Men who ask for directions

As I paid for two bags of groceries at my Safeway the other day, the cashier looked up and asked, "Do you need help getting these to your car?"

I was speechless. A few seconds passed before I stammered, along with a forced smile, "No thanks, I'll be fine."

It's a truism that "real men" don't like to say "I need" for anything. We carry our own groceries. We fear that voicing needs will expose our vulnerability, our weakness. I've yet to meet another man who wants to be known as "needy."

Still, my 40 years so far have proven to me that I need to gather with fellow men of faith (indeed, friends in faith) on a regular basis over coffee or a beer, to talk and pray, and otherwise to refresh my outlook on the challenges that appear daily at work and at home.

My friendships with other men of faith - my rocks and oaks - form a bulwark against isolation and egomania, with cascading benefits in my marriage, work and life as a father. These guys provide me with a steady dose of inspiration and accountability, laughs and exasperation, new parenting tools and discoveries in the faith … I could go on.

A Christopher Hitchens brand of skeptic might mock my "need" to legitimize the Christian "myth" by gathering with other "brainwashed" confreres - conformity of the masses. A less virulent critic might assert that such gatherings meet psychological needs - assuaging childhood "wounds," need for approval, etc. Blah, blah.

For me it comes down to the Jewish God-man who has taken hold of my life. He called His followers individually, by name, but sent them out two-by-two. Alone? Never.

To understand this law of "where two or three are gathered" (Mt 18:20), we have only to imagine Peter going rogue in some outlying Roman province, preaching and performing miracles on his own. Picture Paul climbing the Areopagus in Athens to address the upper echelons of Greek society, solo.

Any guy would first admire such an effort, but then glimpse something awry: Call it a fraternal accountability deficit. We are all fallen. We could probably count the days until the solo Peter succumbs to the adoration of his fawning fans and builds not the Catholic Church but a cult of personality. We could count the days until Paul elopes with a mistress and absconds with the Corinthian church's bank account. We've seen that movie before.

"He was as great as a man can be without morality," Alexis de Tocqueville quipped of Napoleon. We can paraphrase of any Catholic man who goes it alone, suppressing his need for authentic friends in the faith: "He was as great as a man can be without the accountability (and joy) of brothers in the faith."

The DNA of faith requires both solitude with Christ - in prayer, adoration, worship - and a community of friendships. Without solitude, one's friendships buckle under the weight of superficiality. Without friendships, one's solitude with Christ caves into narcissism. To be Christian means to be Christ to somebody. To be a man or woman made in imago Trinitatis is to be hardwired for friendship.

We know the palpable relief when a friend spares us from embarrassment - by pointing out an undone button, a cowlick gone awry, a piece of breakfast clinging to our shirt - just before we're standing up to give a big presentation. All the more, brothers in the faith winsomely take us aside to hint at the logs or specks in our own eyes - the ones we're too blind to see.

Every man has a band of brothers at his local parish ready to join him in the mission, ready to put the foolhardy solo-apostle days in the rearview mirror. The annual gathering of these bands - from the Potomac to the Rappahannock, from the Chesapeake Bay to the West Virginia border - is fast approaching.

The annual diocesan Men's Conference March 7 will not pull any punches. Keynote speakers Father Larry Richards and Neal Lozano will broach a topic no less daring than "Victory Over the Common Enemy" by exploring the nature of sin and evil, and how to gain victory over them.

Just three weeks later, women of the diocese have the opportunity to gather at the annual diocesan Women's Conference for the theme "Suffering with Joy will Transform the World."

I now address all my brothers in faith: The more we pack out the event venue (capacity of 1,500, but tickets are going fast) on March 7, the less suffering the women will need to discuss on the 28th. If this isn't a motivator, I don't know what to tell you.

I'll see you on March 7. You need to be there.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015