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: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.