarch is “based on the premise that God is a patriarch and God’s purpose is to raise up patriarchs.” Ed Lugo, who helps with development for Patriarch, said the goal is for a group of men to be tight-knit.

“They have to have some ownership of their group that allows people to really enter in so there is a healthy dynamic in the group,” Lugo said. “You want the guys in the group to all know each other.”

Because of this, it’s a little more difficult for men to get plugged in to an already existing group. Rather, men are encouraged to start their own group with other men they already have relationships with.

A typical Patriarch meeting begins in the book of Genesis and is generally as follows: there is an opening prayer based on a Psalm, a time for reflection focusing on a patriarch from Genesis, and a closing prayer and resolution where men state how they’re going to utilize the lesson learned back at home with their families.

The fruits of Patriarch can be seen in the ways the mens’ wives respond, Father Ignatius said.

“Wives make space in the schedule because they see the value of men having substantial spiritual fraternal time together, and that the men take more initiative in the spiritual leadership of the families,” he said.

“Whenever you gather men around the Word of God in a prayerful way, grace happens. It’s not just shared human wisdom, it’s shared divine wisdom that’s being applied and being aspired to growing as men, as husbands, as fathers.”

If you’re interested in starting a Patriarch group, be sure to visit patriarchmen.org.

Men For All Seasons

As one of the biggest parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver, it should come as no surprise that St. Thomas More has one of the most thriving parish men’s ministries. Started 10 years ago and still going strong today, Men For All Seasons draws up to 150 men each Friday that it meets during the school year.

Using engaging content and small group discussions, Men For All Seasons is an hour each week that men can come and engage in “spiritual exercise,” as Steve Bell calls it. Bell has been involved in the ministry from the beginning, and is one of 20 core team members who facilitate the program.

“[Men] spend a lot of time focusing on our work, we spend a lot of time focusing on our physical exercise; our point is that spiritual exercise should be as important to our lives as our work and our families and our physical exercise,” Bell explained. “Take an hour a week to exercise the spiritual side of your lives.”

At St. Thomas More Men For All Seasons ministry, nearly 150 men consecrated themselves to Mary after reading through Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Men For All Seasons has used That Man Is You, Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series and more as curriculum to feed the men who come. Recently, the group went through Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, which resulted in a first for the ministry: on the Feast of the Annunciation, 150 men consecrated themselves to Mary.

Paul Lum Lung and his wife, Colleen, have been facilitating Father Gaitley’s programs at St. Thomas More for the past five years, and as a member of the content committee, it was Lum Lung’s suggestion to lead the men through 33 Days to Morning Glory. Father Gaitley emphasizes the importance of being consecrated to Mary, and that struck a chord with Lum Lung.

“Marian consecration is basically consecration to Jesus,” he explained. “Mary, being his mother, knew Jesus best. By consecrating yourself to Mary, that’s going to enable her to lead you to Jesus.”

Men For All Seasons meets at 6:20 a.m. every Friday during the school year at St. Thomas More Parish.

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.