Catholic fatherhood can be challenging in today's secularizing society.
But equipping Catholic fathers for their distinctive vocation has become a special mission for several dad-centered ministries offering a wealth of resources, encouragement and fellowship.
At the Knights of Columbus' June 8-11 annual meeting of state deputies and a coinciding June 7-9 assembly of chaplains in New Haven, Connecticut, the fraternal order unveiled an initiative Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly declared is "uniquely suited to strengthen the faith of men and families."
Dubbed "Cor," the program will offer the Knights' more than 2 million worldwide members "regular faith-centered gatherings outside the traditional Knights of Columbus council business meeting" with an emphasis on prayer, formation and fraternity.
"The word 'cor' is Latin for heart, and the purpose of the Cor meeting is to get to the heart of the matter, and to form men to have the heart of a father. That is something every Catholic man needs," said Supreme Knight Kelly.
A new Bible study titled "Men of the Word" will be the basis for Cor discussions, and the Knights also are releasing a fresh "Into the Breach" video series focusing on marriage and fatherhood. Both will be officially launched at the Knights' Supreme Convention in August.
"This is the 'why' of the Knights of Columbus. It's having the heart of a father," Kelly explained.
While the Knight's future offerings are much-anticipated for their members, many other Catholic dads are still seeking resources.
"We looked around and found that there wasn't a lot pouring into dads -- empowering them and supporting them in their role to be leaders in the faith and the family," said Chris Bartlett, vice president of Ablaze Ministries, who with Matt Rice, president and founder of Ablaze, co-hosts "The Catholic Dad Show" on YouTube. "And so that's how 'The Catholic Dad Show' really came about."
Both Bartlett and Rice are fathers of six and who -- as Bartlett says in their introductory video -- "have messed up enough to learn a few things."
"Raw. Fun. Not Dorky," declares the show's website, promising real talk and actionable tips, along with some obvious humor. New content is added to "The Catholic Dad Show" channel every other week. A sampling of episodes includes topics such as "What To Do When You're In Over Your Head as a Dad" and "How Do You Get Your Kids to Pay Attention at Mass?"
"We believe that Catholic fatherhood can and is changing the world," Bartlett told OSV News. "There's a couple of episodes that are very informative and empowering; some that are very encouraging and uplifting; there's some that are very real and raw."
Bartlett said that one of the show's newer episodes is going to discuss how a father goes through the experience of losing a baby through miscarriage.
"Because that's a different experience for a dad than it is for a mom," said Bartlett. "We really do try to take each episode through the lens of Catholic fatherhood, and either equip, empower, or encourage the fathers."
Bartlett believes such reinforcement is vital. "There's just so many different avenues where the family is under attack," he reflected. "And as fathers, we're called to stand guard at the front lines of those attacks, and protect our children. That, I think, is a huge challenge in fatherhood."
Perhaps echoing some Catholic mothers, Bartlett also observed that "it's really hard for Catholic fathers to ask for help. I think it's just hard for men to ask for help. And there's a lot of struggles -- whether it be habitual sin, or struggles with developing a prayer life, or even the general lack of spiritual directors out there."
"Catholic dads are just like, 'How do I move things forward when I don't feel close to Jesus?'" Bartlett asked.
One of the places Mark Hartfiel, vice president of Houston-based Paradisus Dei, hopes Catholic men will go is to their local parish for "That Man Is You!"
TMIY -- as it's abbreviated -- is an interactive, multi-week men's program combining research, science, Catholic teaching and the wisdom of the saints "to develop the vision of authentic men capable of transforming themselves, their families and greater society."
But TMIY didn't exist until Paradisus Dei founder and president Steve Bollman got an inspired nudge from his best friend, Robert. "Apparently, there was a program down the street at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church here in Houston," Hartfiel told OSV News. "There were like 600 men -- and 200 of them were Catholic."
Robert explained to Bollman the program was "great for where it goes and what it is" but there was nothing comparable in the Catholic Church.
Since then, more than 150,000 men have since completed the TMIY program, and some 35,000 attend it weekly at 800 parishes nationwide.
"I think what they discover in That Man Is You! is their primary vocation," said Hartfiel. "I think most men don't necessarily understand their vocation as husband and father. They understand Father John at the parish has a vocation; he's given his life for the church. And for some reason or another, they haven't picked up on the call to marriage vocation as a laying down of your life for your bride and for your children," he shared.
Hartfiel explained that not only do the men get to see that, they also show them the "great example of St. Joseph," the foster father of Jesus Christ.
"The two greatest saints in the Catholic Church are a mom and a dad -- Mary and Joseph," he said.
All these efforts to support the vocation of Catholic fatherhood recognize support is needed both in the home and in the pews.
"The success of Catholic fatherhood starts even before the wedding bells ring," said Bartlett. "And I think that's an important piece -- how do we really encourage and affirm faithful men in our pews today? That's something the laity can do; that's not something that depends on the priest. Just encouraging Catholic men today -- because that will strengthen Catholic fatherhood down the road."