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Program creates men after God’s own heart
Editor’s note: Some feedback came through a survey in which names were withheld.
What if I told you that forming faithful Catholic men is a pastoral imperative for the Church? And what if I told you that 20, 60 or even 100 men are gathering at local parishes at 6 a.m. once a week to learn about the Faith and support one another as Catholic men, husbands and fathers?
I bet you would think someone figured out something important.
That someone is Steve Bollman, who, 15 years ago in Houston, launched a parish-based program with the mission to form “men after God’s own heart.” Since then, more than 100,000 men all over the country have participated in the same program at their own parishes, where they receive instruction in the Catholic faith, deepen their prayer life, and develop bonds with other Catholic men trying to grow in holiness. The need is clear, the impact is significant, and the program is called That Man Is You!
For more information on That Man Is You!, visit: paradisusdei.org/that-man-is-you
Good news for families
The revolutionary insight behind the Catholic program is simply this: Catholic men want to be engaged and challenged in their faith. It turns out the problem is not a lack of desire but, rather, a lack of opportunity.
When Bollman — a former derivatives trader — left his lucrative career because he sensed a call to create a ministry dedicated to the renewal of marriage and family life, this is the kind of insight he invested in. Nearly two decades later, the testimonies of men who have participated and even led the program that Bollman started indicate that this investment is paying dividends.
“What I like best about That Man is You! (TMIY) is the comfort I feel of being surrounded by a group of men who are interested in becoming better men, husbands, fathers,” said Lee Donar, a Core Team leader in southwest Wisconsin. “The video sessions are thought-provoking and inspire some very good discussion. I think many men want to be what TMIY is calling them to be. They just need the reinforcement of hearing the message and the strength that the group provides to carry it through.”
“As a married father of five, TMIY helped me understand the role God calls me to fulfill in my relationship with him, my spouse, my children and beyond,” said Brian Topping, a Core Team leader from northeast Iowa. “It has been life-changing! Eight years into it, TMIY has been and continues to be a source of inspiration and transformation for me personally, and my family through me.”
There is now encouraging independent sociological research to back up testimonies such as these. As the That Man Is You! program reports, “research indicates that men entering the program in the bottom quartile on the Gallup Poll Spiritual Commitment Index frequently finish the program 26 weeks later ‘well into the top quartile.'” Put another way, the program helps men grow in the degree of their religious commitment.
That’s not just good news for them but also for their families, especially their children. As the wife of a TMIY participant from Raleigh, North Carolina, said: “My husband absolutely loves TMIY, but so do I, and so do our kids. Over the course of this year my husband has become a better husband and father in every way. He is more present to me and our kids; we pray together as a family now; we even go to confession together every month.”
Bonds of fellowship
The program works in a parish in three stages. First, it offers resources and training for parishioners who will serve as the Core Team for the parish. These are the men who will lead the program for other parishioners. In this way, the leadership for the program is not outsourced but rather built into to the parish itself. Parishioners lead each other as a real manifestation of lay leadership in the Church.
Second, the Core Team invites other parishioners and their friends to join the program. Many of the men who eventually participate in TMIY join by way of personal invitation. This begins with the Core Team but then spreads through the participants themselves.
The third stage is actually diving into the lessons, prayer and conversations that TMIY provides and inspires. Most TMIY meetings occur early in the morning, such as once a week at 6 a.m., when competing commitments are virtually nonexistent. Many men report coming to see this as sacred time.
A full-year program of TMIY is broken up into two, 13-week semesters. For each week, there is a 25-30 minute video presentation provided by TMIY, then 20-30 minutes of small group discussion. It is in those small groups where honest conversation about real life and relevant issues begin to develop, and it is in the context of these conversations that bonds of friendship, admiration and respect emerge. This may be one of the hidden gifts of TMIY: the spiritual bonds that men build among themselves.
As a Core Team leader in Crystal Lake, Illinois, succinctly put it, “Anytime you can get 160 guys to sign up for a spirituality program, something is working!” Or as another Core Team leader in Herndon, Virginia, said: “I was nervous at first to start TMIY, thinking no one would come, but in our first week, we had 50 men in attendance! Fifty men got up early on a work day to come grow in their faith and in fellowship with their brothers in Christ. There is truly a hunger for programs like TMIY among Catholic men!”
From God’s heart
That hunger might also be described as a great spiritual longing, a desire for more, or even a sense of mission or yearning for liberation. In one particular community where the need for revival was especially acute, a group leader shared: “We finished our fifth session here on Thursday evening, and I cannot express the sense of longing, regretting, wishing, resolving and hoping that went on in the hearts of the men as they heard [the presenter] talk about the Father’s heart. I sensed a deep pondering in a cramped room where some 20 men gathered and were transported into what I might call ‘a kind of attentiveness’ that is but rarely distilled in this place where ‘flat affectation’ is the more common emotional condition.”
When That Man Is You! seeks to form “men after God’s own heart,” it does not primarily mean setting men after trying to please God, but rather for these men to be transformed by the mercy that flows from God’s heart in Jesus Christ. The challenge that TMIY issues is for participants to become the men who make the Father’s mercy present in their families, in their parishes and in the world.
Leonard J. DeLorenzo, Ph.D., serves in the McGrath Institute for Church Life and teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame. His latest book is “What Matters Most: Empowering Young Catholics for Life’s Big Decisions” (Ave Maria Press, $16.95).