For the past five or six years I have been attending a men’s group run by a non-denominational evangelical church. I would have liked to find a Catholic men’s group, but whenever I looked into it at the parishes my family has attended, these groups were always scheduled during the middle of a weekday, conflicting with my work schedule. I imagined that the groups were geared more to retired people. The group I attend, however, meets on Tuesdays at 6 a.m., and the men range in age from their late twenties to their late sixties. We are all working and raising families.
I realize that my attendance at a Protestant men’s group is a unique situation, but I am very grateful for this group. These are men of integrity, faithful in prayer, rooted in scripture, charitable in their giving, and strong in their Christian beliefs. Whenever someone was in need, these brothers were right there to provide assistance. When someone needed prayer, they covered them in it. Though I am one of the few Catholics who attend, I have never been made to feel like an outsider. The particulars of my beliefs as a Catholic may not be shared by the men, but they respect my beliefs. And that means a great deal to me.
I have been a Catholic for twenty years, having come into the Church at the age of 18. Rather than drifting from it over time, the Lord has increasingly convinced me of the truth of the Catholic faith and strengthened my resolve to live it out in my daily life. I love Catholicism and have never been tempted to leave the Church or search out another non-Catholic religion. So, what is the value for me, personally, in continuing to attend a Protestant men’s group?
Allies in the Culture War
For one thing, we are in a culture war, and we need as many men as we can get in holding the line against the forces of destruction in our society. In finding common ground on which to stand – belief in Christ, the Trinity, and service to those in need – we create allies with other Christians against a common enemy. We are not each other’s enemies; the real enemy are the forces of darkness, the flesh, and the devil.
I started reflecting on my relationship with these Christian men when I was reading scripture. In the ninth chapter of Mark’s gospel the disciples encounter a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, a man who was not one of the Twelve:
“Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:38-40).
False Unity and Respect
I have no use for a sentimental ecumenism that seeks to create a false, watered-down religious syncretism. The theological differences between Protestants and Catholics are real and distinct and cannot be discounted, yet, I also think there is something to be gained from stepping out of our religious silos from time to time and engaging with others who share our belief in Christ, albeit incompletely.
Being in a minority position in my men’s group, I have taken to heart St. James’ adage, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). It does not hurt or betray anything to seek a better understanding of other people’s beliefs. I have learned a lot about my brothers in Christ over the past five or six years just by being in their presence – something one cannot always gain from online discussions or social media.
In fact, I try to put this into practice when I am doing Catholic street evangelization. Winning hearts and minds is a matter of listening to people’s stories, their objections to belief, their backgrounds, and then calmly and respectfully making the case for Christ and His Church; in that same way Jesus Himself extended an invitation to the disciples to “come and see” (John 1:39). When people feel respected and not just a number to be add to the rolls, this approach can be disarming and lay a foundation for fertile discussion. As the old saying goes, “No one cares what you know until they know that you care.”
It is More Blessed to Give Than to Receive
However, it is not just about what I have gained personally from this group, but also what I can share. Over the course of several years of seeing the same men every week, I have forged friendships and developed trust among my brothers in Christ. Some of these men have never known a Catholic who has had a personal encounter with Christ, and so in some ways it breaks down stereotypes and creates opportunities for them to learn and for me to be a witness to the Catholic faith. In coming together around our commonalities, rather than getting stuck on doctrinal differences (important as these might be), we can pray for one another and carry each other’s burdens.
So what should our relationship as Catholics be with other committed non-Catholic Christians? I am a firm believer that respect needs to be given in order to be earned, and that we should also always “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), as St. Paul reminded his followers. The best way to do that is by living our Catholic faith with integrity and without contradiction between word and deed. When one is firm and confident in his faith, he can see our Christian brothers and sisters as allies in the fight rather than as competing factions or threats. There is a beautiful psalm that says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) These days, we can use all the help we can get.