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In The Media

On this page are two articles published by the Archdiocese of Seattle's weekly newspaper: The Catholic Northwest Progress as well as a link to Conversations with Father Bob radio show aired on May 15, 2004 where Fr. Bob interviews Jeff Smith, executive director of SacraMentors.

The Catholic Northwest Progress Article on May 20, 1999 The Catholic Northwest Progress Article on April 29, 2004 Conversations with Father Bob Radio Show - Aired May 15, 2004 with Jeff Smith, ED of SacraMentors

 

This article appeared in The Catholic Northwest Progress, May 20, 1999

Program helps men grow in grace

SacraMentors said to be changing lives

By Terry McGuire

SUMNER — The seven men seated in a circle are sharing some of their week’s "mistakes."

One regrets losing his cool at work and exploding at an employee who had always tested his patience. "She misrepresents things," he explained, "and it sets me off."

Another felt guilt for neglecting to check on a friend in need. "I need to work on putting others’ interests ahead of my own," he tells the group.

Another found his patience tested earlier in the week by a pushy magazine solicitor. "It was tough for me to deal with this guy...as a child of God."

As each man speaks, the others listen, without passing judgment.

Then they turn to the joys of their week — those moments where they felt that God had touched them.

One recalls how his daughter became angry at him over being disciplined. Still, she pushed aside her anger long enough to give him their traditional goodnight hug. "Whether she’s mad or not," he smiles, "she still loves me."

Another man exalts in his trip to Yakima to hear a speaker on the alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje.

Another says he surprised himself when he engaged a fellow bus passenger in a discussion on the importance of God in our lives after noticing the stranger was reading a book on spirituality. "Two years ago, I would’ve never dreamed of talking about God" with others, he tells the group. "Everybody on the bus could hear me and I really didn’t care."

The seven men, members of St. Andrew parish, are sharing their lives as Christians in a program called SacraMentors. Their circle includes an empty chair, reserved for Jesus.

As the meeting continues, the men share some of the spiritual readings and exercises that have brought them inspiration during the week. Some quote from the spiritual writings of Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr on themes such as letting go of grudges and material possessions.


Members of the SacraMentors group at St. Andrew parish in Sumner share spirituality at their weekly Wednesday night meeting.


Then the men discuss ways of being of service to their parish and others. They talk about their upcoming 24-hour prayer vigil at the church for peace in Kosovo, and about sponsoring a summer cookout for parish families. The man who had gotten angry with his co-worker resolves to praise her during the week.

The meeting ends with the seven standing in a circle, arms locked, in prayer.

It’s a sight that’s becoming more common in Western Washington parishes as men form into small groups of SacraMentors, a movement designed to support and sustain men in their efforts to live Christian lives. Sponsors say 35 small groups in more than a dozen parishes from Lynnwood to Olympia are active in SacraMentors.

SacraMentors is a process of sanctification, designed to activate the grace we receive from God at baptism, says Father Bob Camuso, the program’s founder. As men grow in this "habitual grace," they learn to live a Christian life that calls them to forgive themselves and others, to bless the world and serve the church, he said.

Participants say the program has helped them let go of grudges and bitterness as they go through their day with Christ. They say they listen more to their wives, children and others. They feel empowered to bless others. They accept what they can’t control. They become more active in their parish. And they are not afraid to lead prayer or to profess their faith publicly.

"The concept of going through your day with Christ (has) taken me so many different places," says Steve Egge, a member of the SacraMentors group at St. Andrew’s.

"It’s like a way to live my faith and a vehicle to enrich me as I grow," he says of the program. "There’s not one way to do it. There’s little pieces of everything in SacraMentors."

The idea for the movement began in 1993 when Father Camuso, then in his second year as a priest, presented a series on male spirituality at Holy Family parish in Kirkland at the request of the pastor, Father James Dalton. Father Camuso, the parish’s parochial vicar at the time, knew he was on to something when 18 men showed up for the first meeting after he had advertised for 12.

He went on to discover a "tremendous hunger" among the men for the opportunity to gather and talk about their spiritual lives with other men. They wanted "to be able to talk about Jesus without being embarrassed," said the priest, now pastor of St. Anne and St. Margaret parishes in Seattle. They wanted "to talk about something more than your job or sports on a deeper level and not be debunked."

Father Camuso repeated the series after becoming parochial vicar at St. Andrew parish, developing it further with the assistance of Lory Misel, a nationally known, Enumclaw-based psychotherapist.

The program, then called "Men of the Upper Room," was renamed SacraMentors, reflecting both its sacramental base and the concept of men mentoring other men.

The small, parish-based SacraMentors groups gather weekly for their 90-minute meetings. The sessions are structured — with segments for sharing mistakes, joys, spiritual readings and parish service plans — so that they don’t stray off track and turn the meetings into gripe sessions.

"One of the things we talk about in our program is not becoming a ‘victim,’" Father Camuso said. "Jesus never called himself a victim." When the men share their mistakes, they talk about what they did to create the situation instead of pointing fingers. They ask the others to pray for them for healing of the mistake.

"It’s a whole different attitude," the priest said.

Before the groups form in a parish, potential members undergo a four-part training series that involves a trio of three-hour Sunday afternoon segments followed by a 12-hour "Saturday Sanctum."

At the sessions, they learn how everyone’s true identity is as a child of God; how God is constantly present in their lives; and how false egos serve as barriers to God. As one speaker put it in a session held last month at Holy Rosary parish in Seattle: "When you put yourself as Number One and you have problems, where do you go for answers?’"

At the training sessions, the men also learn about forgiving their fathers for past wounds, and about letting go of grudges and fears that prevent them from becoming effective witnesses to the Gospel.

They commit to having "prayer partners," others in the group whom they will pray for and call on a daily basis.

The men also are encouraged to accept their baptismal call to bless, as stated in section 1669 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing’ and to bless."

Lay people sometimes feel they are not worthy to bless, or that only the clergy can bless, Father Camuso said.

But he said the laity can preside at certain blessings. For example, they can bless God, their meals, their children, friends, strangers and others, even their enemies. Though forgiving enemies may seem difficult to do, it helps the forgiver let go of the grudge, Father Camuso said.

Other things lay people can bless include the workplace, their work tools, and God’s creations in nature. SacraMentors’ men also close their letters, phone calls and e-mails with: "God bless you."

Carl Jones, volunteer lay coordinator of the SacraMentors program and a member of St. Andrew parish, believes his blessings have worked in his life. Worried about the direction his daughter was heading, he placed his hand on her door and asked God to keep her safe. After that, her life began to change for the better, he said.

"We find that empowering men to bless has given them a sense of deeper ownership in their faith," Father Camuso said. "It’s an active thing they can do."

Another key ingredient in SacraMentors is a pocket-sized booklet, The Book of Kindness II, that Misel and Father Camuso developed. It contains 30 concepts that the user can reflect upon and practice each day of the month.

Day 1, for example, begins with this entry: "Each person I meet today is presented to me by God as an opportunity for me to practice extending kind thoughts." The text goes on to note, in part: "God has directed each person to you, for each one is in need of your carrying God’s kindness and love to that person."

Day 5 advises users to regard the world with "kindness, peace, abundance and hope" instead of with "fear, dread, anger and guilt.

"I cannot change the world," reads the Day 5 entry, "but I can change my mind. When I change my mind, the world and I are changed."

Those active in SacraMentors say that willingness to see the world through a Christian prism has made a world of difference in their lives.

"I’ve stayed with the program because I’m constantly being changed by it, by what I see and (by) how the Lord puts me in situations to help other people," Jones says. "I’ve come to accept a lot of things, whereas before, I would’ve been very argumentative (and) macho."

A convert to Catholicism, Jones now finds himself listening more closely to his family members and to others, looking for ways he can be of positive help. He now reads the Bible and other spiritual books. He is far less agitated in traffic, realizing it’s a situation that is out of his control. And he leads groups in prayer — something he never would have done before.

"All of those things are minor, small things," he says, "but they add up in my life to some major changes."

Bernie Butler, also a member of St. Andrew’s, is active with SacraMentors and with other parish groups. He says SacraMentors, by its nature, seems to require far less effort while bringing such wonderful results. "We get together and pray. We support one another. We ask for blessing. We don’t try and figure (things) out and fix them. We let the healing and the blessings come through the Lord and the Spirit."

Advocates say SacraMentors is not a Catholic version of Promise Keepers, the Christian men’s movement that challenges men to accept their responsibilities. Though both movements work at enhancing men’s spirituality through regular meetings, Jones said SacraMentors does not call for the man to be the dominant head of the household — an accusation that critics have long leveled at Promise Keepers.

SacraMentors is currently being presented to a women’s group. And there’s the possibility of coeducational groups down the road.

"We’re open to what works best," Father Camuso said. "And if it’s to be both men and women together, we’re very open to that."

For now, the focus has been on men, because that’s where the need is.

"I think men are basically lonely for spiritual companionship with other men," says Misel, a counselor for 34 years. He notes that men have been "led astray" by the corporate mentality that promotes competition and making it on your own. In that climate, "sharing yourself with other men is a sign of weakness."

Misel said women naturally mentor each other, learning to share when they’re young, and bonding in adulthood as they go through childbirth and menstruation.

"Men don’t have that (bonding)," he said. "Culture has to provide it.

"That’s why in the (so-called) primitive societies, there are always men’s societies when men come together for counsel, for wisdom, for sharing. And it’s sorely missed in our society.

"What’s unique about SacraMentors," Misel said, "is it very gently leads men into processes that will allow them to open up and share themselves with other men, especially spiritually."

Misel favors keeping the genders apart in SacraMentors’ meetings. "They start adapting to each other, and then they lose the focus," he said.

Jones, the program’s volunteer lay coordinator, said people from around the U.S. and from as far away as New Zealand have shown interest in starting their own SacraMentors after visiting its Web site (sacramentors.org). The site includes a list of members’ prayer intentions for those facing illness or other problems.

As the men bond through SacraMentors, they come to support one another outside of their weekly gatherings, Misel said. He recalls the case of a member who called his group before anyone else after being admitted to a hospital emergency room.

"All the guys came right down and laid their hands on him and offered a prayer and a blessing," Misel said.

"It really is a brotherhood."

For more information call (253) 863-1269 or continue reviewing our SacraMentors web site.

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