And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Ezekiel 22:30
There is a battle raging around us that is deeply wounding spouses, children and families. Satan hates families and is out to destroy them. Saint John Paul II said “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 75). Satan is out to destroy families so that He can destroy not only the Church, but the world.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona has issued a clarion call to men to engage in the battle for the family. Just last week, on the Feast of the Archangels, September 29, 2015, Bishop Olmsted issued an Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men “as an encouragement, a challenge, and a calling forth to mission.”
The Catholic Church is in a state of decline. “Since AD 2000, 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, infant baptism has dropped by 28%, adult baptism has dropped by 31%, and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%” (Center for Applied Research into the Apostolate). Bishop Olmsted states:
One of the key reasons that the Church is faltering under the attacks of Satan is that many Catholic men have not been willing to “step into the breach” – to fill this gap that lies open and vulnerable to further attack. A large number have left the faith, and many who remain “Catholic” practice the faith timidly and are only minimally committed to passing the faith on to their children. Recent research shows that large numbers of young Catholic men are leaving the faith to become “nones” – men who have no religious affiliation. The growing losses of young Catholic men will have a devastating impact on the Church in America in the coming decades, as older men pass away and young men fail to remain and marry in the Church, accelerating the losses that have already occurred.
There is a gaping hole in the Church’s first line of defense against the attacks of Satan. Who will stand in the breach, defending the family against the evil forces seeking to destroy it? We need holy Catholic men to step up to fight this serious threat.
Bishop Olmsted lays out a plan to fight the evil forces coming against the family. He shows what it means to be a Christian man, how a Catholic man is to love and why fatherhood is crucial for every man. We will look briefly at these three points.
What it means to be a Christian Man
Jesus was fully human and fully divine. He is our model of what it means to be a man. Bishop Olmsted writes:
Every moment of his life on earth is a revelation of the mystery of what it means to be man – that is, to be fully human and also, the model of masculinity. Nowhere else can we find the fullness of masculinity as we do in the Son of God. 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. What was visible in Christ’s earthly life leads to the invisible mystery of his divine Sonship and redemptive mission. The Father sent his Son to reveal what it means to be a man, and the fullness of this revelation becomes evident on the Cross. He tells us that it was for this reason that He came into the world, that it is his earnest desire to give himself totally to us (Jn 12:27, Mk 22:15). Herein lies the fullness of masculinity; each Catholic man must be prepared to give himself completely, to charge into the breach, to engage in spiritual combat, to defend women, children, and others against the wickedness and snares of the devil!
Bishop Olmsted also offers the Saints as examples of holy men living out the faith in the world. He suggests that each man should have a patron Saint with particular virtues that might resonate with his particular needs. Here is Bishop Olmsted’s list of potential Saints, their prominent virtues and the sins opposing these virtues:
|Saint||Virtue||Sin Opposing Virtue|
|St. Joseph||Trust in God||Selfishness|
|St. John the Baptist||Humility||Arrogance|
|St. Paul||Adherence to truth||Mediocrity|
|St. Michael the Archangel||Obedience to God||Licentiousness & rebelliousness|
|St. Benedict||Prayer & devotion to God||Sloth|
|St. Francis of Assisi||Happiness||Moralism|
|St. Thomas More||Integrity||Double-mindedness|
|Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati||Chastity||Lust|
|St. Josemaria Escrivá||Boldness||Worldly fear|
|Pope St. John Paul II||Defending the weak||Passivity|
These men lived in different times and cultures yet they all have one thing in common: “Jesus Christ who gave them their true identity!” “Jesus Christ reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). Bishop Olmsted states:
Simply put, our identity is caught up in the identity of the eternal Son of God. It is received at our baptism as it was clearly exclaimed at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River: “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). When we speak of conversion, we are speaking about an acceptance of and growth into this identity. When we speak about sin, we are speaking of all that takes us away from our identity as beloved sons of the Father. Since this is our identity – being beloved sons of God the Father – is it surprising that the devil is waging a fierce battle on masculinity and fatherhood in our day? The process of Christian conversion includes coming to know God’s love and experiencing brotherhood with Christ who deepens our identity as sons of the Father in the Holy Spirit. This is our lifelong goal and our spiritual battle.
The spiritual battle is within man himself. In his first letter, St. John addresses the three-fold temptation faced by all of us: passions of the flesh, possessiveness and pride (1 Jn 2:16-17). Christ faced and withstood all three of these temptations in His encounter with Satan in the desert (see Mt 4) and gives advice on how to fight them in His Sermon on the Mount (see Mt 6):
- Jesus turned away from the passions of the flesh when He rejected Satan’s offering of bread after fasting for 40 days (Mt 4:2-4). Passions of the flesh are fought by fasting (Mt 6:16).
- Satan tempted Jesus to possessiveness in offering Him “all the kingdoms of the world” (Mt 4:8). Jesus tells us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven: (Mt 6:19-20). Almsgiving counteracts possessiveness.
- Satan’s third attack on Jesus was to tempt Him to pride by using His power for selfish purposes (Mt 4:5-6). Jesus countered pride with humility. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts us to humility not once but twice, showing the greatest protection from self-reliance is turning humbly to God in prayer (Mt 6:5).
Moving to the practical aspects of living fully as a Catholic man, Bishop Olmsted offers the following practices to strength men in their faith walk:
- Pray every day.
- Examination of conscience before going to sleep.
- Attend mass.
- Read the Bible.
- Keep the Sabbath.
- Go to Confession at least once a month.
- Build fraternity with other Catholic men.
Next week we will continue looking at Bishop Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men by looking at how a Catholic man is to love and why fatherhood is crucial for every man.