WHAT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS FOR MEN: ST. JOSEPH'S COVENANT KEEPERS
Bob Harvey

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 fathers.

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 commitments.

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," says Wood.

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 family."

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 ground.

Now they're concentrating on St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers.

"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 Father Wade.

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
Port Charlotte, FL 33949
Or phone 1-800-705-6131.

Taken from:
The June 1996 issue of New Covenant magazine.

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