Benvolio, as always, wanted to focus on praying the Mass that Wednesday afternoon. But in the roadside church of gym-like architecture save for Madonna and child mural-dominated facade and neo-classical retable, he could not help but notice that once again, his fellow churchgoers were mostly women.
Hours later, he thanked God for women—wives, mothers, sisters, fiancées, girlfriends, nieces, grandmothers, female cousins and acquaintances—who brought the people around them to church. What occurred to him as a distraction to worship, he thought, may have been God’s signal for him to pray in a special way for women. It was March, a month dedicated to honoring that segment of humanity whose instincts God often identified with. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” Jesus Christ once said as he wept over Jerusalem, the city that shunned him. (Luke 13:34)
Still, the question, “Where do most men and boys go when most women go to church?” tarried in Benvolio’s heart. He found one answer in a barangay basketball court that he passed by on the way to Mass on another afternoon. Men were at play there. Instantly, a second answer dawned on him: Most boys hunkered down in some Internet cafe cubicle, blinkered towards computer screens as they killed one another in games like World of Warcraft (WoW) and Defense of the Ancients (DotA), their generation’s Super Marios.
Benvolio was interested neither in judging the priorities of, nor starting a church attendance tilt for men and boys. An evening cager or gamer may well be a morning Mass goer. Nevertheless, since the Mass is Christ, the series of Masses he attended that featured only women and girl power in full force gave him pause for familial, societal, ecclesiastical and spiritual concern. He had read about a survey conducted by the Swiss in 1994, which established the relationship between a father’s churchgoing habits and children’s faithfulness.
“If a father does not go to church,” wrote priest and editor Robbie Low, “no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.”
According to Low, the situation is no different in the United Kingdom and United States. In Westernized Philippines, too, Benvolio thought. He, in fact, suspected that here, notwithstanding the devotions of Filipinas, government and rebel negotiators can only dream about peace, economists theorize about a strong middle class and bishops write exhortations to moral renewal, all seeing little results, because throngs of men would rather forfeit spiritual headship at home than a game or gamble.
No contest, Benvolio thought: Men need to work to put food on the table, erect houses, clothe their wives and brood, and then spend time in leisure. Yet heads of families should resist machismo that keeps work a malediction, leisure a luxury and spirituality a mere option. Far be it from men to remember from catechism class only God’s sentence on Adam after the Fall—“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:17) In Christ, God seeks man’s trust in his providential care. “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber,” King Solomon sang. (Psalm 127:1-2)
Saint Joseph—whose solemnity as husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of God the Son Christians celebrate tomorrow, March 19—was no lone ranger. He was a hardworking carpenter but also a just man, which means he regularly tuned up his spiritual life. Otherwise, he would not have heard in dreams an angel convey to him God’s directions—“gifts on his beloved while they slumber”—about how to protect Mary and her boy child from evil, in Nazareth to Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Egypt and back, until Madonna and child were safe to play to the end their own parts in salvation history.
On a March 19 when Benvolio was 10, he gazed from the cathedral courtyard at a flower-filled float. It carried a collection of images depicting the death of Saint Joseph. The Holy Family’s patriarch lay in bed as he breathed his last. Watching nearby were wife, foster son and an angel, pinions unfurled. It was mission accomplished for God’s faithful soldier, who yielded his house to heaven.
As every man should.