PHOENIX (CNS) — Catholic men must reclaim and live the virtue of Christian masculinity, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted says in his newly released apostolic exhortation, “Into the Breach.”
Addressed to Catholic men in the diocese — “my spiritual sons” as the bishop calls them — it charges them to be prepared for spiritual battle for their souls and the souls of their families is aimed.
The name of the exhortation is taken from a passage from the Book of Ezekiel: “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land.”
Citing statistics about the decreasing involvement in parish life and participation in the sacraments, the bishop notes that “while we know that Christ welcomes back every repentant sinner, the truth is that large numbers of Catholic men are failing to keep the promises they made at their children’s baptisms — promises to bring them to Christ and to raise them in the faith of the church.”
In defining what it means to be a Catholic man, Bishop Olmsted says that Jesus, fully God and fully man, is the perfection of masculinity. “Only in Jesus Christ can we find the highest display of masculine virtue and strength that we need in our personal lives and in society itself.”
Bishop Olmsted offers the saints as models of masculinity, recommending male saints such as St. Joseph, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas More, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and others as examples.
Bishop Olmsted then asks: How does a Catholic man love? He describes the types of masculine love: as friend, husband and father. Stressing the importance of men finding a “band of brothers” to join in Christian fraternity, he offers examples in the diocesan men’s conferences, Knights of Columbus, That Man Is You program and Cursillo movement.
“We see that Jesus called his disciples to himself in such a way that they would form deep bonds of friendship and brotherhood,” Bishop Olmsted says. “I am convinced that if men will seek true brotherhood, the adversities we face today will solidify bands of brothers who will be lauded in heaven!” adds the bishop.
Regarding how a man loves as a husband, he challenges young men to prepare for marriage before meeting their future brides. “Such training in sacrifice is to love your bride before you meet her, so that you may one day say, ‘Before I knew you, I was faithful to you.'”
Speaking to those called to be husbands, he reminds them of St. Paul’s exhortation for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. “This is the glory, men! Called to marriage, you are called to be as Christ to your bride.”
“We need to see masculine chastity for what it is, whereas too often, this virtue is seen in negative light, as something weak,” adds the bishop. “Chastity is strength and a rejection of slavery to the passions. Christians have always believed that chastity, whether in marriage or celibacy, is a freedom from the enslavement to sin and our passions.”
Tackling the sins of pornography and masturbation, he says that while the culture wrongly encourages these “narcissistic” habits, they do nothing more than teach men to use others.
“Think of pornography as just as serious and no less grave than adultery,” he says. “To attempt to love another person while engaging in this practiced narcissism, without being transformed by mercy, will surely bring grave harm.”
By considering the contexts of temptations, we are able to invite God to send his grace, says the bishop, adding that in the sacrament of confession is found “superabundant grace and support.”
“Through building purity of heart, men, you will not only see God in the women in your lives but also in yourselves, also the ‘image of God’! Even if the darkness seems insurmountable, Christ never abandons us.”
Moving into the final section of his exhortation, Bishop Olmsted notes that the number of children born to unmarried homes has increased 700 percent since 1950, adding that there are those in the culture who don’t see fatherlessness as a problem.
“Do not be fooled by those voices wishing to erase all distinctions between mothers and fathers, ignoring the complementarity that is inherent in creation itself,” he says. “Step up and lovingly, patiently take up your God-given role as protector, provider and spiritual leader of your home. A father’s role as spiritual head of the family must never be understood or undertaken as domination over others, but only as a loving leadership and a gentle guidance for those in your care.”
Fatherhood, whether in a family or through the priesthood, reflects imperfectly the fatherhood of God, Bishop Olmsted says.
“To fully live, all men must be fathers and live out their fatherhood!” says Bishop Olmsted. “If you do not embrace the spousal and fatherly vocation God has planned for you, you will be stuck in the impotence of the ‘seed’ that refuses to die and refuses to give life. Don’t settle for this half-life! The question for every man is not, ‘Am I called to be a father?’ but rather, ‘What kind of father am I called to be?'”
In a special section devoted to grandfathers, Bishop Olmsted remembers his own grandfathers, who passed along to him faith, the value of hard work, and a respect for all other people and for God’s creation.
Bishop Olmsted also has a message for those whose fathers were absent in their lives. “There are many reasons why men abandon their responsibilities, or even if they remain, stay distant, as a result of the lack of positive experience of fatherhood in their own lives,” he says. “This wound in your heart may not yet have healed. … Allow Christ to show you the Father who never abandons his children, but rather offers his only begotten Son.”
He encourages those who have failed in their role as a father, to ask God the Father to guide them and to seek renewal in prayer and the sacrament of reconciliation.
The bishop concludes his exhortation with a call to action:
“We need to get off the sidelines and stand up for life on the front lines. We need faith like that of our fathers who defended the children of previous generations and who gave up their own lives rather than abandon their faith in Christ. My sons and brothers, men of the Diocese of Phoenix, we need you to step into the breach!”
The text of the document can be found here.
Gutierrez is editor of The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix.