'Men of St. Joseph' rise early to share their faith
They love their sleep as much as anyone else, so something big is motivating two dozen men to conquer the alarm clock every Wednesday to drive themselves to Aquinas Hall at St. Dominic Parish in Lakeview for a 6:30 a.m. hour of prayer and Scripture sharing.
They are called the Men of St. Joseph. On a recent Wednesday in Advent, they ranged in age from 26 to 72, and their purpose was to review the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel, hear a brief reflection delivered by one of the lay participants and then share among themselves what Jesus’ words mean in their lives.
“What this does is give you a focus and a little balance in your life,” said Dr. Guy Cresson, a dentist and St. Dominic parishioner. “I go to Manresa (Retreat House) every year, and that’s really an important time of my life. This is a way I can feel Manresa almost every Wednesday. It’s a reinvigoration of my life.”
Started on northshore
The Men of St. Joseph started in the Archdiocese of Mobile and was introduced to the Archdiocese of New Orleans several years ago in Covington, where more than 40 men gather each Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. at the Tchefuncta Country Club.
The St. Dominic chapter, open to men of any parish, began in July 2013 when Benjamin Clapper, a native of Mobile, and David Cusimano saw their wives involved in a women’s rosary group and decided it was a great opportunity for men to delve deeper into Scripture.
“We said, in the beginning, we needed to do this even if it was just David and I doing it,” Clapper said. “If it’s a future blessing that more groups break off and start, great.”
The format for the Wednesday morning gatherings is simple: the upcoming Gospel is read and discussed, which allows the participants to focus their prayer on that passage for several days leading up to the weekend Mass.
Clapper said one of benefits of that “self-contained” format is that men can come and go within the group and not feel as though they have to drop out if they miss a meeting or two.
“The idea is we want anybody who’s able to come,” Clapper said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re making a (full-year) commitment. You just show up.”
Cusimano offered the reflection in advance of the Second Week of Advent, in which St. John the Baptist, in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, proclaims to the crowd: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
Cusimano recalled how when he was a child, waiting for Christmas seemed like an eternity, but now as an adult with children of his own, it seems to arrive at the blink of an eye.
“Why is time moving so fast?” Cusimano asked the group. “One reason is that I’m very distracted and I don’t have a singular focus on the purpose of Advent. John had a singular focus on preparing the way of the Lord. He’s like ‘Mr. Advent.’ He had an all-consuming vocation. He knew who he was and who he wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t God. He seemed to know very well what he was supposed to do.”
Gets men to share faith
During the sharing time, men talked about various ways in which the Gospel impacted their lives. One man with adult children said it reminded him of the urgency to enjoy every stage of his children’s lives because they grow up so quickly.
“You never know when you will be walking down the street and your child reaches out for your hand for the last time,” one man said. “That’s where the silence and reflection come in. You’ve got to force yourself, like John the Baptist, to throw yourself into the desert and pull yourself away from everything to see what God has planned for you.”
Another man admitted that he preferred Lent over Advent as a liturgical season because of the demands on his time as Christmas draws near. One participant said he likes to make lists, and he drew up a list of 20 things to do one day earlier in the week.
“Then I got a call from my granddaughter, who’s just about a year and a half, and for the first time, she said, ‘Poppa, I love you.’ That wasn’t something I was ‘prepared’ for. Sometimes we receive things we aren’t prepared for.”
Lance Morello, 26, who was married last week, said he was attracted to the group because he liked the idea of men praying together.
“It gives you a different perspective on life and how we should treat our wives and raise our children,” said Morello, who is studying to be a nurse anesthetist. “It really means a lot to have a voice on Wednesday, in the middle of the week, to have all men praying together.”
Joel Weibelt, 72, has been a member of the Men of St. Joseph since its inception. His wife died when she was 40, leaving behind three teenagers. Four years later, in 1989, Weibelt was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“The hardest thing I ever had to do was go home and tell those kids their momma passed away,” Weibelt. “Then, when I had lung cancer, I wasn’t expected to make it because it was in my lymph nodes, and they took out two-thirds of my lung. I survived that. I firmly believe God touched me so I could live to be here with them. It was like an epiphany to me.”
Weibelt said he loves to share his faith experiences with younger men and is, in turn, inspired by them.
“It gives me hope,” Weibelt said. “We need the younger people with the faith to keep the church going. I’ve become a better person than I was back then. The older you get, the more religious you become. Like I always say, the word ‘eternity’ gets larger and larger as you get up in age.”