Western society’s ideas of masculinity seem to be constantly redefined by fashion, the media and family law in recent years, in much the same manner as western morals have become increasingly relative – and the impact of this on the Church has been one of slowly declining attendance among men aged 18 to 35.
With the upcoming inaugural men’s virtual conference – set for 15 August – The Record journalist Eric Martin spoke with Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation,Daniel Ang and Executive Director of Evangelisation for Brisbane, Deacon Peter Pellicaan, about some of the biggest challenges facing men and their identity in modern Australia.
“The experiences and struggles of men vary significantly across the country, depending on upbringing, culture and circumstance, however, some challenges loom larger than others in the national picture – chief among these are mental health issues, alcoholism and other forms of addiction, domestic violence, social isolation, pornography, and the pressures of family and working lives that can also take their toll,” Mr Ang explained.
“These recurring issues can express or give rise to identity crises for men with harmful and even devastating outcomes for their own lives and wellbeing, for women and families.
“So while some of these challenges are particularly acute for men, there is a need for a societal response to these issues and I think the Church has, and must have, a part to play in it,” he said.
Dcn Pellicaan highlights that another phenomenon resulting in confusion about the role of men and the concept of masculinity in society is the conflation of the bad actions of men with notions of masculinity.
“That is to say, men using their power over others and against others is being understood as the stereo type of masculinity: this is multiplied by the many examples of domestic violence at the hands of men, and then countless examples of sexual harassment and mismanagement by men in power,” Dcn Pellicaan said.
“This is leading to a notion that to be a man is to be bad… men are the problem – so one of our biggest problems is addressing this stereo type. Men doing bad things is not an example of true masculinity – it’s actually the opposite [they’re not acting like men when they do these things].”
He shared that in the Catholic tradition, men are called to use whatever power they may have for others and with others.
“Jesus is our example: he never forces anyone to follow him, he invites them; he didn’t come with a sword, rather a towel; he never used others for his own benefit; he laid down his life for the world,” Dcn Pellicaan shared.
“This is the pinnacle of true masculinity – laying our lives down for others – for our family, our parishioners, the vulnerable etc.”
Both gentlemen believe that there is a genuine challenge facing this generation in spreading God’s message to Australian men considering these issues, with many historical factors keeping men at arm’s length from truly engaging with their faith.
“This same challenge is found in the Church most explicitly due to our history of the abuse of children; again, men in power, abusing the weak – so this confirms the narrative,” Dcn Pellicaan said.
“In some respects, the narrative is even stronger in the Catholic Church because only men can be ordained – when men in power are automatically viewed as oppressive, the Church [led by men] can be seen the face of the oppressor.
“This again shows us the need to properly understand masculinity in the Catholic tradition and the need for Catholic men, especially men who represent the Church, to be an example of the masculinity of Christ – giving up self for the other,” Dcn Pellicaan explained.
“The quandary is that we are simply not seeing men active and participating in the life of the Church at anywhere near the rate as we do women, while the proportion of all Catholics attending our parishes has been in gradual decline since the mid-1950s; so men, as they say, are conspicuous by their absence,” Mr Ang added.
“If we believe that the history of the world and the history of salvation passes through the family, the life and faith of men is integral to the future of a flourishing and faith-filled society of which the Church is called to be a real sign and sacramental presence.
“With men’s participation and engagement in the life of our parishes in decline, we are deprived of an array of gifts, charisms and vocations that God offers to us – this is to the detriment of the whole People of God and its mission and living presence in the world.”
Despite these challenges, both men remain faith filled and hopeful that the Church can respond effectively to men’s needs.