Monday, July 07, 2003

The "Steel Magnolias" Church

I went to daily Mass on Saturday at a local parish, and, as often happens at Latin Rite Masses, my mind started wandering. Oh, there was no defect in the liturgy; there is a defect in me. I tend to lollygag unless I'm constantly occupied. As my mind wandered, I decided to count the people in the congregation, by sex. There were 26 women and 6 men, not counting the priest. This ratio is typical of most daily Masses. Where are the men?

The crowd at daily Mass is usually quite old, which would explain the disparity somewhat. Women live about eight years longer. So, part of the answer to the question "Where are the men?" might be "They're dead." But I don't think that would account for the 26-6 ratio. There must be some other reason.

I suggest that it is the "Steel Magnolias" effect. Steel Magnolias is a movie starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, and assorted other Important Actresses. It is a movie universally loved by women, but universally reviled by men. In fact, my friend Paul and I use it as a benchmark to rate uncomfortable situations, as in "I would rather be strapped to a chair and forced to watch Steel Magnolias six times than go browse for window treatments." See, nothing happens in the movie. People talk, and talk, and talk, and one of them dies, but nothing happens. No explosions, no car chases, no good guys or bad guys. This movie is what is known as a Chick Flick. Yuck!

Perhaps part of the reason that Mass in general is so sparsely populated by men is that in many parishes it has become like Steel Magnolias: we talk, and talk, and talk, and share, and hold hands, the priest talks in a modulated sing-song voice, and we sing easy-listening adult contemporary hymns, and nothing ever happens. There are no explosions or car chases, but even more, there is no drama, no struggle, no challenge to do great things. (I am snoring just thinking about it.)

I am going to tell you two great secrets. Here is the first: men and women are different. Not just different in the way we are socialized, but down to the core of our being. The second secret: Men like fighting. We like contests of strength, stories of good guys and bad guys, and we are competive. We like to win! This characteristic can be turned to good or to bad, obviously, but it is put into us by God. So, if you wish to get men back into the church, I suggest that what one needs to do is to appeal to men, to what we like.

Does this mean that one needs explosions and car chases in Mass? No, although the USCCB should create a committee to work on it. But seriously. There is no lack of drama and struggle in the Catholic Faith. There are good guys (God, the saints, the angels, us), bad guys (the devil, his demons, us), and a cosmic struggle for each one of us. The fight is not a small fight, but the greatest battle there could ever be: will you spend eternity with God, or cast off into the outer darkness? It's up to you, even though there are interested parties (God, the devil) working to help you or hurt you. Furthermore, you take part in the fight, braving great dangers in order to get others such as your family, friends, or even total strangers to safety as well. And it isn't just a movie, but is real life. We all can be heroes!

Look, millions of men go to see the Lord of the Rings movies--Salvation history makes a much better movie. Perhaps if the faith were presented this way rather than like Steel Magnolias, the men will come back.

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