Recently, I had the great honor to have an audience with His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke to discuss the state of Catholic men in the United States.
Matthew Christoff: One of the frequent themes in the New Emangelization Project research is that large numbers of men do not understand the Mass. Men think that the Mass is feminized and they don’t really understand the powerful manliness of the Mass. This is particularly true of a majority of Catholic men who are Casual Catholic Men, men who are casual about their faith. This is critical because if a man doesn’t understand the Mass he can’t tap into the supernatural graces that occur in the Mass. A man who doesn’t understand the Mass himself certainly can’t teach his children about the Mass.
Cardinal Burke: Yes. One way to re-engage men is to restore the dignity of the liturgy. Men will respond when they see a priest reverently acting in the name of Christ. Men will not respond when the priest is putting on a show about himself. Offering the Mass in a reverent way has always attracted men throughout the history of the Church. It does today.
We need to catechize men about the profound realities of the Mass. As I mentioned, catechesis has been poor, especially the catechesis of men. Catechizing men and celebrating the Mass in a reverent way will make a big difference. It is also clear that many men will respond to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the rite celebrated before the Vatican II Council reforms.
I have been very struck by the number of young men who were attracted to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. This is not because the Extraordinary Form is more valid than the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form. Men are attracted because the Extraordinary Form is very highly articulated; it demands a man’s attention to what’s happening. Even the use of a hand missal where there’s a verbal accompaniment to the action of the Mass can help a man more fully enter into the Mass.
The Ordinary Form, if it’s celebrated very reverently with good music, can have the same strong positive effect on men. Men don’t go in for this kind of corny approach to the Mass when it becomes some kind of feel-good session, or where there is irreverence. Men are there to receive Jesus Christ. They need to see Him, to see His presence reflected in the reverent manner of the priest.
Matthew: The Sacrament of Reconciliation has also been abandoned by the vast majority of Catholic men. Only 1 in 50 men go to Confession on a monthly basis. Some 80 percent of men don’t get to Confession even once a year. Combined with the epidemic of pornography, especially among young men, large numbers of Catholic men are in mortal sin. How can the Church reintroduce and emphasize the need for men to go to Confession?
Cardinal Burke: Until men understand that there is Sin, and what Sin is, and that Sin offends God gravely, they will not go to Confession. Men need to have an encounter with God, with our Lord in the Sacrament of Penance to confess their Sins, express their sorrow, and receive His forgiveness.
Men are not going to Confession today because there has been a denial of Sin. There was a period after Vatican II where many were promoting the idea that there weren’t any serious sins.
Of course, this is lethal for men, especially young men. Young men may begin to engage in the sexual sin of masturbation. Men have told me that when they were teenagers, they confessed the sin of masturbation in the confessional and priests would say, “Oh, that’s nothing you should be confessing. Everybody does that.” That’s wrong.
These are sinful acts. They need to be confessed along with other types of sins, whether the sins are foul language, lying, stealing, or whatever it might be. The denial of sin was a breakdown in the sense of what is demanded of men as men of Christ.
Confronting sin is central to being able to love one another. How does a man love? He loves by obeying the Ten Commandments. After Vatican II, that great call to love by confronting sin was lost, leading to the most horrible abuses of individuals, abusing themselves or others, the break down of family life, a precipitous drop in Mass attendance and the abandonment of the Sacrament of Penance. We must restore the sense of sin to men, for men to recognize their sins and express deep sorrow for their sins.
When this happens, Confession becomes a mysteriously beautiful experience for a man. For a man can know with certainty that he has personally expressed his sorrow for his sins to God, he can hear the freeing words of God through His minister and that his sins are forgiven and absolved.
Matthew: What concrete advice would you give to a priest to help him evangelize men and dramatically increase the involvement of men in a parish?
Cardinal Burke: First of all, be manly yourself. In other words, cultivate your own manly qualities, because the priest is first and foremost the spiritual father; he is a man. You need to have manly qualities of selflessness, chivalry and discipline to avoid situations improper for a priest. A priest must have the manly confidence and credibility to be a spiritual father to his flock, giving clear firm guidance with kindness and charity.
Secondly, I’d advise priests to give special attention to men and to look for ways to draw men into the life of the Church. It is easier to engage women because our sisters tend to be very generous and talented. But the Church and each priest needs to make a determined effort to draw good Catholic men into whatever activities there are in the Church. It is essential to the New Evangelization.
Matthew: Any parting thoughts Your Eminence?
Cardinal Burke: I very much commend your work in the New Emangelization. It’s key to the New Evangelization.
When the French government unilaterally imposed the so‑called same‑sex marriage, which of course is not marriage at all, it brought out two million people who rallied behind the simple image of fathers and mothers holding the hands of their children. Fathers are essential to the family.
Men need to reflect on their own experience, even if it was negative. If a father was missing in their lives, men need to realize what they needed in a father and a mother. Fathers and mothers are wonderful gifts that are given to us by God.
So too is the beautiful gift of our human sexuality as God intended it, not as, sadly, the many sick abuses of the gift of sexuality that are occurring in the world today. The dark confusion of gender theory deceives people into thinking that they can create their own sexual identities based on urges and emotions. We are so blessed God gave us this gift of being a man or being a woman. It’s a matter of us to respond to God’s will to develop our gifts of being a man or woman.
Matthew, I want to commend you. I believe what you are doing is key to the future strengthening of the life of the Church, and obviously to our whole society.
Matthew: Praise God. Your Eminence, thank you so much for spending time with us.
Cardinal Burke: I am happy to be a part of it, a little part. [laughs]