Bob Harvey is the religion editor for The Ottawa
Citizen newspaper in Ottawa, Ontario.
Steve Wood knows what he's talking about when he
says the Catholic Church has a lot to teach men.
Wood is a former evangelical Presbyterian pastor
who converted to Catholicism five years ago because of the wealth of the
Church's teachings on marriage and family.
Now he's heading up St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers,
a men's ministry aimed at helping the generation of Catholic men who
have grown up since World War II with little formation in family life.
The Church has neglected men in a lot of her
ministries," says Wood. "But I believe this is a very special
time in the life of the Church. A time when we'll see the fulfillment of
the promise in Malachi 4:6: "He will turn the hearts of the fathers
to their children, and the hearts of the children to their
Wood, 47, started his Florida-based organization
little more than a year ago, but already is on the road giving men's
conferences two weekends a month, a limit he imposes because of his
commitment to his own family. He's also launched hundreds of small
groups, a weekly radio program, and a father's forum on CRNet, the
Catholic bulletin board and information service.
"At times, the response is just overwhelming.
There's a great need out there, just waiting to be met," he says.
Father Dan Hermes, of Rockford, Ill., says more
than 300 men turned out to hear Wood at a conference last fall at his
Holy Family Parish. He expects at least double that number at another
conference scheduled with Wood later this year.
"It was a real conversion point for some
men," says Father Hermes.
"Steve's a very gifted speaker, and he
preaches a very strong message of spousal love and purity. It made many
men resolve to change."
Father Hermes said the Church has always ministered
to men, through such organizations as the Holy Name Society, which
packed baseball stadiums back in the 1930s and 1940s.
"But the need for men's ministries is greater
today," he says.
"It's a jungle out there. There's a lot more
competition for people's hearts and souls."
What gave a big boost to St. Joseph's Covenant
Keepers and other Catholic men's ministries was last summer's massive
publicity for Promise Keepers, the evangelical ministry that's
attracting hundreds of thousands of men to giant rallies every year.
"When Promise Keepers was hitting the
headlines in national papers, Catholics finally figured out something
was going on out there. The Catholic end of this is just taking
off," says Wood.
Promise Keepers and St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers
have a number of similarities. Both are loose-knit, both encourage small
groups where men can be accountable to one another, and while Promise
Keepers make seven promises, St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers make eight
While Wood believes Promise Keepers is a phenomenal
movement of God, he believes there's also a need for a distinctively
Catholic men's movement.
Promise Keepers is open to Catholic men, but its
speakers are all evangelical Protestants, and Catholics make up no more
than 10 percent of the movement.
Those Catholic men who do get involved with Promise
Keepers are "likely to be renewed right out of the faith,"
St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers and other Catholic
men's movements can also take advantage of the fullness of the Church's
teachings. One of the important Catholic distinctions is its teaching on
the indissolubility of marriage.
As a Protestant minister, Wood once gave approval
to divorce and remarriage, but ultimately he walked away from the church
he founded in Venice, Fla., because he couldn't continue to overlook the
unbiblical marriages in his congregation.
Now he says "the indissolubility of the
marriage covenant is the foundation for marriage and the future of the
Wood hopes that someday he can share that important
teaching with Protestants. They need to hear it, too, he says.
He believes the Catholic Church also has something
to teach Protestants, as well as Catholics, about the importance of the
Eucharist. "That relates to the source of abundant grace we need to
really love our wives the way Christ loved the Church," he says.
"I'm very aware of my shortcomings, and unless
other men are wired differently than I am, we need Christ really and
literally living in us."
Wood gave up almost everything to join the Catholic
Church — his career as a Protestant minister,
and even his house.
Through his involvement with Operation Rescue and
the pro-life movement, he had become convinced that the Catholic Church
had it right: the encouragement of artificial birth control leads
inevitably to widespread abortion. Over time, he also began to see the
importance of other Catholic teachings on the Eucharist and the
indissolubility of marriage.
One Sunday in the middle of conducting a service,
he felt God telling him he must no longer celebrate the Lord's Supper in
a church that allowed divorce.
Wood says those were five of the most intense
minutes of his life. He thought: "I have a wife and children to
support. If I do this, now, publicly, I will not only be unemployed, but
unemployable as a Protestant minister."
But he took his stand announced he couldn't
celebrate the Lord's Supper and left the Protestant church.
After being received into the Catholic Church, Wood
attended an international pro-life meeting in Rome. There Pope John Paul
II told the delegates that the only way to stop abortion is to bring the
world back to God, and the only way to do that is through the family.
Soon after, Wood and his wife, Karen, sold their
house to finance a new ministry to the family that they established in
Port Charlotte, FL. For four years, they and their eight children lived
in an empty convent while getting their Family Life Center off the
Now they're concentrating on St. Joseph's Covenant
"We began to see that the father is the one
person in the family who's neglected, and that he could be the person on
which real family renewal can take place," said Wood.
The tools Wood is providing Catholic men include
tapes, written materials and a regular newsletter. But there are some
other important practical helps for dads.
First is the home enthronement of the Sacred Heart,
a devotional practice that's been encouraged by popes since Pius X, but
has fallen out of use in America over the last generation.
Wood says that by placing a picture of the Sacred
Heart in a prominent place in the home, the family publicly recognizes
that its way of life is based on the loving kingship of Jesus. Through
this simple consecration ceremony, renewed annually, the father not only
demonstrates his spiritual leadership in the home, but reminds everyone,
including himself, that his leadership is a servant leadership.
Another essential for fathers is to become involved
in catechizing their own children, says Wood. He uses the Faith and
Life catechetical series, and distributes tapes of his own family
sessions so fathers can hear just how easy it is to do.
Wood says those home-teaching sessions build an
important bond between a father and his children. The strength of the
relationship between father and child relates directly to the strength
of the faith conveyed.
The final secret weapon for St. Joseph's Covenant
Keepers is St. Joseph himself.
"St. Joseph is the unappreciated gem within
the Catholic faith. He's so good it would be wrong to keep him to
ourselves," says Wood.
The eight commitments that Covenant Keepers make
are helpful, says Wood, but what really fills out the picture of
Catholic fatherhood is the model of St. Joseph. He's an ordinary man but
holy, the faithful provider and protector of the Holy Family. A man able
to hear the call of God and willing to give up his carpentry business
and travel to an unknown land to protect his family.
St. Joseph also spent time with his foster Son,
teaching him a trade in his home-based business. Wood says Love is
spelled T-I-M- E, and today's fathers need to work with their children,
too. "St. Joseph has been hidden from view," he says.
"But he'll be involved in saving the modern family, just as he was
in saving the holy family."
MISSION OF THE REDEEMER
Father Ed Wade says he's getting calls from all
over the continent, asking him what can be done with Catholic men.
"There's a tremendous hunger, even from
priests. They know they're not seeing the men in church."
Father Wade, an American, is based in Ottawa,
Canada's capital, where he's helped spark Mission of the Redeemer, a
booming new Catholic men's movement. It's the success of that movement
that's bringing him calls from priests who want him to come and talk to
their men. But Father Wade says "there's just something in the air.
Men are open in ways they weren't five or 10 years ago."
Mission of the Redeemer began just two years ago,
but its success has amazed even Father Wade, a former director of
evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio.
Monthly breakfasts are attracting up to 500 men, men are forming their
own small groups to pray together. Some are driving up to two hours from
Montreal or other nearby cities to attend Mission of the Redeemer
events, and then returning home to start their own groups.
"Men are looking for formation, how they can
become better fathers, how they can become men of prayer," says
For the past few years, he's been leading mixed
retreats and working in local parishes in Ottawa. Yet when he led a
parish retreat, he'd often end up staying afterwards to talk to groups
of men, and find himself invited back to lead retreats just for men.
The response has been so strong that the Mission of
the Redeemer asked him to devote himself solely to ministry to men.
Since January, Father Wade has been working full time with the Mission
of the Redeemer, making himself available for other groups, and testing
the waters for a national Catholic men's movement in Canada.
Earl Milks, one of the executive members of Mission
of the Redeemer, says most men need some support to grow in the faith.
"Men have this tendency to look for an easy way to holiness. But
you can't do it alone," says Milks. "That's why the Mission of
the Redeemer is so good. It provides enough fellowship and gatherings to
help me keep on track."
For a free sample newsletter and free brochure with details from St.
Joseph Covenant Keepers, write:
Family Life Center
P.O. Box 6060
Charlotte, FL 33949
Or phone 1-800-705-6131.