By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Australian Men’s Gathering 2020 is being held on 15 August. An initiative backed by the Australian Bishops’ Conference (ACBC), it aims to “inspire and encourage men with a vision for personal discipleship, service and mission in the Church and society.”
Due to restrictions caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, plans for a national gathering have been substituted in favour of smaller local events in centres all over the country. There is, however, an option of four video modules that will be available online from 15 August.
In an interview with Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ of Vatican News, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP of Sydney explains the idea behind gathering Catholic lay men to pray and reflect on their role in the Church.
Archbishop Fisher said that the vision behind the Australian Men’s Gathering comes from the desire to see more men engaged in the life and the mission of the Church. Especially as there is the long-running assumption, that men are not as committed as women in spiritual matters.
“We do not want to sell our men short,” he said. “Our men are every bit as much spiritual beings as our women are, and we want them to know Christ and to pray and to have a sense of their mission in the world.”
Besides, “a lot of men today are uncertain about what it is to be a man – what masculinity means today,” he added noting that we are rightly critical of certain versions of masculinity that are violent, oppressive and exploitative.
The Australian Men’s Gathering, therefore, is aimed at helping create “good Christian men” who like the apostles in the early Christian community asked, “what must we do?” (Acts 2: 37) which is the theme of the Men’s Gathering.
The idea for the initiative came from lay men, and lay groups who wanted to gather together, explained Archbishop Fisher. These are men of real passion, he added, who love their families, communities and local churches and want to make the most of themselves.
Men's place in the Church
Archbishop Fisher said there is a place for thinking about the particular gifts of men in the Church without falling into the wrong stereotypical thinking that all men are natural leaders in comparison to women. These gifts, he explained, can be tied to culture, history, situation, the intellect, among others.
Catholic priests, however, have the obvious particular role of being the “priestly father and shepherd of the parish.” They, in turn, have to be models of good Christian masculinity to other men who have the role of being “a father and a shepherd in their domestic Church – their family.”
In all this, said the Archbishop, the important thing is how all of these gifts can be put at the service of the Kingdom of God.
Archbishop Fisher noted that many cultures are confused about what masculinity is in general – whether it is socially constructed, or a natural biological reality, or a bit of both.
However, he continued, since our faith affects every other aspect of our lives, it would be very strange if it did not speak also to our sexuality and gender.
He added that some of the models of some of the men in Christian history are good examples, and, in some other cases, they are not. Therefore, men are to learn from the latter examples by “building on what went wrong there and correcting it in themselves, in their sons and in the next generation.”
Besides, continued Archbishop Fisher, “We have the wisdom of our Catholic tradition, the Scriptures and the great saints to give us some insight into those questions.” These, he added, are “good starting points in our tradition.”
Archbishop Fisher highlighted that there has been a much-needed critique of masculinity and femininity in the past generation which men have been very much confronted by. At the same time, due to the breakdown of marriage and family in many cultures, many children grow up without good models around them.
To remedy this, he invited men to recover confidence, take up their responsibilities and work in collaboration with women and children for the betterment of society. “We need to recover a certain confidence about who we are and what we can offer to women, to other men, to children and to the whole community.”
With the necessity to observe health regulations due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Archbishop Fisher pointed out that although we may have to distance ourselves physically, we must never do so spiritually. Like the early Christians who lived in community, we must find new ways of sharing our lives together.
In this regard, Archbishop Fisher underscored the importance of the new media which helps us connect despite physical distance.
Since the Men’s Gathering is now accessible online, he explained, what was originally meant to be exclusively for Australian laymen now has participants from Europe, Africa and other parts of the world.